September 20th, 2008


I'm Only Human

Ancient and modern religions both tend to be quite anthropocentric. A lot of them teach that humans are special, and that the gods themselves are more or less human in form. I remember reading in college about the Greek philosopher Xenophanes' idea that, if horses or lions could draw and sculpt, their gods would have the forms of their own species. That makes sense to me. Of course, there ARE some animal gods that human societies have worshiped. The ancient Egyptians had quite a few deities who were animals, or at least had the heads of animals. Caesar Augustus was said to have sneered at this, saying that "Romans worship gods, not animals."

The creation of mankind is generally an important part of any myth cycle, and it's usually separate from and more significant than the creation of animals. It's also typical for raw materials to be involved. According to the Norse myths, the first humans were made from an ash and elm tree. I believe I've heard of others where people were made from corn, and of course the Bible reports that Adam was made of dirt. I've never been entirely sure why fundamentalists object so highly to the idea that they were descended from monkeys (not that that's what the theory of evolution actually says, but that seems to be what a lot of them think), yet have no problem with their ancestor coming from dirt. I mean, it beats coming out of a giant's armpit, but if I had my choice of what I wanted my ancestors to have been, I'd probably choose chimps over soil. But then, the fundamentalists also want humans to believe that we have dominion over the Earth (which is part of why we shouldn't worry about global warming or endangered species), yet we're also all filthy sinners. I'm not sure why we're supposed to be higher than animals, when they're apparently not sinning (although some of them are allegedly "unclean" due simply to what sort of animal they are). I guess the explanation would be that humans have the ability to overcome their sin, while animals lack the brainpower to do so. Personally, I don't buy that people are inherently bad, but I don't know that we're inherently GOOD, either. I think we're inclined toward compassion and altruism, yet we're also quite selfish when it suits us (and sometimes even when it doesn't). I'm hardly an expert on human nature, but I think we all the capacity to do what would be considered both good and evil.

In some ways, I have to say I like the Hindu belief in reincarnation, which seems less wasteful than the idea of souls going to some mystical realm for all eternity. Instead, they're recycled, and souls can belong to both humans and animals. I believe that there's still an idea that humans are higher, and that being reincarnated as an animal is a regression, but it still suggests that humans and animals really aren't that different.