As a college student in hyper-liberal Oregon, with its socialist and democratic leadership, Air America bumper stickers and billboards, and, of course, The Oregonian, it can be almost fashionable to try and out-left each other – not by criticizing the establishment, but by attacking the hardcore religious right. Since so few "liberals" are religious fundamentalists, in focusing on the extreme right we can be radical without offending anyone we know. When we hear someone on our side say something we disagree with, if we ignore it and attack the other side, we can still bond and be buddies. This is the way of the leftist tribalist.
Although we may agree that the concept of God is simply the unknown anthropomorphized and that the typical evangelical Christian has misread metaphoric symbology as historic fact and literal truth, rarely will we recognize that in certain moments or moods we do the same as the theist and biblical literalist.
Surely you’ve hollered, "Come on, you fucking cock-face, work!" at your horrible, terrible eMac. The eMac, of course, isn’t listening – not because it’s a mutant form of a normal computer, but because it’s not human. And yet, when we’re frustrated and alone we sometimes yell at inanimate objects, as though the yelling could turn an inferior product into something better. And although we deny it later, when we’re shouting our expletives at these lifeless goods we do expect them to have some effect. When we realize this we either laugh, or yell some more.
"The mountains smile while the sky yawns and the leaves scratch the backs of the trees’ necks," "water dribbles down a senile sink faucet’s chin," and other mediocre anthropomorphic images are interesting, despite their mediocrity. In the past tense, the former would sound almost biblical. In reading Ray Bradbury, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, Elizabeth Bishop or any other writer of metaphors, we encounter better imagery, and because reading is a solitary endeavor we can, for a moment, suspend our disbelief and entertain the metaphor, without pretending that we’re too mature to do so.
Much as metaphoric and anthropomorphic religious mythology does, anthropomorphic images help explain the world in terms we already understand, or create a sense of awe in and a greater understanding of the everyday. Unless entirely cliched, anthropomorphism is always interesting because it is always ironic – we never expect the inanimate to have our own qualities – and even if we are not religious, or are atheist, and reject much of what is called "the supernatural," or "spiritualism," from anthropomorphism we get a sense of the awe for the natural world, which religion either conveys or was created to explain away. (Mixing cliched metaphors – "he grabbed the bull by the horns and hit one out of the park," "her advice boiled down to some first-rate food for thought" – can be comical, or at least interesting.)
What we wear is a sort of uniform for our role in society. Everything we wear has significance, whether we are aware of it or not, and it conveys much about ourselves to others. Dressing animals in human clothes is funny because they, obviously, cannot and do not understand this meaning or significance. And there is no good reason for them to wear those clothes, other than for our own amusement, and to help us engage in a form of self-analysis. Like our clothing, all of our other qualities display our humanity, including those qualities of which we may be unaware, and attributing these other human qualities to nonhuman creatures creates more than a sense of good humor.
When writers attribute consciousness to the animals or the inanimate, they create a religious-feeling, spiritual world in which, even when we’re not watching, life carries on unobserved, just as it does in children’s books and cartoons. If everything is conscious then, even if we are not religious, it is hard not to think of nature as "God" in a deist’s sense, in which God is simply everything, and everything is alive. And at the same time that we may find it fascinating, we quietly wonder if that is actually how the world is; and if not, then what if it was?