Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Sin Tastes Better With Bacon

After many years of wheedling and cajoling from the boys, my family appears headed down the road towards getting a dog. I never had pets as a kid, mostly as a function of a semi-transient continent-hopping childhood. Now that we've settled down into a stable surburban quarter-acre, it looks like our family will be adding a furry critter to our number come 2010.

Pets are, for many folks, part of the family. Cats, dogs, and the occasional hamster are deeply loved and woven into the fabric of day-to-day family life. That often goes as far as bringing them for pastoral blessings, celebrating their birthdays, and similar schtuff. When they pass, they are mourned...not as deeply as we'd mourn a human, but mourned nonetheless. Folks of faith with pets frequently express the hope that those dear creatures will have a place in God's Kingdom. I am convinced that they will, but mulling over this leads me off on two related theological tangents:

Can a human being commit a sin against an animal? Someone who beats or abuses a puppy or kitten certainly isn't showing themselves as a person moved by the grace of God. Someone who trains animals for bloodsports would seem equally reprehensible, although I'm not sure how many football fans in Philly agree with me on that one. At a certain level, our willingness to vent our anger or hatred against the creatures around us is a measure of our sinfulness. We're meant to care for all creation, not beat it into submission or abuse it. Suffering is suffering is suffering. I am convinced that the harm we cause to our fellow creatures...even the nonhuman part of the measure by which we will be judged.

So if we can sin against animals, where does that leave thems of us who chow down on less-sentient critters? We're outraged at those folks who abuse dogs, but are happy as a clam to munch on a Bacon Double Bacon Burger that's comprised entirely of the flesh of animals that have lived short, brutish existences. The factory farm pigs that give us our delicious crunchy marbled fat-sticks exist in conditions that...were they, say, Golden Retrievers...would fill us with sputtering, pitchfork wielding, Congressman-calling outrage.

But...but...they're different, say you. Pork isn't puppies. Bacon doesn't bark.

Different? Not really, not by any meaningful standard. Both dogs and pigs are omnivorous social mammals. They have similar intelligences. There isn't any valid ethical difference between the process of preparing pork tenderloin and thit cho nuong, or between what goes into gaejangguk and a Mo's Bacon Chocolate Bar.

Yet we are an integral part of a system of industrial food production that inflicts impressively vast levels of suffering on creatures that are, for all intents and purposes, just as aware as those creatures we Jesus folk cherish and hope will somehow be cared for by their Creator.

It's a good thing God isn't just, or else we might be in for a world of hurt.