Caring about Society

The New York Times ran an interesting article called "Morals Without God?" on its "Opinionator" blog by Frans de Waal, a primatologist from Emory University about God, religion, and primates.  It is a lengthy article, which won't summarize it here, as you can read it yourself (here).  

That being said, I was very interested in what de Waal writes about how chimpanzees care about the society in which they live.  Often when both chimps and bonobos in pairs are offered rewards for behavior, for example, one will refuse to get a reward bigger than the other.  They will open a door to food when another animal is present, knowing that it means sharing instead of hoarding, but they do it anyway.

The most interesting part I read was about female chimpanzees who care for their elderly neighbors.  He writes about an older chimp named Peony who has trouble getting around.  So other younger females push her up to help her into the feeding area, and they run ahead of her to get water in their own mouths which they then squirt into hers when she starts ambling over toward the water source.  Further, female chimps will drag two fighting males toward one another to make up after a fight and they will take weapons away from males as well.

This reminds me of a story told about a nun named Sister Stella Maris, who was very tiny.  She worked at St. Joseph's Hospital in Atlanta when it was run by the Sisters of Mercy, and one night a big man came into the emergency room brandishing a gun.  The people at the front desk were not sure what to do and someone went back into the patient area where Sister Stella Maris was visiting patients and told her what had happened.  So tiny Sister Stella Marris marched out into the reception area, walked right up to the large man, stuck out her hand palm up in a very matter of fact way and said in a stern voice, "Give me that gun right now!"

And so he did, right away.

We're all in this together.