Thursday, February 16, 2006

The Chameleon and the Tyrannosaurus Rex

Humankind survived over the hundreds of thousands--at least, that's how it looks now--of years, despite their lack of physical adapatations. We were hairless, soft-bellied, weak-backed, bi-pedal; had limited range of hearing and smell, and only two eyes. We spawned one or two offspring at a time instead of swarms of them, depended on two partners getting together.

Okay, so we share that with other animals. But we've evolved away from having a female yowl at night until suitors come running from miles around to pounce on her and produce an offspring (at perhaps 6 months of age!) Ask any cat-owner of an un-spayed animal, and you find out that lots of offspring does ensure continuation of the species. Add 9 lives to the mix, and you've got an enduring population.

But we had certain other characteristics that enabled us to survive and triumph over our better-abled brothers and sisters in the animal world, to say nothing of the plant kingdom. We walked on two feet, which freed our upper appendages for food gathering. We developed an opposed thumb, which made the hand a much more useful instrument, enabling us to construct tools to help us survive.

What did we construct? Clothing, to protect in northern climes, where we were able to find a niche without too much competition. We made containers for food and water. We found diverse ways to make homes, and could construct large enough dwellings to allow for a variety of activities. We made objects to enable us to worship. And we made weapons.

Notice that this last artifact was different from the others. All of those first accomplishments basicially enabled us to adapt to our surroundings. If the climate was inclement, we could move, we could dress warmly, we could build a better house, we could store food more effectively. If there was danger, we could build protection or we could defend ourselves. As we developed, we found ever more effective ways to adapt.

However, with weapons came more than self-defense, more than killing of game for food. They also enabled us to attack and dominate others. Shock and awe was not about adaptation.

So, essentially we have two ways open to us: adaptation and domination. The question is, which is better for us? Because I write from the standpoint of faith in this blog, I look first to the wisdom of our parents in faith. It is interesting that one of the earliest stories we have from the Hebrew Scriptures is that of Cain and Abel. Cain lived by subjecting animals to his power; Abel survived by raising plants. Already there was a division between use of the land in such a way as to coexist, and one which involved the domination of one creature by another.

With Abraham, later on, we hear very little of warfare. Abraham used his adaptive skills in traveling to a new land, one in which he and his family could flourish and increase. Much could be said about those who followed, the lessons they left in how a people must live in order to adapt to the world and survive intact.

Following in that same tradition, Jesus Christ gave the example of one who turned the other cheek, who offered only peaceful resistance, and his model in this was the one in whose line he was born, David the King.

How effective is peace? Consider the two strains of the people who gave us both David and Jesus. The Jewish nation was struggling at the time Jesus was born. The Romans kept them subjected until around 70 AD, when they finally moved in and took over Jerusalem and Israel. The surviving Jews were the Pharisees and the Christians. Neither stood much of a chance, deprived of their land, persecuted. Both survived against all odds and are together among the most successful members of today's world.

Both Jews and Christians resorted to force at times, but this was not the source of their success. Their success lay in the undeniable strength each derived from a faith that taught them how to live in the world and beyond it.


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