Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Of Monkeys and Men

Researchers in Germany are exploring the real difference between the great apes and humans. It's part of a particularly Western quest to establish the real meaning of what it means to be human. Other cultures around the world do not concern themselves with the question. After all, monkeys are part of the community in their own rite and in their own niche, and humans occupy another part of the community in our own right and in our own niche. But since the Reformation when the church's definition of human as having a soul found itself without scientific support, our increasingly empirical society has wondered what functional difference sets us apart from our closest relatives, the great apes.

Their findings are quite telling. It seems the difference lies in our ability to put ourselves in another's skin and see the world from the other's point of view. Empathy. The ability to relate to you and not merely use you or work out a mutually beneficial truce that lasts as long as my perceived benefit outweighs my perceived investment, the desire to cooperate even at my own expense, is clearly present in children from an early age, but absent in the great apes at any age.

So the missing link has been found. Depth psychologists like Jung talk about the concepts of the higher self vs. the lower or darker self. We acclaim the one who gives of him/herself without seeking reward, and call those who use others "inhuman." No matter how unjust the war, the self-sacrificing soldier is a hero. The difference between a politician and a statesman is the clear trust we place in a statesman to serve the larger good and not some hidden personal or local agenda. And Jesus said, "There is no greater love than when a man lays down his life for his friend."

Have these scientists discovered the place where we are genetically programmed to relate to the highest good possible? Could we call it the God gene?

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