Playing Humpback Jazz

A novel thought: Maybe God is syncing his song with the male humpback's and chanting an invitation: Be cool. Kick back. Relax. Have fun as you gather around a piano and belt out of a few tunes -- and that includes you, Harry Reid, Mitch McConnell, John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi. You were made for pleasure and laughter, not merely for grim work.

Such were my thoughts as I enjoyed a concert on a seven-minute BBC excerpt, which rolls footage also aired in a first-rate documentary, Ocean Giants. Scientists scratch their heads over the whales' ocean-wide songs -- or, more technically, their hums. Many thought they were typical men, shamelessly wooing the ladies in the open sea with nary a glance at the mortified barracudas. No doubt they promised the moon: "We love you because of your minds."

But there's no recorded instance of females casually swimming past and peaking back, which leaves us with one of two choices: either all the men are losers or we don't know why they sing. The species is still with us, so I select option two. I'll throw in a theory and defend it triumphantly despite my lack of research and knowledge: The men sing for the same reason Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck jam on their guitars. They're groovin' on the music and that's it. Their incredulous reply to our queries: "Stop asking those questions and push yourself onto the dance floor!"

The whales, in other words, sing for the fun of it because fun lies at the core of who they are and who we are. They could be tuned into Proverbs 8:31, which describes God's Wisdom as "rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind" (the Hebrew word for "delight" is the same word for "laughter"). Maybe they intuitively know the ethos of Ephesians, chapter one: God revealed "the mystery of his will" because of "his good pleasure."

Add it up: God's inner promptings involve joy, delight, laughter and pleasure. God carved out creation because he wanted to and left his imprint in the animals and in our souls. Pet-owners know it. Their animals relish pleasure. They wrestle with their German Shepherds and throw sticks for their Labrador Retrievers and wiggle yarn for their kittens. True, the Lab is bred for retrieving and the kitten is rehearsing for hunting, but neither explanation denies the obvious: Each animal is thrilled. They take pleasure in their work, which tells us that something's wrong if we don't come home with our lunchbox and a smile.

We often think we're meant to be working beings who sometimes have fun. Perhaps we've got it reversed. Maybe we're meant to be merry beings who sometimes work -- and work itself is meant to be fun.

Researchers may poo-poo all this for-the-fun-of-it talk, but their quest for mere utilitarian function reveals the Enlightenment's deistic and agnostic prejudice: We're fleshy machines spawned in chance, genetically programed to perpetuate our species and nothing more. We grow up, flee from the jackals and, assuming we ran fast enough, we mate, propagate several times over -- and then die. View the story arcs of the PBS nature features: Life is the same for rats, weevils, bats, mice, apes, sharks, dolphins and toads. Birds have it especially hard: Lay some eggs, incubate them until they hatch or a beady-eyed snake eats them, then hunt for fish while the kids hang their mouths open back at the nest. It's a race against time and hawks, all work and no play -- and the brats don't even say thanks when they fledge and fly away.

Kids these days.

I've suspected something was amiss until I watched a recent feature about puffins. It began typically, with the hapless birds evading enemy gulls as they flew back to their island nests. This time, their battle for their selfish chicks would play out before intruding cameras, with no privacy for mating (I really don't need to see that -- honest). It's eat or be eaten in a 24-hour-a-day quest to bequeath their DNA on succeeding generations. Play and fun and pleasure have no place in such a tenuous world.

But the narrator slipped with a single sentence: Puffins spend eighty percent of their year off the island.

I asked aloud: "So they're on vacation most of the time?" They're free as birds (I had to say that). No doubt they dive-bomb for food, but that's easy (stop me from saying "fish in a barrel"). Maybe they're preening and chillaxing throwing puffin parties for four-fifths of the year. Maybe they're even listening to humpback whale concerts and rocking to the beat, pausing long enough to puzzle over those strange creatures with the hydrophones. "There they go again," says one. "Yup," replies the other, "trying to figure out the obvious one more time."

I'm an avid science promoter and I've come to agree with theistic evolution; but, at the same time, I see near-sightedness in some scientists. Watch the shows and read the literature: Males are sperm factories and females are ovum carriers, mere conduits for lengthening the life span of a doomed species (someday, the comet will strike). Such a view defies the testimony of the paintings on a cave's wall in France: Humans displayed non-utilitarian creativity even when they were "primitive." They had fun for fun's sake -- just like the humpbacks.

So by all means, lower those hydrophones in the water and study the songs. Collect your data. Then lower them again and do something else: Listen to the music. And send invites to our Congressional leaders. They need to relax.