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'Man is not an animal'

01 August 2013, 10:39

All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one flesh of men, and another flesh of beasts, and another flesh of birds, and another of fish. 40There are also heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one, and the glory of the earthly is another.…

According to the bible human beings are made of different stuff to animals.  Christians will be the first to confirm this.  People do not die like the nameless, forgotten animal, because we are special.  What makes us special?  Well, how about a list:

Man has a language, animals don't
Man is moral, knowing good and evil, animals aren't
Man has a soul, animals don't.
Man has a sense of humour, animals don't.
Man has imagination, animals don't.
And the number one reason - man can love, animals can't.

Let's examine these special gifts man has above all the animals.  If man is not descended from apes, but was created out of the image of God, then we should be a lot more godlike than animal-like, surely.  We'll leave behind, for now, the obvious biological processes we share with animals.  But let's mention one thing - that even God can't have himself conceived in an animal like way, he fertilizes Mary without her consent, out of thin air, thereby subjecting her to potential lifelong ridicule and alienation.  He does this to prove that God especially is not an animal - to sow his seed he simply chooses someone in his infinite divine wisdom and makes them pregnant. 

If any woman or husband thinks about that seriously, having your partner or your own self suddenly pregnant at the whim of another (let's say God for argument sake), well, I'm not sure how many relationships would survive a scenario like that in the real world.  "I'm pregnant...with God's baby."  "Oh, that's fine then."

Let's examine now the special qualities that put us above animals, and make us better than animals:
- man has a language.  Animals have a simpler form of language.  You wake up to that language in the morning when you hear birds singing.  Each note communicates something.  It might be a warning, or a territorial display, a feeding call (from a juvenile) or a mating call. Meerkats have a similar repertoire of sounds suited to certain predators, and parents punish the young for getting them wrong. Same applies to vervet monkeys.  In fact almost every living creature has some form of communication, some complex, others less so, depending on the organism.  But consider a dog.  Communication is via smelling, tail wagging, growling, barking, biting, pawing, scratching, howling, shaking off negative energy,urinating  etc.  Cats also have a diverse set of sounds and behaviours that they communicate with.  Can we really say that man is unique because he has language?  Our language is simply more evolved, but it's not special.

-man is moral.  ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Of course Jesus is quoting a commandment that precedes his own life, and is common to almost every religion.  This greatest of all commandments is also relative. What is your neighbour?  Anyone or just as long as it's anyone LIKE YOU.  Because if you’re a Muslim a Christian sure as heck isn’t your neighbour.  If you live in Northern Ireland, even if your neighbour really is a Protestant and you’re a Catholic, these two groups can hardly be said to be good neighbours.  Same with North and South Korea, the Jews and Palestinians occupying Jerusalem, and the list goes on.  Illegal immigrants are exactly that because the idea of loving one’s neighbour, in the real world, has limits and is relative.
(more on that below)
Morality OF COURSE is relative.  Who decides what is good and what isn’t?  One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter.  One man's terrorist is another nation's hero.  Think of Nelson Mandela, and his changing status as a symbol of human rights and as a revolutionary. Think of the 9/11 suicide pilots, and Osama Bin Laden. Think of your boss.  Think of a criminal.  To them, their victims are evil.  Think of anyone you disapprove of intensely and you have to admit, they have followers that love them.

Morality all depends on whose side you are on.  In the animal kingdom can there be said to be good animals and bad, good trees and evil trees?  Of course not.  Even the idea of a good day and a bad day is man's subjective interpretation. 

So to reiterate: one of the bible's highest calls to morality, the golden rule (do unto others as you would have others do to you) is biblical but is founded on Confucian principles espoused 500 years before the birth of Christ.  Even animals know to do this.  Bite and expect to be bitten back.  Co-operate and the pack benefits, and so do you.  Dogs know this, flocks of birds know this. Luke 6:31 of the New International Version: (NIV) 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you. Since it's written contemporaneously to Jesus life it seems like Jesus came up with it, but of course he did not.

- man has a soul.
Matthew 16:26For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?
What is a soul?  In simple language, a ghost.  A sort of luminous veil of light that departs our bodies when we die.  Have you ever seen a ghost? There is no scientific evidence to support that we have such a 'spirit' that can continue living when our brains and bodies are dead.

 In fact this is one of the best weapons believers use to distinguish themselves from animals.  It's hard to argue with because there's nothing to prove it is there or not there.  It is like claiming that emotion lives in the human heart.  It may feel true, but we know the heart is simply a muscle that pumps blood.  Tell that to two star-crossed lovers. But heart surgery has proved otherwise.  Although emotions feel like they live in our chests, and that we have a soul, it is only because this is the experience our brains give us.  When you are brain dead those sensations join the extinction of the body and mind.

- man has a sense of humour.  Well, anyone who keeps animals knows that animals also have temperaments.  They can get agitated, and moody, and playful, and there's obvious delight and humour when dogs nip playfully at people, or run away with their shoes.  Parrots too seem to enjoy playing the clown with their human hosts. They seem to respond more to humour too. Of course the most obvious place to look for smiling, and humour and even laughter in animals is at the primate family. More on the topic here: and

- man has imagination. Ever seen your dog dreaming; it's limbs flicking, making small yelps?  What's going on there? Ever mentioned to your dog you're taking it for a walkies, or jingled your keys, or brought a bag smelling of every case the dog is responding to a cue both remembering a previous experience and imagining a repeat of it. When a dog responds to a rustle in the grass it is thinking 'could be a mouse'.  It's not simply responding to the sound, otherwise it would be looking up every time a leaf rustled in a tree. Cats play with string imagining them to be the tails of a mouse.  Especially young animals, like young children, spend a lot of time playing and seeing the world through their own games. With birds too, certain sounds pique a birds interest.  The introduction of a mirror also seems to do a little more than simply show the bird a reflection.  When a person looks into the mirror, and they move in response, how is that different to an animal spending hours each day doing the same?

- man can love.  What is love?  There's attraction, and one mate doing something for another, but we all know when humans get married, the lovemaking dives and the couple sort of settle down to a more practical existence together.  It's not that different to nesting birds.  A lot of frenetic courtship and copulation followed by a lot of hard work raising a brood and never seeing each other.  One could say love involves sacrifice (God gave his son to die for us) but lion cubs are devoured all the time by older lions who wish to mate with the dominant female, and nature wants the strongest lion to sire cubs that will survive, so weaker cubs must be devoured so that the pride and the species gets stronger.  The same thing applies with Meerkats, eagle chicks and so on.
Anyone who doubts that animals love, or even doubts the depth of loyalty and affection clearly doesn't have a dog.

Which brings us to the infernal verse that makes Christians feel compelled to feel contempt towards their non human companions:

Genesis 1:26
- And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

Luke 10:19 - Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you.

Luke 8:33 - Then went the devils out of the man, and entered into the swine: and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the lake, and were choked.

There is a saying that there are great minds in the world, but not all of them are human.  I think this is very true, but sadly, few of us appreciate and can share in this.  By the same token, Einstein said: "Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty."
To not do so impoverishes not only us in our experience of ourselves and world, but the whole world.

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