Humanity, the spoiled child of the universe.

September 18, 2010 § 5 Comments

We are all born onto this Earth as the product of a mother and a father in a more-or-less helpless state. From the moment of birth we depend upon those around us to feed us and protect us from the ravages of the outside world. Unlike most other species on the planet who are born or hatched into situations that warrant that they are already on the move, a newly born human comes into the world as a completely dependent being, requiring the parents and extended families to be there for him or her. Our first moments on earth are bonding moments with our mothers, a time when we create ties that we hold onto for life. For most of us, our mothers, and to a lesser extent our fathers, are a symbol in our own lives of safety, caring, knowledge and guidance. Even into adulthood, we hold onto these bonds, for they are our introduction into the world. We are born at the center of our known universe. Parents care deeply for their children, would do anything in fact to protect them, even risking their own lives for the children to be safe. In the perfect situation, every need was provided for by our mothers and fathers, and if we asked nicely, our simple wishes could be granted. Humans need their parents and protectors, and we crave the unconditional love of our protectors well past the time when they are needed for our immediate survival. Our parents and carers are our immortal figures, always right, always there for us, and all-powerful. And they are also the deliverers of discipline and rules and guidelines for our lives.

Earth from the moon

Earth from the moon

This kind of unconditional love is soft-wired into our brains, and evolutionary advantage, which allows the brain and mind of a person to develop the complex and needed skills in early life such as speech and speech recognition, facial recognition, communication, and later motor skills like crawling, walking and digital manipulation of objects. Our societies grant us this privilege by providing us with a relatively safe place to rear our children. Most of us are not born into situations where imminent death looms in the grasses, at least, not any more.

As we grow up, our bonds to our parents weaken slightly, as we become more independent and self-reliant, but there is a part of us that still craves to be the focus of everything. We realise that our parents are simply people like ourselves, mortal, fallible and fragile. Some would say we all desire, somewhere in our psyches, to return to the infantile and helpless state, one where we are looked after and safe, with not a care in the world. As we extend our boundaries and our knowledge, our needs and wants become more complex, and we have to balance out our days in our schools, jobs, home life, social responsibilities etc. so the immediate need for parent-figures diminishes. Eventually, we pass this on to children of our own, and we become the carers and protectors of the next generation.

We know at an early age about death, and realise that we will each face death one day. Even our own parents, the ones who seemed invincible will too, one day, die. Quite a daunting idea. And in a child’s naive voice we will ask “But what comes after?” No matter how we mature we never seem to truly leave behind this need for a parental figure. We want the protection of something larger than ourselves, stronger than us, wiser and more powerful. This position is vacant in our lives, our parents being more like ourselves than we first conceived, so we have a tendency to fill this position, in our minds, with exactly what we miss from our childhood.

A creator, who by its divine hand, brought us (and everything else) into existence for us. A protector, old and wise, who knows everything. A provider, who miraculously brings to us everything we could possibly need. A disciplinarian, who will bring punishment upon us if we disobey. A friend who can see our deepest thoughts, and tell us that we are indeed special. A hand that is always there to guide in life, and help when times are tough. God is the ultimate parent-figure.

By this logic, if we are special, and cared for from above, and all is provided for us here on Earth, the logic follows that it must have been put here for us, and us alone. We are so special that God made all things bright and beautiful for humanity to enjoy, use and benefit from. Because God chose to give us life, it is our birthright to take and have all that we might want from this earth, for it is ours to take. And if we don’t get what we want, we ask, pester and request of God that we get what we want.

Once upon a time, there was the belief that the god or gods looked over all of us, the same gods for everyone. But our human conceit and self-importance has grown to the point where many believe that God is personalised, like the license plates on a car, to suit the wants and needs of an individual, as if to say that a single life is so important that God will be what you want it to be. So often people say things like “My god isn’t like that” or “The god I know is against that,” to match the intended outcome of the person saying it, like matching the personal god to the shoes that person is wearing. God is the ultimate accessory that no Prada handbag can match.

It seems that despite all the personal maturation that each person does in a lifetime, we as a species still struggle with being alone. The formative moments of our lives, where each one of us is the center of the known universe, carries on into adulthood in the form of creator-gods and all-powerful beings. And this carries with it the unfortunate side-effect of thinking that, because the Earth suits us so nicely then it must have been made for us. We have to realise that the inverse is true, that it is precisely because the Earth suits us so nicely that we exist at all. Humanity is the spoiled child of the universe, and we need to grow up.

The passage that lead me to write this blog is below, in Carl Sagan’s piece entitled “Consider Again that Pale Blue Dot”, a revisitation to the Pale Blue Dot from 1996.

“We seem to crave privilege, merited not by our works, but by our birth; by the mere fact that, say, we’re humans, and born on Earth. We might call it the anthropocentric, the human centred conceit. This conceit is brought close to culmination in the notion that we are created in God’s image. The creator and ruler of the entire universe looks just like me.

My! What a coincidence! How convenient and satisfying!”  – Carl Sagan

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On the fifth day

June 10, 2010 § 8 Comments

Humour me while I quote from the Bible:

And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the firmament of the heavens.” So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” And there was evening and there was morning, a fifth day. And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so. And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the cattle according to their kinds, and everything that creeps upon the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. Then 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 birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth. And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.”

William Blake's vision of Genesis

William Blake

The Christian account of “Genesis” in the Bible, taken from what is called the “Revised Standard Version” includes these words above, as it describes the creation of all the animals of the land, air and ocean. It was day five, and man was given “dominion” over all these creatures, to use as he saw fit. It was all in a day’s work for God, and all in the first thousand words of the Old Testament.

If you were to look at the “American Standard Version” of the bible the words are slightly different reading ;

“And God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he them; male and female created he them. And God blessed them: and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over … [the animals etc]”

Seemingly harmless words, but these words can be taken so many ways.

Remember these are the opening words of the Bible, and this acts as the explanation for how everything got here. So, if taken literally, these are some of the most powerful and important  words in the Bible.

These are but two of many available versions of the Bible available at this time, and I’m sure these are not the last, but there is a distinct difference between the two with the words “and replenish the earth and subdue it” included in the American Standard Version. These few words combined with the idea of having “dominion” over the plants and animals made me wonder about the intended meaning of these words, and the implied meaning they have.

And as a slight aside, while both of these versions of the Bible say that man has been given “every plant yielding seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit”, nowhere in this does it mention the idea of meat as food. Does the Bible signify that we should all be vegetarians? In fact, it seems to imply that ALL animals should be vegetarians, including the carnivores.

In any case, the idea of having dominion over the earth, and subduing it are very strong words, making instantly man the owner and ruler of the earth, man is owner and dominator over everything. A quick google search reveals the meaning of “dominion” as:

Sovereign or supreme authority; the power of governing and controlling; independent right of possession, use, and control; sovereignty; supremacy.

So by the very words of the Bible, man is immediately removed from everything else, and not only owns and must take power over nature, but is supreme over nature. We are better than ALL of nature and should treat it however we see fit.

The problem with this understanding should become apparent immediately. Western Christian based societies have done just this. By this doctrine, we have subdued and had our way with the environment, have raped and pillaged it, have sucked it dry at the environment’s expense, and have done it all pretty much as the opening of the Bible suggested.

To be completely reasonable, I’m not implying that man’s stupidity in dealing with the environment was all due to the opening passages of Genesis. And I speculate that if there were no Bible we may have, and quite probably done exactly the same thing to our environment. But a lot of civilization has built itself on the foundations of a Christian society, so it is the Holy Book of the Christian world that lays the foundation for much of the goings on in Europe and the Americas.

This is a bad place to put humans, especially when those who believe the words of Jesus (or Mohammed for that matter), see the earth as a temporary place, one that they leave behind once they have finished with their earthly life if they have been good and pious.

Not really much of an incentive to look after the earth is it? On the one hand the Bible give us permission to do whatever we want with the plants and animals, and on the other hand, we won’t be here too long anyway, and what comes after earth is much better anyhow.

I know I am being overly dramatic here, but remember, there those who read the Bible literally, and take every word as “The Word of God”. Most Christians I know are reasonable people, and know that the destruction of our world’s habitats is wrong, and getting worse with time. And in any case it leaves the theistic world with a pretty bad starting place when dealing with the world.

In the Islamic state of Malaysia, the Malacca Chief Minister Mohamad Ali Rustam reportedly stated last week that “God created animals for the benefits of human beings. That’s why he created rats and monkeys…” And while I’m cynical of the media and its spin, and while I’m not making a case here for animal testing and whether I am against it or not, this is the kind of thinking I see again and again from the religious extreme. To use the words of a stone-age text and ideals that are no longer relevant in a time when we may well destroy ourselves if we don’t make our choices wisely. All of us.

Another implication from Genesis that I think has a negative effect on the way we have historically viewed our environment is that it is claimed it took God only 6 days to create what has actually taken 13.73 billion years to arrive at what we call “now”,   and do not imply that what we have here on earth is special. If we destroy God’s sandbox, couldn’t he just create another one in less time? This is a digression, but I do think there is some psychological effect if you believe what the Bible says (or the Koran for that matter) as pure, wholly true and is a historical account.

Each of our existences is an incredible meeting of chance with chance. We should be humbled at the sheer expanse, the sheer power, the immensity and beauty of our natural universe. But if a person claims they speak with  heavenly ordained authority from the “powers that be” and make decisions for others and themselves based on authority, people have a tendency to use this as a way to get what “they” want and claim it as “God’s will”.

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