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Today, Love for Sloths is Swiftly Catching On

Monday 28 August 2017 at 8:36 pm.

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for August 24, 2017, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            It was while taking a course in Medieval and Renaissance English literature that I first encountered the word “Sloth.” As one of the 7 Deadly Sins. Not only did Chaucer write about the 7 Deadly Sins, but also they were the very essence of Medieval Morality Plays, though, as a Protestant, I had never heard of them before. They were, in order of “badness,” Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Envy, and Pride. Worse than Wrath, Envy, and Pride was Sloth.

            At the time, I thought, ‘How could “sloth” (laziness or idleness) be a deadly sin? Well, the Desert Fathers (monks living in the Scetes Desert of Egypt), who came up with these seven Cardinal Sins, apparently based their decision for inclusion on 2 Thessalonians 3:10, “If a man will not work, he shall not eat,” Proverbs 21:25, “The sluggard’s craving will be the death of him, because his hands refuse to work;” and Proverbs 18:9, “One who is slack in his work is brother to one who destroys.” I still had difficulty seeing “sloth” as a deadly sin. And isn’t “rest” a form of idleness? After all, God calls for us to rest on the Seventh Day.

            Of course, this fourth sin was named after the mammal called a “sloth,’ who is infamous for his slowness, which has been translated into “laziness.” So, along with “busy as a bee,” “sly as a fox,” and “stubborn as a donkey, is “Slow (lazy?!) as a sloth.” Thus, over the years, the sloth has gotten a bad press. This Central and South American mammal was never on the top of anyone’s adorable list, -- he didn’t have the courage of a lion, the intelligence of a horse, or the cuteness of a kitten. But hold on to your seats now, -- we are now living in the Era of the Sloth!

            An article in The Wall Street Journal by Nicole Hong raised the question: “What Did Sloths Do to Earn Their Sudden Popularity?” She pointed out that animal experts are baffled by the public’s intense affection for a mammal that barely moves. In today’s world, people are overcome with emotion when they see a sloth. Zoo keepers say that some folks cry upon seeing a sloth. Maura Judkis says, “Sloths are the new kittens!” Baby sloths are the new internet darling, thanks to a recent special about them on Animal Planet. Judkis theorized that modern go-getters find the perpetual laziness of sloths appealing.

            According to the Encyclopedia of Mammals, a sloth’s top speed is 1.2 mph (it moves faster through the trees than on the ground). In contrast, a giant tortoise moves 0.17 mph and a snail 0.03 mph, so while the sloth is the slowest mammal alive, it’s not the slowest creature. By contrast, horses can run up to 54.7 mph, and grizzly bears up to 34.8 mph. The EM notes that the sloth is lazy as well as slow, in that it sleeps 15 hours per day, and the digestive process of its stomach takes a month or more to complete. The sloth’s stomach is huge and complex, and the animal can stick out its tongue up to 10 or 12 inches, -- thus it can slurp up leaves that are too far away (that’s a lazy way to obtain food). Its metabolic rate is very slow.

            I have noticed on Facebook recently a large number of pictures and videos of sloths. In fact, never having seen a sloth in a zoo or anywhere else, my awareness of their so-called “cuteness” and my knowledge of their slow movements come from watching these videos.

            Since currently, they are trendy pets, more and more people are obtaining them, even though they are illegal in some countries. Since, as exotic pets, they are expensive, many would-be owners are buying them illegally through illegal animal trafficking. While there are “pro’s” for raising one of these new fad pets, few people are aware of the “con’s:” they require a special vegetarian diet; most vets don’t know how to treat them; they require a warm and humid environment; they need to have tall trees to hang from, and will hang from your light fixtures if you don’t have the trees.

            On the “pro” side, they are clean animals; they are not noisy; they won’t chew up the furniture; they are easy-going, cuddly, playful, and people-friendly, though they could hurt you with their claws; they have a long life, up to 30 or more years; and they’re not likely to run away.

            Sadly, too many people don’t understand the difficult side, and don’t provide them with the proper food, environment and care they need. Just as in the 19th Century the pet fad of raising a monkey eventually died out, no doubt the sloth-ownership fad will too. In the meantime, I hope that folks who do obtain these special creatures in God’s kingdom will take proper care of them. I still don’t consider Sloth a Deadly Sin, and maybe with this new, enthusiastic interest in sloths, we will learn lessons about slowing down, taking it easy, and being people-friendly.

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Ray Spitzenberger has retired after serving as pastor at St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, for 28 years, teaching in high school for 9 years and at Wharton County Junior College for 22 years.

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