The Fellowship of Life
a Christian-based vegetarian network founded in 1973

 

Articles
The Saint who was one of us

From AV Times dated October 1973

(Editorial)

October the fourth – St Francis’ Day – has somehow never become quite the same calendar event as, say, the Fourth of July.

Nor do the elderly – as distinct from their children and grandchildren – feel it necessary to remember this saint’s day in the same way that they doubtless make a point of remembering the fourth of August, 1914.

Which in every event is a pity – for animals.

For in so many ways, people in all walks of life are striving for Independence Day for all the animals who, in countless manmade seemingly godforsaken ways, are used and misused, exploited, explored upon and even exploded – car crash wise – in the name of a new god whom many fear but few revere, Science.

If only, as so many exited young men did on the evening and late into the night of August 4, 1914, a few thousand would queue again round the corner from BUAV Headquarters but, instead of waiting to enlist at the Central London Army Recruiting Office, if only they would sign on the dotted line to serve as ardently in the anti-vivisection movement, what then might we not achieve.

It is ironic to recall that July 4 commemorates the end of an old established rule – that of Britain in the nether half of North America and that August 4 is remembered as the day when this then still independent country started to set about the Central Powers who were then establishing their brief tyranny in what men now call the Kaiser’s War.

St Francis, before he shaved his head and took up poverty as a profession, to soldier in his own rather undisciplined way in the name of Jesus – another irregular in another long-ago war against tyranny – knew the feel of a horse between his thighs and the familiar weight of a sword in his hand.

Possibly the only outward difference between his former and latter appearance was Francis’ lack of armour and arms, for he lived rough and hard – the typical life of a seasoned campaigner.

It could be that we are all overlooking the need for aggression in animal welfare. Aggression of the right, psychologically well-orientated kind – not the mouthy, particularly the mealy-mouthy kind – is healthy.

It is the mark of an upright and honest man to throw over humility and to show intolerance when reasoned approaches fail to overcome or dispel tyrants.

This is not a clarion cry to burn down animal breeding centres or to shoot vivisectors in the back, bomb their homes or mail cowardly explosive parcels to their laboratories.

Those tactics we may safely leave to fanatics. Let’s get back to one of the rational saints.

To be as seemingly gentle as Francis is understood to have been – at least in his adult life – he would have to have felt if not serene at least secure.

He put aside the exhibitionism of his exuberant youth. In its place he appears, though not always quite consistently, to have made a point of displaying an albeit selective love towards what he called his little brothers – to us, non-human animals.

Here it must be understood exactly what St Francis represents – and that which he does not.

History could be accused of revealing animal welfare as nothing more than a possibly spiritually profitable side-line. After all, rather uncommonly among the host of saints, Francis was never called upon to give his life for animals. Nor, to be frank, need we.

What we should seriously accept about Francis of Assisi is the fact that, at a time when – quite unintentionally – Christianity had plunged the civilised world into a manic state of self-worship, where even the sun revolved around the most arrogant species that God had installed on Earth, along came this unostentatious rather simple, even dim-witted, well-born ex regular army officer, who actually cherished and loved a number of those soulless, unredeemable creatures whom the Church itself regarded merely as existing for Man’s use.

Francis lit a light: not perhaps the fiery torch of martyrdom at the stake, but nevertheless a light that has guided the foot-steps of at least a thoughtful few theologians down the ages.

By the perfectionist standards set – but generally only for others – by the unco guild in our present-day animal welfare movement, Francis might not escape without a great deal of tut-tutting round the coffee-morning table.

But, even if so, it says little for our tolerance these days if we can fail to see Francis against the background of the truly Dark Ages.

And if it becomes a competition to seek the most select among religious pace-setters from the whole gamut of comparative religions, who among the holiest in the non-Christian creeds endured quite the same quality of desperation and ignorance as that which existed where Francis practised and preached?

For if St Francis of Assisi stands in stature maybe no taller than our self-elect today – in religious circles, naturally – and if his consistency rates only perhaps fair against that of some of the smuggest extremists of our present animal welfare movement, then let us gladly remember him as truly being one of us – a common man with uncommon opinions.

Maybe, looking at Francis we can – as Beaudelaire suggested – pray to find the strength and the courage to look at ourselves without disgust.

Reproduced with thanks to the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection.

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