Monday, August 17, 2009

Animals: Yeah, the Catholic Church has Rules About Them, Too

'I love my [peke, parakeet, persian, whatever].'


I like animals, too. I suppose you could say I 'love' animals, in at least two of the meanings of the English-language word. I enjoy steak and chicken - grilled or cooked, and am very fond of my oldest daughter's pet rabbit - although I wouldn't eat him.

Stereotypes are Stereotypes for a Reason

Then there are the real-life analogs to the fictional character who leaves her (sometimes his) entire multi-million dollar estate to a beloved pet: somewhat to the chagrin of her (his) children. Or the dupe who has been providing a (fake) medium with not-to-expensive jewelry, under the impression that it's being passed along to a deceased pet.

Or the stereotype overly-rich, overly-skinny character who declares that (almost always she) loves animals and hates people.

These are stereotypes. But there are people with disordered views of animals.

Torturing Animals isn't Nice, and We Shouldn't Do It

At the other end of the spectrum, there's the bully who delights in pulling wings off butterflies; and the researcher who 'knows' that animals don't feel pain - so it's all right to experiment with them. Even though he has to move his office, to get out of range of the screams.

Wouldn't you know it? The Catholic Church has rules about animals, too. As I wrote in another post, "...To hear some people talk, you'd think the Catholic Church was against people having any fun at all...." (July 24, 2009)
"Animals are God's creatures. He surrounds them with his providential care. By their mere existence they bless him and give him glory.197 Thus men owe them kindness. We should recall the gentleness with which saints like St. Francis of Assisi or St. Philip Neri treated animals."
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2416)

"It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly. It is likewise unworthy to spend money on them that should as a priority go to the relief of human misery. One can love animals; one should not direct to them the affection due only to persons."
(Catechism, 2418)
There's more. Including a paragraph that says it's okay to "use animals for food and clothing" and to domesticate animals. Experimenting on animals " a morally acceptable practice if it remains within reasonable limits and contribute to caring for or saving human lives." (Catechism, 2417)

Why this 'humanocentric' view of things?
"God entrusted animals to the stewardship of those whom he created in his own image...." (Catechism, 2417)
Yeah: That makes us pretty hot stuff. Sort of like God - "in his own image" - but let's not get too cocky. A steward is "someone who manages property or other affairs for someone else" or "one having charge of buildings or grounds or animals" - and the word has some other meanings, too. (Princeton's WordNet)

A key phrase there is "for someone else." In the case of us and animals, that "someone else" is God.

I don't think it's prudent, considering the position and nature of the owner, to mistreat animals: any more than it would be a good idea for the 'steward' of a zoo to abuse the penguins. When it comes time to review the books, that could be embarrassing.

Why All these Rules? Doesn't God Trust Us?

Taking the second question first: God gave us free will - a topic for another post - and if that's not "trust," I don't know what is. Anybody who reads about, say, the 20th century; or lived through much of it, as I did; should realize that people are capable of doing some very nasty things, given the opportunity.

So, why all the rules?

Actually, there aren't all that many, when you get down to basics. It's possible to boil the rules down to two:
"...You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind...." and "...The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.'..."
(excerpt from Matthew 22:36-40)
Even so, it's a good idea, I think, to take advantage of what some of the greatest minds of the last two thousand years have had to say about how those two basic rules get applied to everyday life.

Like, 'is it okay to eat meat?' or 'am I allowed to torture frogs?' Turns out, even though neither cats nor frogs was mentioned in that passage from Matthew, the answers are 'yes' and 'no', respectively.

I don't see the teachings of the Catholic Church as being all that restrictive. But then, I do see them as guidelines for a way of life that will:
  1. Keep me from hurting myself or other people
  2. Help me, therefore, live a fuller and possibly longer life
  3. Have fewer embarrassing details to discuss with God, sometime in the relatively near future
In a way, I think it helps that I never quite bought in to the mainstream culture's value systems: either the pre-sixties 'success' track; or the sixties-and-beyond 'tune in, turn on and drop out' ethic.

Following the Catholic Church's teachings will result in a temperate, family-centered or community-centered way of life that I think a secularist might agree tends to result in physical well-being and emotional health.

Since I take God seriously, and expect to outlive the universe - whether I enjoy it or not - I take the implications of point #3 pretty seriously, too. (see Catechism, 1020, 1021-1022 and 1051, for starters)

Related post, about dealing with animals: Related posts, about rules, the Catholic Church and common sense:

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What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.