Seven Signs We May Be Worshiping Our Pets
By Wendell Cantrell
I recently read an intriguing article warning that some of us seem to be worshiping our family. This topic renewed my interest in revisiting the topic of pet idolatry. My favorite periodical, World Magazine,1 addressed the issue of pet idolatry a couple of years ago. This piece featuring yours truly, afforded me the opportunity for a radio interview and a subsequent radio debate with a Humane Society volunteer.
In this issue, we will revisit the topic as we explore seven signs that we may be drifting into pet idolatry. The Bible is clear that there has been a perpetual struggle between true faith and idolatry. In the beginning, we were made to worship and serve God, and to rule over all created things (Genesis 1:26–28). Paul later points out that part of humanity’s original sin was the act of idolatry: “They exchanged the glory of the immortal God…and worshipped and served created things rather than the creator” (Romans 1:25). The intended order got reversed. We find ourselves worshiping created things and literally allow them to rule over us. As we look at how Fido and Fluffy could actually be ruling us, we will ask seven probing questions.
Are our pets delaying or preventing us from having real children? Pope Francis recently gave a stern lecture on the risk of choosing pet ownership over parenthood.2 He pointed out that couples who have pets rather than kids are doomed to the “bitterness of loneliness” in old age. The Pope’s remarks come in light of recent birth-rate statistics out of Italy and the United States showing that more and more couples are putting off kids until later in life or altogether skipping parenthood. The New York Post recently had an article addressing the choice of young women to skip motherhood and get their maternal kicks by obsessing over flea treatment for dogs while owning handbag-size canines.3 Their research clearly showed that a big drop in the number of babies born to women ages 15 to 29 corresponds with a huge increase in the number of tiny pooches owned by young US women. Their report shows that over the past seven years, the number of live births per 1,000 women between ages 15 and 29 in America has plunged 9 percent, while the number of small dogs — under 25 pounds — in the United States has skyrocketed, from 34.1 million in 2008 to 40.8 million in 2012. Are we seeing this in evangelical circles? I regularly will ask senior couples if they have grandkids. A response that I have lost count of goes like this, “No, but I have the cutest little grand-dogs.”
Are you in a debt crisis because of pet care? Being in the pet care profession, I commonly encounter what I call the ICIM crisis. The acronym stands for “I can’t, but I must!” The quoted expense may be far beyond affordable, but the care must be given. The days of pet care expense being covered purely by discretionary income are over. Fido is family and the needed medical or surgical procedure gets the same priority as a family member’s health care. Then we hear this from a senior citizen on a fixed income who insists on buying her aging canine companion an automatic dog feeder and a top-line senior pet food that helps with joint disease, “I’d go hungry before I would take him off of that food.” If you want to look more closely at the idea of Fido being family, you need to check out two previous issues of Culture Watch.4
Is your love for your pet causing conflict with family or friends? I am surprised at how seldom I hear biblical counselors address this issue of conflict over the family pet. My first exposure to what I call “petcentric conflict” was finding out about a Christian couple who were divorcing over who had bed rights. The wife entered the marriage with two Dobermans that slept in her bed every night. Evidently premarital counseling had not covered that issue. Trust me, this wasn’t the first conflict of that nature I’ve seen, nor was it the last! Priority of pet care spending is also a huge issue that needs to be discussed before pre-marital pets become common property.
Would you or a family member risk your life to save the family pet, or in a crisis, grab the pet instead of a fellow human? I have asked various forms of this question in an informal type of survey at pet care conferences and I have been shocked at the results. I would dare any of you to start asking that question of any youth that you interact with. You would be shocked at what social media is teaching them. It is a great opportunity to discuss the difference between any human made in His image, and any other created being (even Fluffy). We are certainly told in scripture (Jonn 15:13) to be willing to lay down our life for friends and any veteran could tell you stories of that. However, that action for a pet is basically nonsense.
Does your personal pet care spending exceed your ministry contributions? “Ouch,” you may say, “that’s starting to meddle a bit.” A recent article we did on generosity points out the plummeting percentage of evangelical giving over that the past 50 years, currently at 2.4% of net income. Spending on pets in the US has tripled in the last 20 years to a current figure in 2014 of 60 billion dollars. I encourage you to do the math and see if your pocketbook agrees with where your heart is.
Is your conversation dominated by “Fluffy talk”? Certainly our pets can stimulate conversation and fellowship. Do we cross a line, however, when we neglect to inquire about our friend’s family or prayer needs, but instead spend 75% of the conversation discussing our pet’s allergy? We all interact with friends daily who literally believe Fido and Fluffy are family, so pet talk is no different than people talk. Basically, we need to love and listen, encouraging conformity to Christ and His love for PEOPLE.
Finally, is your pet truly your best friend? In the above referenced Culture Watch, we noted a recent survey question by a major news outlet asking whom it would be if you had to choose between your sweetheart and your pet? Of the 1500 questioned, 14% picked their pet. The nagging question is, would it be different for us? Another probing question reported by the Wall Street Journal5 was wills for our pets. Currently, 9% of us have made such arrangements for Fido. If you belong in this category, I would encourage some prayerful reconsideration.
As we close, let us each continue to enjoy and treasure our pets, celebrating the gift they truly are. We are certainly called to be good stewards of His creation (Proverbs 12:10). However in doing so, let us keep a proper perspective, being careful not to drift from excellent care to idolatry.
Questions or comments may be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
2. New York Post, June 3, 2014
3. New York Post, April 10, 2014
4. Culture Watch, Jan. and Feb. 2012, “Is Fido Family?”
5. Wall Street Journal 12, 2014