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Jnes wrote:

Hi, guys —

I own some pets which I cherish very much. So much so that I've pondered a situation where
I would have to choose between helping a distressed stranger or my pets in a similar situation.
I would first and foremost always help my pets because, in fact, I consider them to be part of my family, like my brothers.

I think my preference for family over strangers is holy. On the other hand, a priest told me that this would be a sinful stance to hold. I am not going to change my view, because I think God abhors an orthodox opinion which would be false, sinful, and inherently evil; though not in all respects.

  • What does this mean for my status in the community of the Church?
  • Is there a chance that the priest's opinion of my attitude might become dogmatic in some unknown future, or is the current orthodox opinion infallible?

Thank you for taking your time to make yourself acquainted with my questions!

Jnes

  { Is it OK to love my pets more than other strangers I meet? }

Mike replied:

Dear Jnes,

Thanks for the question.

To be in good standing with the Church, we should be striving to understand and accept what and why the Church teaches what she does. If you have an opinion but don't understand why the Church doesn't approve of your opinion, you are not at fault, though you are obliged to seek understanding.

In the Catechism, under Respect for integrity of creation, it states the following.
Note the last paragraph:

2415 The seventh commandment enjoins respect for the integrity of creation. Animals, like plants and inanimate beings, are by nature destined for the common good of past, present, and future humanity. Use of the mineral, vegetable, and animal resources of the universe cannot be divorced from respect for moral imperatives. Man's dominion over inanimate and other living beings granted by
the Creator is not absolute; it is limited by concern for the quality of life of his neighbor, including generations to come; it requires a religious respect for the integrity of creation.

2416 Animals are God's creatures. He surrounds them with his providential care.
By their mere existence they bless him and give him glory. Thus men owe them kindness. We should recall the gentleness with which saints like St. Francis of Assisi or St. Philip Neri treated animals.

2417 God entrusted animals to the stewardship of those whom he created in his own image. Hence it is legitimate to use animals for food and clothing. They may be domesticated to help man in his work and leisure. Medical and scientific experimentation on animals is a morally acceptable practice if it remains within reasonable limits and contributes to caring for or saving human lives.

2418 It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly.
It is likewise unworthy to spend money on them that should as a priority go to the relief of human misery. One can love animals; one should not direct to them the affection due only to persons.

While we should have respect for the integrity of creation, animals included, we have to distinguish between those with mortal souls, animals, who have a life principle, but only a temporal or earthly existence, and those with immortals souls, human beings, whose life extend beyond this life to eternal life. There are no dogs, cats or any other kind of animal in Heaven.

I did a write-up on this in the Christian Basics portion of my site and have a piece called:

The Life of the Soul

Finally, a teaching doesn't have to be infallible for us to believe it. There are many teachings Catholic have to believe that have not been declared infallible.

I hope this helps you to understand where your priest is coming from. When anyone ever has a difference of opinion with the Church, they should always put prayer and study at the forefront.

Mike

Paul replied:

Jnes,

I understand and can sympathize with your inquiry. I have always had great affection for my pet dogs, but we must distinguish between affection and value. Remember, love is an act of the will which should choose the more valuable, over our personal affections, regardless of how much it may hurt. I don't think there was personal desire on the affective level for Jesus embracing the cross; but His Father and the salvation of man was more valuable to Him than His own human affections or desires.

Each semester I take an informal poll, at the beginning of my college ethics classes, with something very similar to what you expressed. I ask them to picture a scenario in which they are driving over the speed limit on a very dark slippery road on a drizzly night, and ahead of them they see two objects — the pet dog they love on the left and a stranger walking on the right.

They must choose to swerve the wheel in one direction probably killing one of the parties with no one ever knowing. A majority of my classes choose to save the dog and kill the stranger. While it matches the personal affection they may have, it is extremely disconcerting that many people today would choose the life of an animal over a human being. It illustrates why we live in a culture of death that kills 1.3 million preborn children per year and are closing in on accepting euthanasia at the other end of the life spectrum. It is rooted in selfishness. If we do not value God's image on earth, human beings, more than we do all other earthly creatures, then we do not value God.
That is a egregious thought, with very serious ramifications in this world and the next.

Peace,

Paul

Eric replied:

Jnes,

The Church teaches what it teaches — that the life of a human being has higher value than the life of an animal — as a way of protecting us from the natural consequences of our fallen, sinful nature. It's like telling a surgeon to wash his hands before doing surgery, and to wear gloves and a face mask. He may not want to, he may be annoyed by it, but the rule is there for a reason. When we value animal life above human life, we devalue our own lives. It causes a lot of harmful consequences in our way of thinking that are not immediately apparent.

We believe humans have a higher dignity than animals because we were created in the image and likeness of God, which includes possessing the use of reason and a will.

You said:
I would first and foremost always help my pets because, in fact, I consider them to be part of my family, like my brothers.

  • What about other humans?
  • Is any human not your brother, part of the human family?
  • Did you give birth to your pet?
  • Did you marry your pet?

We have to be careful when we call pets part of our "family" because that is really reserved for human beings.

  • You wouldn't call a stuffed animal part of your "family", or a peach tree part of your "family", why call a pet part of your "family"?

Think about those robotic toys. Suppose they created a toy that behaved in every way like your beloved pet.

  • Could you make that robot part of your "family" as well?
  • Would you die for that robot?
  • Would you allow another human to die over that robot?

You need to put the right value on things or you'll end up in a world of trouble.

Eric

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