by Michael Niewodowski
#100 Aesop’s Fables by Aesopus (#1001 on The List)
And the moral of the story is……
Human beings are problem-solving animals. In a purely physical fight with any animal of equal mass, a human is sure to lose; what really sets us apart is our capacity for complex problem solving. In Aesop’s Fables, many animals are given human problem solving characteristics. The animals in the fables can to teach us a great deal about ourselves.
Many of the fables and lessons are familiar: The tortoise and the hare = slow and steady wins the race; the goose that lays golden eggs = don’t ruin a good thing; the boy who cried wolf = you can’t believe a liar even when he tells the truth. However, what struck me while reading these fables is that many of the morals are in disagreement with each other. One teaching that is universal, however, is that a person’s true character cannot be changed; for example, in the fable of the crow and the swan, the crow takes up residence in the water in hopes to wash away the black and become as white as the swan = although you change your habits, you cannot change your nature.
Aesop’s Fables originate in ancient Greece, and many of them deal with the Greek gods and goddesses, including creation stories. We tend to dismiss the ancient Greek beliefs as mythology, although it is evident that most of the ancient Greeks took the gods quite literally. Nowadays, we are much more intelligent and educated. We all know that death is a natural and inevitable phenomenon, and not a personified supernatural being; we know that the earth revolves around the sun, and that Apollo doesn’t drive the sun across the sky with a chariot; we know that Zeus didn’t create the animals and give them all their characteristics. Right?
I believed in creationism until I was in my twenties. This was not ‘intelligent design’, but full-on creationism- as in God blinked the humans, the animals, the earth, and everything in it into existence in six days. Although I was raised Catholic, I attended a Fundamentalist Christian school. We were taught from books called Evolution: The Big Lie and others. Our World History teacher assured us that there was irrevocable evidence of ‘the great flood’, and that the proof that humans and dinosaurs co-existed is many cultures’ legends of dragons. I was taught and believed a literal interpretation of the book of Genesis.
My own father tried to educate me on this issue; I prayed for his soul.
When I finally learned and accepted scientific fact (thanks in large part to the Discovery Channel) it was a huge shock to my system. Evolution was not a vast secular conspiracy to tear Christians away from their religious beliefs as I had been taught indoctrinated to believe. I started to question all the truths and beliefs I had held so closely. I am no longer resentful of this experience; rather I am thankful that it instilled a questioning and problem-solving nature in me (although, if we are to believe Aesop’s Fables, I ALWAYS had that questioning nature).
The Dalai Lama recently said, “If science proves some belief of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism will have to change.”* Wouldn’t the world be a much better place is all religions followed this tenet? To their credit, the Catholic Church has made huge strides on this issue (I think they learned a lot from the Galileo affair), however, they have a long way to go, and progress is slow. The Fundamentalists, and many other religions, dismiss or re-write science, history, and reality to accommodate their beliefs, all while praying to the heavens for knowledge, wisdom, and guidance.
Aesop’s fable of the wagoner is a story of a man whose cart gets stuck in the mud. He prays to the gods to help him; finally a god comes down and tells him to start pushing the cart, saying, “If you won’t lift a finger to help yourself, you can’t expect the gods or anyone else to come to your aid” = heaven helps those who help themselves. If we ourselves are not willing to educate ourselves and sharpen our own problem solving skills, we deserve the ignorance so many of us are mired in.
* http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/12/opinion/12dalai.html?pagewanted=all The article is well worth reading.