Thursday, June 23, 2005
Why are we humans always trying so hard to explain away the altruistic behavior of animals? We seem so absolutely convinced that humans are the only creatures capable of motives higher than obtaining food and sex (and some humans aren't).
It's specie-centrism and it's myopic thinking.
We need to bridge the gap that will let us acknowledge that animals are capable of love and of nurturing species that are not their own. How many thousands of pets have saved their owners? (I can just hear the rationalists: "If the house is burning down and the pet saves the owner, it is really just saving itself.") Not always. When I was a child, my dog got between me and an angry copperhead. She took the strike and almost died. (My dad and I dripped milk into her mouth from a turkey baster and walked her around the house all night until she was out of danger--it seemed like the least we could do.)
Sometimes an animal is alerting its human to danger so the human can take his magic opposable thumbs and fix the problem. When I was in my twenties, the pottery studio where I worked caught fire from a faulty kiln while the owner slept in a nearby trailer. Our studio cat (nicknamed "Dammit" because she always bumped into pots and dinged them when still wet or knocked them off to shatter on the floor when dry) alerted the owner, and he was more than 100 feet away in a trailer, plenty safe from the fire.
There are numerous accounts of dolphins rescuing drowning humans. At what benefit to the dolphin? None. The dolphin is not saving itself. It is saving a human. Another species. In fact, the dolphin puts itself in danger by assisting, yet its compassionate nature, its own understanding of the need to breathe air makes it save the human. What possible other reason could there be?
Understand me. I am not romanticizing animals and saying they are all altruistic and wonderful. Just as I would never say that all humans are altruistic and wonderful. But there are plenty of times when the only explanation for an animal's behavior is something like understanding. Something like compassion. Something like love.
Tuesday, June 21, 2005
Saturday, June 18, 2005
If one of his older sisters is anywhere around, this will immediately be interrupted with, "No! Oh, my God, not again!" or "Will you stop it??" or "You are such a freak!"
But me, I like his questions. I always take the time to consider them. He asks good questions. It's a special stage in his cognitive and moral development that I cherish.
The would-you-rather questions always involve some sort of tough dilemma. For instance, he might ask, "Would you rather burn to death, or freeze to death?"
Even though I hate the cold and love a good fire, I say, "Freeze, because I've heard you get really warm before you die." (I make a mental note to find him The Call of the Wild at our next library visit. He's familiar with The Little Match Girl and I mention that as proof.) Then I say, "But if I could die in my sleep from smoke inhalation first, I might choose fire. You know I want to be cremated anyway, and that would save a step in the process." He laughs.
"Would you rather be pretty or smart?"
"Smart," I say, in a voice that conveys duh! "Smart, because it never goes away."
"Yeah," he says, "and you just keep getting smarter."
"But some people get prettier, too."
"Yeah. Like you." (See why I like these discussions?)
"Thanks, honey. So do you. Handsome, I mean."
"Yeah." (We're still waiting for his modesty to develop.) "Would you rather be blind or deaf?"
When he asks this, I suddenly remember going through this stage myself. Asking these tough questions, and really thinking about making a choice between two difficult things.
"Deaf," I say. "You?"
"Deaf. Because you could still read and play sports and stuff."
"You can still read when you're blind."
"Yeah, I know. Braille. And you could listen to books on tape."
"And you'd still have music." Something we both love. We sit and think about this in silence for a minute.
"Would you still get a song stuck in your head if you were deaf?" he asks.
"I don't know. I guess. If you'd heard it before you went deaf. But Beethoven lost his hearing and he still made really beautiful new music. I bet it stays with you."
"Maybe if I could see and hear first and then lost it, it would be better."
"Maybe. But it might be worse. Then you would know what you were missing. I knew someone once who lost his sense of smell and he said he couldn't taste food after that unless it was really salty or sour. He didn't even really like to eat anymore, and when he did, it was because of the texture of food in his mouth, not the taste."
"I've heard people who lose one thing get better at another. Maybe if you were blind you would start to hear lots better."
"Maybe. I hope we never have to find out."
"Me, too. I guess we're pretty lucky."
"Yeah, buddy, we are." Thanks for reminding me.
Tuesday, June 14, 2005
Privately, I consider myself a Christian, but I am embarrassed to admit it publicly. I am embarrassed because the modern face of Christianity has changed. Today, the most frequently seen Christians are the religious zealots who wave angry signs in the streets, who cry over burning candles at vigils for people they have never met while television cameras roll, who flock in droves to interfere in the very private, difficult, life-and-death decisions of individuals and who generally clamor for publicity and attention at every turn.
I consider myself a reasoned, thinking individual, and those Christians--with their angry certainty, with their lack of logic, with their holier-than-thou attitudes--alienate me from my faith.
I imagine this is somewhat like the feeling a moderate Muslim must have for the men who flew planes into the Twin Towers in New York City.
When I read about Christians who lie in wait for a doctor who performs abortions, with the scope of a rifle pointed toward the door of his family home, or who threaten the judge in the Terry Schaivo case with death for simply doing his job—upholding the law of the land—I feel as if I must not be a Christian, because I could not kill to advance the cause of my religion, my religion, whose highest tenet is “Thou shalt not kill.”
God gave us minds. He intended us to use them. Just why are so many Americans adopting issues with a black-and-white mentality that would shame the reasoned, thinking men who founded this great country of ours—founded it with religious freedom as one of its main goals?
More importantly, why are we moderates not speaking out and telling those extreme Christians that they do not follow the teachings of our God? Why are we letting them speak for us, letting them be the mutated faces of modern Christianity? We’ve decried the moderate Muslims who failed to publicly condemn the terrorists, yet we are doing the very same thing in our own country every time we say nothing when an abortion provider dies at the hands of a Christian extremist. These fundamentalist, extremist Christians are stealing my religion. They are taking it and twisting it to their purposes in exactly the same way the Muslim terrorists have twisted the gentle, peace-loving religion of Islam. And it is wrong.
Any time religion turns into war, it is wrong.