30 November 2011

What Makes Humans So Special?

[ranked 7th on MySpace in early 2008 when it was cool]

On another blog, someone made the claim that humans are superior to all other creatures because of our ability to piece together sentences. I would simply say, "language," but other animals (notably chimps) are also able to communicate wants and feelings in a way that humans can understand. No, this person said that we were better merely because of our grammar.

I had a decent response, but for some reason no one responded to my comment.
[insert overused sound of crickets chirping]

I then decided to pose the question to you for two reasons:
1) Most of the readers of this blog are well-read and/or educated.
2) All of you are extremely opinionated – some to a fault. ?

What makes a Human superior to all other forms of life?

Is it our ability to use tools?

Is it bipedalism [ability to walk upright]?

Is it the ability to mourn, and understand the loss of our own?

Is it our language that sets us apart?

 Why do we think that just because an animal doesn't communicate the same way as we do, that it is a lesser being?

Though perhaps they don't speak with "proper grammar" in OUR language, we know exactly what they are saying.

What about people who cannot speak – are they not as special as the rest of us?

What about people who cannot even sign? Those who were not born with the facilities necessary to communicate on the complex level of other humans – are they not as special as the rest of us?

It can't be our religion that makes us special. Some humans do not possess religion, but some elephants do. Some hypothesize that Neanderthals had religion, but we know they were not actually human.

It can't be our ability to love. Not all humans do that, unfortunately, but many animals do. Swans mate for life (they seem to be doing better than 51% of America).

It can't be our ability to vocalize. Nearly all animals can make noises expressing surprise or fear or aggression.

The only thing that sets us apart from the rest of animal kingdom would be our DNA. However, even a mouse shares most that with us. Though that makes us different than other species, how does it make us better?

22 November 2011

The Offense of Christmas Trees:

I recently saw a friend vent online about how he was upset that a store labeled their trees "holiday trees."  Whatever religion you are (or aren't), you probably call it a "Christmas tree."  Even my Jewish friends put up Christmas trees.  They really have no religious affiliation.  Yet not calling them "Christmas trees" may be more historically accurate, and not for the common notion that the tradition was originally pagan (like many aspects of this season).

Christians haven't always liked celebrating Christmas, particularly American Christians.  What is today one of the most holy of holidays was largely ignored or frowned upon. Early Christians did not observe Christmas at all.  Puritans, starting with Oliver Cromwell, preached against the "heathen traditions surrounding this sacred event."  These austere beliefs traveled with our much-revered Pilgrims over to the New World.  In 1659, the General Court of Massachusetts fined people for hanging decorations; in fact, any observance of 25 December outside of church was outlawed. Not until the mid-19th century was Christmas finally made a legal holiday in Massachusetts. There is no mention of the Christmas tree in the United States prior to the 19th century.*

Concerning the tree itself, those of more orthodox faith point to Jeremiah 10:2-4:
2Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them. 3For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. 4They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.

Some websites believe this passage speaks more about idolatry, but if adorning a tree with expensive decorations and lights then placing it in a focal point of the home and surrounding it with presents isn't "excessive devotion"...

Nothing excessive about that.
There are those people today, such as my friend, who are upset that "Christmas" is being removed from the celebration of the season.  These angry people usually attribute it to the non-existent War on Christmas - this new evil brought about by liberals and their lawyers, by pagans and atheists.  Truthfully, there is nothing new here.  As previously mentioned, Puritans felt the heathens were ruining the sacred commemoration of Christ's birth with their frivolous decorations; even in 1885, popular publication Harper's Magazine ran an article discussing how some were worried that soon the holiday could become burdened by "all the excessive gifts and artificial social observances."

No room left at the inn, or under the tree, for Jesus.

Perhaps the most appropriate way for a Christian to celebrate the birth of Christ is in quiet reflection as in days of old - without the distractions of gifting, drinking, feasting and decorating.  Truly, referring to a decorated fir as a simple "holiday tree" may be more respectful of the nativity.

In addition, we can also stop hearing the ol' "Real or Fake Tree?" argument. 

[fake is better]

*Most agree that the German immigrants brought it to Pennsylvania; from there, the idea spread.