Paul L. Caron

Sunday, March 26, 2023

NY Times Op-Ed: Dogs, God, And Love

New York Times Op-Ed:  On Pets, Moral Logic and Love, by Tish Harrison Warren (Priest, Anglican Church; Author, Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep (2021) (Christianity Today's 2022 Book of the Year)):

Warren 3In January, I fell in love with someone. It was the last thing I’d expect and caught me completely off guard.

He has sandy blond hair with flecks of gray and gorgeous, sad eyes. He loves to go on walks and cuddle. His name is Herbie. He is just over eight pounds and is a mutt of some terrier variety.

My affection for Herbie came as a surprise because I have never been much of a pet person. ...

But if I’m honest, there’s a little more to it than that. When I was in my early 20s, at a conference on global inequality, I saw a video that interspersed photos of people in intense poverty and famine with news clips reporting on the epidemic of overweight dogs in the United States. The video was direct and didactic. It affected me, even more so after I spent time in East Africa and saw grinding poverty up close.

I didn’t think it was wrong to have a pet, and I’m surrounded by people who are so enthusiastic about their pets that I’d never articulate this concern out loud. Yet in an unspoken place inside me, I’d created a zero-sum system where any money, time or energy I gave to a domestic animal was taking money, time or energy from other humans. ...

Herbie moved in. He came anxious and traumatized. Ever so slowly, he gained weight. His pallid coat began to shine. His tail began to wag more. He began to respond to his name and come when we called him. Now the only thing he wants in the whole world is for us to pet him. Well, that and cheese. What’s surprising, though, is how he’s changing us. My husband credits him with resuscitating his prayer life. He wakes early now to let the dog out so he has a couple of quiet hours in the morning to read, to pray, to jog, to center. This is his favorite time of day, and he’d tried to get up early for years, but the alarm proved less of a motivation than this insistent ball of fur.

Herbie has also forced us to be gentler. My family is raucous and roughhousing, but we found quickly that whatever Herbie has been through causes him to lose his mind around loud noises. So we’ve had to learn to yell less, be gentler and, as a result, be kinder. Herbie held up a mirror to our family and wisely told us to chill out a little. When I travel now, I miss Herbie and worry over him.

The problem with my belief that any resources, energy or affection I could give a pet was stolen from human beings who needed it more was that it was a kind utilitarianism. But love is not something you can plot on an Excel spreadsheet with inputs and outputs carefully marked. It isn’t a math equation. It is also not like a pie, where if someone takes a piece, everyone else’s gets smaller. Just the opposite, really.

The 18th-century preacher Jonathan Edwards said that love restores “an excellent enlargement, and extensiveness, and liberality to the soul.” Love is opening one’s heart to another. And once your heart opens, the door keeps getting wider. Love expands. The more you give, the more you have. My love for my husband and kids led me to open the door for Herbie. And love for Herbie is teaching my “Bam-Bam” of a little 3-year-old boy how to be more careful around others. Tenderness for Herbie is making us each more tender in general, more constitutionally tender. “The love we have for our pets,” wrote Karen Swallow Prior in a 2014 Christianity Today essay, “increases the love we have to offer the world.”

Editor's Note:  If you would like to receive a weekly email each Sunday with links to the faith posts on TaxProf Blog, email me here.

Other New York Times op-eds by Tish Harrison Warren:

Faith, Legal Education | Permalink