Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Pets and the doctrine of Creation...

My dad recently remarked how surely animals must have been made by God for our enjoyment and companionship. I think we all, in our tenderer moments, have felt the same. Animals are virtually perfect reicipients of whatever grace we, from time to time, muster up. And this is to our liking, since there is nothing worse than an awkward, self-excusing gift giftee. Then again, when they are not gratifying our godlike urge to give ourselves in love, pets are loyal and devoted engines of care and comfort. Because they so perfectly seem to fulfill their inner law of being--to live their nature--we envy animals. As humans, we have the responsibility of living according to a nature that is designed to transcend itself.

The elusive simplicity of animals allows us to treat them even more considerately and patiently than we do fellow humans. A mean-spirited dog is purely a product of bad raising, or perhaps subject to rabies, and the like. Cujo is so disturbing precisely because it transforms--deforms--the 'purity' of animal nature, even when it is that of a purely unlikeable animal, into something consciously malevolent--something terrifyingly human. A mean-spirited human, by contrast, is a special target of scorn and scolding. This is a necessary tension in the human experience: on the one hand, we really ought to "know better" when we are acting foully, but on the other hand, our transcendent nature seems, unfairly, to grant us little if any charity on the part of our aggravated neighbors. The asymmetrical dialectics of animal-human and human-human relations is most apparent in connection with animal abuse. The kind of person who would abuse animals is not simply 'cruel but in all likelihood downright 'misanthropic', a jerk in general.

But I digress. The small point I would like to suggest is this: just as their is a transposed, derivative analogy between the grace we give animals and the devotion they give us, so I believe their is a transposed, transcendent analogy between us and God. I won't go so far as to say we are God's pets, but then again, based on the naturally affectionate, receptive life of animals, would that be so bad a formulation, I wonder? Part of what led my dad to formulate his view of pets as 'given to us for our joy', was an tacit denial of the hoary idea that we are the 'masters' over nature, as many people are led to think Genesis 1:26 teaches.

And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the heavens, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

神 說 : 我 們 要 照 著 我 們 的 形 像 、 按 著 我 們 的 樣 式 造 人 ,使 他 們 管 理 海 裡 的 魚 、 空 中 的 鳥 、 地 上 的 牲 畜 , 和 全 地 , 並 地 上 所 爬 的 一 切 昆 蟲 。

Und Gott sprach: Laßt uns Menschen machen, ein Bild, das uns gleich sei, die da herrschen über die Fische im Meer und über die Vögel unter dem Himmel und über das Vieh und über die ganze Erde und über alles Gewürm, das auf Erden kriecht.

Entonces dijo Dios: Hagamos al hombre a nuestra imagen, conforme a nuestra semejanza; y señoree en los peces del mar, en las aves de los cielos, en las bestias, en toda la tierra, y en todo animal que se arrastra sobre la tierra. [Deus] ait : Faciamus hominem ad imaginem et similitudinem nostram : et præsit piscibus maris, et volatilibus cæli, et bestiis, universæque terræ, omnique reptili, quod movetur in terra.

The Hebrew for 'dominion' is radah (רדה), and it basically means to tread upon, like a victor, to reign. Pretty grim, I know, but this is why the connection between the old testament and the new is so vital for Christian theology. In Christian theology, the dominion of Christ is the model for all other forms of dominion. And Christ is, of course, the Defeated Victor, the Crucified Savior, the Suffering Servant, the Infant King, and so forth. In a word, the Anointed One who anoints us with His blood. Indeed, at Christmas we celebrate the adornment of the manger with animals as Christ was adored by their keepers. In this way, Christ subsumed and sanctified the keeper-pet relation under His own sovereignty, and in a way that utterly triviliazes the master's power in comparison to--or at least, without obedience to--His own kingship, which is supreme even as an infant. Hence, while the old testament, left to itself, may have afforded a tyrannical view of man's sovereignty over creation, the Christian tradition is driven by its Lord to see dominion as an inherently loving, self-giving process. Hence, I see the gift of pets as a kind of pedagogy in knowing God. We are given pets for our pleasure, yes, but also for a chance to sacrifice for something lesser than us, just as God sacrificed for us.


e. said...


First, Merry Christmas!

Second, just how many languages do you actually know?

Third, just what is your profession, if I might ask?

the Cogitator said...

First, Merry Christmas to you, too!

Second, I "know" English, German, and Mandarin Chinese, but I can also read and somewhat "use" Spanish and Latin. My Greek, Hebrew, Italian, and French are really just at the conversation mixer level.

Third, I have been an English teacher in Taiwan for the past five years. I am looking at becoming a professor and author.

I'd love to hear more about yourself. God bless, and thanks for your interest as a reader!