RAINING CATS AND GODS
Written by Doug Ponder on August 15, 2013
Pets Are Not Pizzas
To say that one thing is not something else is not to register a complaint against either. An apple is not an orange. The land is not the sea. Red is not green. None of these statements are claiming that something is wrong with land or sea, apples or oranges, red or green. It is not “wrong” for an apple to be an apple, but it is wrong to say that an apple is an orange. Apples are apples, not oranges.
This used to be obvious to everyone, but that is no longer the case. We now live in a time when we have to state the obvious, so state the obvious we shall: Pets aren’t people. There, I said it.
Before you click the “X” on your browser, remember that to say “pets aren’t people” is not a criticism of pets. Pets have their place. They are among the animals created by God and entrusted to the care of human beings (Gen. 1:28). Pets are great as pets. But pets are not people, which is undeniably true on every level—biologically, philosophically, theologically. It’s not up for debate. Pets aren’t people.
Treating Pets Like People
In spite of what commonsense tells us, there is a rapidly growing trend for people to treat their pets as if they were people. It is routine for people to refer to their pets as “the baby in the family” or to refer to themselves as the “mommy” and “daddy” of their little furry critter. It need hardly be said that they didn’t give birth to this four-legged ball of fluff. No human did, because it is not human.
Additionally, pets are personified in a number of ways. There are growing industries for pet costumes, pet daycares, pet strollers, pet play-dates, and pet TV channels showing programs “designed to entertain pets.” There are even pet dating services. (You can’t make this stuff up.)
And in our present generation in which deliberate childlessness is at an all-time high, pets have become like substitute “children” for those who are too selfish to obey the command from God to be fruitful and multiply (Gen. 1:28). Instead of raising children to the glory of God, they just get another pet they can drop off at the kennel whenever they want to travel the world without responsibility. It’s much easier that way. (Make no mistake, raising children is much harder than owning pets. But it’s more rewarding, too.)
Why This Matters
Who cares if someone wants to treat a pet like a person? Well, God does, for one. He establishes differences in the world for a reason, not so that his complementary and beautifully diverse world would turn everything into one giant indistinguishable lump. These differences, between pets and people, for example, serve important purposes by God’s design. They remind us of the uniquely human calling to take care of God’s world, including animals. This is not a task that has been given to every creature, but to humans alone. We are responsible for how we tend, cultivate, and create, and this God-given calling is an intrinsic and indispensible part of what it means to be human.
Furthermore, treating pets as people obscures the fact that the value or worth of a human being is greater than that of any other animal. This idea was once something that most people understood, but that’s not the case anymore. Several recent polls have found shocking results: nearly half of Americans would save a dog’s life before saving the life of a human being they did not know. Many studies like this have been done by prominent psychologists with similar results.
And our bank statements don’t lie: Americans alone—less than 5% of the world’s population—spend over 61 billion dollars annually on our pets. That’s 61 with 9 zeros behind it, or enough money to feed, clothe, and educate nearly 170 million children in need every year. It may seem unfair to make this comparison, but when humans have become more zealous for animal rescue than they have for human adoption, is it not time to pull back the blinders and say, “Can you see how crazy things have gotten?”
How Did We Get Here?
The biggest reason that so many think of their pets as people is because we live in rebellion against God. Our sin clouds our judgment, bringing all kinds of chaos and confusion into our lives. It makes us think that what is good is evil, and what is evil is good (Isa. 5:20).
In other words, we begin to value the wrong things. It even affects how we view ourselves. Instead of valuing human beings for who they are (people made in the image of God), we have begun to value people for what they do for us. This opens Pandora’s box to a world of problems, of which treating pets like people is just the tip of the iceberg. For example, this means we begin to think that a human being is less valuable because they can’t “contribute to society,” instead of measuring their value in the eyes of God.
This is why those who think their pets are people are so likely to think an unborn baby is not a person, or at least, not as valuable as a person who is already born. This is not accidental. Those ideas are linked. Once you begin to see value or worth as something that we place on an object, and not something that an object is given by God, then who’s to say that a dog isn’t more valuable to you than another person? Who are you to tell me that I can’t abort this baby and buy another Goldendoodle?
In this way, our pets become like little gods. We worship them for what they bring us: “unconditional” love, feelings of companionship, happiness, protection, entertainment, etc. In other words, most people love their pets because they love themselves. Pet love of this sort is idolatry, because instead of finding fulfillment in God we seek it in his creation, worshiping and serving the creature instead of the Creator. It is a sad drama that has been reenacted throughout time (Rom. 1:25). Humans begin to value things for what they do for us, what give to us, and how they make us feel, and pretty soon thereafter we become slaves to anything that meets our selfish desires, serving it and sacrificing for it as if it were God himself.
Repenting of Idolatry and Rebellion
Jesus taught that repentance was our only hope for any sin, including the idolatry of pets and the devaluing of human beings. The way forward is to humble ourselves and believe what God has said about the world. It means learning to value what God values, in exactly the way and the amount that God values them. It means obeying God’s command to raise children to his glory (Mal. 2:15; Gen. 1:28). It means caring more about the adoption of human babies than the rescue of wounded animals, even though both have their place. It means being free to treat your pet with love appropriate for animal, but not being free to treat your pets with an inordinate (disproportionate or disorderly) love.
One day we’ll share the New Heavens and the New Earth will all of God’s creatures who have finally been set free from the bondage to corruption they were subjected to as a result of our sin (Rom. 8:19-23). That day is coming as surely as Jesus was raised from the dead. The best way to anticipate that day is to live even now as life will one day be: God’s glorified humanity, reigning with Christ as kings and priests (Rev. 5:10) whose servant-rule extends over the animals and throughout the earth, for God’s glory and everyone’s good.
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.