Some thoughts about human relations with our animal brethren, and the Earth.
Let’s begin with a few ruminations about God, since it’s handy to have a divine baseline in this discussion.
A popular myth has humans “created in the image of God.” I’d like to see the Hebrew for that. I love what those capable royalists did in the King James Bible but defer to the original text wherever serious thinking is required. But let’s go with the English poetry, for now. The presumption – some might term it arrogation – is the we are the Crown of Creation, divinely modeled, and have the right to name and rule all life on the planet. I dispute every jot of that, so let’s dig deeper.
I’ve done some serious thinking about God, and did spend part of a semester at Harvard Divinity School. So allow me to say this about that:
The notion that God is something we can describe, let alone that he has a penis, a beard and two eyes, is unspeakably offensive in its idiocy and trivialization. The Native American “Wakantanka,” Great Mystery, at least points in the right direction. It claims no knowable instantiation. What human model accounts for quarks, quasars and black holes, for galaxies and oceans? Some stupidity can be ignored. This can be neither ignored nor forgiven. We do not, cannot, know or describe God. That ineffable awesome Other is at its core Unknowable, indescribable and utterly vast. We may impute to it beneficence, and there I hum along. But beyond that, we step away from the verge, hang our heads in humility and mumble apology – rather than insulting the Great Mystery and its stumbling progeny, human intelligence by making any pronouncements about It’s nature, purpose or qualities. We cannot have it in mind.
This said, let’s talk about we-who-are-supposedly-fashioned-in-It’s-image.
Humanity, homo sapiens sapiens, master of the planet, wielder of tools, owner of an opposable thumb, gifted with ceaseless fertility (til around age 40, give or take), ambitious, destructive, devious, possessed of spoken and written language, weaponry and a febrile desire to control All… (Now is that the description of a God you could love?)
This homo sapiens claims that because he (I use the pronoun consciously) can shape tools, bend the earth, grow crops and kill game, is the master of everything and superior to all. There is a leap beyond faith or reason and merits revisitation. Let’s journey thither together.
When pressed to cite, beyond the capacity to kill everything known, why this homo sapiens is to be considered the crown of creation, after the religious drivel sputters to silence and opposable thumbs rest in the pockets of the thinker, the customary response is, “But we alone can speak.” We, uniquely, laugh (this has been debunked – cf, The Exultant Ark). We contemplate the sky, the stars (as do owls). We can organize into hunting tribes (wolves). We have complex societies (elephants).
If we stop for a compassionate moment and truly open our eyes to the world of four-leggeds and wingeds, of swimming creatures and growing seed-bearing plants, we can lay down the God burden and step back from our annihilatory arrogance. And we begin to glimpse that we are one of many miracles. In our ignorance and insensitivity (literal, scientific, sensory in-sensate-ivity or incapacity to sense), we cannot hear the language of bees, the thoughts of our kittens, cogitate with the elephants, share poems with porpoises or songs with whales. In so doing, we have walled ourselves off from a far greater God than the dangling-penis-bearded-glowering-swordwielder.
The Earth itself breathes, speaks, exhales poetry.
We cannot hear the infrasonic lessons of the elephants, felt through the soles of their feet. And what do we not hear, though faintly we sense, in the souls of our dogs and cats, as they gaze into our eyes with understanding that sometimes surpasses our mothers’? What speech passes between wolves, woven into caring, loving packs that outlive any individual member? What lessons does the polar bear mother teach her cub as the latter learns to wait by the breathing hole for the seal? What murmurs of the heart do they share as they travers the ice under the aurora?
We are one blip in a vast symphony of evolutionary probes, each claiming their place in the day, their journey in spiraling purposeful transformation.
To see across the chasm – which is really just a diaphonous veil – to the soul of another animal, or even a plant, and sense its sensing of us, is the start of an entirely new journey. We move onward, beyond the self, and at least step on the road to what we call God.
Interspecies communication is a step beyond the limitations of being just human. Human isn’t God or even god-like. It’s one flicker of a divine and incomprehensibly vast flame. Turning away from this is actually and pointedly turning against God. It is profane in every sense.
I touch my cat, caress her neck as she lies supine in the sun. She closes her eyes, stretches her neck and seems to draw back her lips, registering the softness and evident affection in my touch. Which part of this transaction is unknowable? Which part is alien to human exchange?
We are now summoned to go beyond human bounds.
If the planet is to survive as an inhabitable environment, if we are to survive as a species, we need to do more than engineer our way out of the cul-de-sac of violent ignorance.
We are summoned to transform at our core.
The supposition that we are supreme, and an extension of the divine finger, will likely and soon lead us over an evolutionary cliff. It will be somewhat sad, but not truly tragic, when in a spasm of our most unlovely traits we blow ourselves off the surface of Earth, taking most living species with us. I speak here not of some creeping ecological implosion but of the other, actually more likely, explosive termination. (Picture an unfortunate exchange between Israel and Iran extending into an exchange between Russia and the US that then drags in China. Our strategic nukes remain on launch ready status, set to go in under 13 minutes.)
The alternative, which already are manifest in a variety of geomantic, feminist, and Earth-centric movements, is to acknowledge our humbler place as one part, albeit a brilliant and promising spark, in a greater picture. A responsible role in this larger mosaic calls for limits on consumption, dramatic change in waste disposal behavior, reduction in human population, control over resource consumption and transnational management of wildlife and plant species so as to responsibly husband the living legacy of the planet for future generations.
There is no alternative to this course but extermination. We may go convinced (incorrectly, as I point out) of our divinity and rectitude, but we will surely go if we hold to our current cognitive path.
We, species homo sapiens sapiens, must earn that redundant title, the thinking part, by transcending our limited conception of who we are, how we fit in here, and what that unknowable Mystery may have empowered us to do here, and beyond this planet, if we behave properly and transcend being merely human.
The kittens and elephants point the way.