More Than an Animal

I read an article once about how a lot of male giraffes are bisexual. It’s not the only article like it, and I’m sure you’ve seen many like it. Some researchers from some university observe homosexual behavior in animals from bonobos to giraffes down to red flour beetles and fruit flies. Then they make the assumption that because it happens in animals, then it must be genetic or at least have a genetic component. All of that is good and fine, but where they lose me is when they make an underlying moral statement about human sexuality based on observations about the animals.

I’m not writing this to argue for or against homosexuality or to make a political statement about same sex marriage. Because it’s not what these articles and studies on animal sexuality are attempting to say about human sexual behavior that worries me. What worries me the most about them is what they attempt to say about what it means to be human. These articles make very big statements about the core of our “humaness” in very subtle ways. The idea is that because we are all a part of the same evolutionary process, then we can prove that our impulses are completely normal and ultimately moral by looking to the animals. After all, we are merely animals, right?

But you see, it’s not homosexual behavior in animals that really surprises me or really proves anything. What would surprise me is if a zoologist uncovered a stash of journals filled with entries written by a bisexual giraffe that observed human sexual behavior because he was trying to figure out for himself how natural and moral his bisexual tendencies were. It’s not his actions that surprise me, but if he were looking for justification of his actions outside of himself, then I would be shocked.

I side with G.K. Chesterton when he writes, “…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…” No other animal seeks justification for his actions, and no other animal fights political battles or outright wars over what they deem to be the “right course of action” for the future of a village, country, continent, or planet. Moral decisions are moral decisions, and it is silly to look to the giraffes for guidance. Giraffes do not campaign for causes, and I have never read about a noble giraffe martyr.

Maybe your mind is protesting, “But these studies help to show us that we are animals and that we don’t need objective moral reasons.”  At least that’s the protest my mind had against my own argument. However, the arguments implying that the behaviors of other animals prove that we don’t need moral justification are self-refuting. If we don’t need moral justification for our actions because we are animals, then why are we looking to the animals for moral justification? The very fact that we humans look outside of ourselves for justification for our actions proves that we are different than any other animal. We are a moral creature, and we apply “spiritual” and moral dimensions to everything we do. Even these articles I’m referring to are making spiritual and moral claims about humanity.

If we disagree on our stances on the morality of human sexuality, then please, let’s discuss. I love a good discussion when it’s done humbly and empathetically. However, if you try to tell me that a human is merely an animal, and therefore moral justification is not necessary for you after you’ve already sought justification in scientific studies, then I will call your bluff.

These kinds of articles also reek with idolatry. I know that probably sounds weird since they were probably published by atheists, but bear with me. When I read these kinds of articles, I’m reminded of Romans 1:22,23 which reads, “Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.” Like I said, there is a sense in which they are looking to the animals for moral justification for their actions instead of looking to God, and at the heart of it, there is really no difference between this and bowing down to an idol of an animal for justification. If you look to anything other than God for justification, then you are committing idolatry. It’s something we’ve all done.

The idea is also presented in the Bible that idol worshipers become like the idols that they look to. For instance, idols cannot see, and their worshipers become blind; idols can’t do anything, and their worshipers become worthless. Psalm 115:5-8 reads:

“They have mouths, but do not speak;
eyes, but do not see.
They have ears, but do not hear;
noses, but do not smell.
They have hands, but do not feel;
feet, but do not walk;
and they do not make a sound in their throat.
Those who make them become like them;
so do all who trust in them.”

If this is true, then just like idol worshipers will become like the idols they adore, if we look to the animals for our morality, then we will become like nothing more than animals.

It’s a funny concept, isn’t it? If we humble ourselves, viewing ourselves as small and look to the God who is larger than us, then we become more human. But if we view ourselves as wise beings who can determine for ourselves what is ultimately right and wrong by gazing on lower things, we become less human. We are great when we understand we are small.

Of course this only makes sense. Whether we look to a literal idol or to animal behavior for moral guidance, we are not looking to the one we are meant to be like, so we will never be as we were meant to be. We will actually be less human. So, I don’t like those articles because they tell me that I am nothing more than an animal, and therefore it’s okay to act like one. However, I believe that I’m not created in the image of a bisexual giraffe. I am created in the image of a moral being whose holiness and righteousness boggles my finite mind, and I’m going to spend my life swimming in the mysteries of his greatness in relation to my insignificance.