The Bible says that God created man in his image. Not to be outdone, man insists on creating God or his gods in man’s image. It’s been going on since primitive times, although looking at our culture, if you drop out technology you may wonder if we aren’t still “primitive.” After all, some people still worship trees and rocks.
“Anthropomorphism”, is not a new word for anyone, but it is interesting how it is applied in various cultures. Anthropomorphism involves attributing human characteristics to gods, animals, objects, etc. An entire book could be written on Greek and Roman gods and other polytheistic cultures and the images they worshipped, but even today most people have an image of God that includes many human characteristics.
Most mature folks today would reject the idea that God is an old guy with white hair and a long white beard, sitting on a cloud; his piercing eyes watching to see if you got up at night, snuck into the kitchen and ate the last piece of pizza. But we still apply human emotions and personality traits to God. It must be in our nature.
Carl Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist, might say it’s an archetype from our ancestral past or Freud might consider God as a “father image”. Whatever we think God is or isn’t doesn’t in any way alter who or what He is in reality, but that’s not what got me thinking about this anthropomorphic thing. It was my dog.
I want to talk about my dog. I tend to be anthropomorphic when it comes to animals. I blame Walt Disney. I grew up with Bambi, Donald Duck, the first flasher, Goofy, who was most likely my role model, Pluto, who actually walked like a dog. All those characters are tangible manifestations of anthropomorphism.
I spent part of my wasted youth trying to understand why Donald Duck and his nephews wore shirts and no pants. The first time I tried that as a toddler, my grandmother brought me in the house and slapped a diaper on me. Later I thought maybe the ducks were perverts of some sort, but settled on the idea that it was a cultural thing.
As a kid I wouldn’t kill a lady bug, because I knew her “house was on fire” and she needed to “fly away home.” And I’m obviously not the first kid who wondered whether Goofy was a dog or a human and how animals could talk.
Those rhymes and cartoon characters must have left indelible impressions on a generation of kids, so that now when people look at a bird feeding its young they think the bird “loves” the baby birds, when in fact the bird is just doing what she has been programmed to do. The bird would probably rather be dropping markers on a statue of Lenin or a moving target like maybe a pedestrian.
Back to dogs…Talk to anyone who owns a dog and listen to how they describe their animal’s behavior. Listen to me describe my own dog. I have a Miniature Australian Shepherd, a dog that’s known for its intelligence. No dog has a better life than Dakota, who is now about one year old. He sleeps in the house just about anywhere he wants. He is never hungry or thirsty. He gets far too much attention. His health is a priority. And the world is his bathroom. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Gayle and I just got back from taking Dakota for a walk in the forest behind our home. He loves running through the trees, chasing squirrels he can never catch and compensating by trying for lizards, which he also can’t seem to catch. But he can catch a stick when it’s not moving.
It’s peaceful and quiet in the woods and a great way to exercise the dog and us too. So we think Dakota is happy. When he runs to us with his lips drawn back, we think he’s smiling. When he licks my hand, I think he likes me, but then I realize I hadn’t washed my hands since eating ribs. We project our human emotions onto our animals and interpret their instinctive behavior as more than it probably is in reality.
When we were in Oregon recently I thought Dakota would like to ride in a boat. Scared the hell out of the poor little sucker, so I decided that he probably wouldn’t want to ride on my motorcycle or go hang gliding either. Although I’ve done both and still ride the motorcycle, I certainly wouldn’t put a dog on a bike, but I’ve seen dogs on motorcycles. These guys must think the dog likes being terrified.
Yep. I’m the first to admit that I’m a dog lover. I have a soft spot for animals generally and maybe I should thank Walt Disney for that, but sometimes even I go overboard being anthropomorphic when it comes to animals. But there was never a question in my mind that Dakota would like peanut butter sandwiches.