The Religious Beliefs of Cats

As far as I can tell, early Christians determined the Seven Deadly Sins by observing the house cat. You may look at your cat and see a sleepy, self-indulgent unbeliever, the embodiment of That Which Must Be Resisted, but you are cheating yourself of a rich spiritual tradition. Because humans have bred into the domesticated cat some unpalatable traits like the desire to kill for fun, you might have difficulty perceiving its worshipful side, but the devotion of cats is there in plain sight.

First of all, cats worship the sun. They spend their time looking through windows because they are seeking the hot, sunny places where the domesticated cat originated. Find a patch of sun on a rug, and a cat will be lying in it. When cats pray, they roll onto their backs and let the sun make their bellies hot. When they feel especially spiritual, they begin grooming. They are not actually licking their fur, but licking sunshine off their coats. Cats are more active at night because they are seeking their vanished sun.

Just like practitioners of the great religions, cats must obey complex rules for behavior. Strange cats must be greeted with hissing. If something flies, skitters, or rustles, it must be chased. Before undergoing a pilgrimage to the veterinarian, a cat must humble itself under a bed and pray loudly when forced into a cat carrier. If a cat’s owner drops something on the floor, a cat feels obligated to sit on top of it in order to maintain the neatness of the room. Claws must be nurtured and cultivated like the jewels they are.

A cat who appears to be staring at nothing or puffing up its tail and rocketing around the room for no reason is actually experiencing religious visions. Cats lucky enough to have owners who read books must position themselves within the gaze of the printed page; those whose owners have mice or insects must conduct animal sacrifices. Anyone who thinks felines feel no shame has never seen the distress of a cat whose business has occurred outside the litter box.

Finally, these children of the Egyptian goddess Bast must share the blessings of the sun with others, which they do through shedding. You might call shedding dander, but cats shed to cast the sun’s warmth throughout every nook of the universe. By vacuuming their fur off floors and furniture you are committing blasphemy, which is why so many cats are so outspoken in their hatred of vacuum cleaners.

On special occasions, a cat will sometimes deliver to its owner, often with much effort, a concentrated cylinder of sunshine in the form of a hairball. Your cat believes this cylinder is a treasure and is dismayed when you call it disgusting and throw it away. Like all people around the world, your cat wants only to have its beliefs respected and honored, even though these beliefs are different from yours. At a time of year when we celebrate so many holidays, compassionate owners will take the time to embrace their cats’ traditions…or at least embrace their cats.