Must one imitate Nature?

Can one learn from Nature, from the behavior of animals? Certainly, looking at Nature, one can draw out the lessons of wisdom and beauty that God has instilled in it. Nevertheless, the condition for reading such lessons is that we are led by reason illuminated by faith. Otherwise, an imitation of Nature can be ambiguous and even negative.

 

Must we perhaps imitate pelicans, which rip out their breast so that their brood drinks their blood? Must we perhaps act as rapacious eagles, which plunge on defenseless cubs? Maybe we must act as the beast which devours its own brood?

 

Man has to discern with mind and heart which examples of Nature and of the behavior of animals he must follow, and which ones he has to refuse and surmount by means of his rational spirit: man is not blind and is able to choose among natural examples; as the Bible says, God puts before man water and fire, it is man who has to choose the right way.

 

It must be warned that an imitation of Nature, without more ado, can make man into a cruel and bestial being, depending on the examples he chooses: it can lead to the aspiration to become a kind of superman, which would really be a super beast or a super devil.

 

Besides the natural world there exists a supernatural world and a supernatural life. Strength, fierceness and the blind search for pleasure, which many people learn from Nature and idolize, are not the highest values for the spirit of man:

From the cross, God could have destroyed his executioners, but he pronounced the superhuman words: “Forgive them, for they don’t know what they do”. And, as the pelican rips out its breast in order that its brood is fed, He allowed that blood flowed from his heart in order to nurse us for eternal life.

 

It is degrading for a man to choose examples of animal behavior, appropriate for the animal following its instinct, but aberrant if they are directly transferred to man. He should instead follow the examples that are superior to Nature or the examples in Nature which suppose an elevation of his spirit.

 

Thus, if a man, for instance, forsook his children as the ostrich forsakes its eggs, we could not judge his behavior but as pitiless, inhuman and bestial.

 

Nature obeys some laws without a chance not to follow them: animals have instincts which they are forced to follow. Only man can and must control his instincts within certain limits, and submit them to reason, to heart, to spirit. Therefore, man must only imitate Nature in a restricted way.

 

On the other hand, we know through faith that, except the Blessed Virgin Mary, the human being is born with the original sin, which, even after being erased, produces an untidy bent of our desires:

 

Our instincts, if they are not regulated by reason and illuminated by faith, can lead to aberrant behavior. The idolatry of the body, of the instincts, of pleasure as a tyrannical little god, leads man to being a slave of his passions, a puppet which turns according to the wind, an abject being not able to rise his soul and to feel real love.

The opposite is taught by naturalism, which postulates that man must give himself up to his natural instincts, without bearing in mind that such an attitude can bring degrading and even criminal results: according to this point of view, if the prompting of my character impels me to revenge on my enemy, following my “natural” instinct without hindrance, the logic thing is to kill him.

 

Christian faith teaches something different by elevating man over his fallen nature and impelling him to act in a virtuous and supernatural way, lifting his being to the point of forgiving and loving his enemy, pay good for bad.

 

Yet, if we contemplate Nature with the eyes of faith and love, we shall see the power, the wisdom and the beauty of God as in a mirror, we shall read a book which narrates His greatness, discovering in it a good reason to rise our spirit and to praise our Creator.