My wife was critiquing the first draft of this column.

“It’s too judgmental.”

Of course, telling a preacher he’s too judgmental is like telling Tiger Woods he’s playing too much golf.

So I stewed. For days.

I was trying to make what I thought was an important point. That humans tend to believe we’re the center of the universe. In charge. And this conceit can cause us to be insensitive to the suffering of other living creatures, and worse still, indifferent to the mistreatment of our planet.

But instead, my wife had turned the spotlight back on me. It was I who thought I was the center of the universe. The Grand Poo-Bah. The judge and jury of all things. And it had bled through in my column.

Such hubris is endemic to the ministerial profession. We assume, in fact, the ultimate conceit. To speak for God. No preacher should take to the pulpit (or to his pen) without considering what an awesome — and dangerous — undertaking it is to tell people what God requires of them.

I have retired from that lofty perch, but opinion writers have a similar conceit. That we know what you should believe. How you should think and act.

Bull butter. Most of us need extra innings to figure our own lives out.

So I’m falling back on something Alex Haley taught us. Instead of criticizing behaviors we consider wrong, find the good and praise it.

So, bravo to Kristin Baksa who runs a new nonprofit called BCAWS (Blount County Animal Welfare Society) whose mission is to help pet owners take better care of their pets. Can’t afford a decent dog house? They’ll build you one. Need fencing for your yard? They can help. Having second thoughts about the whole pet enterprise? They’ll work to find Rover a new owner.

Pet owners sometimes forget what it’s like to be chained outside. In the elements. On a tether. Kristin and her team can help you be a better pet owner.

We have learned in recent years that many animals have DNA that is nearly identical to our own. Yet some of us still fail to see the common bond in another living being’s eyes. They hunger. They thirst. Feel anger, sadness, joy and pain. They are living, sentient beings. All God’s creatures.

So if you care about animals — not just your pets — here comes my second shoutout.

The fast-food industry has been notorious for its mistreatment of chickens, pigs and cows. Seems we’ll do anything to keep our favs on the dollar menu even if it means cramming thousands of miserable animals on feedlots and in chicken houses that make Dachau look humane.

But here’s the praise. McDonald’s was ranked top globally in animal welfare in a recent study judging 110 fast-food companies worldwide. You can check out the rankings at Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare (BBFAW). Burger King also deserves a shoutout for its Impossible Whopper, which I think is delicious — especially with a little cheese on it. That doesn’t mean we should all rush to McDonald’s. A plant-based diet is still superior for a variety of reasons, but if you’re going to eat fast food, it sounds as if McDonald’s is trying harder to do the right thing.

The cavalier cruelty that is routinely inflicted upon animals spills over into how we treat our planetary home. The scientific evidence is now undeniable that our frantic consumption of fossil fuels is rapidly rendering our planet less habitable. We face stronger storms, drier droughts, hotter fires and deeper floods. This year set new records for nearly all of these “natural” disasters.

One might think that our religious faith would cause us to behave differently, but so far it has not. At least not for many. The Hebrew scriptures teach that our human ancestors were given “dominion” over the Earth, and we take that to mean license. But biblical dominion always includes stewardship, and that means responsibility. “The Earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof,” say the scriptures, and it is our job to be proper caretakers.

The false notion that we’re the center of the universe and everything revolves around us is as old as the Book of Genesis. It is the essence of so-called “original sin.” Such thinking did not end well for Adam and Eve, and it likely will not end well for us. We reap what we sow, and a price will be paid in both dollars and blood. The truth is we live on a beautiful — but obscure — little planet in a galaxy with billions of other little planets in a sprawling cosmos with billions of other galaxies many of which are larger than our own Milky Way. And, yet, we can easily fall prey to the thinking that we are deserving of special privilege.

We are not. Instead, we have a special responsibility. Not only to ourselves but to all of creation. To love and care for it as if it were the paradise it was before our own hubris soiled it.

Democrats and Republicans, Christians, Muslims and Jews, atheists and agnostics all have one thing in common. We share this spectacular — yet somewhat fragile — planetary home. And not just with each other. With all the plants and animals God has put on it.

I’m going to work harder at being a better caretaker of my little corner of the earth. And listening to my wife.

Buzz Thomas is a retired American Baptist Church minister, attorney, school superintendent and longtime Blount County resident and occasional columnist for The Daily Times.

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