Theology of Pet Ownership

This is my 400th post on this blog!  Wheeee!  To celebrate, I thought I’d write about something different, something fun, something that brings a smile to everyone’s face.  Let’s see, blogs are basically journals on the internet… and everyone knows that the internet is made of cats… so I guess I should write about cats.

Can't you see how much I love my cat?

Can’t you see how much I love my cat?

Okay, well, actually I’m writing about owning pets in general.  It’s an interesting phenomenon to look at how the idea of pet ownership has developed over the years.  But does the Bible say anything about owning pets?  Yes and no; there is stuff about animal domestication, but let’s start at the beginning.

In the beginning, God made cats.

Well, sort of.  At the dawn of time, God spent six days creating the entire universe.  I’ve written about what I think that might or might not mean, twice, so let’s move past that.  One of the many literary features of the creation story in Genesis 1 is that it seems as though God is building a Temple, and the human race is put in place as the crowning piece to the whole thing.  Not only that, but humanity was made to rule over and care for the entire created order.

Then, man named cats.

One of the first tasks mankind was charged with was naming all the animals.  This is not just a reference to the basic sociological fact that a language system was developed, but an actual exercising of lordship.  Giving something or someone a name implies a sense of control or ownership.  When God gives people new names several times in the Bible, it tends to be shortly after a game-changing event that marks a new turn for God’s chosen family or people.  So, when Adam named the animals, he was doing much the same thing: establishing his lordship over the animal kingdom.  This gives us our first clue into the concept of owning pets: it is our right and our duty as humans to rule over and care for animals.

Then, man employed cats.

The first explicit statement of God offering animals for humans to eat is in Genesis 9, though the use of the word “livestock” several times beforehand strongly suggest this was already going on (not to mention the fact that Abel kept sheep and sacrificed the firstborn among them to God).  In short, the domestication of animals had begun.

It’s also interesting that animals are described by God to begin to fear humans at this point in time as well.  This points out that some animals are going to be harder to domesticate than others.

Eventually, we come to references to barns and granaries in the Bible.  As any farmer knows, where there is stored food, there will also be vermin trying to eat it.  And how does one keep vermin away?  Cats!

What about non-working animals, like your typical house cat?

Having non-working animals is kind of a luxury, and a lot of the people in the Bible were fairly poor, so it’s a bit difficult to say that anyone in the Bible owned pets.  Here’s as close we probably get: King Solomon amassed quite a large assortment of treasure in his time, and I can’t imagine he actually put all those apes and peacocks to work in the field.  Chances are they were there to look pretty, like a menagerie or a zoo.

Owning a pet is usually pretty similar: we keep them around to enjoy them one way or another.  Sure, owning a cat may have the side effect of scaring away the local mice who might otherwise consider living in my wall, but primary reason is that the silver and tan beauty in the picture at the beginning of this article is a lovely cat whose purring makes me smile.  Did I mention I really like cats?

My wife and I adopted that cat on 6 October 2013, shortly after my birthday.  After feeding her, the first thing we did when we brought her home was give her a new name.  At the shelter she was called Lollipop… we decided upon Mithril.  Yes, as in mithril.  And as I was calming down amidst the excitement and beginning to think rationally about what we had just done, it finally occurred to me that there was something basic to our God-designed human nature going on: we were actively taking up the role of caring for one little part of creation.  Come to think of it, I even mentioned that towards the end of my sermon that very next Sunday (it’s in the last paragraph before “In Summary“).

Rule over and care for cats.

We are all called to participate in ruling over and caring for creation in some way or another.  As I said in that sermon I just mentioned, by adopting a shelter cat, we’re also providing a home for a cat who would otherwise be stuck in a shelter or on the streets, or in a home of neglect.  The relationship is two-fold.  People enjoy having their pets, and pets benefit from having people who look after them.

Obviously there are many ways that this can and does go wrong.  Too many people out there abuse animals.  They’re emphasizing the “rule over” part to the expense of the “care for” part.  Other people swing the opposite way, spoiling them or treating them like their own children, thus emphasizing the “care for” part and forgetting the “rule over” part.  As St. Augustine might say, it’s all about rightly ordering our loves: love for God comes first, love for neighbor and self comes second, and love for creation would be third.

Something I have observed among some of my friends who do not believe in God is that their sense of priorities drift without God.  Without acknowledgement of God, love for God cannot become first priority, and thus becomes subject to love of self & others.  And at the same time, the third priority (love of creation) often tends to elevate to equal love for other people.  “Animals are people too,” I sometimes hear.  And this is confirmed by my sister who’s studying to be a veterinarian – the big bucks people spend on their pets these days is amazing.

Hooray for cats!

In short, yes, rejoice in the beauty of God’s creation, and celebrate cats.  Or dogs or guinea pigs or whatever floats your boat.  Or if you’re not an animal person, that’s fine; owning a pet is only one way that we rule over and care for creation.  Being responsible about trash and recycling and energy use, growing plants, owning land, and enjoying the outdoors responsibly are also great ways that we fulfill the obligation we have as humans.

As for me, I don’t have the money to own land, protect trees, adopt a patch of rainforest, or stuff like that.  But I can own and care for a cat.

Yes, I'm so thrilled about your 400th blog post I can barely contain myself.

Yes, I’m so thrilled about your 400th blog post I can barely contain myself.

Happy 400 posts, Leorningcniht.  And thanks for indulging me in my love of cats.

About Fr. Brench

I'm an Anglican Priest and a sci-fi geek. Therefore, I write about liturgy & spiritual formation, theology & biblical studies, and Doctor Who. But I keep those blogs separate so I don't confuse too many people!
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