Quaker Concern for Animals

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Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion

Quaker Concern for Animals

Claudette Vaughan, Editor of Abolitionist Online, interviews Feminist Marian Hussenbux of Quaker Concern for Animals speaks with us on prayer, animals, dairy and love, May 2007

Abolitionist: Why was Quaker Concern for Animals formed, how are you concerned and what is your modus operandi?

Marian: Quaker Concern for Animals started life as the Friends’ Anti-Vivisection Society in 1891 - one of the first religious animal welfare societies in Britain - and having extended its interests to cover all aspects of the exploitation of animals, was renamed in 1978. I became clerk (this is the term used by Quakers for the secretary’s role) in 2004. We are a small group, informally linked to The Religious Society of Friends, but enjoy the support of some very committed members. We produce two newsletters a year and, to maintain our Quaker link, hold our AGM at Friends’ House in London. We admit into membership like-minded people of all religions and none, and see our main aims as to quicken the Quaker conscience towards all aspects of the exploitation and abuse of animals, to keep Friends informed and to fund animal welfare organisations, concentrating on the smaller and sometimes specialised ones. This year, we funded 23 British and 8 overseas groups.

Abolitionist: What current campaigns are you running?

Marian: We don’t exactly run campaigns, but we lobby the authorities, here and overseas, and support other groups who do, where we feel our voice might help to make a difference. In response to appeals by the Spanish campaigners against the bullfight, blood fiestas and other cruelty generally not taken seriously by the authorities, we have this year asked our members to consider not choosing Spain as a holiday destination – and at our request, Catholic Concern for Animals has done the same. We support all the spiritual and interfaith services and events we can attend and, in fact, our interfaith policy is very important to us. We are founder members of the newly launched Interreligious Fellowship for Animals (IRFA), together with the Unitarians of Golders Green, London, and this currently has the support of seven faiths. We are organising a conference on June 16 07 at Friends’ House entitled Living Adventurously: Spiritual Perspectives on our Kinship with all Sentient Beings.

Abolitionist: What are your views on animal flesh eating?

Marian: I personally try to be vegan but the hardest thing for me is when eating at friend's houses. QCA is not a vegetarian/vegan society although most of our members do not eat flesh.

Abolitionist: As a feminist, Marian, how does this affect your work with animals and how do you see the animal rights movement, as a whole, progressing?

Marian: I am always struck by how many people in the animal rights movement are female, but that is not to criticise the men who are wholly committed to this cause. I am also more and more aware of how it is the female animal who appears to be singled out for particular suffering – hens in battery cages, cows robbed of their calves, sows in farrowing crates, seals whose pups are killed in front of them. I think women feel particularly strongly about this misery. However, I don’t want to be sexist; the whole point is, we must work together.

Abolitionist: What Saint is your inspiration for animals and why?

Marian: You might expect me to say Saint Francis – and his inspiration is important - but have you heard of Saint Melangell? She was, they say, a Romano-Celtic princess who, to avoid an unwanted marriage in Ireland, escaped to mid Wales. There, living a spiritual life in isolation, she witnessed the hunting of a hare by a local prince. The hare took refuge at her feet and the prince, struck by her piety, stopped the hunt and gave her the land as a sanctuary. In Wales, where there is an ancient church named for her, a folk name for hares is “Melangell’s lambs”. We have no record of anything Melangell said, but actions speak louder than words.

Abolitionist: What are your concerns about dairy?

Marian: Dairy has been criticised as probably more cruel than the beef industry and I agree. Apart from all the horrors of frequent lactations and cows pushed over their biological limits, with all that entails, the cruelty of splitting a mother from her young is appalling. I lived for over twenty years in mid Wales, surrounded by farms, and when the ewes’ lambs were taken from them, the grieving was terrible to witness.

Abolitionist: What does the power of prayer mean to you as a Quaker and what does it mean for the sake of the animals?

Marian: Quakers have a characteristically personal relationship with the Spirit, the Creator, God, whatever name we give to this force … but formal prayer is not a habit of mine. You will know that Quakers worship in silence “waiting on the Lord”; unless some Friend is moved to minister (speak). The whole process is deeply spiritual and I, with my particular concern for our fellow species, in that silence, often find images, thoughts, ideas popping into my head, which are sometimes answers to a question, or a stimulus to further work. The silence itself seems to be powerful and we must use it for the good.

Abolitionist: You mentioned you were doing penance for the abolition of the slave trade. So can I ask you please: how do human rights and animal rights unite in prayer?

Marian: Liverpool, near where I live, like many British cities, made a good living out of the trade in African slaves. On March 24, I attended a Service of Penitence on the occasion of the bicentenary of the passing of the act which made the slave trade illegal in the British Empire. Trading in human beings was once thought legitimate, respectable and normal; those like the Quakers and Clarkson, Wilberforce and Sharp, who spoke against it, were considered dangerous radicals. Does that terminology sound at all familiar? The exploitation of our fellow species, with whom we should live in kinship, we may one day come to consider unethical and wonder how we ever thought it acceptable.

Abolitionist: What role should Christianity play in bringing animal rights to a point where it is taken seriously by Christian and non-Christian alike?

Marian: The religions emanating from India – Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism and Sikhism – are quite open to the concept that we are all connected and that to harm one part of the web affects the whole – and the concept of Ahimsa (Harmlessness) plays its part in this. Christians, however, and followers of the other two monotheistic religions (Judaism and Islam) have traditionally taken a human-centred approach to life. Other animals exist to serve us and may be used as we see fit. By this reckoning, the Creator cares less about them. But why should this be the case? Both humans and animals possess nephesh, the Hebrew breath of life.

Just as the campaign which put an end to the slave trade and, eventually, to slavery, was inspired and fuelled by Christian belief, in QCA we feel that working to promote justice for our fellow species is a legitimate task for us. Quakers have Testimonies – to peace, to integrity… – and we ought to be extending these aspirations to cover our fellow species.

Abolitionist: Any further comments?

Marian: John Woolman, the 18th. century American Quaker said: “To say we love God and at the same time exercise cruelty to the least creature is a contradiction in itself.”

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