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The Goodness of God in a Lizard on a Leaf


The lizard who inspired this post



Local woodland creatures know where the party’s at. It’s at my house. We always leave through the garage, so we converted our porch into a wildlife feeding station. (Read: we leave out bowls of cat food and filtered water for any animal who needs a snack break.) Then we peek through the blinds at irregular intervals to see who’s stopped by.

The wood-line begins where our tiny backyard ends. The distance from tree to bowl is maybe 20 yards, so our station gets visited every day and night. First came Sonny Belle the black cat, then Casper the opossum, then a raccoon, then the same raccoon, but she brought her 4 kids too.

Before all of them, though, there was our household colony of Cuban Brown anoles (Anolis sangrei). The anoles don’t care about free cat food but have been scurrying through our bushes and across our sidewalks since time immemorial.

On a recent midnight, I checked the wildlife feeding station before going to bed. Some animal had been cleaning out both bowls by the early evening. I suspect the raccoon babies. Like the nights before, both bowls were empty before I fell asleep. I step out to our porch to collect the bowls for midnight refills, and I catch a marvelous sight. There’s a potted Ixora shrub (Ixora coccinea) beside my door. A little Cuban Brown anole was lying on a nice, thick Ixora leaf. I know she wasn’t asleep because her eyes were open and looking right at me, but she didn’t even flinch when I opened the glass door. She radiated peace. There is no possible world or alternate universe with an anole happier than this one.

It was hardly the first lizard I’d seen that day. I see anoles around my house more frequently than birds. I’m looking out my window as I write this, and indeed, there’s a Brown anole doing pushups in the shrubs. (yes they really do pushups, and for the same reasons as humans.) The lizard on the Ixora leaf was female, judging by the off-white stripe down her spine.

Cuban Brown anoles are probably the most successful invasive species in Florida (quite the achievement). They may also be the first foreign reptile to invade the state, arriving as cargo ship stowaways in the late 1800s (guess where they came from). Some counties classify them as pests or nuisance species. Local biologists give residents their blessing to kill any we can catch. There are even peer-reviewed, published instructions on how to “euthanize” them by asphyxiation and freezing.

At the moment I encounter the peaceful-yet-pesky lizard on my property, I must determine my attitude towards it. How should I judge this innocent invader?

I could catch and euthanize her, as the experts suggest. I know there are some people in this world who would squish her right here. In philosophical terms, I could take an “enframed” attitude towards her. I’m taking that term from Martin Heidegger. Let me explain.

The Enframing is an attitude towards life, a worldview. It is an exploitative attitude towards life. All the philosophers I know like to call The Enframing a perceptive lens. If that term means anything to you, you’re probably a philosophy major. If it doesn’t, let’s break it down further. “The Enframing” sounds odd in English because it isn’t English. It’s a literal translation of a German word (Gestell) German philosophers repurposed to talk about an abstraction.

Gestell normally translates to: frame, apparatus, a collection of building materials. But Heidegger added another connotation: the enframing. Heidegger chose this word to express how the attitude reduces all of life to a collection of raw materials.

The Enframing is an attitude that conditions people to perceive all lives as resources to exploit, nothing more than reserves of energy standing around, waiting to be put to use. Life is a “standing-reserve” (Heidegger’s term) of power, with no inherent worth in its natural state.

The Enframed attitude judges all creatures by utility. That standard makes it similar to a utilitarian attitude, except The Enframing is cold and brutal. Utilitarians burn a lot of energy and paper trying to prove they’re good people, but the Enframed don’t care about morality. Through Enframed eyes, all beings, both animate and inanimate, are raw materials that must be put to work or destroyed. The Enframing cannot allow a tree to exist in peace when we could turn its wood into something useful, like rifle stocks.

The Cuban Brown anole cannot simply exist in peace either. It’s invasive, it’s too small to provide meat, it wouldn’t even make a good research specimen. A perfectly useless creature to humans, thus in the eyes of the Enframed, it has no use in living.

Along with all the other varieties of nihilism, The Enframing denies that existence is good. No creature is allowed to just exist, because existence is not inherently good. A crafty mind must impose its will upon a creature and manipulate it into something useful.

We’re talking about a philosophy that values only power, and power can be economic wealth or advanced technology. A creature is good only if it gives us the materials to build up power. Creatures have no value in their natural state of being, so The Enframing says we must either process creatures into useful resources or destroy them.

To the Enframed, power is the only good in the universe, and power is mostly artificial, a value-added good. Humans create their own good through will and reason.

If this sounds postmodern to you, you’re correct. The Enframed attitude is one kind of nihilism, first identified by Heidegger in his 1954 work “The Question Concerning Technology”. Heidegger drew attention to The Enframing because he was diagnosing a cultural ill, not because he wanted to make it popular.

Heidegger was a German who lived through the Weimar Republic and Nazi fascism. He noticed The Enframing was the popular attitude amongst Germans in both eras. Nihilism of the Enframing kind had eaten through German culture, and the realization horrified Heidegger.

First, The Enframing motivated the “live-like-we’re-gonna-die-young” decadence of Weimar Germany. Then The Enframing justified the concentration camps. Heidegger coined the term to alert the world to a disastrous philosophy; an attitude towards life that will sacrifice all life. My point about The Enframing is: we can allow ourselves to judge creatures, like Cuban Brown anoles, as worthless. We can see some creatures as “life unworthy of life” because they provide no resources for us to exploit.

You might assume that “regular life” never presents us with such grandiose choices about existence. But we face these decisions every day in small ways.

The peaceful lizard presented me with a monumental decision: is this being good? Or is she worthless? It’s either/or; there is no lukewarm option. When a “worthless” creature presents itself to you, will you be an agent of The Good News, or an agent of The Enframing?

I couldn’t bear to take an enframed attitude towards the little creature. Maybe it’s my personality, maybe it’s grace redeeming my nature, maybe it’s stupid emotion.

Some very smart people see these creatures as worthless, only worth killing. But I see their attitude as moral blindness. This peaceful lizard offers no utility to me. She just loves existing and she thereby gives gratitude towards The One who gives us being. (cf: Acts 17:28)


(This is what an AI computer painter thinks of this post)



Despite all the justifications to enframe these little lives away, I love my time with these creatures. They testify to God’s goodness in everything. The stones cry out about the Creator… and so do lizards, although both do so without a sound. (cf: Lk 19:40 + Rom 1:19–20)

The lizard vibing at my door is a living sign that being is good. It is good to exist, whether as an Ixora shrub, a Cuban Brown anole, or a human. Behold, even the lizards know it is good to exist, and they don’t know anything.

If we declare being is inherently good, though, then soon we’ll have to ask: “but why is existence good?” Answering that will naturally lead us through Aquinas’ Fourth Way.

Show mercy to a “worthless” creature, and they will show you the Goodness of God.


 

If you want to learn more:

*Acts 17:28 + Luke 19:40 + Romans 1:19–20 (I recommend New King James or New Revised Standard)

*Iain Thomson. Heidegger on Ontotheology (You have to buy this one. It’s good but very dense)

*Martin Heidegger’s The Question Concerning Technology (Free PDF here)

*Aquinas’ 4th Way. Summa Theologica, 1st Part, Q2, A2–3 (Public Domain, baby!)

*Aquinas Expounds on the 4th Way in Summa Contra Gentiles, Book II, Q30–31 (Also Public Domain)



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