My Musings

Only Human

Only Human

“I am not an animal!” This was the exasperated cry of a severely deformed human being called The Elephant Man in a 1980 film of that name based on the life of Joseph Merrick (1862–1890). Merrick’s appearance made him a visual spectacle and a source of perverse entertainment. In one scene, his futile effort to escape a crowd of curious tormenters acting like animals ended with his hood pulled off and Merrick desperately affirming his human dignity (quoted above). It was lost on the crazed mob.

One way to minimize the significance of human life is to deny the wondrous differences between us and animals. Darwinism theorizes on how animals become humans somewhere along an evolutionary scale. The differences are merely chemical and biological, developing naturally and randomly. This is dehumanizing.

If life is just an accident and humans are just one part of the animal kingdom, then how do we account for the profound differences we see? Here are a dozen differences from my perspective:

  1. Only humans communicate with written language and use representative symbols as distinguished from signs.
  2. Only humans intentionally plant crops and gardens, cultivate them and study agriculture.
  3. Only humans design, make and wear clothes.
  4. Only humans keep tract or seem to care about linear time (an abstract concept).
  5. Only humans contemplate moral vice or virtue beyond the spectrum of consequences and experience guilt to the point of repenting of acknowledged sin.
  6. Only humans direct worship to a god, gods or any abstract imitation, and celebrate holidays, religious events and festivals.
  7. Only humans perform wedding or funeral rituals before their communities and families.
  8. I’m told only humans have opposable thumbs.
  9. Only humans are artists in the real sense of the word. I realize the “works” of monkeys find their way into museums but that’s another story.
  10. Only humans have the ability to tell and respond to stories, keep track of history, honor ancestors, or build on things learned in previous generations. Each human generation begins not from scratch but with gifts of heritage. We pass on complex legacies, traditions and memories in pursuit of the notion of progress.
  11. Only humans have abstract loyalties causing them to engage in mass warfare or organized sports. Animals compete and fight for mates or territory and may display presumed loyalty to a human or to their offspring (although some are brutal to their offspring or each other), but these loyalties are not “abstract” as with humans.
  12. Only humans apply a consciousness of their existence and mortality to the quest for meaning in life or death. Humans commit suicide out of abstract despair or heroism. Animals are not apparently bolstered by religious hope (or crippled by its loss) as a response to this essential awareness.

This is a short list and some points may be debatable. But bigger questions still stand. Was there any merit to Merrick’s claim or was he no more special that an elephant or an elk? Did he have a soul? Could he honor God’s love and claim forgiveness? Were his tormenters “sinning” or just acting like animals? Was his life just a tragic accident? Is yours?


Photo Credits:

The Elephant Man
The Cat and Beer
Animal Tea Party


About the Author:

Joel graduated from Pepperdine University with a B.A., completing two majors: Art and Religion. He went on to earn the Master of Divinity degree from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. The views expressed on this blog are personal and belong to Joel Solliday unless otherwise stated. They are not, intended to characterize the views of the Lewiston Church of Christ or other organizations to which I may refer.

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