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THE CHURCH’S BLIND SPOT
By Hugh MacDonald
Across the ages, the Church, in all its branches, has had many “blind spots”. How many centuries passed with most Christians seeing nothing wrong with war, slavery, child exploitation, capital punishment, the burning of witches, the use of torture, the subjugation of women, the persecution of heretics, the denigration of aboriginal peoples, the abuse of homosexuals, the pursuit of war, the destruction of the environment? Indeed, when brave reformers within and without the Church first cried out against these evils, the Church more often than not rejected their protests as extreme, foolish, fanatical, misguided! Despite its claims otherwise, the official Church has often dragged its feet in the struggles against evil.
Doubtless, we are still blind to many other issues which have not yet been recognized and named as the horrors they are. One such evil is so glaring, so terrible, so obvious that we have no excuse for our silence and complacency; indeed, that fact that the Church (in all its denominations) accepts this wrong and says nothing is utterly disillusioning. It is the reason that, after a half-century of ministry, my conscience is pushing me to leave the Church. Scores of people have told me that it is the reason they have dismissed Christianity as hypocritical. It is there all the time, daily before our eyes. We know about it. Like the three monkeys, however, we choose not to see, hear, or speak about this evil.
Humankind’s cruelty to animals is the great evil about which the Church today says nothing! Many denominations pride themselves on championing “women’s rights”, “children’s rights”, “aboriginal rights”, “gay rights”; but they say never a word about “animals’ rights”. In our own homes, most Christians consider ourselves to be humane people: we pamper our dogs and cats with every luxury, but we and our churches turn a blind eye to the horrors which we allow to be inflicted on helpless sentient creatures who suffer just as deeply as do we (and with most of that suffering at human hands.) As Dean Inge observed, “If animals had a theology, we human beings would be their devil” -- and yet the Churches say nothing!
Consider the horrors of factory farming with tens of millions of animals raised in huge` barns, often crowded together in filthy conditions, many never once seeing grass or sky, living in metal pens so small that they cannot turn around. (If slaughter houses had glass walls, many of us would never eat meat again!) Undercover videos show many animals, not unconscious but only half-stunned, being butchered or thrown into boiling water while still alive! The production of veal and pate-de-foie grasse is cruel beyond description. All of this is common knowledge. It has been repeatedly confirmed by investigative reporting. Yet the Churches say nothing!
Turn to the abuse of animals in so-called “sport”. In the Spanish world, it is considered entertaining to watch a magnificent bull, maddened by previous torture, his vision blurred by petroleum jelly, his horns shortened so that he cannot defend himself, his shoulder muscles cut by short spears so that he cannot raise his head, then teased and tormented for twenty minutes before a “brave” matador puts him out of his hell. Think of the fox-hunting, so much admired by English fops who enjoy putting a pack of forty hounds on the trail of a frightened fox who will be torn apart -- great sport which although now illegal is still admired even by members of the Royal Family. Attend the rodeos and watch as calves get their necks broken when lassos are yanked too hard. Go to the races, track or chuckwagon, and brush aside the fact that scores of beautiful horses break their legs and must be destroyed each year as part of this “sport of kings”. Support the circuses where tigers and elephants are forced with whips and electric prods to perform silly and unnatural acts so that we may be amused. Or, consider our personal involvement as we teach children that it doesn’t matter how much the worms or minnows suffer on their hooks so long as people have the pleasure of tricking, catching, “playing”, and finally killing small and terrified reptiles! Yet the Churches say nothing!
The list of horrors is endless: the use of animals in experiments is another whole field of scandalous horror -- in cosmetic laboratories, rabbits are blinded as hair sprays are shot directly into their eyes; in military labs, pigs are shot and brutally wounded without anaesthetic (but not killed) so that medics can practice their skills; in pharmaceutical labs, dogs and cats are fed deliberate overdoses of poisonous drugs to test their noxious dangers; in medical labs, our first cousins, chimpanzees, are subjected to all kinds of sadistic experimentation much of which is not intended for anything more than to satisfy scientific curiosity. In secondary schools, frogs and small mammals are killed dissected in biology lessons even though computer programs can illustrate and teach the lessons of the body far more effectively. Yet the Churches say nothing!
When did anyone ever hear a minister or a priest preach against such evils? When did a denomination ever issue an encyclical or even a directive on the need for humane treatment of animals? Our little children are taught to sing that “God sees the little sparrow fall,” “that God made all creatures great and small.” Lofty prayers are addressed to the “All-Merciful, All-Compassionate and Loving Creator.” Clergy content themselves with making non-offensive statements from their pulpits about humankind being the stewards of nature and it being our mission to be ecologically responsible! What sham! What hypocrisy! What cowardice!
What are the reasons for our silence? Because the suffering of creatures is not worthy of our concern? Because we fear that our speaking about animal suffering might detract from concern about human suffering? Because we are afraid of a backlash from the meatpacking industry and the poultry farms? Because we don’t want to offend the many men in our congregations who think it is great sport to kill animals, birds, and fish? Because we think that God has given us dominion over animals so that we have the right to use them and abuse them however we please? Or is it that we are just so immersed in the culture of cruelty that we, ourselves, are deadened to its evils, too bored to care?
Whatever the reason, our silence is shameful and evil, a denial of God’s love, a denial of our stewardship. Albert Schweitzer surely spoke for the best in all religious traditions when he wrote, ““Persons are truly ethical only when they obey the compulsion to help all life which they are able to assist and shrink from injuring anything that lives.” By that standard, the Christian Church today is blind and mute and unethical to an extreme. Centuries from now, future generations will be asking about our indifference, even as we today say about witch-burning, torture, and slavery, “How could self-professing Christians have stood by and said nothing, done nothing?”
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