Monday, January 25, 2010

Dogs Always Hump Each Other; They Never Make Love

If you are a dog-lover then insert "cats" in the title. If you are a lover of both dogs and cats insert "ferrets." If you love ferrets, sorry. Deal with it.

There is a prominent and prevailing worldview, a mindset of our culture which believes and asserts that we, i.e. human beings, are not any different than the animal kingdom. It would assert that we are merely the most highly evolved--that is the only difference. It is the belief that the material world is all that exists. Only that which can be scientifically quantified--seen, heard, touched, tasted, or smelled-- is real.

Something within me rebels at the thought that I am not categorically different than the lowly ferret or even the highly esteemed dog or cat, or even the chimpanzee who, at times, evidences more intelligence than my Uncle Fred.

I believe there is something inherent/innate within us as human beings that knows we are different from the animal. Nineteen years ago when my dad died at 66 years of age,why did I weep? Why were there days when I sobbed because I missed him so much? When the pallbearers solemnly carried the casket I knew the casket didn't simply contain a 150 lb carcass of a formerly upright bi-ped. This was not merely the body of my flesh and blood, but a kindred "spirit." A spirit unmeasurable by empirical research methods, but, nonetheless, so real, so actual that 19 years later I can see him just as clearly as if he were sitting here beside me as I type this.

I believe one difference between "us" and "them" is that we have a conscience. It would appear that animals have a conscience (e.g. when they flash you that "paws in the cookie jar" glance), but I would contend it is not conscience, but a conditioned response. It's called operant conditioning. B. F. Skinner was one of the most influential of American psychologists. A radical behaviorist, he developed the theory of operant conditioning -- the idea that behavior is determined by its consequences, be they reinforcements or punishments, which make it more or less likely that the behavior will occur again. Clarence the canine or Freakshow the ferret doesn't experience a guilty conscience when he chews up his owner's $150 Nike running shoes; he has been conditioned by now to know that punishment ensues when he chews on something other than his designated doggie-bone or ferret flavo-ring. It's conditioning. You and I, on the other paw, assuming we are relatively healthy moral beings, do not vandalize each others possessions. We refrain from doing so not because we fear we will be caught, not because of fear of present or future punishment, but because we know it is wrong. To do so is a violation of the other person.

I just don't think people with this prevailing worldview can live consistently with their beliefs. Here's what I mean. I can't imagine the secular humanist, upon the delivery of his long-anticipated child, exclaiming to his wife, " What an intricate formation of respiratory, neurological, and vascular systems in our newly birthed fetus! Note the weight and length of this epidermically-housed ectoplasm." NO!!! He says, "What a beautiful son/daughter!!" He says something equivalent to that because, in truth, he cannot live consistently with his worldview. It's mere fetal ectoplasm--until it's his own. Now it is "my son," my "daughter." That's because there is something--someone--beyond mere "material" that has been born. There is a person--spirit housed in flesh--that his worldview cannot account for, but which he himself, in his very words, cannot deny.

Can you imagine a couple who deeply loves each other, and after an evening of celebrating an anniversary and reminiscing about their years together, they culminate this endearing time together by making love. Does he then turn to her and say,"Now THAT was certainly an acceleration of the central nervous system. I noted a rapidly increased heart rate, blood pressure significantly beyond normal ranges, reserves of adrenalin activated, and a jelling of body fluids." NO!! He says, "I love you." Because there is more going on than mere physiological response. Something you can't measure or quantify is taking place at the deep level of the soul. (He also says, "I love you," because his wife would kill him if he were to utter the other response.)

From a faith-based perspective, a person is unique from an animal in that in the Genesis account of creation, only man and woman are described as being created "in the image of God."
The entire remaining created order is described as "good"--no doubt about it. But you alone, my friend, are an image-bearer of God. the creator of the cosmos. I encourage you to celebrate your dignity and to view and treat others as being created in God's image.

We are more than we appear to be.


Anonymous said...

Sorry I tend to disagree. No one can convince me that my furry friends don't have a soul,a spirit or even a conscience..
People.... humans very rarely show or give UN coditional love.. More times then not my furry friends(yes even my rats) have been there in my darkest, lowest days.. They have been there giving me hugs kisses. And they always listen...They have licked my tears away..Given me a paw.. and deeply hugged me..I have never seen disgust or disappointment in their eyes..I have seen that in humans.. God created them to be with us.. for us..I'm thinking he knew what he was doing..In says.. I/you will lay down with the lion...I believe I just might...and my rats and I just might be your neighbor :)

Anonymous said...

Pardon my ignorance but I feel compelled to ask: Why would it be important to know that animals don't look like God? I tend to agree with you on things that you say, Steve but I find it difficult to understand this one. When we "make love" to our partner, we feel great because of enkephalin and other endorphines binding to the opiate receptors in our brains. If God made that happen then fine but it's not some totally spiritual thing in my eyes. I beleive in ends up being very spiritual. I see no point in differentiating our behaviors and feelings from animals, seriously, what is the point? Also, there are animals who mate for life, animals grieve at loss, they show all emotions and are so much better than humans at being open minded. Yes, animals can be taught with conditioning but that's how we learn as well. What is the huge difference other than a flexible thumb?

Steve said...

Thank you, Bongo and Tim, for your individual perspectives.
A comment, by nature, is to be brief, so maybe I will respond in greater detail via another blog. (Maybe)
Out of respect for PETA I want to assure everyone I believe all God's furry creatures have their dignified place-- many of them right next to the mashed potatoes. Seriously, my purpose was not to denigrate animals but to elevate the value and worth of a human being.
I have deeply loved our dogs, but I love our children in a categorically different way because they are categorically different than our dogs.
Bongo, I think your are "romanticizing" your pets. Do you really think they "kiss" you? They lick themselves, they lick you on the face (if you insist on letting them). Sorry--it's just a lick. They hump each other, they hump my leg--it's all the same to them. Tim, if it's just an enkephalin kick, i.e. merely a neuro-biochemical reaction, then we are delusional to call it love or intimacy. Again, I don't think you can live consistently with that worldview. I don't know if you are married or have a significant other, but I have an inclination, as I said in my blog, that if you are in a committed relationship she would take great offense if that is all it means to you. There is something within us, i maintain, that knows more is going on than mere endorphins.Even you acknowledge that sex can be a "spiritual" experience. My friend, which is it? Just an enkephalin kick or is it inherent with meaning which cannot be empirically measured?
I realize I'm going on and on, which isn't the purpose of a "comment."
Thanks for hearing me though disagreeing. If any of my, at times, sarcasm has offended, I apologize.
Anyone else desire to engage in the conversation?

thanks for hearing me and responding