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Pets Vs. Companion Animals: Words Matter

Do you own a pet? Well if you say you do, you are a purveyor of prejudice. At least that’s what some so-called “leading academics” are saying.

You see, according to the Rev’d Professor Andrew Linzey, director of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics, we shouldn’t even use the word “pet,” because the phrase is demeaning to animals.

Instead, we should call a Labrador Retriever a “Companion animal.”

And please, don’t use the word “owner.” That’s demeaning to pets -- I mean, to companion animals -- as well. Instead, call yourself a “human carer.”

Ay-yi-yi. What’s another phrase for a “leading academic”?

Of course, such language has its downsides. If some fellow is reaching out to a canine with a temper, instead of shouting “Don’t pet the dog!” we’d have to warn, “Don’t manually stroke the companion animal!” Of course, by the time we got the words out, the poor man could have lost a finger.

As reported by the U.K. Telegraph, Professor Linzey and his colleague, Prof. Priscilla Cohn of Penn State are quite serious. And they have a point: The language we use can shape the way we think.

Linzey and Cohn say “We shall not be able to think clearly unless we discipline ourselves” to use appropriate language that reflects our proper “moral relations with” animals.

Ahh. And what might the proper moral relation be? Linzey and Cohn give us a hint. The word “owner,” they say, “whilst technically correct in law, harks back to a previous age when animals were regarded as just that: property, machines or things to use.”

They even object to the term “wildlife.” Linzey and Cohn “invite authors to use the words ‘free-living’, ‘free-ranging’ or ‘free-roaming’ rather than ‘wild animals’”

Why? Because, they say, “For most, ‘wildness’ is synonymous with uncivilised, unrestrained, barbarous existence. There is an obvious prejudgment here that should be avoided.”

Of course, what we’re seeing here is Linzey’s and Cohn’s own prejudgment -- that humans and animals are equals.

And that’s a perfectly natural conclusion if you hold to a secular, materialistic worldview. As I’ve said many times before, if we humans are nothing more than a random collection of atoms that evolved out of the primordial soup, then, yes, we are no more valuable than the common ground slug.

But the equality -- or near equality -- of animals and humans is a view that is creeping into the Church as well. The Telegraph says that Professor Linzey is a theologian who was awarded “an honorary degree from the Archbishop of Canterbury for his work promoting the rights of ‘God’s sentient creatures.’”

But we are not all equal. Humans alone bear the image of God. And animals cannot have “rights” in the way we humans do.

Should we care for animals as part of God’s creation? Of course. Christians have long recognized this. It was William Wilberforce, after all, who founded the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. But to treat them as equals or even near-equals? Never.

I’m with Linzey and Cohn on this: Words are important. Which is why you’ll never catch me stroking a companion animal.

Chuck Colson's daily BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print. 

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