Sunday, May 1, 2011

all toads go to heaven

For lunch today, I built a small fire so my son and I could roast some organic something-or-other hot dogs I'd had sitting in the fridge for about a week. The wood was dryer than I'd anticipated and my small fire quickly turned into a mini-inferno, so The Boy sat back twenty feet (master of overkill) whilst I cringed my way to crackly-skinned goodness.

After we'd eaten, my son and I dragged the hose over and started to douse the fire, whereupon a toad came hopping out of one of the cracks between two of the boulders I'd dragged from the forest to line the fire-pit. Mr. Toad saw the hose and freaked out, ending up jumping up to and then onto the fire. I trained the hose on him to try to protect him from the heat, but it was too late. By the time he'd made it to the other side, some indescribably terrible things had happened to him.

I quickly distracted The Boy, instructing him to use the hose to flush out a boot he'd filled with urine earlier (don't ask). When his back was turned, I picked up the maimed animal, carried it behind a log in the nearby forest, and, er, "took care of it." Being a sensitive and somewhat fruity soul, I was deeply bothered by this, and paused to have a little silent ceremony/prayer, reflecting for a moment on my role in the poor little amphibian's grisly demise.

As I walked away, however, I realized that there was no one, really, to blame. As much as I like to think that everything horrible in the world is caused by human vice, the fact remains that nature itself is, in the words of Alfred Lord Tennyson, "red in tooth and claw."

This got me reflecting on Christian conceptions of heaven - on the idea that "the lion will lie down with the lamb" - and I began to wonder how in the Sam Hill you make something like that work. It's a lovely dream, but seriously... vegetarian lions?!? Of course, most people wouldn't bother to dig this far into it. If they believe in heaven at all, they either don't allow for animals (and what kind of heaven would that be) or they settle for a vaguely platonic idea of some sort of "uber-animals," fluffy little koosh-ball creatures that wouldn't hurt a fly (if, that is, you believe that flies go to heaven - and there better be, or the toads will be pissed).

Personally, I try not to waste too much brainpower conjecturing about the ineffable. I do know, however, that the cruel indifference of the natural world just feels wrong, and any "Ultimate Justice" or "Redemption" scheme that does not account for the rectification of the injustice of a burned toad's death is no Just Redemption at all.

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