There comes a turning point in every young adult’s life when responsibility starts to become attractive. The odd, post-college years when cooking good meals for yourself is the new craze because a ramen/pizza subsistence is no longer acceptable. You find yourself three and a half hours deep into “Kondo Kleaning” while trying to decide between buying and leasing a car (shout out to my favorite organizer: Marie Kondo). This new-found love for responsibility is very confusing to a once-teenage brain but it gets even scarier. Inevitably, an attraction to responsibility goes hand in hand with one main thing: a longing for children…
Now, this may be controversial, but almost everyone longs for children. Due to a delay in marriage, contraception, and various other reasons, many millennials have turned to what I like to call the Baby Starter Pack: a fur baby. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a fur baby is a term of endearment used for a pet (usually a dog). I have encountered an overwhelming number of 20-somethings, both married and single, who have eased their longing for children by becoming dog moms or dog dads. It seems to be a part of the growing up checklist. You get a job, move out, learn how to cook a decent meal, then buy a dog! While I do not believe this is wrong at all, there seems to be an increasing sense that pets are suitable companions or even suitable children. Additionally, pets seem to be delaying couples from actually having real kids. This blurring of the line leads to the question: What sets humans apart from animals?
Not All Creatures Are Made Equal
This may be obvious to most people, however, there are strong forces in our culture (both emotional and scientific) that want to say otherwise. While I am a big fan of science and a smaller fan of emotion, we cannot limit ourselves to only those two things when attempting to understand who/what we are as humans. A purely scientific approach tempts to lower us to merely animal while a purely emotional approach tempts us to exalt animals to equals with us. Neither case is true.
So, what makes us different than animals? What makes us more than animals and why are animals no replacement for humans? If we look to the first chapter of Genesis, we can see that God made everything: space, matter, time, plants, animals, and humans. Humans were made separately from the rest and were created in the image and likeness of God (Gn 1:27). This image and likeness give us dignity; we are not simply something, we are someone (CCC 357). God created us differently then went even further! In the second chapter of Genesis we see that God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Gn 2:7). There is something inherently different between humans and the rest of animals. God gave us something extra: a soul.
Body and Soul
Through God’s gift of a soul, humans become the only creature who are both material and immaterial. While animals are only body and angels are only spirit, humans are both/and. We are “a being at once corporeal and spiritual” (CCC 357) which means that we are both our body AND are soul. They are one in us.
We can segment this even further: our material body contains our emotions and passions, while our immaterial soul contains our reason and free will. Animals are limited to their physical body, thus limited to emotions and passions. “The difference between humans and animals is in two powers that we have that the animal does not: reason and free will” (Peter Kreeft, Practical Theology). This is something immaterial that science cannot measure and it is something that animals can never evolve to have because it comes from above. Humans are both body and soul which places us above animals and gives us the opportunity to enter into a relationship with God.
To Know and Love
The immaterial part of humans, our reason and free will, is ordered towards one purpose: to know and love God. “Of all visible creatures, only man is able to know and love his creator” (CCC 356). We are the only material creatures that can have a relationship with God and, eventually, participate in the life of the Divine Trinity. (i.e. Heaven (i.e. dogs don’t go to heaven)) Our reason allows us to know God while our free will allows us to love Him. This is the purpose for our existence. We are creatures of knowledge and love that, when properly ordered towards God, grants us the fullness of life we are searching for.
That is what sets fur babies apart from real babies, animals apart from humans; God gave us an eternal soul that has the capacity to know and love. Animals can be fulfilled by fulfilling their earthly needs. Humans need something more because we are more than just our bodies. We have a soul that longs for its creator. Let us become fully human everyday by knowing and loving God more fully.