The XX Factor

Maybe We Should Act More Like Animals

If Rick Warren was an animal, what kind of animal would he be?

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

In a culture where mass shootings have become part of the landscape (at least 36 in the past 50 years, according to Mother Jones), the public response to them has become routine and predictable. Part of that routine is finding the person who said the silliest thing in the game of blaming anything but the fact that crazy people can buy enough guns, ammo and other weapons to stage mass murders on a regular basis. It appeared the winner this round was going to be Rick Warren, who seemingly blamed the teaching of evolution in schools for the Aurora shooting, tweeting, “When students are taught they are no different from animals, they act like it.”

There was no context to Warren’s tweet, so many assumed that he was discussing the shooting—not a wild assumption given that Warren’s aspirations to be America’s Pastor would compel him to offer spiritual guidance to the masses in a time of crisis. Not only that, but blaming evolutionary theory for mass shootings has a history, such as when Tom DeLay responded to the Columbine shootings by reading a letter from a Texas resident that blamed feminism, video games, and, yes, evolutionary theory for mass murder: “‘It couldn’t have been because our school systems teach the children that they are nothing but glorified apes who who have evolutionized out of some primordial soup of mud.” This, as opposed to the Bible, which teaches that God made man out of dust. Dust People are less likely to shoot up buildings than Mud People, you know.

Anyway, Warren denies that he was talking about whipping out tear gas and machine guns to murder people sitting down to watch a CGI-heavy movie when he claimed that our scientific understanding of our origins makes us act like animals. He deleted the tweet and put up another that said, “No context causes misinterpretation: When u tweet what’s on your mind, people assume ur talking about what’s on THEIR mind.” Fair enough, and perhaps Warren has learned a lesson in assuming that his followers are mind readers who just know what he’s talking about when he accuses those of us who accept the theory of evolution of acting like animals.

One possibility of what Warren was talking about emerged from a Patheos blogger, who claims Warren left this explanation for his tweet in comments: 

My tweet was a brief response to a question to me about SEXUAL PROMISCUITY. It had NOTHING to do with the tragedy in Colorado! I had received this email from a dad: “Pastor Rick, my daughter told me her teacher said in class ‘There’s nothing wrong with sex with multiple partners! Sex is a natural, inate drive, and any attempt to limit it to one, single partner is a manmade construct.’” THAT is what I was commenting on. Unfortunately, you also incorrectly presumed the context.

Leaving aside the fact that schoolteachers pressuring kids to sleep around is an evangelical urban legend on the level of Procter & Gamble’s Satan worship, I’m not sure this explanation really fixes things up right. Sure, it is true that non-human animals frequently have sex with multiple partners, and none so far have taken up guns to shoot up a crowd. Still, I’m really not compelled by the argument that humans were really dedicated to lifelong monogamy prior to the development of the theory of evolution, if only because the Bible has a lot of stories of people screwing around despite having no inkling about post-19th century biology. On the other hand, I’ve seen animals who’ve basically been monogamous—say a couple of dogs who live in a back yard with only each other their whole lives. The connection between promiscuity and accepting that humans are warm-blooded mammals like cats, dogs, and monkeys doesn’t really stand up under even cursory examination.

Of course, claims that people are “acting like animals” rarely do. You almost never hear the phrase applied to describe behaviors that are most like our non-human animal friends. For instance, when you pick up and eat a raw apple, you’re acting like lots of animals, ranging from raccoons to monkeys. Doing some Google searches I discovered the phrase “acting like animals” gets applied to a variety of totally human behaviors like dancing in the streets, breaking windows and stealing, and masturbating to porn. Perhaps the solution, then, to these concerns is to act more like animals. Yes, we should all start behaving like sloths, who have always struck me as animals that don’t get into much trouble at all, since they spend all their time napping and hanging out in trees. You’ll never see a sloth getting up to troll other people’s sexual choices. And, really, when’s the last time you saw a sloth shoot a gun? It’s been awhile.