We are Also Outside of Us

Changing the colors of a bird in the most superficial and artificial way can change its hormone levels and make it a more aggressive breeder. (See Feather Colors Affect Bird Physiology, Barn Swallows Show.)

When John Henry Newman entered the Catholic Church, he gave up his comfortable living as an Anglican priest and accepted poverty. He moved to Birmingham to, among other accomplishments, found a school for poor children. One of his first acts was to spend most of his small stock of funds to buy new dresses for the girls who would be attending the school. Undoubtedly, he anticipated good results in self-esteem when those girls received, in most cases, the first pretty, new dress of their lives. How deep do such changes go? We don’t yet know but we should be very careful to work for the best and to fear the worst when we raise children or even when we set our own ways of living and thinking.

When I was young, most Americans still had the traditional middle-class habit of ensuring that each child had decent clothes for school (maybe a couple pairs of khakis and a couple sports-shirts for boys) and also a set of Sunday ‘church-going’ clothes (if only a modest blue blazer and pair of gray slacks from Sears for a boy).

Let me zag a little now that I’ve zigged. When I was reading about grizzly bears years ago, in preparation for an important scene in a novel, I learned that wildlife biologists had verified that Rocky Mountain grizzlies, especially the males, had been so big in the 19th century as to seem a different species from their 20th century descendants. Their speculation was: mother grizzlies could manipulate the genes of the young in their womb (not consciously of course), sending the message, “Grow big, son, we’re the dominant species” or maybe, “Be more modest in your growth, son, because there’s a dangerous species taking our territory and food.”

I’m simplifying in a somewhat grotesque manner to make a point, which is: we, that is — our bodies, can’t be something which isn’t a possibility in our genes, but our genes give ranges of possibilities rather than locking us into one set pattern of development. Our genes aren’t just a set response to our ancestors’ environment but rather a set of responses to some finite but perhaps wide-ranging set of possible environments. Ultimately, genes work through our bodies to help enable various possible relationships with our environments including our parents and siblings and friends, and also relationships with God’s Creation in its greater aspects. The inner changes and outer changes in these sorts of processes are intertwined and this statement holds also for the evil versions of these changes which can create serial rapists as one example. Dress your children like respectable human beings and it may well have a real effect on their attitudes and habits and ways of thought. Dress your children like a street gangster and you should let your fears run wild.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Evolution, Spiritual formation

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