Thursday, August 28, 2014

Dogs are dogs; People are people

I have noticed a disturbing trend lately to characterize the behavior of different animals in human terms. I’ve been wanting to write this blog for some time now, but haven’t had the time to actually sit down and write it. I will begin with a quick disclaimer. I grew up as a dog owner. I loved my dog. I cried many tears when we put him to sleep after his long illness. It makes me sick when people mistreat animals by beating, starving, etc. So this blog IS NOT about condoning the mistreatment of animals. I limit my comments in terms of how our society is trending toward the humanizing of animals, and what I believe is a dangerour spiritual trend.

Here are some examples of the trend I’ve notice recently:


I’ve been hearing terms such as pet parents and pet caretakers for several years, but (and it might be a false impression) it seems like an increasing coverage of stories in which animals are characterized with human emotions. Crying elephants, hugging and jealous dogs, it’s beginning to appear that animals are equal to humans. And that is the point of this post. Animals, which for the purpose of this blog will refer to NON-HUMAN animals, though they may appear to express human emotions, are nonetheless not human. So, why the strong urge to “see” human characteristics in animals?

Here are a few examples of what I believe expresses at least a portion of the reason.


So why is this issue important for us as Orthodox Christians? If you have been a reader of my blog for any length of time, I believe “just about everything” is connected to our spiritual journey. According to an article “Why do we anthropomorphize?”  which cites the Association for Psychological Science, the author suggests,
“Various motivations may also influence anthropomorphism. For example, lacking social connections with other people might motivate lonely individuals to seek out connections from nonhuman items. Anthropomorphism helps us to simplify and make more sense of complicated entities.”
However, I have a different opinion. I often have a different opinion when it comes to interpreting “motivations” for various behaviors. For me, at least part of the reason for this behavior is evidenced in the fact that you seldom read the evidence of the opposite as positive news. When was the last time you read a scientific article which praises the “animal characteristic” found in humans? Allow me to be more specific. When was the last time you found a scientific survey which studied “Why do men fight to defend their territory” as a benefit to our understanding life?

It seems to me like there is an overwhelming desire to reflect only certain human characteristics in animals rather than animal characteristics in humans in order to establish a “more welcoming” atmosphere for such behaviors in humans. I don’t think it is a coincidence that the presence of homosexuality in animals far exceeds other articles. First, we are obsessed with sex. The second reason might have to do with what the article referred to as “lonely individuals to seek out connections” since homosexuals often find themselves as outcasts of society.

It seems to me that our fallen humanity’s desire for self pleasure is so strong, that we will not cease until we establish enough evidence that such desires are “just part of our animal heritage” rather than behaviors that should be frowned upon. I believe this is also related to why we choose only SOME characteristics.

I think there is another reason for this tendency. The more humans can create the impression that we are no different from the rest of the animals, the less we have to be responsible to God’s desire for us in our life. THAT is why I think this is important enough to blog at length on this. Anything that lends a false impression that we are exempt from God’s desire, takes us away from Him and is directly linked to the devil’s temptation that first lured Eve to ignore her obligation to God. This is our ancient fallen human struggle. As Saint Paul said,
For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. (Romans 7.15-21)
That is not to say there is no example of humans and animal, even wild animals, coexisting peacefully.


In both of these examples, it was the divine character of the saint which brought out the human peacefulness in the animal. This is quite different than that current trend. So if you wish to truly witness animals acting human compassion and love, then as Saint Seraphim said, “Acquire inner peace and a thousand around will be saved.” AND.....even the bears will sit peacefully with you. In the meantime, dogs are still dogs and people are still people.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Forgiveness Challenge

With all the commotion making its way through the internet lately about the “ALS Ice Bucket Challenge” it planted an idea in my mind. What if we all took the “Forgiveness Challenge” instead? It requires no money. It requires no cold water. It requires no internet or social networking account. It requires only your desire to forgive everyone who sins against you EVEN IF they cannot repay you for what they have done.

In the Gospel of Matthew, we hear the ultimate “Forgiveness Challenge” explained. “’Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18.21-22) This is followed by the parable of forgiveness (Matthew `18.23-35) which includes a king (God), a servant (you) and another servant (someone else). The king has called all his servants to settle their accounts with him, but in the face of not being able to repay the king, the servant (that’s you) begs to be given more time. The king, moved by compassion, forgives the entire debt. However the servant (that’s you again) refuses to do the same for the other servant (that’s someone else) so he is thrown into debtors prison (that’s hell) until he repays the debt, which we already know he cannot do.


Jesus “called you out” for the ultimate “Forgiveness Challenge” when He says, “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.” (Matthew 18.35) You have 24 hours to complete this challenge or risk a lot worse than a bucket of ice water.


Monday, August 18, 2014

Courage and Hope

The media coverage this week presents us with the opportunity to witness true Christian courage and hope. In the face of struggle and illness, our faith is challenged, sometimes to the extreme. We may even find ourselves at the end of the line. It is at those moments that Jesus reminds us that faith the size of a mustard seed is enough to move mountains. It will be enough to get you through the struggles your face.