I’ve been in the midst of trying to choose the next topic for my DC debating circle. So far, although everyone seems very excited about debating crowning a king in America (prompted by the Spanish king’s abdication), we are apparently all mostly excited to tell each other about what a bad idea it would be, so I’m still looking for a high-interest topic we’re actually divided on.
But, in the meantime, our last resolution (R: Every Dollar spent on Dog Food is taken directly from the Mouths of the Poor) has clearly caught the interest of the Pope. In an address to married couples, he cautioned them against using pets as a substitute for children, and bestowing too much of their love in a place where it won’t be as fruitful:
“You can go explore the world, go on holiday, you can have a villa in the countryside, you can be carefree,” the pope said.
“It might be better — more comfortable — to have a dog, two cats, and the love goes to the two cats and the dog. Is this true or not? Have you seen it?
Then, in the end this marriage comes to old age in solitude, with the bitterness of loneliness.”
We spent a while in the debate talking about human exceptionalism, and whether it was better for the being you’re helping to relieve the suffering of a human or an animal, but we also talked about the effects of charity, alms, and agape, on the giver and whether the need of humans vs animals produced different changes in the person helping.
Some speeches raised exactly the issue that Pope Francis does — for some people, animals may be just good enough as a substitute that they sap your desire for children (or other intense, human connections). If you were lonely, and didn’t have a dog to come home to, would you be more likely to take in a roommate? Or even adopt a friend to become a part of your family, the way people used to have maiden aunts living with them?
Neither Pope Francis, nor the speakers at my debate were anti-pets, and neither did they think that everyone must have children to grow in love. The concern is really that some people who would like children (or integrating friends into families) may miss the chance by dulling their yearning. The goal is just to be sure that people were a little more thoughtful and deliberate about how they invested their love.
As a parent might say, you don’t want to spoil your appetite, before the hearty fare is served.
P.S. It’s not anywhere online, but, if you pop over to Amazon, you can at least hear a snippet of “Days and Days” from Fun Home, which is a beautiful, exhausting song for the mother in the musical, who is regretting the small compromises and substitutions she’s made throughout her life. It makes me all verklempt.