3 themes continually emerge in my conversations these days – these 3 things about humans I have become convinced of:
Humans are mammals. The nipples and bellybuttons give it away. Some people will want to say that we are more than mammals, but we are not less than mammals. One can argue that we are exceptional mammals – but we are not exceptions to mammals.
Humans are social creatures. If biologically we are mammals then sociologically we are communal. We naturally break into families, clans, and tribes.
Humans are meaning making beings. We have an inherent propensity to take any number of events or variables and assign them a narrative framework. Our minds long for reasons and explanation to tie together our experiences.
These three confessions have several deep implications.
The first one shines a real light on even such abstract things as doctrines like ‘original sin’. If you doubt that we are mammals, just look at our mating rituals and habits. We need to acknowledge we have competing desires – both evolution folks and creation folks admit this. For a man, there are competing desires to both raise offspring (usually with their mother) and to spread seed as widely as possible (with women beside the children’s mother). These competing desires are what the term original sin is attempting to address.
The second one illuminates things like marriage and some of its difficulties. Primates take a long time to wean and come of age. They need to be in an environment conducive to this extended timeline. When a women is looking for a mate to help in the process, she needs one strong enough to defend them and bring home some food – but she also needs want gentle enough that she and children are not threatened by his presence. That is a delicate balance and our expectations of marriage (as a social contract) reflects this.
The third one helps us get religion. After the Christmas tsunami of 2004 we learned that older Indonesian cultures used to have stories about a god who lived under the sea and had a dog. From time to time the dog would ‘rouse from its nap, stand and shake – that was their explanation for tsunamis and the randomness. We have people to this day who say “Everything happens for a reason” and think that they are quoting the Bible. Humans inherently connect the dots with narrative frameworks to help make sense of their experiences.
I can’t imagine anyone wanting to refute any of these three. They may want to add things like ‘the image of God’ or the natural order of creation… but I think that is a second conversation after we get these first three anchor pieces in place – without being anchored the conversation drifts off into odd directions.
I’m willing to talk about the Image of God after we talk about nipples and belly buttons.
December 9, 2011 at 4:54 am
Undeniably mammalian. Some even have more than 2 nipples (but I’ve never seen more than one belly button…and there is good documentation of men producing milk). I’m in the “exceptional mammal” camp, but I’m also in the “of those to whom much is given much will be required” camp. I also love Desmond Morris’ work on human attraction/reproduction. Love this conversation.