Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth’” (Genesis 1:26).

God has entrusted the living creatures of the world to our governance and care. By entrusting animals to us, God gives us a share on His own lordship over creation. Nonetheless, in our culture we have a bizarre dualism of both mistreating animals through our industrial food chain and giving them far too much attention as our companions. In fact, we have regularly personified animals even as we eclipse our own dignity and forget how God only made humanity as rational beings in His likeness.

Last month, I had the privilege of leading the Beer Option Farm Retreat at St. Joseph’s Farm in western North Carolina. We began Friday night by slaughtering a pig. I won’t deny that it was more shocking to many of us than you would think. The next day during dinner, however, we were able to recognize the cost of our food, in terms of the sacrifice of a life and also the work that went into preparing it. We were able to take an active role in preparing our own food and to have contact with its source (rather than just making contact with a package).

Animals have a twofold role. Everything in creation finds its ultimate purpose in glorifying God. Further, in placing the created world in our care, God has given animals to us to serve our needs. Psalm 8 beautifully reflects on both the littleness of humanity in light of God’s creation, but also our crucial role within it:

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
    the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
    and the son of man that you care for him?

Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
    and crowned him with glory and honor.
You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
    you have put all things under his feet,
all sheep and oxen,
    and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
    whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

O Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!

God placed the animals at our feet to serve us. Although they were not meant for food originally, God gave us animals to eat through His covenant with Noah: “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything” (Gen. 9:3)

In our loneliness, however, pets have begun to take the place of personal relationships. We have forgotten that in the second creation story God tells us that animals cannot serve as helpmates and that with them we remain in solitude: “but for the man there was not found a helper fit for him” (Gen 2:20). We have become more attached to pets than people: pets who do not make emotional demands on us; who cannot challenge us; who do not inspire us to moral and spiritual heights. And among young couples, it is overwhelmingly more common to see dogs than children.

Pope Francis has rightly pointed out that a culture of comfort, choosing cats and dogs over children, “has convinced us that it’s better to not have children! It’s better. That way you can see the world, be on vacation, you can have a fancy home in the country, you’ll be carefree.” Even though we chose pets over people, we still invest an inordinate amount of money in them. In our country alone, we spent 69.5 billion dollars on our pets in 2017. Many suffer from hunger while we spend billions on pet food. Many babies are aborted, while pets receive complicated surgeries. We have prioritized animals over people.

Rather than seeking a care-free life, as men we can recapture the old sense of being a husband, master of the house and tiller of the soil. Wendell Berry describes this well: “To husband is to use with care, to keep, to save, to make last, to conserve. Old usage tells us that there is a husbandry also of the land, of the soil, of the domestic plants and animals – obviously because of the importance of these things to the household.” (Bringing It to the Table: Farming and Food, 93). To be a husband is to care: to care for our family members and their needs and to exercise stewardship and governance over the created goods placed in our care.

There is nothing wrong with pets, per se, but it does point to a deep spiritual problem when we prioritize animals over our fellow human beings. They cannot become helpmates, but should be helpers for particular tasks. We need to place pets back in their place, ordering them to the service of human beings and the glory of God.

  • mjg

    This sounds too much like a pagan ceremony. As the daughter of a butcher, I see no need to have had the attendees participate in such an event. It plays no role in the purpose of the retreat.

    • R. Jared Staudt

      It does play a role on a farm retreat when the purpose of the retreat is to renew culture, helping men to rediscover their role in leading a home economy.

      • mjg

        Had the owner of the farm prepared the meat before the retreat, then I would agree. Otherwise, unless this was a retreat on how to slaughter and prepare a meal, rather than presumably a religious retreat, it was not appropriate. The environment itself would allow anyone attending to understand the culture involved and there are other aspects to farming rather than an annual slaughter. Doesn’t sound very Catholic to me.

      • Phil Alcoceli

        It is very Catholic to see Reality as it is and deal with it God’s way, whether we are agreeable or shocked and repulsed by it. I grew a ton when I started working with hardened inmates as a teacher and volunteer counselor. I ended learning as much from them about the Core Reality of sin as they learned from me about being real humans. I’m forever in their debt. I loved and love them more than any self-glorifying, justifying, enabling “criminal-lover” out there. I dearly love my cats but will never love an animal more than those inmates, necessary hard justice notwithstanding.

        You are, as you say, “the daughter of a butcher” yet you talk like an outraged vegetarian, even going as far as accusing the retreat participants of engaging in some sort of “pagan ceremony”. Then you switched to “not appropiate”. Whoa!! Holy jumping Moses and dancing Jeremiah!! That’s really far out, emotionally delusional and detached from Reality and that is not Catholic. Jesus, The Reality Anchor, liberates all of Creation, while emotionalism and spiritual animalism enslave and corrupt all of Creation.

      • mjg

        Phil Alcoceli: So you should commit a crime and become an inmate to understand what they went through? Hey, if slaughtering a pig makes you and the men attending those retreats feel more masculine and closer to God, then who am I to judge.

      • Phil Alcoceli

        You should greatly improve both your reading and comprehension skills (and your honesty, too, while you’re at it). I did not “become an inmate to understand what they went through” and imprisonment is not necessary to understand inmates, a total distortion again, all yours. I stated clearly that I worked as “a teacher and volunteer counselor”. Your delusional assumption (as if you have infallible godly powers to know people’s innermost intentions) that “slaughtering a pig makes you and the men attending those retreats feel more masculine and closer to God”, reveals both your falsity and your willful, total misunderstanding and rejection of masculinity (and by extension femininity as well) as God created it.

        God allowed us to eat animals (check those very natural cuspids/canine teeth in your mouth and everyone else’s) so that we wouldn’t worship them as ancient Egyptians did or modern vegetarians/activists do. God has no sacred cows… or pigs…. etc. Only the human womb is sacred and animal worship/spiritual animalism leads to murder against it. I learned through inmates who the most dedicated murderers REALLY are. Renouncing our God-given human dignity and superior stewardship and behaving like savage animals or worshipping them entails a horrific choice for all eternity. I prefer to be truly human and enjoy a good steak or juicy bacon. Did you know that the thing all 4 Gospels talk the most about is FOOD (meat always included)? Willful animal abuse just for self-satisfaction? Never, ever! That’s not truly human or godly either. Real men and real women know that, animal fanaticism not needed.

      • mjg

        Phil Alcoceli: If you read this article, it pertains to understanding a culture. My statement/question to you was do you have to commit a crime to understand the world and culture the inmates you taught and counselled came from/live in/survived. I think you missed that point in my comment .
        I don’t think I particularly come across as an inarticulate, stupid, uneducated person, as you have alluded to, so I’ll refrain from commenting on your insults and attacks.
        You would have been a whole lot smarter trying to convince me why the retreat should include an exercise as slaughtering an animal, rather than attacking me, when you know nothing about me. Then you went on a tangent about animal fanaticism? You’re off the track in this discussion.
        One does not need to be a vegetarian or abstain from any animal products to be disturbed by this exercise that takes place over a religious weekend retreat. Go back and read my second comment.
        God love you.

      • Phil Alcoceli

        Your question, stated again, “My statement/question to you was do you have to commit a crime to understand the world and culture the inmates you taught and counselled came from/live in/survived”. When did I say that committing a crime was essential to understand inmate source culture? Where did I even imply that there is such a requirement? Are you know calling the slaughtering of a pig for eating it a crime? By the way, I would not have been admitted as a prison employee if I had a criminal record. Your question still makes no sense and is disconnected and far out just like your judgment that slaughtering a pig is a “a pagan ceremony”. Based on what that actually happened at this retreat?

        I never called you “inarticulate, stupid, uneducated” (or alluded to it) but stated clearly that you need to improve your reading and comprehension skills and your honesty (self-honesty included). You have a right to be oversensitive about animal slaughtering at a religious retreat but not the right judge it and to call it “pagan”. Every Jew family at Passover slaughtered a lamb. Were they “pagan” or just surrounded by extreme pagans? Also, I don’t need to “know you” as it is your words, written by you, personality and all, reflecting who you are and how you think and feel. Very personal knowledge is only required for dating. Most adults understand that. My mentioning of “animal fanaticism” directly addresses this article titled: “Putting Pets In Their Place” and which directly mentions the distortions, extreme blind emotionalism and horrid abuses brought and infiltrated into the Church by animal fanaticism, like using animals to substitute for human relationships, choosing cats and dogs over children, etc. etc. Slaughtering a pig at a religious retreat sounds highly very appropriate against this monstrous pagan distortions that go against God given Reality. By the way, I have nothing against you personally but about what you said. God bless you as well!

  • PlanetJuggler

    I know a couple of family members who are all about animal rights and eating a vegan diet, but don’t even blink twice to vote for people who promote abortion (even to the extent of voting for that person specifically to defend the “reproductive right” to kill your human child).
    I also get very sad when I see bumper stickers like “I (heart) my granddogs”. That’s not a thing, but it points to the desire to have grandchildren while acknowledging that your own children have chosen otherwise. Very sad!

  • Jako

    Keep the relevant well formed pieces coming!