I dont pretend to be an animal specialist, but it occurs to me that left to themselves, animals, apart from the social instincts that determine and proscribe certain behavior within their genus, have no sense that anything they do is morally wrong. It’s as if they are in a permanent state of grace. This state could be said to be all living beings’ birthright, but man seems too stupid to claim it. Of all animals only he has instituted morality and an artificial state of grace to supplant the one endemic to sentient beings.

Is man’s stupidity in this due only to his egregious belief in original sin, or that life is or ought to be suffering (or struggle), regardless of whether or not he has turned these beliefs into a system of faith? Is that the only reason a man refuses or perverts the divine grace of his innate, amoral animal nature? How well I understand and share Nietzsche’s disgust with Christianity for making man less spiritual than the apes he evolved from.

But even if we are speaking of purely secular, humanistic morality (such as Sartre, for example, writes about), it is still predicated on a values system that says this is right and that is wrong. It would appear this is a perk to being human, and far from disparaging man’s moral sense I should welcome it. Is it not what has put man at the top of the animal ladder? Would we have progressed this far in science and the arts, in technology, the humanities, in everything that makes life worthwhile, without it?

And am I the stupid one for comparing man with beasts and expecting him to be as simple and innocent as they? (Even the term “innocent” is meaningless unless related to morality.) Despite how religions have perverted our animal state of grace, is morality itself, as if it were a seventh sense, a blessing rather than a curse? Is the human experiment doomed to failure without a system of values? Perhaps.

It is not a black and white, either/or issue. I think even if the last three questions are answered in the affirmative, we still have much to learn from the behavior of beasts, some of which might take us down a notch or two from our arrogance and smugness, our lethal sense of entitlement in the face of nature. And if these same questions are answered in the negative, then perhaps man has not just shot himself in the foot with his morality but has made of himself an ass worse than his laws by squandering the grace that is one of his most precious natural (i.e., inborn) resources—and by replacing it with a fake substitute called faith.

I am not disparaging morality, faith or grace; I am calling for a personal reevaluation of their meanings. One that makes sense to contemporary pagans and free-thinkers as well as believers . . .