[lit-ideas] Re: Eugene Marais, baboons, and religious "instinct"

  • From: "Lawrence Helm" <lawrencehelm@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Tue, 27 May 2014 23:15:11 -0700



I wouldn’t use the expression you use, that I was raised a certain way.  My 
grandmother, who was self-taught because she spent part of her childhood deaf, 
raised me until I was ten.  She didn’t teach me anything about religion as far 
as I recall.  What she did urge me to do was read all sorts of things.  She got 
me a library card as soon as I was eligible, and I did.  My siblings and I were 
sent off to church; the First Christian Church of Wilmington California, but my 
parents didn’t attend.  I recall that my younger brother used to keep the money 
we were given to put in the collection plate and buy candy with it.    


By reading “all sorts of things” I eventually got to the point where I could no 
longer accept the literalism of the sort of religion I was being presented with 
by the First Christian Church.  My mother did become excessively religious 
after I went into the Marine Corps, but she gravitated to a denomination that 
was decidedly not “main-stream,” the World Wide Church of God.  I used to have 
regular debates with her about it.  


During my agnostic period I read a lot of Marxist and Communist literature, got 
in some debates with some fellow-travelers if not communists, but was never 
convinced by anything I read.


I decided I needed to pursue religion a bit more and went through something 
reminiscent of Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha.   I wasn’t comfortable being a 
non-believer; so what I went through was the opposite of what you did.  My 
mother turned me off of Christianity because at the time I though her 
denomination or sect was typical.  I wasn’t sophisticated enough to realize 
that Herbert Armstrong and the World Wide Church of God was a something like a 
cult.  I spent time studying Zen, Buddhist writings (I recall mentioning this 
once before years ago and some lurker took me to task for not really knowing 
much about Buddhism, but he was a practicing Buddhist and I only read about 
it), Taoism – I liked Taoism, or at least the writings of Lao Tsu quite a lot.  
I didn’t join anything, however.  I then studied the Yoga third path to wisdom; 
which involved study rather than doing weird stuff with your body or 
sacrificing yourself in some weird way.   


I went through a divorce and then found that the only woman who interested me 
in marrying again was a committed Christian.  It didn’t hurt that she had 
model-good looks, but I wouldn’t have been interested in a woman who was caught 
up in any of the religions I had studied up until then.  This young Baptist 
lady suited me quite well.  Except, as usual, I spent the next 8 years studying 
theology and we ended up in a “reformed” Presbyterian Church.  


Continuing to read all sorts of things I now wouldn’t say that I fit any 
particular denomination.  Nicholas Wade would say that one can’t be religious 
unless he belongs to a religious “pack” of some sort.  I don’t agree with him.  
 I am technically a member of such a “pack” but no longer attend.  My wife 
would attend if she were able, but she is now an invalid.  Does my being 
“technically a member” satisfy Wade’s argument that I need to be part of a 
religious “pack” (btw he doesn’t use the term “pack,” but I can’t recall the 
term he does use)?  I rather think not, on the other hand our church made two 
moves, each time further away from where we live and surely if we are 
physically unable to make the drive, they’ve got to accept that; so maybe we 
are still part of it.  


And there you have it,




From: lit-ideas-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx [mailto:lit-ideas-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx] On 
Behalf Of Omar Kusturica
Sent: Tuesday, May 27, 2014 5:30 PM
To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
Subject: [lit-ideas] Re: Eugene Marais, baboons, and religious "instinct"


Well, in a matter such as this where there is no compelling evidence either for 
or against, choice probably plays some role. Although, it is probably not a 
conscious choice.


I have had some periods of being attracted to religion, even wanting to 
believe, but ultimately it did not overcome my secular upbringing .My parents 
may have had some periods of being attracted to religion as well, but when I 
was a child growing up in Socialist Yugoslavia, and they having been Communist 
Party members, they have raised me accordingly, thinking that this would be the 
best way for me to fit into the' modern' society. Since then, religion 
(Christian and Muslim)  has seen some growth in popularity and official 
acceptance in these parts, but I am still not really a believer. 


How are the things standing with you in this matter ?




On Wed, May 28, 2014 at 2:09 AM, Lawrence Helm <lawrencehelm@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx> 

Thanks, JL, for the African Genesis (written by Robert Ardrey) reference.  I 
searched page after page looking for references to Raymond Dart only to learn 
it was not Dart but Eugene Marais who had the baboon story.  He wrote a book 
entitled The Soul of the Ape in 1919, published posthumously in 1939.  He also 
wrote some articles one can find collected under the title My Friends the 

I’ve gotten Dart and Marais confused, but I’ll leave them that way and simply 
quote Robert Audrey describing the Baboon story I sort-of remembered.  The 
following is from pages 82-83:

“Marais could always tell when a leopard was in the neighbourhood of his own 
band.  Protected by nothing but the rocky hollows in the krans and concealed 
only by the limbs of the massive wild fig, the troop would begin to move 
uneasily.  He would sense the restlessness, and then hear a particular cry of 
disturbance.  Helplessly the troop would wait for unseen death to pass 
unseeing.  But one night the leopard came early.

“It was still dusk.  The troop had only just returned from the feeding grounds 
and had barely time to reach its scattered sleeping places in the high-piled 
rocks behind the fig tree.  Now it shrilled its terror.  And Marais could see 
the leopard.  It appeared from the bush and took its insolent time.  So 
vulnerable were the baboons that the leopard seemed to recognize no need for 
hurry.  He crouched just below a little jutting cliff above him.

“The two males moved cautiously.  The leopard, if he saw them, ignored them.  
His attention was fixed on the swarming, screeching, defenceless horde 
scrambling among the rocks.  Then the two males dropped.  They dropped on him 
from a height of twelve feet.  One bit at the leopard’s spine.  The other 
struck at his throat while clinging to his neck from below.  In an instant the 
leopard disemboweled with his hind claws the baboon hanging to his neck and 
caught in his jaws the baboon on his back.  But it was too late.  The dying 
disemboweled baboon had hung on just long enough and had reached the leopard’s 
jugular vein with his canines. 

“Marais watched while movement stilled beneath the little jutting cliff.  Night 
fell.  Death, hidden from all but the impartial stars enveloped prey and 
predator alike.  And in the hollow places in the rocky, looming krans a society 
of animals settled down to sleep.”  

Comment:  I have this account in quotes because I’m quoting Ardrey, but he 
doesn’t have it in quotes.  I checked a few Wikipedia references, couldn’t find 
any other reference to this story but found this one interesting:  
http://www.authorsden.com/categories/story_top.asp?catid=32&id=22445 I 
especially noted the paragraph, “In 1948, twelve years after Marais’ death, 
Nikolaas Tinbergen[2] (1907-1988) reformulated Marais’ extremely important 
concept of the phyletic (inborn) and causal (acquired) memory.”  

I’m assuming that Marais had informed the difference between instinctive and 
acquired memory in apes in some clever way; which caused me to wonder if the 
human genes governing the learning of language are considered “instinct.”  
Growing up I was taught that nothing in us is instinctive, Locke’s influence no 
doubt, but does anyone still say that?  The ability to learn language is 
instinctive – or does the fact that we don’t all know the same language but can 
instead at a certain age rapidly learn any language, disqualify it as 

Nicholas Wade argues that our religious inclination is as instinctive as 
language, contra Locke.  We don’t all practice the same religion – no more than 
we learn the same religion, but most (not those raised by wolves or apes, 
perhaps) of us learn some language.  But we all (perhaps) have the God-shaped 
vacuum referred to by Blaise Pascal.  But what about the fact that some of us 
have become atheists?  Does that disprove this idea?  Not necessarily.  I’ve 
noticed that many who claim to be atheists have taken up other religious-like 
beliefs.  Carl Jung wrote a very interesting book on Flying Saucers:  
http://www.amazon.com/Flying-Saucers-Modern-Things-Skies/dp/0691018227 I read 
this book years ago and no longer have it, but if I recall correctly (a 
doubtful ability as is evidenced above) Jung argued that the belief in Flying 
Saucers was driven by the modern “abandonment” of religion.  He argued that 
humans have something like an “Oversoul” that satisfies the human need for 
religion, or God, by projecting the image of perfection (the mandala) in the 
sky.  Also, many turn to other things, astrology, for example.  Blaise Pascal 
believed that people couldn’t be completely satisfied by such ideas, but they 
did have the Locke-like freedom to fulfill this instinct-like need for God with 
other things.  But if Wade and Jung are right, could a person still manage a 
sort-of “pure” atheism in which he felt no “toward-God” urge?  I don’t know.  I 
have known people who claimed to have managed something like that, but then 
some of them later became believers in God.  Perhaps also there is the option 
of continuing in a state of unbelief, without flying saucers, astrology or 
anything equivalent, but having to suffer psychologically for this state.  I 
suppose one could choose to not-believe in God . . . or even speak for that 



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