The Fellowship of Life
Why a Fellowship of Life?
Albert Einstein said, "A human being is part of the Whole, called by us "Universe", a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical illusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but striving for such an achievement is in itself a part of liberation and a foundation for inner security."
These words of Albert Einstein express well the aims and ideals of the Fellowship of Life, which I founded in 1973, firstly to establish vegetarianism as a Christian way of life and, secondly, to unite believers of all religions or none in a way of life which neither hurts nor destroys needlessly any part of creation, human, animal or environmental. Always there is a tendency to limit compassion - some condemn one particular cruelty whilst turning a blind eye to others, and the majority refuse to face up to the cruelty inherent in the production of fish, meat, eggs and cheese. The Christian Church, which one would expect to be sensitive to the barbaric cruelty inflicted on God's creatures, bears a heavy responsibility for its lack of guidance down the ages, but I cannot condemn its ministers because I believe they are the victims of past mistakes and the falsifying of the true teachings of its Founder.
My parents were church-going folk and I was brought up to attend regularly, but I was well over thirty years of age before I became a fully-committed Christian - and literally a new person with a deep, abiding faith, filled with love for God and Man. At first I became very pacifist in my outlook and, though hitherto unable to say "Boo" to a goose, actually challenged my congregation's investment in War Loans and Defence Bonds.
I became interested in meditation and faith-healing, and one day I found the phrase "Thou shalt not kill!" ringing in my heart and suddenly it dawned upon me that it referred to animals as well as to humans. I knew nothing of vegetarianism and veganism was an unknown word to me, but after two weeks of inner wrestling I knew that I had finished with eating meat. Eighteen months later I took the plunge to veganism.
Looking back I could see how God had spoken to me as a child, but being brought up in a shooting/fishing family I thought, in my innocence, that I must be wrong. I remembered how I had wept at the sight of the poor little limp body of a sparrow which my brother had shot with his airgun. I remembered the cows contentedly chewing the cud as we passed by to swim, and thinking how strange it was that people reared them and then killed and ate them. I remembered too, more recently, pheasant chicks which I had seen being reared to provide so-called sport for so-called sportsmen, and the hare which sat up on its haunches within feet of me one clear frosty night and thinking, "You beautiful creature, how can they kill you?" A pot of hare soup was considered a great delicacy in our household! And I thought of the thousands of Christians who worship God each Sunday, and then go home and tuck into their dinner of roast beef, chicken, or what-have-you; even worse, who celebrate the birthday of the Prince of Peace by feasting on the dead bodies of God's creatures. And I thought of young children who are naturally averse to eating meat being forced to do so by their misguided but well-meaning parents. How I admire those youngsters who refuse to eat meat despite their parents' efforts. And I thought of the Church, which had nothing to say, no guidance to offer.
It was not long before I heard of other atrocities committed against animals in vivisection laboratories, factory farms, circuses, the fur trade... and it seemed to me that they all sprang from the original one of killing animals for food.
All this time I was hoping that someone in the Church would do something about the dreadful state of affairs, not feeling myself, a humble fringe-member, to be the one for the job. But I was disappointed and finally took the plunge and started campaigning myself. With the decision, I heard of the Society of United Prayer for Animals and almost at once became Honorary Secretary for Scotland, a title I joyfully accepted as a weapon with which to tackle the Church. At first I wrote to the elders of my congregation quoting Robert Burns's words about Man's dominion breaking Nature's social union, but gained no response. I then decided to campaign for observance of the World Day of Prayer for Animals, and in this I was helped by Mr Hollands of the Scottish Society for the Abolition of Vivisection. The first year I sent letters to 80 presbytery clerks in the Church of Scotland - and received one acknowledgement. The next year I wrote individually to nearly 1,800 ministers. I got one reply! I was so shocked that I buckled to and sent out a reminder in time for the World Day and this time received over 200 replies, which really did thrill me. Two years later I decided to spread my wings, and formed the Churches Fellowship for the Promotion of Reverence for All Life. A number of ministers from the Church of Scotland became patrons, as did Dr Frey Ellis, the Dean of Westminster, Lady Dowding, and others. The title seemed clumsy, so I shortened it to the Fellowship of Life, which somehow caused me to widen my vision to include all religions and to see the link between all living things.
I decided to have no subscription so that no one would be too poor to help, but to go forward in faith depending on donations. It is largely a hand-to-mouth existence, and I do sometimes wish for a surplus so that more could be done. My ambition was to produce a magazine on the lines of World Forum,* but leaflets like the illustrated Calling All Christians and a newsletter round about Christmas seems even yet to be as much as I can do.
A symbol seemed essential and I worked out a simple one inspired by an article in World Forum. It consists of a brown cross super-imposed on a green tree, symbolising the spiritual and the physical life - the sacrificial meaning of the cross must not be forgotten - the sacrifice of ourselves.
Newsletters are sent out at Christmas, when I feel the degradation of the Church is at its lowest, celebrating as it does the birth of its Founder with the slaughter of millions of creatures. At first I was naive enough to think I would take the Church by storm. I soon learned differently! It is a long process removing the blinkers of thousands of years, but despite times of doubt we pick ourselves up and plod on hopefully. Always there is something to spur us on, a donation, a letter of appreciation - we are never long left in doubt.
I suppose it was inevitable that I should come across the question as to whether or not Jesus was a vegetarian. Personally, it never occurred to me as I was so sure that "Thou shalt not Kill!" applied to animals as well as to humans. My own reasoning when confronted with the question was that Jesus would most certainly have lived up to the highest ideals expressed in the Old Testament, as in Genesis, 1:29 - the first diet instructions in the Bible; as in Isaiah, 11:9, "They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My Holy Mountain" and, of course, "Thou shalt not kill!" These all added up to make sense of vegetarianism as a Christian way of life. However, I have since discovered several books on the subject, among them, On Behalf of the Creatures by the Reverend Todd Ferrier, who founded The Order of the Cross, a vegetarian Christian Fellowship which is still in being today, and also The Gospel of the Holy Twelve and various books on the Essenes, a strict vegetarian sect to which it is believed that Jesus belonged. It is believed that his humane teaching was edited out of the Gospels.
From time to time the question is asked, "How is the Fellowship getting on? Are there any results?" I have to reply that beyond the support I receive I really have no idea. It is an act of faith, sowing seeds and leaving the results in God's hands. As Albert Schweitzer said, "Not one of us knows what effect his life produces and what he gives to others; that is hidden and must remain so, though we are often allowed to see some little fraction of it so that we may not lose courage. The way in which power works is a mystery." And someone else said, "The conscientious sower must sow in faith even if he doubts whether the soil will yield a harvest." How can you count all the circles made by a stone when you toss it into the water?
What has been called the golden core of all religions is Love. This Love, to be complete, must embrace all creation. Its debasing is sad beyond words, even tragic and disastrous. In its restoration lies the unity of all religions and all people of goodwill to the benefit of humankind, the creatures and the environment.
Reprinted as a Fellowship of Life pamphlet
* World Forum was published in Bournmouth as an independant vegetarian journal between 1947 - 1973.
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