Saturday, June 13, 2020

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, June 13, 2020 - Leaning on the Warm and Fuzzy

I struggled with my message this week. For both my congregations, this Sunday is the blessing of the animals. We’re doing it virtually, of course.

But my mind keeps circling back to the crises unfolding all around us. It felt awkward to speak of something as trite as the warm and fuzzy when our world is suffering so. 

Of course there are genuine things about our world’s animal life which deserve our respect, honor and attention. Time should always be set aside for something as significant to humanity as that. Domesticated animals are our human responsibility for creating them in the first place. They’ve been bred by us to seek our approval and validation for their hard work while also providing love, validation, and companionship to us. We have played God with these creatures. There are responsibilities to that.

Far too many humans have taken on the responsibility of pet caretakership only to fail at it horribly. So we honor those who take in our loving life forms who’ve been neglected, abused, or abandoned. Please support your local animal shelters. They are doing good work.

Humanity has grown up alongside domesticated animals from the beginning. There are records of animals bred to be workers and companions dating back thousands of years. Selectively bred to enhance our preferred characteristics. Such as friendliness, for one. 

I remember reading once about a domestication experiment of silver foxes in the 1950’s. Illegal to study genetics in Russia at that time, it was conducted under the guise of fur manufacture by geneticist Dimitri Belyaev. He observed that by selectively choosing the friendlier animals to mate and create potentially friendlier offspring, while leaving the hostile ones to become fur coats, after a few generations, their ears started to flop over and their sharp teeth began to round off. As they genetically perceived the safety and support in their environment, their defense mechanisms began to switch off. 

While some of Belyaev’s conclusions from that experiment have come under fire lately, what still emerges from it, to me, is that as a species evolves generation after generation under safer circumstances where their ability to relate with humans is prized, even their physical characteristics become friendlier over time. 

I find it very interesting to imagine that as circumstances favor an evolution toward friendliness, an animal’s bodily defense structures such as sharper teeth, keener ears, or deadlier claws, become more dormant within the genes until perhaps needed again in some future generation. But that genetic adaptability to circumstance and desire raises a flag to me about our own ability to relate with one another.

Because human beings are a domesticated species. We are domesticating ourselves right at this moment.

We have selectively bred ourselves through our choice of mate for security, procreative ability, and resourcefulness, of course, but also we tend to choose our partners for their relatability, creativity, intellect, and ingenuity. One could argue that we often choose our sexual partners based on how naturally compassionate or empathetic they are as well. In other words, how friendly they are. 

Are these traits being handed down in our genes? Is there any evidence that our physical bodies have altered over time to accommodate our species’ perception of whether or not we are safe or in danger? Perhaps our brain wiring has shifted to value friendliness differently? Has it altered as a result of the fact that even though we exist in a difficult moment, over the course of human history we have only become more peaceful and loving to one another? I know some will argue with that last point. But a little research will show that it’s statistically correct. 

We have increasingly begun to demand the equal rights of all life and all humans. Is that a product of our self-domestication? Are we choosing to be more loving even on a genetic level? We should ask ourselves this question: Are the current challenges we’re experiencing right now a result of there being less love on the planet or more? We wouldn’t be demanding equal rights if our hearts weren’t telling us more loudly every day that that is what Love is asking us to do. We should be more like dogs. Dogs don’t discriminate against each other. They sniff each other’s butts equally. 

Which makes the subject of a fluffy kitten purring on our lap all the more relevant right now. Remember when the shutdown from the pandemic started back in late March, the first thing to go was toilet paper and the second thing was all of the animals in the shelters. 

Humanity has begun to notice the plight of the animal world and their environments more and more over the past several decades. Videos of animals being cute or loving literally built the Internet. Does that say anything favorable about our overall capacity to love?

Of course my thoughts immediately jump now to the ubiquitous evil figure in spy movies cradling a voluptuous cat along his arm as he dispenses murder and mayhem. Evil people like pets, too. But does it speak to the possibility that a thread of compassion and humanity still exists within them? (Remember I’m a rabid optimist.)

That’s sidebar notwithstanding, what I’m considering here is that our companion animals specifically have grown up alongside humanity, true unwittingly, but that relationship still has its advantages. So long as we remember our place is to lovingly care for them in exchange for their loving service to us. This has the potential of being a sacred relationship. And we don’t always treat it as such.

Of course this all is a persuasive argument for veganism and a life without contribution from animals as food or clothing. There are many ways and levels of embodying the maximum to do no harm. Find what is right for you, and purchase your products from ethical sources always. Even for those who eat meat, we should be purchasing pasture raised and organically produced meat without hormones or steroids. Vegan or not, there is no excuse for mistreating our domesticated animals, or any life for that matter. Vote for those who understand this issue. Spend your dollars on the same.

For those of us who have house pets, cherish them. Give yourself permission to be comforted by them now. They are the companions of humanity and they exist in our lives for a reason. They perceive our fear, our sadness, and our despair. Allow them to put you at ease. They wish for nothing more.

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