Voices
Illustration by Krieg Barrie

For the birds

A high regard for animals should not translate into a low regard for God and man

I had time to kill at PetSmart while waiting for the sales associate to box the rat my friend was buying, so I started leafing through a magazine called Bird Talk. This particular issue featured "Three Steps to a Well-Behaved Parrot" and "Cranky Parrot? It Might be Hormones." But I opened randomly to page 12 and read "Talk to the Animals," which had a nice photo of a girl with a red-and-green-feathered friend perched on her finger.

I took it home, planning to write disparaging things about animal-rights terrorists, but my friend Janine found the article charming. Slightly miffed, and out a buck for the magazine, I went for a second opinion, collaring my son while he ate pecan rolls and was halfway amenable. When he finished the article I said, "Well, what did you think?" He replied that it was five minutes of his life he would never get back, so I said, "No, really, this is serious. I need to know if I'm a curmudgeon." He pushed away from the table and said, "I wonder if she realizes that if that parrot were 50 times bigger it would have no qualms about eating her."

That gave me pause because I have often thought the same about Miss Kitty when she leaves vivisected mole offerings on the front porch. I will never forget the day we got Miss Kitty, in response to a hand-lettered roadside plea that tugged at our heartstrings. We drove to the address indicated, thinking to find gratitude. We found we were the specimen under glass. It was the same interrogation when we sprung Spider from the greyhound rescue. It's odd that I don't remember the third degree when I wanted to take my firstborn home from the hospital.

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Which brings me back to the magazine article. I want to emphasize that the author didn't say anything wrong-not at all. But by the end of her remarks I felt just a little bit ashamed of being human. It's hard to put your finger on a tone of voice, but here is a sampler:

"We love our avian family members and know they love us. Unfortunately, we often hinder the development of a deeper and more precious relationship with them because of how we have been trained to think of animals. ... [A]s humans we are hindered by our egocentric tendency toward assessing intelligence by how much an animal thinks or behaves as we do. ... Their ability to adapt to our world is usually far superior to our ability to function in theirs. ... The animal world ... possesses a state of sophistication that is inconceivable and unattainable to most human beings, yet we like to hold ourselves above it."

Enough! Enough! OK, I'm a rat! (oops)

C.S. Lewis helped me feel better about people whose driving passion is animals. He said the problem is not that we love animals too much but that we love people and God too little. "It is the smallness of our love for God, not the greatness of our love for the many that constitutes the inordinacy" (The Four Loves).

So then, the idea is not to make the cat lady love cats less, but to make me love cats more-and then for both of us to love people and God more still. I and the lady with the tabbies swarming all over her kitchen table are both deficient in levels of affection for God and neighbor. She at least has in her favor a sufficient love for the creation.

Where I won't give an inch is to the question of who is higher in the echelon-man or bird. I could be chargeable here with Speciesism except that Jesus Himself tells me I am worth more than many sparrows. Man is "a little lower than the angels" but parrots are a lot lower. Still, the righteous man is kind to his animal, says Proverbs 12:10. And if you will believe me, I have a close friend who is so gentle of spirit that the red-wing blackbirds near the swamp he frequents eat cracker crumbs out of his hand.

Email aseu@worldmag.com

Andrée Seu
Andrée Seu

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again. Follow Andrée on Twitter @Andreespeterson.

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