A Martian anthropologist goes to church

May 10, 2006 | By | 6 Replies More

Today I was day-dreaming about taking another field trip to a fundamentalist evangelical church.   In my dream, though, I wasn’t going to church to simply observe all the folks getting terrified over getting barbecued in hell.  Nor was I there to promote my new and improved version of the Ten Commandments. 

No, in this dream I was a Martian anthropologist starting my field studies on Earth.  Out of raw luck, I landed my saucer on the parking lot of a fundamentalist church and walked in to begin studying the animals that I found inside.  Here are the field notes from my dream:

I walked in church and noticed lots of animals.  In impeccable English (I studied English a bit in Martian high school) I asked, “Where do the animals sit?”

One of the “men” in charge told me that “animals are not allowed in the church, only people.”   As he said “people,” he pointed to some of the animals.

I inquired, “But aren’t those people animals?”  

This brought on a half-dazed squirmy look.  He looked at me like I was from Mars, which I was, of course.  He protested that he didn’t think of people as “animals.” 

Because I was confused, I pulled out my textbook on Animal Behavior, 7th Edition, by John Alcock (2001).  I glanced at the table of contents, which contained a long list of attributes pertaining to “animals.” I then quickly read further.

Chapter 8 covered “feeding behaviors,” indicating that animals ate food.  I happened to notice posters about the upcoming church picnic where food would be served.  I asked the man about “people” eating food.  He admitted that “people” ate, but stressed that “people” weren’t “animals.”

Chapter 9 covered habitats.  I asked the man where the “people” went after church.  He told me “back to their homes.”  “But what’s the difference between a home and a habitat?” I asked.  “Homes have television sets,” he replied.

Chapter 10 concerned communication.  Alcock wrote that sending and receiving signals is ubiquitous in the animal kingdom.  The fellow at church, however, told me “it’s a different process with animals.  Animals don’t have telephones.”

Chapter 11 concerned reproductive behavior.  The fellow was reluctant to talk about reproduction.  I noticed, though, that the church pamphlets repeatedly warned the “people” about “sex.”  Based on the “sermon” too, it was one of their biggest concerns.

Chapter 12 concerned mating systems.  Alcock describes “mate guarding,” “mate assistance” and sexual dimorphism, the difference in average size between individuals of different sexes in the same species.  In animals where the males are larger than the females, OCP’s (extra pair copulations) tend to occur.  I noticed that male “people” tend to be a bit larger than female “people.”  The church man told me, however, that affairs are not “natural” in “people” and that I should read a “better book.”  This confused me, since the “better book” he gave me described lots of OCP’s.  The “better book” also talked repeatedly about a very irritable fellow who didn’t seem to be either a “person” or an “animal.”  I’ll keep on a lookout for this “God” fellow on future expeditions.

Chapter 13 described the parental care that many “animals” give to their young.  “It’s different with people,” the man told me.  “Adult People take care of their children because of duty,” he explained.  “Without reverence to duty, people would just run around like animals.”

In my dream, I came to the conclusion that more study was necessary to determine how it was that “people” were not “animals.”   My field study report ended up being quite confusing, actually.  “People” look like animals, though the ones I observed each claimed that they weren’t “animals.”  But I saw a few of them eating, just like animals.  I noticed restrooms where they dispense with digested food, a similar process by which other animals dispense with digested food.  The “people” took care of their young, thereby exhibiting an important function of animals.  I saw many “people” communicating.  In the corner of the parking lot, a few of the “people” even engaged in kissing, a behavior seen in chimpanzees, according to Alcock.

But still, the man insisted that “people” weren’t “animals.”  Maybe he’s right.  After all, the animal behavior book doesn’t mention anything about animals going to church.  Perhaps that’s why the people don’t claim to be animals: because they go to church. 


Category: Evolution, Religion

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (6)

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  1. That is the mistery: why do some humans (who apparently constitute one of the most, if not the most, cognitively gifted species) deny, have trouble recognizing, or are ashamed to be called animals? Is it just to feel better about themselves? That would seem pretty lame for such an extraordinary species.


    A Martian Psychologist

  2. Molly says:

    I myself have never had a problem calling myself an animal..nor am i ashamed to…I agree with the martian psychlogist when he asks if the problem is they do not like to be called animals to feel better about themselves..too true..i love the dream..reminds me in a strange way of stranger in a strange land…A movie you might enjoy..In search of the one eyed Jesus..intersting cultural depiction of the south including evangelical churches..

    Ave Maria

  3. Erika Price says:

    When people say humans don't qualify as animals, don't they just think that because they consider humans infinitely more powerful and more capable of innovation? We think we have a better social system than any animal species because it seems bigger, more dynamic, and better than theirs. A certain principle comes to mind, the fact that animals can see more minute differences within their own species. To us, all dogs look nearly alike, and to all dogs, we must seem extremely similar. I wonder how the animals see our society?

  4. Kelly Woodard says:

    I really enjoyed this entry. I think it points out how naive humans can be about their existence. I agree that humans are merely animals. I honestly hate the people that believe that they are above animals. (Crazy Dreaming) I wish that Buddhists would have found the new world instead of Christians.

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