We have two goats, a little pygmy-Nigerian dwarf mix named Buddi, and an alpine-Nigerian mix named Hailey. For years, I’ve made a habit of hanging out with them for at least an hour every afternoon, usually around happy hour. I can do that now because I’m retired. Surprisingly, they have taught me a lot about human nature, and the duality of good and evil.
When I’m with them, I often pull weeds when the weather is pleasant and work on crossword puzzles when it’s not. Many times, I’ll put my activities on hold and just observe them. When they start entertaining me with their head-butting, which is their play time, or when one of them comes over to visit with me, I have no choice but to give them my full attention.
Like many other animal companions throughout my lifetime, I can’t help but be captivated by their innocence and their uncomplicated way of life. These guys basically eat, chew cud, play, and sleep. On those occasions when they are interested in me, I love it when they look into my eyes and I try to imagine what’s going on in their innocent, uncomplicated minds.
Traditional concepts of goats
I find it so ironic that many people over the millennia have associated goats with evil. Looking at the depictions of Satan in Far Side comics and other media, he and his demon assistants often have horns, cloven hooves, tails, and goatees.
Goats have also gotten a bad deal from the New Testament parable of the sheep and the goats. That’s the parable where the sheep represent the saved and the goats represent the doomed. The concept of scapegoat came from the Old Testament and referred to an animal that humans could symbolically transfer their sins to, and then sent away to suffer the consequences.
Before Christians even existed, the Greeks couldn’t show goats much respect. They created a god of herd animals named Pan, who they represented as a male human with the features of a goat. That god was thought to cause terror when he appeared and make herds stampede, so it’s not surprising that’s where the word panic originated.
Sometimes it’s the elongated pupil in goat’s eyes that scare people. Did you know that their pupils are only horizontal slits in bright light? Otherwise, they’re round like ours. Unless someone is very superstitious, that’s certainly not a reason to fear goats. All those goat misrepresentations stem from mythology. Our neutered male and our female are as gentle and loving as any other domesticated animal, as long as you treat them with kindness. Once they trust you, they’re wonderful companions. If we can stop judging others by their outward appearance and instead judge them by their inner motives, we’d be much better off.
The power of kindness
This all introduces two relevant topics. One is the undeniable proof that being kind and trustworthy to another being, whether a goat, horse, dog, cat, rabbit, or human can add so much value to our lives. If there’s anything that’s certain in life, it’s that almost all of us from fish to mammals are drawn to kindness and repelled by cruelty. It’s a message so clear, but still so misunderstood by millions of people.
A good example is Buddi. She was terrified of humans when we first got her as a buddy to Hailey after his brother, Freddy, died. We couldn’t get near her without her running away and hiding. We decided to never force ourselves on her, but instead to be patient and wait to see what happened. After a few years, she gradually realized we were not any threat to her and gradually began to tolerate our presence. Now, seven years later, that constant message of non-threatening unconditional love has brought her to the place where when I go out to their house and sit down, she immediately comes over and stands next to me to be scratched. To me, this is a confirmation of the power of unconditional love. It brings out the best in us.
The power of evil
Sadly, not all humans can love unconditionally, and that’s the second thing I’ve learned from my goats. Like every other non-human creature, goats are incapable of being immoral. They are creatures motivated only by instinct–especially the instinct to survive. Their behavior can’t be classified as good, bad, or evil, only necessary. Only humans, that species that may think itself created in the image of their God, can “choose” to be cruel to others, even taking pleasure in their suffering. And only humans can deceive others about their true intentions and manipulate them.
When many Christians talk about evil, they speak of it as some nebulous supernatural force. It may possess people, black cats, bats, or rats. It’s always some “scapegoat” to transfer the concept of human evilness onto. Calamity can strike anyone at any time just by random chance and the cause doesn’t have to be blamed on anything. Bad luck isn’t evil. Those humans who intentionally commit evil acts are probably either mentally ill or have bought into some terribly destructive ideology that causes them to want to be cruel to others and the ideology justifies that impulse.
To Christians who believe in it, I think the idea of original sin is a misunderstanding of human nature. It is a way of looking at the evilness in some people and generalizing it to the entire species. The concept has caused untold harm to millions of Christians. It was Augustine of Hippo who popularized the concept. He apparently had low self-esteem, so he made the sweeping assumption that everyone was like him in some despicable way. This was an extremely pessimistic view of humanity that has never led to any kindness in the world.
So, in conclusion, my time with goats has been extremely valuable in many ways. Pondering our differences and our many more similarities, has made me understand the good and evil in my species differently.