Christmas is the Story of the Mammalian Contract

Lionel Tiger: Christmas is perhaps the most popular holiday in the world because it gets right to the bedrock of what religion is about, which is you’ve got to take care of the mother and the child.

I don’t know about you, but sex is always potentially extremely troubling.  It can cause all sorts of ruckus in all sorts of lives on an endless basis. Just look at the latest politician or golfer and the fact is that because of its power, which Darwin understood when he saw that sexual selection was the engine of natural selection, you have to have some rules about it.


For one thing, men and women have different reproductive strategies as we call them in my trade because the costs of sex, unprotected sex for females, are infinitely different than for males. And so there always has to be in any community the basic mammalian contract, which is somebody has to take care of the mother-child bond.

And so if you look at kinship systems, what they do is try to insure that the mother and child are cared for by the community.  This is, after all, the story of Christmas, basically.  It’s the great mammalian fable, or story, and it works.  It is perhaps the most popular holiday in the world because it gets right to the bedrock of what religion is about, which is you’ve got to take care of the mother and the child.

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

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