Does the intense love and devotion that some people have for animals rise to the level of a religion? The other day I wrote about the epic internet flame war that has erupted over the various “Dog Hater” Facebook pages, blogs and websites. It’s apparent to me that many of these people contemplate dogs, and perhaps dog owners, as deities given that they flat out claim the same to be fundamentally superior to the rest of us. For what can be greater than Man? GOD(s). It is clear to me that at least some dog lovers practice idolatry (worship). They idolize dogs, dog owners, perhaps even themselves for owning a dog.
Before I go any further, I want to limit the scope of this discussion. This is a blog about animal control issues and policies NOT religion. If you want to get into a long discussion about the origin of the universe, you need to do that somewhere else. That said, the topic of animal worship is of some interest given that it may impact animal control policies going forward.
I had a commenter ask why I put quotes around the word “religion” in a blog post the other day. Why indeed? I hadn’t thought about it much until someone else pointed that out to me. Again, words can be powerful things and sometimes a small nuance can make a big difference. And, this point is VERY important, particularly if you are going to craft public policy.
For example, if you were to go to a county planning meeting and make reference to some sort of dog “religion” your proverbial foot may wind up in your mouth. Individuals and organizations hostile to your policy position may indeed call you out on that, essentially demanding: “If that’s a religion, where are their churches? What are their rituals? Do they have IRS status? May I review a copy of their scriptures?” etc… Keep reading as I expand on that in more detail later in this essay.
Animal worship is technically known as “Zoolatry” and was a center-piece in many ancient religions. However, it is rejected by most modern organized religions. Here is a Wiki article with more information.
One interesting note from the opening page of the Wiki article: “Lubbock proposed that animal-worship originated from family names. In societies, families would name themselves and their children after certain animals and eventually came to hold that animal above other animals. Eventually, these opinions turned into deep respect and evolved into fully developed worship of the family animal (Lubbock, 2005, p. 253).”
Interesting phrase “fully developed worship of the family animal”. Hmmm… where have I seen THAT before?
Now, is the fervent behavior and related belief system we are encountering in our neighborhoods, town halls, and internet forums a true religion? I used the term “religion” to describe the behavior of the extreme dog lovers I encountered due to the following observations:
- They have a faith based belief system.
- They have objects of worship (idols).
- They attempt to convert others (proselytize) to that faith.
All of the above are proto-typical indicators of a religion. Thing is, it is ALSO my understanding that those by themselves do not fully qualify a modern religion. Modern religions should ALSO have at least most of the following:
- Formal organizational/institutional structure.
- Formal documents and scriptures.
- Formal rites, rituals, and ceremonies.
- Formal recognition by the government (i.e. tax exempt status).
- Buildings and land (churches, sacred sites, etc..).
It’s also my observation that the western “Temple of the Dog” lacks the above formalities. They don’t have an organizational structure, they don’t have any formal scriptures, they don’t have any formal ceremonies, they don’t have clergy, they don’t have churches, they are not formally recognized by the government, etc…
There ARE a handful of organized religious sects that DO formally worship dogs. Consider the “Dog” section of the previously mentioned Wiki article. However, I don’t think that is what we are encountering on Facebook and in our neighborhoods: While formal dog worship exists, it is rare, particularly in western societies. I seriously doubt that some tiny, obscure Hindu Sect in Nepal is organizing and executing the flood of spam, trolls and the avalanche of “counter hate” we are encountering. I also seriously doubt those same sects are making death threats and notifying the American CIA of the dog disliker activities!
Again, this is not a religious site. I’m not an anthropologist or a religious scholar. Where simple belief systems end and religions begin is debatable. For example, I believe USPS is going to deliver my mail today… is that a religion? It isn’t because I do not consider postal workers to be fundamentally superior to the rest of us.
So, with all of that said, do the activities, beliefs and zeal of the western dog fanatic technically qualify as a religion? In a very primitive way, I would say that it IS a religion. However, from a modern public policy viewpoint it IS NOT a religion. For it to be formally considered as such it needs to organize and institutionalize. Again, from a public policy viewpoint this distinction is VERY important.
Who know, it may organize into a formal religion at some point in the future…
Temple of the Dog. Coming to a street corner near YOU!