Church-goers are less likely to own a cat than atheists – partly because some of the latter see cats as a “god substitute”, according to research.
Owning a pet is said to replicate some of the benefits of joining a faith community, and while cats are “pretty low-maintenance, we end up serving them a lot”, an American academic has pointed out.
A study of more than 2,000 people in the United States found that those who never set foot in a place of worship own two pets on average, while faithful worshippers have 1.4.
It also noted a “strong, negative association between worship attendance and cat ownership”, adding that “frequent worship attendees and the most conservative evangelicals report owning fewer pets”.
Professor Samuel Perry, from the University of Oklahoma, said cats could be seen as a “god substitute”.
“They want to interact with you but it’s always on their terms and it’s always about them,” he said.
“We want to always win their affections and it bothers us when we think they might be somehow displeased with us.
“So while they’re pretty low-maintenance, we end up serving them a lot. Cats are very godlike in those characteristics.”
Professor Perry added that pets were “in some ways substitutes for human interaction”.
He told The Times: “People who are heavily connected to a church or faith community already have plenty of social interaction.”
The late writer Christopher Hitchens, an atheist, said that if you provide a dog with food and water, it will “think you are god”.
Do the same for cats and “they draw the conclusion that they are god”.
The research is published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.