Tuesday, January 09, 2007

animals and god

this is my best curious look--head cocked and eyes inquisitive.

MSNBC has a month-old story about pets in Saudi Arabia. Apparently the government has passed a seldom? enforced law against the selling of cats and dogs as pets, apparently as a consequence of pressure from conservative forces who say that pet ownership is excessively Western (amusing because the story beneath it is about "yappie hours," about yuppie pet owners gathering for cocktails and for their dogs to meet. mmmm...western decadence). I'm a little skeptical of MSNBC's reporting on international issues anyway since sometimes issues of great complexity get reduced down to fairly simplistic and formulaic arguments. like this article has a second-page teaser "Mohammed was a cat person." Um, ok. And Jesus was a fish fiend? Anyway, it does have some interesting discussion of hadiths in which Mohammed appears to have given the thumbs up to goddamn cats:

Once, he let a cat drink from the water he was going to use for his ablutions before prayers. Another time, Muhammad said a woman who kept a cat locked up without feeding it would go to hell.

and there's even mention of dogs who, though considered dirty, are still considered appropriate objects of charity:

Still, in another instance, he said that a prostitute who carried water in her slipper to a thirsty dog would go to heaven, her sins forgiven because of her kindness.

I have no idea how accurate or important these are, not being a religious scholar myself, but I am interested in the relationship between religion and animals because i am one. an animal, that is, not a religion. though i'd like to be one. (i've posted before about my sister's worship of me). anyway, i'm mostly familiar with the animal/religion relationship via eating--ie, shunning certain animals as sources of food. and i know some religions are more sympathetic to animals than others. and i know that all dogs go to heaven because i've seen the movie.

i've read some pragmatic arguments about animals and religion--that many of the prohibitions were based on practical concerns. animals that were more prone to carry or spread disease were to be avoided. and, at the time most religions were formed, i'd imagine animals were serious competitors for food and water sources and potential threats to human animal livelihood. though, interestingly, it appears pet ownership has pretty ancient roots since we know, for example, the ancient egyptians had dogs (and cats) who were dead ringers for my sister ethel (if their hieroglyphs are accurate representations). and i posted a few months ago about a site in south america where they found a very very old burial site where someone had been buried with their dog.

i've also read mary douglas's arguments (as an anthropologist) that the concerns were less practical in nature and more symbolic. now, i'm trying to remember what i read and my memory is imperfect but i seem to that recall that in examining the food prohibitions in the across a variety of cultures (including the abrahamic faiths), she argued that they were based on notions of purity--that things have a natural place (like on land or in the sea, or on two legs or on four) but those things that crossed boundaries were unacceptable because they were impure and idea that became clean vs. unclean--taboo things don't conform to the natural order of separation. i suppose this might also have something to do with pet ownership. you naked apes put a lot of time and effort into maintaining the boundary between human animal and other animals--always strutting your supposed evolutionary superiority and advanced language acquisition and civilization and what not. and you denigrate naked ape groups you don't like by calling them "beastly" or "animalistic" (often because of violent behavior which I really don't get since you are far and away the most violent animal on the planet. but i digress). in order to bring us into your homes as something other than meat you have to elaborately anthropomorphize us--give us human names, talk to us, make us eat from human-like receptacles, remove our bodily functions from your view and sometimes even dress us up, or give us blogs, or even give us voices as if we talk back to you (my editor is looking uncomfortable. i may have hit on something close to home). in order to bring us into your spaces you have to make us more like you which seems to be really messing with those natural boundaries.
egyptian god anubis? or my sister ethel?

but i digress. i'm curious if anyone knows any good texts on animals in religious traditions. it's interesting how we play an important symbolic role in your human-making laws (ie, how you're constantly reinventing "humanity")--whether in judging one another, regulating your behavior, or even as a sign of cultural decadence. a dog is never just a dog.

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Blogger Buster the Wired Fox Terror said...

I thought pork was prohibited cuz they have cloven hoofs like the devil.

Bussie Kissies

6:42 AM  

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