“Is it an animal? Is it a vegetable? Is it a mineral?” Those were three of the questions asked by the Twenty Questions panel on a quiz programme broadcast on the old Home Service. They were trying to guess the name of an object which had been secretly told to the listening audience. Often the item fell into more than one category.
We like things in categories. We prefer something to be “either this, or that”, rather than “both this and that”. It makes life easier. We know where we stand.
Until the late nineteenth century, lichens were seen as individual organisms. Under a microscope it soon became clear that a lichen was not one thing. It was a partnership between a fungus and an alga. Here was not competition and the survival of the fittest, but cooperation and partnership. Today we know that lichens have a third partner, yeast, and some even incorporate bacteria, viruses and amoebas.
As human beings we are often torn between co-operation and competition. We have a tendency to see ourselves as separate from the rest of creation. Separateness can give us a sense of identity, but it can also give us a sense of superiority and an excuse to exploit rather than co-operate and act as part of the whole.
It was in our Contentious Christianity discussion about whether pets go to heaven that I remembered that, as humans, 60% of our genetic material, our DNA, is identical to that of a banana. We share 50% with plants and animals in general and 84% with our dogs and 90% with our cats. So why should they not go to heaven? But then, is heaven a place, a state, or a relationship with God? Or all three?