Is It Always Truth vs. Fiction?

A Costco in the US recently suffered some heat because they labelled the Christian Bible as fiction (you can also check out the hilarious Fox News opinion piece here). A pastor by the name Caleb Kaltenbach saw this as he was shopping for a copy of the Good Book and tweeted a photo of the book to his congregation with the label “14.99 FICTION” clearly visible. Costco later apologized and agreed to relabel it.

But is the Bible really fiction? Are all holy texts fiction? Fiction is defined as: “literature…that describes imaginary events and people.” Under this definition, all holy canons are indeed fiction–even if they are based on historical events that might have actually happened. Make no mistake, my personal religious beliefs will forever remain shrouded by the protective veil of the internet, for my goal is not to convert (either to religion or away from it) but to get people to think about common ideas in different ways.

With that said, sure the Bible may be fiction–but that doesn’t necessary mean it’s untrue. Just because something is fiction does not mean it is false. What do I mean by this? Reza Aslan, a prominent Middle Eastern scholar, once said in an interview that the way ancient Middle Easterners recorded history was very much different from our own. They were not concerned about recording mere facts–they were concerned with recording truth. But here I argue that this notion of history was not confined to that specific region, but rather to all ancient peoples.

An example of this is my favourite Greek myth, the myth of Prometheus. Descending from Mt. Olympus, the Titan Prometheus, whose name literally means Forethought, teaches humankind how to make fire, which enables them to make progress and create grand civilizations. However, as a result, he is chained by Zeus to a rock, where each day an eagle, the emblem of Zeus, is sent to feed on his liver, which would then grow back the next day only to be repeatedly devoured.

Unlike the Bible, there is no debate over whether the Prometheus narrative is fact or fiction–but does that mean it is necessarily false? Could we not compare this myth to that of Babel, for which no archaeological evidence has been found to prove its existence, or to the Leviathan, a giant sea monster which was said to have had no equal in power and size but has never turned up in the archaeological record? If taken literally, yes.

But Prometheus, I would argue, is true, for it displays something eternal and unchanging about humanity. Prometheus is man’s Forethought, for reason developed in us as one trait that raises the proto-man up from the dirt into the realm of higher cognition and separates us from the animal. Not only does our so-called Forethought allow us to create fire (something which only humans do in a sophisticated manner), but also to construct the grand civilizations that reflect our unbound conscience. But, as a consequence of being aware of ourselves and this higher thinking, in the same way that Zeus’ eagle tears out Prometheus’ liver (which was the seat of emotions in Greek thought), so too are our hearts gnawed on all day long by the fear of death, poverty, heartbreak, or other ill affliction. So too are we, like Prometheus, eternally bound to this fate that we cannot escape from, that at times we wish we could live in blissful ignorance like the animal, whose hand Prometheus has not touched.

So thank you, Costco, for labelling the Bible as fiction, for it allowed me to realize something deeper. It is that we are all Prometheus. Everyone of us is the Adam of the Garden of Eden; everyone of us are each of those builders who, in an act humanistic pride, attempted to build the great Tower of Babel whose peak would reach into heaven itself and proclaim to the world the power of humanity united. All of these texts, despite their divine characters, are not about some “other world” or how a pantheon of supernatural beings wreak havoc on their mortal pawns–they are about us.

That’s ultimately why these texts are truth as well as fiction. They are true because we are those texts.

Silence: A Poem

I am eternal

I have existed and will exist

I am the first and the last

Ever present and powerless

I am empty in voice

I am the voice of the empty

I am mute and cannot speak

Yet great is my multitude of words

I am knowledge, I am ignorance

I am shameless, I am ashamed

I am strength, I am weakness

I cause war, and I am what they fight for

I am unlearned, yet you learn from me

I am the one you have hidden from

Yet I am before your very eyes

For whenever you open your mouth, I hide from you

I am a sound not often heard

Drowned out by your sea of words

Endlessly spewing forth like a deluge of water from a hurricane

Wiping out sanity

I am an empty gap of time, often stuffed with empty words

When it could be better used

To pause

And figure out what to say

I am an art

So quickly lost

An art of staying still and being calm

Lost amidst a world of go go go


Were born into this world

Kicking and screaming

Giving answers before you truly hear

Until the day you return into my realm.

Animal Rights

There’s a commonly held belief amongst the general public that philosophy is useless. What has it ever really done for us? Everything useful, everything that has helped gradually progress humanity from a state of primitiveness to civilization has been done through science, right? Isn’t philosophy much too abstract to be put to practical use? This kind of thinking is not only dangerous, but is, in fact, quite untrue. It’s why we’re here today.

One of the things philosophy has “done for us” is the concept of rights–it’s the very reason why you (if you happen to be from Canada or the US, at least) live in such a (theoretically) free state. The idea of unalienable rights for all really gained a foothold through such thinkers as Thomas Hobbes and John Locke during the 17th century. Locke’s work, in particular, influenced the United States Declaration of Independence, the basis for which many other declarations of independence were written. These days, it is widely excepted that humans do indeed possess rights. But ought we to extend these rights to animals? This is where I think it has gone too far.

First of all, what is a right? I shall appeal to Wikipedia by saying that, generally, it is agreed that rights are “…the fundamental… rules about what is allowed of people or owed to people…”. In other words, it describes something that people may do of their own free choosing (such as the right to cross borders, the right to strike, etc.) or something that is owed to another individual (such as the right to life, which can easily be re-worded as the right to not be killed arbitrarily).

But can we give these rights to animals? Well, we certainly can–after all, the concept of “rights” is unique to humanity in that they are totally man-made, and thus can be given freely. But in my view, we shouldn’t just hash out rights because we feel that we should: there needs to be reasons for us to give animals rights. Personally, I would like to give animals rights. I love animals. But for the reasons outlined below, I cannot genuinely bring myself to allow it.

If there exists some chasm between us and the animal, what is it? Why do we call the killing of another human murder, when we are free to squash as many annoying insects as we please? You could make the argument that the killing of a higher animal, such as a cat or a dog, is illegal and cannot be done freely. But if you were to do that, you’d get in trouble in a different way: namely by killing someone else’s property, and thus infringing on another person’s right–the right to not have their animal property arbitrarily killed. We would never call this murder.

It seems to me that humans possess something that animals, whether they are the tiniest amoebas to even, I daresay, our closest relatives, the great apes, lack. It is the concept of forethought. Many other people might call this “abstract thinking” or “conceptualization”, but practically speaking, thinking about abstract thoughts or concepts allow us to pre-plan, pre-meditate and pre-think about anything we are thinking of doing. It allows us to think into the future and make reasonable guesses about what is to come. It follows that, if we are able to think about the future (which hasn’t been realized yet), we are also able to think of other concepts that are unreal, unnatural or unapparent to the senses (such as rights). Thus, we have established humanity’s one advantage over animals–the ability to think beyond oneself into the realm of abstraction.

If animals lack this sense of “abstract thinking”, then it is obvious that they would not and could not think of concepts such as “good” or “bad”, “right” or “wrong” when making a decision. If a tiger were to attack a human being, we cannot reasonably hold that tiger accountable, for it is merely acting on the desire to feed itself. It cannot conceive that somehow attacking the human is itself a bad act, for if it could, it could also choose to spare the human. The tiger has no free will–it is acting only out of the desire to satisfy its hunger. Therefore, one reason that the animal should not be given rights is that they cannot be held responsible for any infringement of those rights, since they do not have any concept of “duty” or “what should be owed to another”. For if it did, we are obligated by our own rights to throw the tiger, and any other being we give rights to who break them, into prison.

Therefore, we have established that the right to live requires that the bearer of those rights must defend other people’s right to live. This can work with any other “right” as well: the right to be free of harm requires that the bearer of those rights must defend other people’s right to be free of harm; the right to privacy requires that the bearer of those rights must defend other people’s right to privacy; and so on it goes. And as we have just shown, an animal, by definition, is incapable of doing so. It is senseless to give rights to a being that cannot act upon them or responsibly sustain them. Humans, on the other hand, who do possess forethought and thus are able to conceptualize these rights and act responsibly to defend other people’s rights, can and do possess these rights and must be held accountable for any infringement thereof.

But this conclusion that we have come to is not, in my view, a warrant to abuse animals. I’ll discuss why in a later post.

Much love,