Animal Worship—Ancient and Modern
God’s Word states that only Jehovah God is to be worshiped. To what extent has man violated this commandment in the worship of animals in times past and in our day? This subject proves to be of more than mere academic interest.
THE scene is a street in ancient Egypt. An angry mob is seen forming; it hastens down the street to a certain house where a foreigner, a Roman citizen, is staying, a guest of the king. The king hears of the forming of the mob and sends princes to try to dissuade the mob, but in vain. The maddened mob invades the house, lays hold on the Roman and literally tears him to pieces in frenzied rage.
What had the Roman done to merit this fate? What was his crime? He had accidentally killed an alley cat! Unbelievable? Preposterous? Not at all. Because of their worship of the cat goddess Pasht, which was to the Egyptians what Artemis was to the Greeks and Diana to the Romans, every cat was sacred. When a cat died the whole household went into mourning and cats were given elaborate funerals.
The incident regarding the Roman was not unusual nor was the cat the only animal so worshiped. “The most repulsive thing in Egyptian religion was animal worship. To each deity some animal was sacred,” and Egyptians excelled in the number of their deities. The cat, dog, cow, bull, sheep, wolf, lion, kite, ibis, hawk, crocodile, hippopotamus, ichneumon, frog, eel, snake and otter were all objects of worship. Herodotus tells that a man deliberately killing a sacred animal was put to death; if accidentally, the priests stipulated a fine; but in the case of an ibis or a hawk, even an accidental killing was punished by death and that usually by an enraged mob. In time of famine humans were let starve to death and even cannibalism was resorted to rather than to eat a sacred animal.
Why did such animal worship, which was not limited to the Egyptians, find its greatest prevalence among them? The teaching of metempsychosis, that at death a “soul” passes on to other creatures, no doubt accounted for much of it. Traditions and mythology also played a part as also did the fact that some animals served useful purposes, such as protection from insects or supplying of food and clothing.
Says the historian Rawlinson: “The worst form of this animal worship was the belief that a deity absolutely became incarnate in an individual animal, and so remained until the animal’s death. Such were the Apis bulls.” These animals “were perpetually adored and prayed to by thousands during their lives, and at their deaths were entombed with the utmost care in huge sarcophagi, while all Egypt went into mourning.”
The real underlying cause of animal worship, however, is given us by the apostle Paul: “Although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God nor did they thank him, but they became empty-headed in their reasonings and their unintelligent heart became darkened. Although asserting they were wise, they became foolish and turned the glory of the incorruptible God into something like the image of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed creatures and creeping things.”—Rom. 1:21-23, NW.
Appreciating these conditions in ancient Egypt emphasizes the magnitude of Jehovah’s victory in sending plagues upon the Egyptians and in delivering his people. It also explains why the Israelites so readily succumbed to calf worship and other forms of idolatry, such as their worship of the copper serpent Moses had made in the wilderness.—Ex. 32:24; 2 Ki. 18:4.
ANIMAL WORSHIP IN INDIA TODAY
Even as Egypt excelled in animal worship in ancient times, so India does in modern times. There, until the new Indian government put a bounty on monkey heads, monkeys were eating $2 million worth of foodstuffs a day as well as destroying enormous amounts of grain annually. People starved, but not the monkeys, nor the peacocks, for they also were sacred. Snakes keep taking a toll of 50,000 lives annually because they are considered sacred.
On April 2, 1955, the prime minister of India, Nehru, had to go to the extreme of threatening to resign to prevent the passage of a bill that would have made it illegal to kill cows, a bill presented by a member of his own Congress party. Reporting on this the New York Times, April 3, 1955, further stated:
“The issue on the ban on cow slaughter is one that is alive almost all the time in many parts of the country. Almost every week in New Delhi small bands of religious Hindus parade through the streets carrying yellow banners demanding an end to the killing of cows. Millions of cows too old to be of any use wander through the streets nibbling at food in stalls. Many Hindus make a practice of keeping food to give to cows. Indian cows are among the poorest milk-producing strains in the world.” Unable to kill useless and diseased cows, the government has resorted to segregation centers for such cows, but progress has been slow.
Illustrating the folly of such cow worship and the caste system is this: when an untouchable had used a well it had to be sanctified by having sacred cow manure thrown into it!
WORSHIP OF PETS
In Western lands, such as the United States, animal worship takes the form of sentimentalizing over pets. In the past few years the public press has featured such items as: “Coloradan Buries Dog in Casket; Cost $1,000.” “I’ve spent $200,000 in the last thirty-five years on my pets, but don’t regret a cent of it,” said the Coloradan Fred Schmitt. “Pastor Gives Eulogy at Rites for Blind Woman’s Guide Dog. Author-Lecturer’s Pet and Friend Buried in Silk-lined Coffin. A well-known Oak Park minister, Dr. Carl S. Winters, spoke Friday at the funeral of her Seeing Eye dog.” “Big Shot Alley Cat. Midgie Is Heir to a $9,000 House in Omaha.” At the time of his death 74-year-old Putnam had only a middle-aged nurse and Midgie as companions. In his will he deeded the house to Midgie. His nurse would get the house upon the death of Midgie provided she carried out explicitly his instructions regarding feeding and caring for the cat!
And note also the appeal the American Feline Society, an international organization that spends some $25,000 annually in popularizing the cat and in encouraging people to take care of stray cats, makes: “We need help urgently: More volunteers—more memberships—more substantial contributions.” The society also “urges you to become a member or contributor, thus furthering the cause of catdom.” Its president evinces a zeal and enthusiasm for his cause that is definitely religious and therefore a form of animal worship.
And there are other worshipers of animals. Those who feel there must be a place in heaven for pets; those who are so concerned with the plight of lower animals that they are oblivious of God’s requirements or the miseries of their fellow men. Included among such are many among the vegetarians and antivivisectionists. Their zeal resembles that of the ancient Egyptians.
THE BIBLE VIEWPOINT
God gave man dominion over the lower animals. Animals were to be for man’s benefit, not man for the animals’. But neither was man to abuse his charges the way some vivisectionists do, nor to destroy them for sport as many modern Nimrods do. “A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast.” While man was yet in Eden God provided him with animal skins for clothing and after the Flood he gave man animal flesh for food.—Prov. 12:10.
The very organism of the lower animals, and especially their brains, is far inferior to those of man. Animals do not have understanding, they cannot reason, do not have a moral sense, are unable to worship Jehovah—all of which makes the worship of them by man appear all the more absurd. Only when man becomes degraded does he get down to the level of the brute. “Then I was stupid and knew nothing; a brute was I toward thee!” When King Nebuchadnezzar became insane he acted as a beast.—Ps. 73:22, AT.
Unreasoning animals were not made to live forever but to die. That is why the wicked are likened to them: “But these men, like unreasoning animals born naturally to be caught and destroyed, will” suffer destruction. “Man that is in honour, and understandeth not, is like the beasts that perish.” The Bible holds out no resurrection or heavenly hope for the brute creation.—2 Pet. 2:12, NW; Ps. 49:20.
Man was made to worship, not himself, not his equals, and certainly not his inferiors, but only one, Jehovah God: “It is Jehovah your God you must worship, and it is to him alone you must render sacred service.” Those lacking in heart devotion to their Creator will become sentimental about creatures and serve them. Such is a form of worship.—Matt. 4:10, NW.
The fulfillment of such Bible prophecies as Matthew chapter 24 and; 2 Timothy 3:1-5 shows we are living in the last days. All that really matters now is obeying Jehovah’s commandment to ‘seek Jehovah, righteousness and meekness,’ and to help others to do so by preaching the “good news of the kingdom.” Christians, while not abusing or needlessly destroying lower animals for sport, will put first things first. They will give their hearts’ devotion to their Creator Jehovah God and will ‘keep on seeking first his kingdom and his righteousness.’—Zeph. 2:1-3; Matt. 24:14; 6:33, NW.
You must not bow down to another god, because Jehovah is exclusively devoted to his name. He is a God exacting exclusive devotion.—Ex. 34:14, NW.