Friday, January 6, 2017

Man Is Not an Animal

Many a sensible modern man must have abandoned Christianity under the pressure of three such converging convictions as these:  first, that men, with their shape, structure, and sexuality, are, after all, very much like beasts, a mere variety of the animal kingdom; second, that primeval religion arose in ignorance and fear; third, that priests have blighted societies with bitterness and gloom. Those three anti-Christian arguments are very different; but they are all quite logical and legitimate; and they all converge.  The only objection to them (I discover) is that they are all untrue.  If you leave off looking at books about beasts and men, if you begin to look at beasts and men then (if you have any humour or imagination, any sense of the frantic or the farcical) you will observe that the startling thing is not how like man is to the brutes, but how unlike he is.  It is the monstrous scale of his divergence that requires an explanation.  That man and brute are like is, in a sense, a truism; but that being so like they should then be so insanely unlike, that is the shock and the enigma.  That an ape has hands is far less interesting to the philosopher than the fact that having hands he does next to nothing with them; does not play knuckle-bones or the violin; does not carve marble or carve mutton.  People talk of barbaric architecture and debased art.  But elephants do not build colossal temples of ivory even in a rococo style; camels do not paint even bad pictures, though equipped with the material of many camel’s-hair brushes.  Certain modern dreamers say that ants and bees have a society superior to ours.  They have, indeed, a civilization; but that very truth only reminds us that it is an inferior civilization.  Who ever found an ant-hill decorated with the statues of celebrated ants?  Who has seen a bee-hive carved with the images of gorgeous queens of old?  No; the chasm between man and other creatures may have a natural explanation, but it is a chasm.  We talk of wild animals; but man is the only wild animal.  It is man that has broken out.  All other animals are tame animals; following the rugged respectability of the tribe or type.  All other animals are domestic animals; man alone is ever undomestic, either as a profligate or a monk.

G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, pg.141-142

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