The Unbearable Sadness of Pet Parenting
Last week I promised to guide us through the desolate bogs of pet parenting. Looking back, I believe I started with good intentions. But whether because I wasn’t looking forward to it, or because I lacked the basic discipline, I immediately sidetracked into what was essentially a theology of pets.
I’m not sorry for that. But I am sorry I strung everyone along on false pretences and want to remedy my error today. As a bonus cereal-box prize, I’m going to try and keep it short and sweet.
Try, I said.
So why the meteoric rise in pet parenting?
Our Abortive National Religion
Recently Rolling Stone tried to write a devastating piece on a certain gospel-slinging senator from Oklahoma, which really ended up being more of an endorsement as far as I’m concerned. In this article, Mr. Deevers is referred to as the political equivalent of a rackin’-frackin’ rassa’-frassin’ varmint — otherwise known as a “Christian nationalist lawmaker.”
Now the only reason that title carries any weight — and it does these days — is because we’ve bought into the belief that North America isn’t currently under a national religious regime. That if we were an ice-cream flavor, it’d be something like . . . nice n’ neutral.
But then, neutrality doesn’t legalize hard drugs, kill its infants, release pedophiles into the general public, and brazenly lie to its citizens. Whatever you want to call those things, you can’t call them the actions of a disinterested party. They are, in fact, the actions of an increasingly militant secularism, which carries all the hallmarks of a national religion. It has its own god (the state), a set of doctrines (statist propaganda dispersed via state-funded media), a set of virtues (compliance, collectivism, etc.), a set of sins (noncompliance, disagreeability, religious adherence etc.), and its own version of utopia (soviet-style communal squalor).
It is to the state’s benefit when we believe secularism is the neutral middle and Christianity is the unwelcome parasite. It is also a blatant lie. Secularism is the diseased air we breathe. It is the poisoned water we drink and swim in. It is in the media, the education system, the health system, the legal system, and the government.
What does all this have to do with pet parenting? Simply because if we’ve bought into the myth of secular neutrality, we will view the outworking of its atheism as neutral as well. This is what people don’t seem to understand. Even while the state was needlessly shuttering people in their homes and freezing their bank accounts, most were unwilling to acknowledge it could do any wrong. Why? It was just a neutral party, doing what it saw was best.
But a secular state doesn’t do what is best for people. It does what is best for itself. Because God — being the immovable Fact — can’t be destroyed, the state takes up arms against His stewards. It offers/encourages us to kill our babies; discourages us from having babies; and if none of that works, then in perhaps the bizarrest step of them all tries to normalize the exchanging of babies with creeping things.
None of this should surprise us. It is all consistent with the antihuman principles of secularism.
The ongoing struggle secularism faces is that it has to work against human nature. Every one of us, whether we affirm it or not, have been made in the image of God. Part of what this means is an inherent desire: A) To have a garden (Genesis 1:28), and B) To keep, or tend, the garden (Genesis 2:15). It isn’t an accident that everyone comes into the world wanting to care for gardens and also being equipped with the biological means of producing kinder- (children) gardens. Even if you manage to convince everyone that the world is best served by sterility, this desire remains. Ideology is strong but nature is stronger.
The problem happens when the momentum of nature refuses to submit to God, at which point it stops resembling nature and starts resembling unnature. A beach ball doesn’t stop wanting to float when you hold it underwater. Eventually it will just go sideways. This is the phenomenon of pet parenting in a nutshell.
When we tell people that the most natural thing in the world — children — are wrong, and that the most unnatural thing in the world — birth control — is right, they may say they believe you. But watch them. Watch their instagram as it multiplies with pictures of cats in little hats and sweaters. Listen as they endlessly relay the mind-numbing adventures of the spaniel twins, Jack and Spiffy. Witness the nauseating diminutives they use when referring to their pets. Observe as they rescue yet another animal and reassure you it will be their last one.
What’s happening here? The beachball is going sideways. The momentum is still there, but it’s headed in the wrong direction.
Destigmatization Begets Further Destigmatization
There’s a popular narrative in our culture that destigmatization — whether for drug-use, sexual deviance, or pet-parenting — is the last great frontier for the compassion industry. Not until every molecule of guilt, shame, and regret is purged from the the human conscience will we ever truly be free. The problem, we are told, is not sin, but the cultural conventions that make us feel like certain things are sin.
But what if the problem isn’t the stigma? What if the stigma is actually the last flickering ghost in a once Christ-haunted culture? What if what we know as compassion is actually the sawing away of the last strand of God’s common grace to culture?
There have been few (or no) periods in history in which women have aspired to the rank of “cat-lady.” Nor could anyone have guessed they would someday find such easy employment in government. There was a time, not long ago, where if someone wanted to find a cat lady, they need only follow the smell of skipjack to the old tin shed next to the iron-smelting factory. Such stigma — which helped discourage women from following such a life in the first place — has now been banished as an “enduring sexist trope.” And now cat ladies are the new Joan of Arc.
Effeminate males were once (rightly) shamed for their preferences and lifestyle. To be “gay” was, and still should be, a pejorative term, and gay men should rightly feel the shame and diminishment of pretending to be women. The problem is not that stigma exists — the problem is that sin exists. The solution isn’t more inane appeals to “progress.” The solution is repentance. Whatever stigma once existed towards homosexuality was the fading memory of a boundary marker. Since then, we’ve been caught in an endless loop of LGBT inception, with each pass becoming more depraved than the last.
Some Lessons for your Doggie Bag
One simple lesson to take from all of this is that the world’s shortcuts always lead to death. They boast great things (“Pets are like children without the responsibility!”) but wind up being dead ends. As always, true life is found in the way of obedience to God’s commands (2 John 1:6). As George MacDonald reminded us — “Every disease that submits to a cure shall be cured.” The current disease of viewing children as a curse, burden, and environmental liability must be treated with the truth. They ought to be viewed as God’s good provision of a “kindergarden” to tend.
One last thing I want to warn against is the ungracious and unbiblical stigma that sometimes surfaces against those in the church who may, against their will, never marry or have children. I was reminded of this recently while attending a church without my family (while travelling). It was a solid, orthodox, reformed church which mostly seemed to be populated by large families. This was all well and good. During my time there, however, I was greeted exactly once, by the door-greeter, who’s literal job it is to greet people. That was it. I do not know if it was because I had no family with me at the time. I only know it was a terrible, abnormal feeling to have in a church.
God pronounces blessings on those who may never be able to enjoy the blessing of family. So we must love and care for them as God does:
For thus says the Lord: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my wall a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.” (Isaiah 56:3–5)
Well, this wasn’t exactly short.
I tried, okay?
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