Cultural bias and personal predisposition shape the way we think of animals, whether as companions or as servants, whether as guardians to protect our homes or as comestibles to adorn our tables. However, the theological tradition of Solomon transcends those predilections, making it clear not only that animals have much to teach us but that we are duty-bound to learn from them. In some sense, animals may possess a more instinctive humanity than we do.
Poetically, we can seek inspiration by construing the nature of animals as allegory and metaphor. Biologically, we can identify the traits humans and animals have in common as well as the qualities that make human beings more than mere animals.
Philosophically, we can recognize how to harness our animal inclinations to carry us forward on the path of our own humanity. Theologically, we can learn to appreciate how the design of creation directs us to resist the pull of our animal nature while aspiring to elevate ourselves toward becoming more than human.
The world is our classroom, and all its inhabitants are our teachers. If we choose to take instruction and learn the lessons of social and moral refinement, there is no limit to the wisdom we can discover.
If a deep dive into the philosophy and theology behind our relationship with the natural world interests you, click to read my recent contribution to The Common Reader, the literary journal of Washington University.