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Are Fur Parents Selfish if They Want Pets Over Children?

A sociologist's perspective.
by Ara Eugenio
Jan 13, 2022
Photo/s: Reuters, Canva
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Pope Francis sparked debates on parenthood last week when he said in a sermon that raising pets instead of children "takes away our humanity".

The most progressive leader yet of the world's 1.3 billion Catholics described it as a form of "selfishness", risking the ire of not just childless dog and cat owners, but of an emerging generation that choose not to bear children.

Francis' defenders said he only wished for people to experience what it's like to bring another human into this world

"But really, he said what he said," sociologist Enrico Baula, a senior lecturer at UP Manila told reportr. It's a perfectly sensible thing for the head of the Catholic Church to say that since the centuries-old institution has always seen marriage as a means for procreation.

"Naghahanap kayo ng other justifications for what he said, na baka may other meaning of whatever but not really. 'Yun yung main point niya. If you are capable of reproduction and you choose not to, then you are being selfish. There’s no misinterpretation," Baula said. 

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The 'holy matrimony' 

In the Catholic faith, the union of a man and a woman is referred to as the "holy matrimony". Matrimony comes from the Latin word "matrimonium", a combination of two other terms: mater, which means "mother", and –monium, which means “action,” “state,” or “condition.” 

So the word matrimonium literally means “mother-making” or the process of becoming a mother. So when a man and a woman agree to get married in the Catholic Church, this means that the two are at least 18, promising to be faithful to each other, and having children is in their plans. 

"So, if you're capable of bearing children yet you still choose not to, no priest will marry you because that is the primary function of marriage. It’s not just about love. That's actually just the icing on the cake," Baula said, noting that marrying for love is relatively new concept. As seen in history, people, especially those in pre-industrial societies, have been getting married not out of love. "It’s actually financial security. And for the Catholic faith, it's about procreation."

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"It’s not a confusing thing if you just focus on that. The Pope said what he said because he’s the head of the Catholic Church. He cannot legitimize a marriage that does not choose to actually procreate when it’s the basic definition," Baula added, noting this is why the Church would never agree to same-sex marriages as biology would not enable them to reproduce. 

The 'selfishness' of being child-free 

In his attempt to make a case for parenthood, Pope Francis went as far as calling childless pet-owners "selfish". Coming from him, this was unsurprising as the Argentine pontiff has in the past denounced the "demographic winter", or falling birth rates in the developed world. 

It is always a sacrifice to have a child, Baula said as a matter of fact, adding this is regardless if you subscribe to the Church's ideals and whether you're from a developed and modernized country or not.

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The Philippines as a society values group-conformity over individual wants, needs and rights. This is one of the reasons why the country still hasn't legalized same-sex unions and abortion, which are rights that are often readily available in countries whose values as a collective put premium on an individual's agency. 

However, despite a high fertility rate, the country's population growth has been steadily declining like the rest of the world. A sign that more Filipinos are having less children, if at all. 

"Every society in the world is actually modernizing. It’s the natural trend. It’s not like you go backwards. One of the biggest evidence of that is migration. People are increasingly leaving rural life and as a consequence, they're wanting less children," Baula said.

"It costs too much to actually maintain a standard of living in an urban space. So, modern societies who live in modern settings, who are industrial or post-industrial, they understand that having a child is foremost, a financial burden," he said.

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"If you wanna call it selfish, by all means, but another way to look at it is that we’re just being rational. We’re just looking out for ourselves by choosing to not have children," he added. 

In the next 100 years, Baula says he does not expect the Church to change its mind. "If they do, they would also have to approve gay marriage, abortion, a lot of other things that goes against the dogma," he said. 

As for society at large, the bleak portrait of the future is perhaps, for him, the most compelling reason why more and more people are rejecting parenthood. 

"If you ask people in the 50s, 60s, look at the literature and the movies. What did you think the artists, the author were describing the future to be? Flying cars, going to the moon. Now you ask the artists today, what’s the future? Apocalypse, zombies, pandemic. Think about how people in the past saw the future and look at how this generation sees it," Baula said.

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"For older people, they see the younger generation as more selfish because they didn’t have that life. Now -- rising cost of living, climate change, rise of authoritarian leaders -- why would I want to bring a child if ang projection ko of the future is that the world is gonna suck?," he added.

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