Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Image of God

Many years ago, we watched at home as a family the movie The Truman Show.  I highly recommend it.  Anyway, at the end of the flick I asked everyone whether the movie was "anti-God" or "anti-people playing God."  My then fourteen-year old son didn't hesitate, "It's anti-God!"  I think he was right.

A similar thought came to mind as I read this piece about the tendency we all share to project a moral sensibility onto animals when we hear or witness stories like the proverbial dog that saves the baby from the burning building.  The writer, Stephen Budiansky, will have none of this and while he praises another writer, Dale Peterson, for telling the "rest of the story" about, for example, the zoo ape that "saved" the boy who fell into the cage, he thinks Peterson suffers still from the same root problem.
Mr. Peterson, who was Ms. [Jane] Goodall's authorized biographer, nonetheless makes clear at the outset that he very much shares the fundamental ambition of the animal-rights movement to puncture the claim of human exceptionalism—the "error," he states, of believing that humans have a unique status in nature or "are disconnected from the limits, systems, structures, and truths of the rest of the natural world." Recognizing the difficulty of boosting animals, his approach is instead to deflate humans: in particular, to suggest that there is much less to even so vaunted a human trait as morality than we like to believe. Rather than a sophisticated system of language-based laws, philosophical arguments and abstract values that sets mankind apart, morality is, in his view, a set of largely primitive psycho logical instincts. This is a definition undemanding and broad enough to encompass much of the animal world, which is precisely his point.
While Budiansky doesn't go this far in his critique, it occurs to me, yet again, that this is precisely the point because to concede the empirically obvious and scientifically undeniable hard cold fact of human exceptionalism is to crack open the door just a bit toward having to admit, or at least investigate, something more, something much more.  See my title.

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