Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Humans Don't Make the World Go Round

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Humans Don't Make the World Go Round

Article excerpt

I remember when I first encountered anthropocentrism. I was in primary school and, in preparation for our confirmation, the class was learning about the afterlife. Even after ten minutes, heaven was sounding pretty dull but in spite of the sheer tedium of an eternity spent floating about a vast, milky limbo adoring the deity, my seven-year-old mind did not entirely rebel until (in response to a question about dogs in the great beyond) the catechism teacher informed us that there were no animals in heaven, because animals did not have eternal souls and so could not be redeemed. Only humans could be redeemed and God had created the world for that very purpose: to give us the opportunity to achieve salvation.

I had heard such language before; but now, for the life of me, I could not understand why God, (whom I had previously rather admired) would take the trouble to create all the beauty I saw around me--pine woods, fallow deer, black-backed gulls--when all He cared about was us. Why had He expended such ingenuity on flamingos, when they were irrelevant to the overall narrative? What was the point of the armadillo? All of a sudden, black revolt began to simmer in my heart-and in those days I was one of the good children, a boy who had stood patiently, my hands folded neatly behind my back, while a gaggle of Catholic matrons gathered to wonder aloud whether I might have been blessed with "a vocation".

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The first glimmer of arrogance in any system (political, religious, moral) is the crack through which all authority gradually leaks away. Soon, I was appalled by everything in my Vincent de Paul world: Catholic matrons, the bizarre catechism that now seemed a veritable road map to a cold, bloodless existence and, most of all, the smug self-regard of God's chosen species as it laid waste to whatever it chose to destroy, for the "benefit of humankind". …

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