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Sheep vs. Goats


OK. There’s a huge question in my mind today about the difference between sheep and goats. Much of my curiosity comes from all the social media memes about goats: dancing goats, singing goats, fainting goats, mountain goats. Sheep may have had their day—I’m thinking particularly of those black-and-white Swiss sheep that resemble piñatas—but goats in general get my vote.

Sheep made a brief appearance here some months ago when I mentioned Cecil Elliott’s observation about a colleague in North Carolina who, not unlike myself, researched extensively but rarely generated approved academic product. “He grazes much but produces no wool,” was Elliott’s assessment. I nodded in agreement about the parallel with my own scholarly habits.

Our friend Jonathan Taylor Rutter responded to that installment of “The World According to Elliott” with a summary observation about goatish behavior and I immediately saw what he meant: I am far more goatish and, indeed, may be a testament to my own zodiacal sign, Capricorn.


Then I began to think about biblical dependence on the imagery of sheep: the Good Shepherd; lost sheep; “Feed my sheep.” You get it. So, given the differences in sheep and goat behavior, one wonders how Christianity might have evolved in a more goat-like frame of reference? Efforts to understand sheep-versus-goats in the Bible led me to an article on the website of the Church of the Great God—don’t you want to know more about them!*—in Charlotte, North Carolina, and an article titled “Goats on the Left,” a political reference, perhaps, that I found immediately to my liking, the implication being that sheep are to be found on the right.

Sheep, it seems, exhibit certain characteristics that I found frankly contrary to many things that my education has encouraged: sheep are easily led and uncritical in their thinking, while goats are independent, inclined to “follow a road of [its] own choosing, on a whim or out of stubbornness or independence.” Jonathan may be right about me and I’m comfortable with the comparison.

Somehow—in ways I have yet to divine—the role of both sheep and goats in Agincourt will evolve.


*PS: The Church of the Great God appears to be one of many splinter groups established on the death of Herbert W. Armstrong, founder and television face of the Worldwide Church of God, one of my Sunday-morning staples in the 1980s. Herb, like many founders of “new religions,” was a loon, albeit an inspired and charismatic one. He also had a son—like so many televangelists did, the heir apparent groomed to wear the founders shoes—but on the elder’s death, a schism developed between Garner Ted Armstrong (stunning profile, the glint of expensively-capped teeth and a voice like Robert Goulet) and another senior member of the church administration. Turf wars ensued and the WCG disappeared from the Sunday morning spectacle. Until tonight, I had no idea that fragments had survived. The Church of the Great God, according to Wikipedia, has a total membership of 400, all of whom are very likely convinced of their inevitable celestial inheritance, while the rest of us do the backstroke in a Lake of Fire.

And you wonder why I’m suspicious of Organized Religion.

Makes me doubly grateful to be a goat.


  1. Matt Nohr says:

    Great thoughts! I’ve always admired the ability for goats to think and fend for themselves. I’ve enjoyed my growth in Catholicism to question and criticize what the Church believes and why. Though, my criticisms have lead to more love of the Church.

    Today, we really dont value obedience, trust, and subordination. However without these values, I would have never chosen to trust my dad’s insights and attend NDSU. I’m lucky to have parents where obedience lead to virtue. If we dont have a perfectly good God, then obedience could lead to malice and would be a poor value. However, if God is perfectly good, obedience is the only way to do good beyond our own capacities.

    I suspect that you are right about a lot of earthly “pastors” of “sheep” in that they are not perfectly good. Especially the hypocrites that would lead their sheep to immorality. (You know better than anyone how to find them.) I have hope that there is a way on earth that leads to heavenly things.

    I appreciate that you question religion. Thanks for the thoughts.

  2. I’m not a full-blown atheist. But as an agnostic, I can’t imagine a god who would want us to be sheep.

  3. […] Goats are just one of seven species that constitute the genus Capra, probably of greater interest to those of us born under its sign than the other 11/12ths of the population. I’ve written before in praise of goats and will no doubt again, especially on the contest between sheep and goats. […]

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