“Animal seriousness” is a term for the unintentional irony produced when our species takes itself too seriously. It may have been Heidegger who coined the term, but I became a student of “animal seriousness” when a philosophy professor lecturing on the rationalist Leibniz threw a piece of chalk at me for asking a question he did not like. How strange, I thought, to throw a tantrum while lecturing on rationalism and not even realize what one has done.
It is a rule of our species that the more serious one’s profession, the sillier one must dress. So priests, generals and and graduating scholars wear more and more garish outfits as they climb the ladder of seriousness. I was at a graduation at the seminary sometime back when I noticed the doctoral stole falls colorfully along the backside precisely where a baboon displays its colorful rump. What a wonderful manifestation of “animal seriousness!”
My life in the church has been rich with moments of animal seriousness. I love that courts swear people in on the same Bible that prohibits taking oaths. I love that communion, which is a symbol of grace, can only be administered by an ordained clergy. I love that St. Paul (or whoever wrote that particular letter) seriously and unintentionally quoted a philosophic paradox when he said, “All Cretans are liars. One of their own philosophers said so.”
I am also fascinated when those who consider themselves nonreligious display the same “animal seriousness.” I am fascinated when people who have left the church call people who remain a bunch of judgmental hypocrites, as though the church has copyrighted hypocrisy and they who stand outside are now immune. I am fascinated by the irony that some atheists never seem to forgive God for not existing. I am fascinated by the unintended humor of skeptics who build a career ridiculing religion, as if spending one’s life arguing with a fool does not make one an even greater fool.
Religion is rich with “animal seriousness,” but leaving religion does not make one exempt. I am fascinated by those who ridicule the myths of religion unaware that believing a mammal can be objective may be the most dangerous myth of all. Even our most magnificent castles of rational thought are built upon the omnivorous swamp of mammalian tissue. Woe to those who forget.