#PetParents

Introduction

It’s no secret that I have a lot of views people find offensive. I’ll even say I have some views that actually ARE offensive. Offending people for the right reasons is sometimes not a vice, but a virtue. It’s quite offensive to tell someone that they are a wicked sinner, destined for hell, the intentions of their hearts continually on selfish and evil desires, and apart from the sheer grace and good-will of God they would not be able to take another breath. What could be more offensive than that?

I’ll tell you what many people find more offensive than that (for some very nonsensical reason I do not at all understand).

Your pet’s not your kid, and it’s not going to heaven.

I get so tired of people saying “I’m a dog mom,” “I’m a pet parent,” or worst of all “I’m a cat person.” (I actually think there’s a textual variant in Genesis 3, and it was really a cat that deceived Eve… but I digress.)

That’s right I’m taking on Puppy pappas and the cat couples.

According to research done by Growth From Knowledge that they released at the GlobalPetExpo2015, Millennials are 7% more likely to intentially “raise” a pet instead of a human than previous generations were. They are willing to forego actual parenthood in favor of a dog, and I do not have any trouble believing it myself, because the number of people my age I know who treat their dog like a child is, as Remus Lupin would say, riddikulus.

Biblical View of Humans and Animals

Here’s the problem with this trend. Biblical Christianity teaches that humans are the ones created in the image of God, with imperishable souls, who can be redeemed and saved from damnation. According to the Bible, the only eternal creatures in existence are humans and angels. (God is not a creature.) Animals are here for utilitarian and creative purposes, not salvific ones.

I fully admit and recognize that there are very many good things that animals, and pets, can accomplish. I actually do see a lot of value in emotional support dogs, the stability that being responsible for a pet brings to a household, the beauty and wonder of the diverse and complex creations of our God, AND the tastiness of animals when their bodies are prepared correctly. I believe there are great emotional and utilitarian reasons for valuing animals and pets. Humans were given dominion over animals, and it is our job to steward them well… but stop making them equal to humans!

The created order, and fall, laid out in Genesis 1-3 is the foundation upon which the Christian worldview is built. Those three chapters tell the Christian how the world was designed, who’s in charge of it, what’s gone wrong with it, and how it’s going to be fixed. In those three chapters one particular equation becomes crystal clear: Humans > Animals.

As is often the case, the reason I’m ranting about what seems like such a minor thing is not the thing itself. In reality, I realize that it is rather harmless to treat your dog somewhat like a child, when you know full-well that there is a big difference. Those of you who own a dog but actually do have a clear picture of the reality of that dog, I’m not talking to you. It’s not so much the thing itself, it’s the theology the thing reveals and encourages (aka: Where that trail leads). Those of you who really do think, however unconsciously or innocently, that your pet is “just as important” or “just as much responsibility” or “just as soul-having” as a baby, realize where that trail leads. By treating your dog like a child, you are innocently, unknowingly, dangerously, drawing an equivalency between humans and animals that subverts the created order that God ordained in Genesis 1 and 2. You begin to allow yourself to think that animals matter just as much, if not more, than humans, and they don’t. You may end up at the end of trail truly idolizing your pet, placing it on a pedestal not only above humans, but in the place of God himself.

A Story

There’s a good story on this subject that some good friends of mine told me about their great grandfather and their dad, Scott. As the story goes, when Scott was fairly young about 4 or 5 years old, he was at his grandfather’s house out in the country. His grandfather was the farmer type, worked with his hands, lived off his animals, land, and mechanical know-how. One day Scott and his grandfather were in the kitchen, with the family hunting dog lying there watching as well. At one point, Scott dropped something near the dog’s food dish and the dog grumbled. It didn’t snap, didn’t bark, didn’t snarl, just let out a low guttural “grrrrrrrrrr” clearly in response to the child.

As Scott tells the story, his grandfather merely looked at it, shook his head, said to himself, “That was such a good dog,” and whistled for the dog to follow him. A moment later two shotgun blasts sounded from the field out back. When Scott told me this story he shook his own head and said, “Papa was clearly sad over it, but it was just like… You don’t do that to my grandchild.”

Many are shocked by this story. This is not meant to revel in the harming of animals; far from it. It is to exemplify the main point that I am trying to drive home: there is absolutely no comparison between a human and a pet. It doesn’t matter how good your dog is, how much it “seems” human to you, the moral value hierarchy is clear.

This is the way farmers view their animals, and I would venture to say it is the CORRECT way to view your animals. They are things, not people. Contrary to the advice of Bruce the shark: fish are food, not friends. You do not birth a pet, you buy it. It fulfills a utilitarian purpose (to serve the needs of humans) but if an animal begins to go against that purpose, it is no longer needed and its life is rightly forfeit.

This is why most people who claim to love animals are perfectly willing to call their husband in to kill a spider in the house, for the very reason, “I’m aware of its existence, so it must die.”

Disclaimers/Conclusion

Now I know what you’re thinking, and hold your hate mail. I’m not saying that this truth justifies humans abusing and mistreating animals. I get a little choked up when I hear Sarah McLoughlin crooning about the arms of the angels during those SPCA commercials, and when I hear about a guy who starves and batters a dog to death, I think moral outrage is correct and that guy is a scumbag. There are right ways and wrong ways to exercise our authority over, to be stewards of, animals. There is such a thing as respect for the thing we steward and I’m not pretending that doesn’t exist.

I think there are right purposes for animals to fulfill and wrong purposes, and an animal clearly designed for a certain purpose (such as a rooster for providing egg fertilization, protection of hens, and warning cries on farms that dawn approaches) being used for a different purpose (such as being placed in a ring and encouraged to fight) is morally wrong.

This issue is actually even more complex as we begin to sort through the progress of revelation from God about the eating of animals. In the garden, back in Genesis 3, it seems this was not one of the original purposes, but after the fall, it is clear in many passages (Genesis 4, 9, Leviticus 11, Acts 10) that God ordained a change in the purpose of animals. Where they were primarily for wonder and glorification of Him, they became a source of food. Another change worth noting is that instead of killing humans when they rightly deserve such a judgment, He allows the sacrifice of an animal to stay His wrath. The theology of agriculture, particularly throughout history, is actually quite a rich field that better theologians than myself have written on in the past.

All I’m saying with this post is that animals aren’t humans, so don’t treat them that way. It’s quite annoying… and all of your friends think so too, they’re just not insensitive enough to say it, and they definitely don’t want to see a viral video of you going into a restaurant, crying about “your little girl snow” and claiming that “it’s not food it’s violence.” #HerNameIsSnow #StillFunny

Questions for Further Contemplation

Why do you think good christian couples are trading in parenthood for pet adoption? I think there may be an aspect of laziness or self-centeredness at the root of it.  Dogs are easy, and require very little in comparison to a child.

What do you think is the correct place of pets in a home?

What is the best way to train Christians to think about the theology of agriculture?
 
 

4 thoughts on “#PetParents

  1. Hey, thanks Stephen for the article and the lovely picture. It’s a bit creepy, tbh, but all in all, I see nothing wrong with it. It’s two pet parents treating their pet baby as a child. I guess it’s all right then, isn’t it?

    I appreciate reading Meagan’s thoughtful response. Hope it’s all right to jump into the discussion here–if she’s got another counter response coming, I’d like to hear it. In the meantime, I do agree with her that it’s perfectly fine to get some of our needs for affection met through pets–whether single or not. Even as a counselor, I admit dogs have me beat when it comes to listening. It’s something about their eyes…and that head tilt (if I tried to mimic that, I’d probably weird a lot of people out).

    On a more serious note, where I do see things becoming potentially problematic is in the case where a preference for affection from pets excludes someone from taking those necessary risks involved in investing in human connections. If we are honest, most of us have been burned by more people than pets (hopefully?), and so, sometimes connecting with humans can be more difficult. If someone seriously seems to be babying their pet to the neglect of human interaction, I might just wonder about what hurts they might have experienced from people.

    In regards to your concern about the decreasing value placed upon raising children, I do see this kind of disdain towards raising children among certain, mostly more wealthy populations in our society. But I wonder if that could also be due in part to the breakdown of community in general. There was a time where weddings, funerals, and having babies were just part of life. Everyone was invited to witness these major life events and help out. But now, it’s become very easy for single people to just stick with their own. It’s also easy for people with kids to move out to the suburbs and do the same as well. And, if there’s very limited or no interaction between the two groups, I wouldn’t be the least surprised as to why one lifestyle may seem quite foreign and even distasteful to the other.

    Well, I know there’s a whole lot more to this, but that’s my two cents for now. If anything I’ve brought up, brings up any more ideas from anyone, I’d love to hear more voices on this topic. I’d be curious to know, in particular, whether anyone thinks this whole not-having-kids thing is a trend that may be reversed in future generations. I’d also be interested to know whether countries outside of the U.S. baby their pets as much as we do–and why or why not. Thanks!

  2. Hey! So didn’t pick up on the fact you were talking about married people. Lol. Ultimately, my thought is that it’s not my place to judge how people are living their lives. I don’t know them or their story. I don’t know how God is working through them. My belief system is that everyone has the right to be where they are at. God is at work and I don’t know where in the process He is with people. If a couple wants pets instead of children, I’m not going to tell them they’re wrong. If that’s their mentality… they probably shouldn’t have kids! If God wants them to have children, He will lead them to that conviction.

    As far as the discussion on it being “better” to be a dog mom than a miserable wife, what I meant was that, personally, I would want to be happily single than miserable and married. I’m not comparing the relationship statuses. I’m comparing the emotional state. Would I want to be single and a pet owner versus being married to a man with a sex addiction? Absolutely. I don’t find the status of single or married to be greater than or less than each other. I also don’t find the status of biological mother versus dog mom to be greater than or less than one another. God has callings specific to each individual and they change throughout the course of life. I’m not going to be the one to say who is better than or less than. We are all equal.

    I’m also not sure why you’re worried that I would ever find an animal to have greater eternal value than a person? I hope that’s not what I communicate in my life or in the first comment I wrote.

    My aim in life is to enjoy God and let His joy be seen by the people I’m around. I don’t think that happens by being everyone’s moral police. God is the one who convicts and does the transforming. There’s so much freedom to be had in life and I think that’s what people need to realize.

    Thanks for the discussion!

  3. So you got me with the title, I read most of it (I skimmed a section because it was foreshadowing of some kind of animal death?), and I wasn’t going to comment… but I also can’t resist. Lol.

    I am one of the ridiculous dog moms you’re writing about and want to share from my perspective. I’m a single adult and a dog came into my life not by my choice. I adopted her and God has used her as a tool for a lot of personal recovery I didn’t know I needed. I am so grateful for her and since I’m single and without children… she is my “child”. A lot of my paycheck goes to her well being and I love spending time and resources on her. I love her, I train her, I pray for her; she comes with me to family holidays. She’s part of the family.

    Personally, I’ve never met a single woman who would say no to getting married or having kids because she loves her pet. I actually think putting love into a pet helps a woman learn how to balance all the love she has to give. It’s so easy for women to give too much to a man while dating because they don’t have another outlet.

    I’m not saying this as to encourage idolatry or an excuse to not serve people. I’m just saying I was shocked at how much love I poured into my dog when I got her. It was very eye opening. I saw things I needed to work through with God by how I interacted with my pet! Which is pretty awesome. I’ve been able to work through a lot of character defects by being a dog mom.

    Maybe there are people that take it overboard and look to animals as a god… but I also feel that the dog mom community is fun and is a connecting point for women. It’s tough finding a single man who loves Jesus and does not have some weirdo addiction or issue going on. I think one reason a lot of women are single is because they refuse to settle for marriage with an idiot when they can have a more rewarding and full life without a spouse.

    Better to be a single dog mom than a miserable wife. There’s much less earthly worry that way and more time to serve God alongside our furry “children”. 😋 I think that animals serve a variety of purposes for different people, times, and cultures. If you put a wall up with women who love their dogs (maybe even annoyingly so), you might miss out on witnessing God at work through His creation. Or! Even a great theological discussion or counseling opportunity. Dogs are great icebreakers. 🙂

    • Hey Meagan, thanks so much for sharing! This is very interesting to me.

      I would say based on your first explanatory paragraph “I am one of the…” and following I wholeheartedly agree with and would say it sounds like this dog has been serving one of the good purposes pets may serve. Like I said in the post, I think there’s a lot of good to be said for taking on the responsibility of a pet, and it sounds like the emotional support you get from it is good and helpful.

      I think it’s really interesting how you focused in on the “Single dog mom” aspect of this, and the picture in my head was of a married couple who has “decided” to not have kids, but have a dog instead and then supplant the role of child-rearing in the family with pet-owning. There’s just no comparison. I hope you do realize that as much responsibility and patience and things you’ve learned about yourself through your dog, it will be 100x greater with a child, should God see fit to give you that gift. (I’m in the same boat. I desire marriage and children, but I must not idolize them OR place an animal above them in my thinking).

      The only part of your comment I found “troubling” in any sense is in your last paragraph. “There’s much less earthly worry (as a single dog mom) and more time to serve God alongside our furry ‘children.'” I affirm up front that singleness is just as equal with marriage on moral value, and that one of the main reasons for singleness is the greater ability and freedom to serve God.

      That said, since I view both singleness as equal in value, but different in function, I think it’s wrong to say it is “BETTER” to be a single dog-owner, than to be a wife. It is actually equal to be single and to be a wife, the dog-owner portion doesn’t really enter into the equation. Better than being a miserable wife is to be a joyful wife and mother. Better than being a single person without responsibility is to be a single person with responsibility, and a pet might be the form that responsibility takes. We must not compare things in the same category.

      Furthermore, I would argue the following: Just as it’s better to be single with the responsibility of a dog than to be single without any responsibility, it is also better to be a wife and actual-mother, than to be merely a wife and dog-mom. I’m curious to know if you agree.

      I think the possible caution to be aware of (and I don’t think you’re guilty of this… but could be down the line, so it’s something to watch out for) is that you might begin to think that all other things equal it is better (for us) to be pet-owners than to be parents. I think that is just wrong. I would argue hands down that raising children is overall better than raising pets (everything else being equal). The hard part for us (as single people) is in recognizing and affirming that truth, yet being okay if we’re never given the gift marriage and so the gift of parenthood. Since being a mother might not be available to all, it is definitely better It is still good to raise pets, very good! But it would be wrong to treat our pets as if they have equal moral value with children (and further down the line, actually view raising children as WORSE than raising pets.) That can breed a very disordered view of the world.

      I don’t know if I’m communicating my point clearly… but I hope so. I really do appreciate your comment and it made me think about a layer of this whole idea that I hadn’t been thinking much about!

      Please let me know what you think.

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