And a Little Pig Shall Lead Them

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.

Helen S. Astin responds to “And a Little Pig Shall Lead Them”

Your theory definitely has merit depending on how people learn about leadership. That is by knowing what is expected and also by role modeling. The part about Babe and his leadership deserves an1-soberas a judge regarding the merits of the theory. Babe shows a relational type of leadership. He is respectful, and tries to bring the best out in the flock. A shepherd cares and protects as he guides the flock toward its destination. The part about shepherds sexually stimulating their sheep to make them bond, and priests seeing themselves as shepherds of the young and thus helping them to bond by sexually stimulating them deserves a 4-Completely Crackpot, unless we assume that they are role modeling by observing sheep shepherding and that they have not had any leadership development courses, workshops etc. Oh well, maybe they need to go to the Center for Creative Leadership for some theory and practice on leadership behavior!

Helen S. Astin is a Professor Emeritus and Senior Scholar at the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA.

Alexander Tsiaras responds to “And a Little Pig Shall Lead Them”

Sex with animals never came up during the entire years I herded them. What my uncles were more upset by is when people called them sheep herders.

They insisted…“We are goat herders. Sheep are stupid. Goats are smart.” They felt that they were the Ivy league of herders. The problem is their students ate the Ivy.

Alexander Tsiaras, better known for his sculpture and his amazing computer renditions of the body and its processes (check out was a shepherd as a young boy in Greece.

Johyn Baskin responds to “And a Little Pig Shall Lead Them”

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.

First of all, you have no idea how hard it is for me not to respond so that you will become convinced that there is something terribly wrong here.  Anyway, here goes…  My HUGE caveat is that I truly believe it is impossible to guess the motivations of other people.  If I had to guess here, I would say people are not responding because they completely agree with what you’re saying (a 1 on the crackpotness scale).  Thus a response is not interesting because the responder is merely regurgitating what he already believes.  In other words, there is no challenge here.  Of course, this assumes that all the responders are in agreement with you politically.  If they are not, I can’t imagine why they didn’t respond.  I can’t imagine why they’re Republicans, so why should I be able to imagine anything else about their thought process?  I would think that this theory would insult them, but maybe that merely indicates the level of my misunderstanding of them.  They want to be sheep.  The Lord is their shepherd, and they take great comfort in the thought.  Which, when you think about it, makes Bush’s strategy of setting himself up as their shepherd quite brilliant.  A ploy that has worked for over 2000 years must have something to it.

Drawings by Sonic.

One thought on “And a Little Pig Shall Lead Them

  1. “For your own good” dominance gets passed on as industrial knowledge in so many fields that require relationship, from shepherding to military to sports and even marriage and child-rearing. The mechanical mindset is creepy. Shepherds mechanically “milking” their ewes for oxytocin makes an interesting and brain-breaking comparison with ritualized human sexual abuse. All I can say is “ew.” Don’t they know other things also release oxytocin? Pheremones, a hug, eye-contact, or a good butt-scratch?

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