Visitor:
Practical Issues > Actions to Take > Religion for ARAs
The Anthropomorphic Fallacy


Mira Fong

THE ANTHROPOMORPHIC FALLACY
A strange bird? Oh no, it's a homo-tomato snoozing in bird's nest.


click thumbnail to enlarge

This photo was able to arouse some feelings to its viewers only because I drew a human face on a tomato that has an odd shape (with a nose) and named it 'Homo Tomato'. It was the anthropomorphic appearance that made a difference in our response to the picture. What if I didn't draw a face on this tomato, would we then simply see it as arrangement, a tomato placed in a bird's nest without the projection of certain sentiments.
 
Old myths from antiquity all privilege human interest over other animals, and had led to the way we treat them as inferior. Because their appearances are unlike ours. Anthropomorphism is the pre-curser to Speciesism.
 
 
Perhaps with the same reason one can explain why in places of worship, the sentiments are built upon human images as supreme beings. Religious stories are filled with anthropocentric hermeneutics. Belief systems in Egypt, Syria, Greece, Rome, India and China are based on human psychology, fitted with a "for human alone teleology" which means the universe is built upon a hierarchical order and human is the supreme. Why would a universal spirit only concern itself with human affairs but not the rest in the universe? say the chimpanzees, the great whales or chickens and cows?
 
To erect a human centered cosmology is an act of self-inauguration, as backward as the cosmology of Ptolemy, which views the earth as the center of the universe. In this sense, the animal rights concept is equivalent to the Copernicus revolution, it changes from a human centric view of the universe to the sanctity of all that exist.
 
Our species is only one among billions, our civilization occupies only a small portion of the planet, and the earth is only a speck of dust floating in the universe. If there is a cosmic consciousness, it would hold every part of the universe and every planet and animal in safety. But, apparently each life must fend for itself, human's or non-humans, flowers and trees, desert and rivers, are all at the mercy of a stable climate and the healthy functioning of the eco-system.
 
 The idea of spirit, soul and its reincarnation and migration are formulated by one species may not match up the view of other intelligence living on other planets. The metaphysical projections into the unknown is basically a self-fulfilling gesture: the projection of a godhead with human features and has similar temperament, persona and intelligence such as cognitive ability, memory.  Such guess work can fool the brain to translate myths into facts. This explains why people tend to mix up mythical imagination with reality. Even if we acknowledge the presence of a cosmic intelligence, it is unknowable and cannot be thought of.
 
Kant, the philosopher of the Enlightenment, has made this explicit that behind the phenomenal world (that which can be observed), is limited by our mental and physical  apparatus; we could never know the noumenal, the thing-in-itself, or positing a transcendent being with human like consciousness. 
 
The inner aspect of contemplative practice is truly valuable in providing moral guidance and a tranquil life. The main reason to have a belief system for most people is that it satisfies our emotional needs-a soul watcher is able to share our emotions-love, anger, revenge, approval and disapproval- who intimately understand what we think and feel. The attempt to explain the unfathomable and to search for eternal life was common among early civilizations. In the Vedic myth, it describes the whole universe as divine fire, the Agni that permeates in everything including our human consciousness.
 
Is it true that religions of antiquity were from a golden age? According to records, the golden age of great teachings was also a dark age with chaos and wars. Great mind of the axial age like Chuang-Tze, Socrates, Confucius, Jesus and Buddha, their emergence was a desperate response to the brutal sights of murders and slavery that they were witnessing. One such example is demonstrated in the ancient story of Mahabharata, the dialogue between Arjuna and Krishna, as the latter urging Arjuna to gather all his strength to fight and defeat Karna, their enemy. The two great epic poems of Homer: Iliad  and Odyssey of the Trojan war are sufficed to convince us that our history is plagued by violence. Such violent nature is also the cause of animal suffering, humans and non-humans.
 
Julian Huxley, an eminent biologist and philosopher, who prefers a rational explanation regarding the origin of human history, he said: "Research (natural history, genetics, psychology...) has proved that pre-history emerges from biological evolution, not from the will of divine. The essence of human life is observed and understood mainly through social relationships."  
 
Our concept of time, of eternity has no relevance to the world at large. It matters only within the confine of human affairs. The mystery of the universe is made of unpredictable forces, the galactic activities of burning and exploding, have nothing to do with our needs and desires.
 
The essential teaching of Buddhism is that all sentient beings are equal and the main practice is compassion. Buddha was a role model for living simply and kindly including a non-violent vegetarian diet. Buddhism is essentially a non-theist meditative practice, but in some parts of China and India, it has been mystified as folk religion, with ceremony and worship, although Buddha was a historical figure.
 
The common analogy in religious ontology reflects the fallacy of anthropomorphic reasoning. Demons, evil deities and the hell realms are portrayed in beastly forms where as angels and gods or super beings are given human forms, with the assumption only humans go to heaven, non-humans go to the inferno, a purely human centric psychology.
But what one wishes or imagines has no correspondence to what really IS. The purpose of my arguments is that our way of valuing and structuring priority has a lot to do with the way we treat non-human animals.  
 
Schopenhauer, whose philosophy was profoundly influenced by Buddhism, tells us that the idea of a personal god or a soul, both is recognized by its human personality, is merely a manmade concept based on anthropomorphism. Without the brain and its conceptual thinking,  all that man-made reality would cease to exist.
 
A human-centered worldview is strategically designed to give us power over other animals and led to the holocaust of the animal kingdom. Once we are free from the psychology and mentality of anthropomorphism, the world would open to us, the wonder of �the others�, their intelligence, wisdom, love,  joy and struggle; their extraordinary abilities to care, cooperate, communicate with one another, their magical skills to swim, fly, run, burrow or even to transform (like the jelly fish?).
 
Edward Gibbon,  author of the book, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, is the greatest English historian of the 18 century. He commented, with a pessimistic view of human events: "History is  a little more than the register of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind!"  History clearly demonstrates our violent nature.  The technology of war have evolved from the use of spear and bow, swords, gunpowder to marine warfare, chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. When Heidegger said : "Only a god can save us now!", was he hopeful?  A heart without compassion, even a god cannot save us or the planet.
 
The living planet is made up the changing phases of land and sea, species emerging and evolving, in that there is no death, only the appearing and disappearing, no after life, or reincarnation. Such grand scale of things is beyond our linguistic ability or imagination to describe. It is unknowable, has no ears, eyes, nor sentiments to hear our cries, our wishes.
 
Humans must turn to each other for consolation. As autonomous moral agent, we make our own choices base on rational thinking, by that I mean being reasonable and responsible. Our sense of humility comes from being part of a greater process, with a good will for all earth dwellers, in sky, ocean and forests.
 
Without an over arching story, one can still appreciate the teachings of Buddha, the Gospels and the non-violent path of the Jains. Meditation does bring tranquility and clarity to our lives. One can still join a monastic community and practice simple living. The longing for the sublime cannot be the rationale for a transcendent spirit. The earth, along with her children, with its struggle and beauty, is where we all belong and we as care giver must tend to those in needs. We practice kindness and true justice for all: our kind and those others look different from us.   
 
Without the drawing of a human face, we then see the tomato simply as tomato; its mystery is ineffable as ours.
 
August 30, 2009Raining outside�

Fair Use Notice and Disclaimer
Send questions or comments about this web site to Ann Berlin, annxtberlin@gmail.com