- Daniel Mayfield
A Less than Humane Society
For some time I’ve silently considered America’s obsession with pets, especially dogs. I’ve seen more than one refer to them as “children,” placing them on a plane with actual children—human being children. Fur babies may be the preferred term. In light of that, some new legislation protecting dogs (and all animals) against human cruelty caught my attention.
I’ll begin by saying, laws against animal cruelty are necessary and good. People should be punished for dealing harshly with domestic animals. God made Adam in his image, and as an image-bearer of God, he would “have dominion over” all the creatures walking on God’s green earth. Something in that purpose for man implies that we act toward animals as God acts toward his creation—with love and kindness and discretionary preservation. God even says, “A righteous man has regard for the life of his beast” (Proverbs 12:10). So as a general principle, legislation protecting animals is good.
Concerning the climate of American morality, however, I’m not sure this legislation actually speaks of a renewed softness or compassion in the hearts of men. I believe the timing of this legislation, given current and more pressing matters, actually speaks to the upside-down value Americans have put on animal life.
In the Genesis creation account, man is the only uniquely created being who bears the image of God. His status as a creation, therefore, stands above all other forms of life. This is why God forbade murder but encouraged hunting. This is why American laws punish homicide but issue tags for deer, bears, bobcats, fish, and the list goes on. However, something of the inherent hierarchical value of man over beast is beginning to vanish.
Before addressing the more pointed concern I have, let me prove the presence of a trend elevating dogs above people. DreamWorks Animation, perhaps unwittingly, made this very point in their recent film Boss Baby, which involves the villainous plot to replace all human babies with adorable puppies. The film was exceptionally relevant, though I’m not sure DreamWorks had a moral slant in mind. As of late, I’ve seen a slew of articles addressing the millennial disposition to have pets instead of kids. Here are a few titles from reputable sources: “Millennials are Picking Pets over People;” “Why are so Many Millennials Opting for Pets, not Parenthood?” “Americans are Having Dogs Instead of Babies.”
I read an article recently from The Public Discourse with the subtitle, “How the Rhetoric of Family Planning Hurts Children.” Susan Martin, the author, had a different purpose than I, but she shared a related underlying issue. Coming from a sociological perspective, she argued against what she called “the gospel of public health,” which educates and encourages families to have fewer and fewer children. As she noted, American agencies were expressly involved in pursuits of population control even outside of America. She wrote, “Public health continuously projected the image of reproductive progress: a perfectible male and a perfectible female to go along with a perfectible human family, shorn of excesses to fit into a modern world.”
Her last statement is telling and poignant—“shorn of excesses.” The notion that a plurality of children is “excess” is a popular one. It tells of the collapse of an ancient sentiment, that “blessed is the man whose quiver is full of [children]” (Psalm 127:5). As our society is further secularized, the family is being reordered and children are seen more as a burden than a blessing. Family is replaced with individualism. At the center of Planned Parenthood’s purpose, there is the promise of career pursuits without obstacle and personal liberty without infringement. Sexuality is utterly free, and the historic consequence of sexuality (children) is obliterated.
As American society grows farther from God into the secular abyss, the virtue of selflessness seen in historic motherhood is erased and replaced with the modern woman who maintains no ties to a home nor the warmth of its hearth. Public health and the whole of secular society have painted the picture that children are cumbersome and should be erased should an individual have made prior plans without them in mind.
Very few Americans have remained unaffected by this rhetoric. Why dog ownership is on the rise and childbearing is on the decline is directly connected. Dogs are infinitely easier to manage than children. Dogs can be left at home all day while careers are pursued. Dogs can be boarded in kennels during worry-free vacations. Dogs don’t demand undivided attention. Dogs don’t play sports. Dogs eat food on the floor made by Purina. Dogs don’t ask questions. Dogs can be brought to the Humane Society should they not work out. Children, on the other hand, change everything.
Recently my wife and I had our second son. He, just like his older brother, is an utterly perfect gift of the richest kind we have ever experienced. He is beautiful and pure and innocent and good. The smiles he brings are larger than any others. From the moment of his conception, we were bonded to him. From our first sight of his tiny face, we were in love with him. He is an image of God, who looks slightly more like his mother than me. We love him deeply. But our lives have been completely reordered due to him and his brother. And the responsibility these children bring is a heavy one—and a selfless one.
There is no erasing a child (what kind of person would want to?). Children cannot be left unattended. They require meal-planning and painstaking patience through meals when they’d rather be playing. They completely erase any memories of sleep. They need constant activity and attention. They make travel very difficult. They change career decisions. They are expensive. The are emotionally more demanding than any other kind of relationship. When they are sick, the feeling is horrible, and you’d wish to take it from them but must instead tend to them. The trendy millennial concept “adulting” is entirely inaccurate if children aren’t in the picture.
As public health encourages smaller families, and as the warmth of Christian society is giving way to secularism, is it surprising that young men and women have less room for the true, unconditional love a child demands? Is it not a frightening image of humanity to know, right now, that babies can be cut limb from limb and disposed in garbage cans with full support of the law, while simultaneously we are writing laws to protect animals? So long as children can be murdered in utero, legislation protecting animals is not moral progress. It only indicates further how far we’ve drifted from Christian values.
[As an aside—and potential rebuttal—I am aware that the same legislation protecting animals would also protect unborn babies. The latter duty, however, has been successfully thwarted by leftist America. The fact that animal protection is met without obstacle further proves my point. Nobody is fighting to allow for animal cruelty to continue. Nobody from either the right or the left would do that. So the fight against pro-life legislation speaks to an upside-down value on animals over humans.]
When our first son was born into the world, I can’t remember ever loving someone so deeply and so instantly. Without question, he became the center of our world. And with so great a love, I questioned if my heart could hold as much room as for him were we to have another. I think this may be a natural question, for I’ve heard many other young parents express similar sentiments. And the answer is unequivocally, yes. As our second son was brought into the world, the connection was as deep and as immediate. Society suggests each man and woman pursue self interests so as to find joy and happiness. But in reality, self interests are vain, shallow, and altogether quite disappointing. Sharing in the love of a child is difficult but grandly fulfilling. God has given each set of parents the means to maintain a continual fount of love for each successive child. He, the Father of love, has placed his image within us, and by that image we do, in small part, as he does.
Will society’s rhetoric against children continue to progress the decline of parenthood ? If so, I hope it only goes long enough to prove that the human bond of mother, father, and child can be replaced by nothing.
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