Thursday, May 12, 2022

Animals Do Have Religion

It's a common assumption that no other animal, except humans, has religion. Of course, there are many things wrong with this analysis. For one, animals cannot talk to us and there is no machine that can read minds. So we have no way of knowing if other beings have religion or spirituality in any form. Second, religion is an incredibly broad term. Some people today even think it only applies to Christianity or other monotheisms, when the fact is that the term encompasses anything that is a formation centered around the belief in and veneration of Higher Powers. There is no requirement for a holy book, a church, or even a congregation. So, with that being the case, do other animals have religion?

Yes, they absolutely do. Let's begin with the elephant, which is one of the most intelligent non-human beings on the planet. The average person probably has no idea that these animals worship the moon, as they have been observed waving branches at the waxing cycle. They also take ritual baths in the moonlight when it's full, and they will bury their dead with food and flowers (a common practice among ancient humans to accompany the deceased into the afterlife). Not only that, but elephants also show additional veneration for the sun and stars. Chimps have been seen dancing at the onset of storms and at water sources, that can only be interpreted as ritualistic or religious behavior, and when a member of their community dies, their funerary customs are nearly identical to that of humans, which include silence, corpse preparation, and visitation. It appears that the more intelligent a species is, the more likely they are to believe in or venerate Higher Powers.

Generally speaking, I have always been perplexed at the assertion that non-human beings don't have religion, because have you ever asked them? Has your household pet ever told you that they don't believe in Gods? Has anyone taken mindreading surveys from birds, deer and foxes? Exactly how do we know how other beings see the world and their own lives? Religion is expressed in the ways that a given devotee can present it. Dogs, for example, cannot talk, so naturally they cannot verbally pray. They also cannot build anything notable, so of course they don't have temples or churches. If they were to express religion, the manner would likely be something completely alien to us. We simply would not recognize it. With most other animals, it is simply not possible to measure the religious or spiritual, and it is therefore foolhardy to draw ultimate conclusions.

Lastly, in the broader picture, I don't see why it would matter even if no other animal had religion. There are lots of things that only humans do or can do. We're the only ones who wear clothes, have cars, TVs, computers, nations, flags, armies, books, medicine and science to name a few, but that hardly means that those things are false or invalid. Perhaps is it precisely because we are the most intelligent that we can experience the Gods the most.

In the Goodness of the Gods,
Chris Aldridge.