Well, I finally did it. I had a book end up being overdue at the library. It's been a long time, and I feel a bit guilty because I knew it was going to be overdue but I couldn't bring myself to turn it in, knowing that I had already started reading it. Besides, if over 3,200 people have already reviewed it on Amazon, then I had to read it, right?
I read Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari's tale about how and why Homo Sapiens ended up as the dominant species rather than neaderthals or wombats or any other option. It's a fascinating journey through our common history -- it's easy to forget that humans have only been around for the blink of an eye when compared to the history of life on this planet. We obviously can't imagine life without us, but Mother Nature did just fine for billions of years before we showed up and started using dinosaur remains to fuel our cars.
There's two theories that Harari puts forth that I think are worth mentioning. The first is his theory on why Homo Sapiens evolved into the dominant species. He posits that it is our ability to imagine things that do not exist in the material world. While a monkey can talk about a nearby tree that is loaded with fruit or a lion on the prowl, we have the ability to talk about things that do not exist in real life, such as an idea or corporation or religion. You can't see or touch God, but we can tell stories and share a common belief in God, despite not being able to see him. Harari suggests that this ability allowed for humans to act for a common cause in a way other species couldn't do so.
As a pastor and a Christian, I have a strong belief that humanity exists because we were created in the image of God. Harari disagrees, seeing no truth behind any of the meta-narratives that bind us together. He sees them as merely collective acts of imagination that have been harnessed by cultures to unify humanity. I see our collective grasping of religion as evidence that we were made by a power greater than us, designed with a hunger for God as part of the hard-wired system, and that the beauty of the earth points to the one who designed the earth out of creativity and love.
The second theory that I think is worth mentioning in a brief review is that Harari talks about wheat domesticating humans. When we were foragers in the woods and another tribe threatened us, we could simply move about and continue to live off the abundance of the land. However, wheat demands time and attention. It demands a commitment to the land, and once you've made that commitment, you have to work the land, and you have to defend the land, so you develop societies and armies and industry to cultivate wheat. Before long, you are enslaved to the seasonal cycles and thinking about wheat all the time -- how to grow more and store more and make it through the winter. You no longer own the wheat -- it owns you.
I think this is fascinating because God warns us about the power of material things to enslave us. If we're not on guard, the things we think we own, they end up owning us. We don't have freedom any more because we're trapped by stuff. We have to maintain a certain lifestyle to support our stuff, and we forget that we made a choice to have all this stuff -- it becomes our life. We work ourselves to the bone so that we can continue to own all these things that are owning us, all the while forgetting that it doesn't have to be this way. Our things, and the maintenance of them, shouldn't rule our lives.
It's a great book, and it will certainly make you think, which is reason enough to read it. I don't agree with all of the conclusions, but am better for having considered them.