You. You are the Pretentious Ape, you silly human, you.
OK, me too. All of us.
In naming this blog, I was partly inspired by John Janovy, a biologist at the University of Nebraska, who wrote:
A human being is, in the final analysis, an ape that tells stories, only a fraction of which are true, then acts on the lessons of those stories regardless of their veracity. (Pieces of the Plains, 2009, p. 158)
But I thought a blog called “The Storytelling Ape” might lead to disappointed parents and children coming in from Google and expecting some virtual gorilla to tell them stories. (What a blog that would be! What wonderful stories might an ape tell? So much better than, say, dog stories, which would mostly be about chewing things and getting toys stuck under the couch.)
We humans tell lots of stories, and I’m especially interested in what we tell ourselves about religion, meaning, and morality. A lot of what we tell ourselves is pretty damned silly—and we’re so sure about it, and proud of our wisdom! Pretentious, even.
I’m writing from the perspective of a secular humanist, formerly an evangelical Christian, and my purpose here is partly to clarify my own thinking on these topics, and partly to see if others are interested in reading these thoughts and commenting on them.
I identify as a secular humanist as a statement of belief and values. “Skeptic” and “atheist” also describe my beliefs. You might say that atheist tells you what I don’t believe, humanist tells you what I do believe, and skepticism is the method by which I try (keyword: try) to think about life’s questions.
Some of my posts will be critical of religion, but I’m not trying to attack people of faith or make blanket statements about their intelligence or lack thereof. I was a Christian myself for many years, and highly educated in the faith. I don’t think I was a stupid person then, even though I now think that the nature of faith and the nature of human cognition made it difficult for me to see the weaknesses in my own beliefs. (We are all pretentious apes.) Mostly I’m interested in looking at the same questions that religion tries to answer—What is our purpose, if anything? What constitutes a good life? How should we treat each other? What does death mean for us?—but doing so without falling back on supernatural ideas.
That’s the initial plan, anyway. I’ll try to keep the posts fairly brief and as tightly-written as I can make them. Some will be original mini-essays, and some will link to and comment on other things that are out there. At this point I have no idea what kind of response (if any!) this blog will receive, but I hope it can draw its own little following and become a place where people can have thoughtful discussions in the comments without shouting at each other.
I’ve decided to post at least weekly for one year… we’ll see how it goes after that.