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Can we say we 'own' our pets?

One concept I struggle with is the idea of pet ownership.

That we can own a pet seems at the face of it be normal. There’s pet shops, and perhaps the word ownership could inspire responsibility. You look after your car, so why wouldn’t you look after your pet?

But it is my argument that to talk about pet ownership only ends up commoditising animals, and this is inherently wrong, but equally at odds with a truth that we all know but can fail to notice - that animal life actually matters and is not a commodity.

Please hear that I’m not saying that having pets in your home is wrong, but rather that to see yourself as the owner of another creature is a problem.

The word ‘own’ is imbued with a significant amount of capitalistic entitlement, and it’s only because we bought into a capitalist worldview that we can believe that things can be owned. Many cultures didn’t believe in ownership of land or animals or other people. Perhaps a good reminder of the problems with colonial entitlement comes from Eddie Izzard's ‘do you have a flag?’, except in the case I am putting forward, it’s ‘do you have a lead?’

It is quite clear that our relationships with pets and other animals transcends the relationships we have with commodities. Animals have something that commodities don’t.

Firstly they have the ability to make choices. They can choose to chase a stick or not, they can choose to sit next to you or not, they can choose whether to show love and trust or not. They can’t be controlled like other commodities. For example, my car doesn’t choose whether it trusts me.

Secondly they have unique personalities, which don’t come from our ability to ascribe traits to them. Pets have a personality that is uniquely their own. It grows both as a result of nature and nurture, and it exists independent of the human 'owner'. Whereas commodities clearly don't have personalities (except my phone which *literally* hates me).

Thirdly, and perhaps most telling that the language of ownership is at odds with our hidden beliefs, animals have the ability to make us cry. When a pet dies we show that actually the relationship was not one of a commodity, but one of real love. If animals really are commodities, we wouldn’t be any more concerned with their deaths than we are with burnt toast.
So then, if we can agree that animals are not simply commodities for our enjoyment, but fellow creatures we would be wise to not use language of ownership. To talk about owning a fellow creature, really does remind me of the language used in slavery

Perhaps a more fitting language would be one of relationship and of family. Perhaps we can see ourselves not as owning a pet, but living alongside another creature who enriches our lives but also has its life enriched by us.

How We Value Animals - Bacon, Pets or Fellow Creatures

There's a festival called Bacon Fest coming up in Cape Town where you can have 'all the bacon you can eat'. I can imagine for many people that sounds amazing, but if we look a little deeper it becomes very easy to see the problems with this capitalistic consumerism.

Bacon has become a icon over the past few years. It has gone from a breakfast ingredient to a symbol wrapped in bravado and masculinity. It's not completely clear why or how this meme began, but it's undeniably there. And what is even more weird is that the slaughter of pigs are celebrated as part of this macho-consumerist driven love of pork.

One of the most interesting memes is the t-shirts and posters with butcher's diagrams where the pig is carved up into sections of meat. What is interesting is that we move from celebrating the tastiness of bacon, to celebrating the slaughter of pigs. We now don't see the pig as an intelligent, playful animal, but simply as pieces of meat. This becomes easy to accept when the lives of pigs only have value in relation to our desire to eat them. And that's what I really have a problem with, and the question I'd like to ask - do animals only have value in relation to me?

This problem of anthropocentricism becomes even more clear when we look at pets. People are disgusted by the idea of eating pets (and rightly so), but would happily eat another animal. The problem here is that instead of the animal's life having value because I can eat it, the animal's life now has value because I love it/ find it cute. The animal's life doesn't have value simply because it exists as a fellow creature, but because I, as the human, give it that value.

Surely the lives of animals can have value in and of themselves? Surely animals have a right to life and ethical treatment?

There exists a weird prejudice in people because we know that killing and exploitation are wrong, but we are able to suspend this intuitive belief when it comes to our dinner plates. We are able to put on hold one of the things that make us human, our ability to express human loving-kindness, and subject animals to torture and slaughter simply for reasons of taste.

Leo Tolstoy once wrote "Such a situation, is dreadful. Not the suffering and death of the animals, but that man suppresses in himself unnecessarily, the highest spiritual capacity - that of sympathy and pity towards living creatures - and by violating his own feelings, becomes cruel. And how deeply seated in the human heart is the injunction not to take life. But by the assertion that God ordained the slaughter of animals, and above all as a result of habit, people entirely lose their natural feeling."

Perhaps we need to regain that natural feeling which tells us that killing and exploitation are not things to be celebrated with t-shirts and festivals, but rather we should find love within ourselves to express to fellow creatures.

From my own perspective, the message of Christ is one of love. And if we can't extend that love to fellow creatures then we haven't understood the message of the Gospel - that Christ came to redeem all things, things in heaven and things on earth. The Sermon on the Mount emphasises the fact that Christ is with the down-trodden and oppressed, the marginalised and the exploited. Animals are being exploited and marginalised, and perhaps the Church needs to be more concerned about that.

Andy Hull 'Back of Your Old Church'

Behind the back of your old church
There is a path that no one takes
It's covered up in wooden weeds
It's hidden by a crucifix
It leads to nothing that you want
It leads to everything that's ever let you down
Still repeatedly each week the congregation tries to figure it out

Once you start that riddled path
There's only one chance you get back
You see your faith inside a ditch
You see your family in a trap
When a man appears and ask you if you're sure this is the way you wanna go
You'd be surprise how many folks decide that fuck the path and head back on their own

I heard that at the finish line there is a light that never lights
It was a trick that everyone that took the trip can recognize
It's a way to help the weak amend the past that they could never let go
You figure out the path has led you to a mirror that can not be shown

I still believe there is something up that sleeve
I do conceive there is so much I can't see
I won't believe
There is nothing

Behind the back of your old church
There is a path that no one takes
It's covered up in wooden weeds
It's hidden by a crucifix
It leads to nothing that you want
It leads to everyone that's ever let you down
Still repeatedly each week the congregation tries to figure it out

Sydney Carter 'The Devil'

The  Devil  wore  a  Crucifix 
"The  Christians  they  are  right" 
The  Devil  said  "so  let  us  burn 
A  heretic  tonight, 
A  heretic  tonight". 

The  stars  and  stripes  or  swastika 
The  crescent  or  a  star 
The  Devil  he  will  wear  them  all 
No  matter  what  they  are, 
No  matter  what  they  are, 

In  red  or  blue  or  khaki 
In  green  or  black  and  tan 
The  Devil  is  a  patriot 
A  proper  party  man, 
A  proper  party  man.

Whenever  there's  a  lynching 
The  Devil  will  be  there
A  witch  or  an  apostle, 
The  Devil  doesn't  care, 
The  Devil  doesn't  care. 

He'll  beat  a  drum  in  China
He'll  beat  it  in  the  west 
He'll  beat  a  drum  for  anyone 
"And  a  Holy  war  is  best, 
A  Holy  war  is  best". 

The  Devil  isn't  down  in  hell 
Or  riding  in  the  sky 
The  Devil's  dead  (I've  heard  it  said) 
They're  telling  you  a  lie, 
They're  telling  you  a  lie!

Sydney Carter 'Creator of the Living'

Creator  of  the  living, 
Creator  of  the  light, 
Keep  shining  to  your  children 
That  travel  through  the  night. 
In  loneliness  and  terror, 
In  madness  and  despair, 
If  Love  is  what  you  really  are, 
Oh,  show  them  you  are  there. 

Creator  of  the  living, 
We  have  no  life  but  you.
Upon  the  tree  of  torture 
You  hang  and  suffer  too. 
Your  life  is  in  your  daughter, 
Your  life  is  in  your  son, 
Created  and  Creator  still 
On  every  cross  are  one. 

If  Love  is  what  your  name  is, 
Your  angry  children  cry, 
Is  this  the  love  you  show  us? 
We  suffer  and  we  die. 
Through  bitterness  and  blindness 
Keep  shining  in  us  too, 
That  we  may  keep  and  cradle  still 
The  gentleness  of  you. 

Keep  shining,  Love,  and  travel
Keep  shining  in  us  still! 
Like  Mary  we  can  mother, 
Like  Herod  we  can  kill 
The  miracle  we  carry 
That  is  our  maker  too. 
Keep  shining,  Love,  that  we  may  show 
The  radiance  of  you.

Sydney Carter 'Run the Film Backwards'

When I was eighty-seven 
they took me from my coffin
The  found a flannel nightshir  for me 
to travel off in

All innocent and toothless, 
I used to lie in bed
Still trailing clouds of glory 
from the time when I was dead

The cruel age of sixty-five 
put paid to my enjoyment
I had to wear a bowler hat 
and go to my employment

But at the age of sixty 
I found I had a wife
And that explains the children 
(I had wondered all my life)

I kept on growing younger, 
and randier and stronger
Till at the age of twenty-one 
I had a wife no longer

With mini-skirted milkmaids 
I frolicked in the clover
A cuckoo kept on calling me 
until my teens were over

Then algebra and cricket 
and sausages a-cooking
And puffing at a cigarette 
when teacher wasn't looking

The trees are getting taller, 
the streets are getting wider
My mother is the world to me, 
and soon I'll be inside her

And now it is too early,
there's nothing I can see.
Before the world, or after?
Wherever can I be?

Sydney Carter 'Present Tense'

Your holy hearsay is not evidence
Give me the good news in the present tense
What happened nineteen hundred years ago
May not have happened
How am I to know?

The living truth is what I long to see
I cannot lean upon what used to be
So shut the bible up and show me how
The Christ you talk about
Is living now

Dear Brother, I’m sorry that I ate you

Dear Brother,

I’m sorry that I ate you, but you were looking tasty.
So I decided to slice you up and baste you.
It’s a pity you’re not as cute as your sister,
She’s soft and fun, but you mister,
You’re just tasty,
Imma wrap you up in pastry,
and wash it down with Fresca,
You bet ya.

I’m sorry that the message of salvation is not for you,
Jesus didn’t die to save you too,
He died so that all things (in heaven and earth) might be saved,
Unless one of his followers craved,
Some meat to eat,

I’m sorry that you won’t see your friends,
That stood beside you by the fence,
Chewing the cud, rolling in the mud,
When all I saw was flesh and blood.

I’m dead against violence.
But it seems I forgot,
That we all we come from the same stock.
Maybe one day the lion will lie down with the lamb,
But until then I’ll have some ham.

Kind Regards,
Your older brother

Excerpt from 'The Coffee House of Surat' by Leo Tolstoy

 This is an excerpt from a very interesting short story by Leo Tolstoy called 'The Coffee House of Surat' which revolves around a group discussion where people of different faiths are all claiming to have the ultimate divine truth. Eventually the student of Confucius says some very wise words.
"You are all misleading one another, and are yourselves deceived. The sun does not go round the earth, but the earth goes round the sun, revolving as it goes, and turning towards the sun in the course of each twenty-four hours, not only Japan, and the Philippines, and Sumatra where we now are, but Africa, and Europe, and America, and many lands besides. The sun does not shine for some one mountain, or for some one island, or for some one sea, nor even for one earth alone, but for other planets as well as our earth. If you would only look up at the heavens, instead of at the ground beneath your own feet, you might all understand this, and would then no longer suppose that the sun shines for you, or for your country alone."


"So on matters of faith," continued the Chinaman, the student of Confucius, "it is pride that causes error and discord among men. As with the sun, so it is with God. Each man wants to have a special God of his own, or at least a special God for his native land. Each nation wishes to confine in its own temples Him, whom the world cannot contain.

"Can any temple compare with that which God Himself has built to unite all men in one faith and one religion?" All human temples are built on the model of this temple, which is God's own world. Every temple has its fonts, its vaulted roof, its lamps, its pictures or sculptures, its inscriptions, its books of the law, its offerings, its altars and its priests. But in what temple is there such a font as the ocean; such a vault as that of the heavens; such lamps as the sun, moon, and stars; or any figures to be compared with living, loving, mutually-helpful men? Where are there any records of God's goodness so easy to understand as the blessings which God has strewn abroad for man's happiness? Where is there any book of the law so clear to each man as that written in his heart? What sacrifices equal the self-denials which loving men and women make for one another? And what altar can be compared with the heart of a good man, on which God Himself accepts the sacrifice?

"The higher a man's conception of God, the better will he know Him. And the better he knows God, the nearer will he draw to Him, imitating His goodness, His mercy, and His love of man. "Therefore, let him who sees the sun's whole light filling the world, refrain from blaming or despising the superstitious man, who in his own idol sees one ray of that same light. Let him not despise even the unbeliever who is blind and cannot see the sun at all."
 If you want to read the full story you can go to http://www.online-literature.com/tolstoy/2737/.

Free Will in the Afterlife

So this is something I've been thinking about for a while and don't exactly have my head around yet. I definitely don't have an answer, but it's still something to think about.

Is there free will in the afterlife?

In order for love to exist there must be the opportunity to not love. This is the basis of the Christian idea of free will. God gave us free will so that when we chose to love Him it would mean something, because if we were simply programmed to love God it wouldn't be real love. God wanted us to choose Him, and the reason there is evil in the world is because we and other free agents decided not to choose Him.

Okay, so if you accept that free will is a necessary precondition to love, then what happens in the afterlife? In the New Creation, do we maintain our free will? Is there a possibility of not choosing God in the afterlife? We believe that Christ defeated sin and evil and the New Creation will be a place without death and decay, but there must still be some meaning to the decisions we make in the afterlife.

I think that in the New Creation we will be so exposed to the love and truth of God that it will become almost impossible to choose anything else. He will reveal Himself in full and every part of us that isn't love and goodness will be burnt off of us, so that we enter only with that which can be in God's presence. Therefore in the New Creation we will still be making decisions, but the decisions will be ones of love of peace.

It's still not cut and dry for me. I think there must be some eternal value to free will, and in the New Creation decisions must surely still be made. My two cents.