Wednesday, 17 February 2010

The Urgency of Unity

I usually try to keep the tone of my blog quite light and reflective, despite the serious issue it grapples with, and rarely do I offer more than a friendly ‘nudge’ towards those who have not yet taken the plunge and become vegan themselves. I have also been careful not to sound too impassioned, lest I come across like the proverbial ‘angry vegan’ and scare away random web-surfers (and possibly even friends!). Mostly I have achieved this with the addition of numerous pretty pictures alongside my musings, and with a cheery sign off that leaves both you and I happy with the state we’ve left things in.

But, (note this post’s lack of an accompanying illustration...), this entry is going to be a bit different, because never before I have felt the frustration I’ve experienced these past few days. It has become apparent to me that the majority of Christians (and for that matter, the majority of people) will argue almost anything – anything, offering the most ridiculous explanations one could imagine – to defend the fact that they eat meat. They know the horrendous cruelty of the industry, the impact on the environment, and on our fellow human beings. They know that God calls us to be compassionate, loving, and selfless. They know that we are stewards of creation, and also that the Bible reinforces a message of peace and mercy and justice over and over and over again. And yet, they defend their meat-eating to the last. I cannot express in words, as a member of both the Christian community and the human race, just how sad and angry this makes me.

If I was to talk about issues such as homelessness, drug addiction, poverty, the sex trade, domestic violence, famine, disease, or war, people would support me in my passion for trying to ease the suffering of others, and for trying to expose the truth behind these issues. But start talking about animal cruelty, about factory farming, about the environmental impact of meat production, about the way in which third world hunger is being worsened by the movement of grain out of countries to feed livestock instead of people, and no one wants to listen. In fact, they will actually argue against my passion for this issue. They will try and somehow argue that eating factory farmed meat is okay, despite knowing the incomprehensible cruelty involved.

This is not a discussion about whether eating meat is in itself right or wrong, it is a discussion about cruelty towards God’s creatures, living animals that feel pain, feel fear, and have the capacity to suffer. It is a discussion about the effect on our environment, and the injustice of food distribution. It is a discussion about the need for compassion.

And yet most people I have spoken to claim not to care, or make childish jokes that would be inexcusably offensive if I was discussing something like cruelty towards children.

It’s something I’ve struggled with repeatedly over the past few months, and I've come to the conclusion that the reason for this response lies in the fact that the solution to the problem of cruelty in the animal-industry is so incredibly simple: People need to transition to a vegan diet, and stop buying products tested on animals. We have the amazing ability to begin a revolution, to change the way people view life, and we can begin this peaceful campaign by doing something as simple as changing our shopping habits and diet; the solution is literally being handed to us on a plate. If people stopped buying meat and dairy, animals would stop being tortured and slaughtered on a mass scale. It really is that simple. But maybe people find this simplicity threatening, as it makes changing their lifestyle a reality as opposed to a theoretical response. It demands that individuals change, that they sacrifice a few foods they enjoy, and that they check labels before they buy things. And for some reason, a reason which I just can’t understand, people refuse to make this effort. This is what it really comes down to, and this is the tragedy of the whole situation.

I watched this 5 minute interview with the director of ‘Earthlings’, an award winning documentary about animal cruelty (which is considered the definitive animal rights film and is nick-named ‘the vegan-maker’), and it really brought home to me our capacity for violence and evil. Never is this capacity more evident than in how we treat those who are weaker than us, those who can’t speak out, those who are completely at our mercy. I have yet to watch 'Earthlings', but my instinctive reaction whilst watching the brief clip at the end of this interview was a heart-felt cry of ‘God, forgive us’. The enormity of the crime we are committing against God’s creation, and the pain and suffering we are inflicting on each individual animal that is treated as nothing more than a product for our consumption or use, is just beyond human comprehension.

‘We must not refuse to see with our eyes what they must endure with their bodies.’ This has really stayed with me, and whilst I usually tend to avoid graphic images of animal cruelty because I find them so distressing to watch, I am beginning to appreciate that they have an important place in getting people to see with their eyes what words just cannot communicate.

As Christians, who believe that there is wonder and value in everything to which God has given life, how can we feel anything but sorrow and righteous anger at our fellow creatures being treated this way? Animals have no voice, they cannot defend themselves, and they are entirely at our mercy. According to the Bible, we have been entrusted with them. Anyone can see that that trust is being abused most horrendously.

Throughout history we can see injustice and prejudice being fought against by the few, with people giving their lives to fight racism and sexism. And all we have to do to fight the speciesism that is hardening our hearts towards the beauty and diversity of God’s creation is change our shopping habits. The victory that could be ours is so great, so beautiful, and of such magnitude, that I can’t understand why we aren’t fighting for it with all our strength, and as a community. St. Francis of Assisi said that 'If you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.' I firmly believe than in fighting for the rights of those weaker than ourselves we are fighting for the essence of our own humanity. Leo Tolstoy also made this link, writing that:

Flesh eating is simply immoral, as it involves the performance of an act which is contrary to moral feeling: killing. By killing, man suppresses in himself, unnecessarily, the highest spiritual capacity, that of sympathy and pity towards living creatures like himself, and by violating his own feelings becomes cruel.

Our hearts seem to have been hardened towards suffering in all its forms, but especially towards the suffering of those animals intended for meat production. Those who eat meat do worse than ignore the violence and suffering caused by factory farming; they are complicit it in. It could not happen without the constant supply of money that funds this mass cruelty, and despite knowledge of this fact, people still continue to vote with the pound and keep the industry going.

In a sermon on the World Day of Prayer for Animals on the 4th October 1986, Rev. Dr. John Austin Baker, Bishop of Salisbury, said that:

‘the saddest of all fates, surely, is to have lost that sense of the holiness of life altogether; that we commit the blasphemy of bringing thousands of lives to a cruel and terrifying death or of making those lives a living death -- and feel nothing ... It is in the battery shed that we find the parallel with Auschwitz ... To shut your mind, heart and imagination from the sufferings of others is to begin slowly, but inexorably, to die. Those Christians who close their minds and hearts to the cause of animal welfare, and the evils it seeks to combat, are ignoring the Fundamental spiritual teachings of Christ himself.’

The Church should be leading the way on this issue, and yet, despite the biblical support for a vegetarian diet (not to mention the fact that this is an issue about cruelty, suffering and injustice, which we shouldn’t need to think twice about), most Christians are still supporting the meat industry and refusing to embrace a more peaceful way of living. Why are so many people closing their minds and hearts to this issue?

The urgent and pressing nature of animal and human suffering makes taking the 'softly softly' approach seem hopelessly inefficient. But at the very core of veganism is a philosophy of non-violence, and for me as a Christian it is just as important to be gentle with others as it is to be clear and strong in my faith and beliefs. Throughout history there has always been a battle against the majority when fighting for an oppressed group without a voice, and as vegans we must keep our spirits up, keep fighting for what we know to be right, and keep speaking for those who cannot speak for themselves, without losing faith in the hope that eventually people will begin to listen.

Every creature has a right to live out its God-given behaviours and enjoy its time on earth. We are all stewards, and I believe that we will all be held accountable for how we have cared for what is so precious.

When feeling overwhelmed at the enormity of the journey ahead, I always think that it's important to focus on the positive things that have been achieved along the way. Today I watched some videos that reminded me just how gloriously unique and precious that these animals are that we are fighting to save. There’s nothing quite like watching a lamb frolic to cheer yourself up! These are stories of rescue and hope, and we should cling onto them as we press forward.

Billy's Story: A Calf's Life is Saved by Compassionate Act.

Angelo's Story: Lamb born in slaughterhouse-bound truck delivered to safety.

I hope that these make you smile, and maybe make you consider redefining your relationship with creation if you haven’t already done so. We can each play such an incredible part in preserving something beautiful. Let's never give up hope that things can change.

Psalm 145: 9
The Lord is good to all;
He has compassion on all he has made.

As always,
peace and love. xx

Sharing thoughts on peace, love, and vegan cupcakes!