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While mulling over one night in 2013, I noticed a kitten with eyes fixed on the figure of Mother Mary. I realized that I, too, was staring at the cutie little cat for too long already. It was as if I was reminded that hey! Look at that cat! It’s as if it’s praying! So, as if it reminds me to not just think of possible solutions, which at that time were pretty lame, but I got to also PRAY!
Looking at this photo again makes me wonder if there is any evidence that animals pray or at least have a sense of moral agency. Or maybe I am just exaggerating by anthropomorphizing cute little kitty (Filipino: kuting).
Anthropomorphism – art and beyond
Anthropomorphism is when we give non-humans certain human characteristics. An inanimate object.. a plant… mostly commonly, animals… We anthropomorphize them. We’ve seen various art and literary works wherein cats, dogs, and other animals speak, think and behave as if they’re humans. It is one of the most common techniques used by artists and writers in creatively imparting a message. In the figures of speech and as a literary tool, we refer to it as personification. However, personifying non-humans, especially animals, extends far beyond the purpose of artistic and creative exposition. Sometimes, we do it as if it is a fact and not an idea conceptualized by sentimental recollections.
For instance, we’ve seen videos of pet dogs looking like they’re guilty of a “crime”. We assume they’re guilty because we interpret their reactions as something reminiscent of how humans look and act when caught in doing something they’re not supposed to do. But this embarrassed look of a guilty dog isn’t really an indication of guilt, according to experts. Rather, it is likely how a dog would react when confronted by an angry or upset owner. (SOURCE)
Anthropomorphism – why do we do it?
Ever wonder why we humanize non-human entities? Of course, our brain has something to do with it. Referred to as the Theory of Mind, scientists suggest that specific regions of our brain interpret actions by mirroring. We look at the others how they act, look, or behave and then interpret them based on how we act, look, or behave. So when one does an act or feels something, the mirroring neurons in our brain tend to identify which among the instances wherein we’re doing or feeling the same way. (SOURCE)
We know which entities are humans and which aren’t. However, we employ the same mirroring strategy when we interpret non-human acts.
Do you know what’s the opposite of anthropomorphism? It is dehumanization. That is when humans are represented as non-human, especially when human behaves reminiscent of non-human, for example, of an animal, behavior.
Do animals believe in God? Do they pray?
But let’s go back to the real question. We know for certain that there are animals, particularly predators, that “prey”. But do they pray? Or is it simply a case of anthropomorphizing?
There is no solid scientific proof that they do. However, hidden footage of wild chimpanzees in West Africa piling up rocks inside a tree of which they hallowed by banging seemed to be a display of some “shrine”-building behavior.
Could this behavior mean they have a moral agency?
Primatologist, Jane Goodall, who has been observing apes in the wild in Gombe, Tanzania believes they have a capacity for something sacred or spiritual.
“Chimpanzees are so similar to us”, she says. “Why wouldn’t they also have feelings of some kind of spirituality?” (SOURCE)
That notion stemmed from her observation of the apes doing ritual “dance” at the onset of heavy rain. The wild apes were also exhibiting a similar ritual dance behavior during a strong gust of wind or when approaching a waterfall.
Dubbed as a water dance, the chimpanzee, as Goodall described, would sway “rhythmically from foot to foot, stamping in the shallow, rushing water, picking up and hurling great rocks. Sometimes he climbs up the slender vines that hang down from the trees high above and swings out into the spray of the falling water. This waterfall dance may last ten or 15 minutes.” (SOURCE)
Some scientists argue that such behavior has anything but a religious connotation. They believe that chimpanzees behave that way most likely because they were filled with intense wonder and awe. (SOURCE)
Did the cat “Kuting” pray?
I can only wish to interpret such behavior and speak for kitty.
So was the cat in my photo praying? I cannot tell. I may not find any explicit proof that it does but it doesn’t mean it did not. Who can aptly answer that except for the cutie kitty itself!
But if someone has to ask me if I believe animals are capable of doing and sensing something sacred, I would say I do. The cat in the photo may not be actually praying but I believe that similar to us the kitty and its tribe most likely have their own fascinations. They have their own beliefs, tenets, interpretations, and yes, their own kind of religion.
Are they capable of recognizing right from wrong? Most probably, they do! However, their standards may not be the same as our standards.