And a Little Pig Shall Lead Them the experts say

Cardinal Ratzinger’s elevation to Pope Benedict XVI was headlined thusly across the nation: “The flock has a new shepherd”. The metaphor is central to Christianity, in which Christ may be the Lamb of God but “The Lord is My Shepherd”. It provides the rationale for priestly celibacy, as a member of the College of Cardinals explained to the Los Angeles Times: “The spiritual motive is imitating Christ, committing yourself to the entire flock. Priests are seen as shepherds.”

And that right there is all you need to know about the sexual abuse scandals that have rocked the Church.

Granted, I’m not an expert on shepherding. My only experience of shepherding is when I took my dog Bartleby to an arena in Los Angeles where for a small fee they let your dog herd their sheep.

Despite the fact that he’s half Australian shepherd – which is why I took him in the first place; God forbid he should have some need or instinct that wasn’t being met – Bartleby did not warm to the task. He preferred to rest against my legs than to take the shepherd’s cues, causing the shepherd to call him a “Momma’s boy” and hand the crook to me. Suddenly, I’m Bo-Peep.

And by the way, this crook was no dainty little Marie Antoinette thing, it was hefty. I mention this so you’ll understand my response when the shepherding pro told me to hit Bartleby with it to get him to commit. “Thy rod and staff they comfort in me” indeed.

Other than that, all I know is what I read in the papers, like this article in the NY Times about a group of French shepherds who, faced with a cut in their subsidies, walked their sheep to Paris to protest. When they encountered a cordon of policemen blocking their entry to the Place de la Concorde, the French shepherds picked up their sheep and threw them at the flics.

Well, doesn’t that just give new meaning to the term “animal husbandry” - animal abusive husbandry.

Then came a story in the science section of the New York Times about oxytocin, a hormone that promotes bonding. The article said that sexually stimulating a woman results in the release of oxytocin, thus explaining not only the deluge of “women like to cuddle after sex” letters that rained down on Ann Landers, but also explains, says the NY Times, the long-standing practice of shepherds when dealing with ewes who reject their young: to get them to bond with their lambs, they sexually stimulate the sheep.

So that’s what the whole priests abusing altar boys thing was - trying to get them to bond with the Lamb of God. Omi…well, God.

Because I just remembered another story in the L.A. Times in which President Bush disclosed that when he was 14, he’d spent the summer in Ireland…herding sheep! President Bush, who wants us all to love Jesus, who, some of his followers think, was appointed by God to be our leader – if not Jesus, then Jesus-adjacent. And he’s screwing the entire country!

But revenons a nos moutons, “let us return to our sheep,” as the French say (and now we know why). Or let us at least return to Bartleby. It’s not that Bartleby lacks the herding instinct; just ask the kids at one particularly disastrous Channukah party when, overstimulated by the jelly donuts the children were feeding them, he became a veritable Border Collie and literally herded one into a cactus plant. But since then, he’s seen the movie “Babe” at least seventeen times and developed a whole different take on shepherding

For those of you who haven’t even seen it once - and really, what’s wrong with you? –“Babe” features two kinds of shepherds. There are the afore-mentioned Border Collies, who think sheep respond only to intimidation. “It’s all attitude,” says the sheepdog Fly to the would-be sheep-pig Babe, “They just have to know who’s boss. You have to dominate them. Do that and they’ll do anything you want.”

Indeed, Pope Benedict is being lionized for being just such a disciplinarian, running a tight ship. The White House speaks openly about the need to assert dominance. We’ve got Jerry Falwells and Pat Robertsons nip at our heels, yipping and yapping to keep us in line.

But this command-and-control style of leadership doesn’t work for Babe. Babe respects the sheep. He recognizes them as equals. He engages their cooperation. He says things like “I’d be very much obliged…” “I can’t tell you how grateful I am”… And the sheep, who are not as stupid as the Border Collies would have it, who, as reported in New Scientist can distinguish a smiling human face from an angry one and respond more to the smiling face, cooperate to help Babe win the Champion Sheepherder title he – or his “Boss” – so wants.

And what can we learn from this parable, my little lambkins? This month’s Crackpot Theory: Never elect or follow a leader who has shepherded sheep. Or else: Make the movie “Babe” required viewing for Priests, Presidents and Popes.

Read the response of Professor Helen S. Astin
Read the response of Alexander Tsiaras, artist
Read the response of John Baskin, writer and producer

Professor Helen S. Astin says, “Your theory definitely has merit depending on how people learn about leadership.” Read on
Alexander Tsiaras says, “Sex with animals never came up during the entire years I herded them.” Read on
John Baskin, an incredibly gifted and successful television writer and producer with no expertise on religion or shepherding, was asked to comment on why I couldn’t get any experts in those fields to respond. Read on