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

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Letters

Human or animal, all life is sacred

There is an interesting strand of thought between your columnists' Kevin Flanagan's refreshing environmental awareness and Maureen Mullally's rather more hackneyed disdain for "spoiled pooches".

A similar ethos existed nearly 100 years ago, as evinced by an editorial which appeared in The Universe of May 1, 1914, entitled 'God, Humanity, and Animals.' It contained poigniant considerations for today's ethical climate and I hope you'll forgive me for quoting at length from it:

The Universe
(6/11/05)

The editorial contained the following text in full:

"Correspondents have exercised themselves for some weeks past on the relation of men to animals, an interesting and profitable subject of controversy. It is not without sympathy that we read from one contributor that "the horrors in the slaughter-houses committed so that we can have flesh meat for our daily diet, the suffering caused by the traffic in worn-out horses, the merciless treatment of calves torn from their mothers and bled white so that people may have veal, the massacres of beautiful birds for their plumage, so that women may feed their vanity, the cruel trappings of animals for their furs, the disgusting brutality of bull-fights and hare coursing, to say nothing of hunting hinds heavy with young, and the numerous atrocities of the farmyard to provide soft succulent flesh for the table - all these together make life a nightmare, and rip relentlessly away the last remaining illusions of life."

It is an altogether admirable development of the age that the humanitarian impulse towards a wider and a more kindly comprehension of the place of animal life in the grand scheme of creation should have replaced the narrow-minded brutality which is the modern survival of paganism in the minds of Christians.

The pagan mind was essentially selfish. The pagan regarded his slave as a chattel. He was subject to torture and to death at the caprice of his master. Delicately nurtured ladies could remind their maids-in-waiting of their wishes with a bare bodkin. Fathers could doom their children to death as the modern would drown a puppy dog. Pedanius Secundus, Prefect of Rome, was murdered in his house by one of his slaves, and four hundred men, women, and children were marched to a common execution because they were slaves in the same household. It was the law. They had no rights. They were chattels. "No law nor any custom protected the labour, the honour, the life of the slave from his master" in the palmy days of Rome. Neither man, nor animal, nor any subject creature had "rights" against the free citizen of the Roman State.

Why? Because the soul of man was ignored. And ignoring the soul of man the omnipotent God is ignored. It is only in the presence of God that we can realise our relations to his creatures. It is in our duty to God that we embrace our duty to our fellow creatures. It is only in the love of God that we can find that rational and ordered love of His creatures which raises humanity above the beasts, and the motive of human action above the law of the jungle.

Humanitarianism is not a sickly sentiment; it is a law of religion. It is the worship of God in His creatures. The man who sees God in all His creatures finds in "the meanest flower that blows thoughts that do lie too deep for tears." The Christian who reverences life does so because it is the gift of God. It is not the selfish thought of the Hindu, who sees in every animal a prospective reincarnation of himself. But he sees in life in any form a mystery. It is sacred. The act of destruction is the proper work of the fiend. God alone can bestow life, and every creature that God made is good. He has said it. He who wantonly destroys life challenges God. Not a sparrow falls but by the will of the Father.

But the mystery of life is impenetrable, and the farther the horizon of science is pushed outward the deeper does the mystery become. Life is a force which carries us into the realm of the unseen. The Church has always guarded it with care. Bloodshed is abhorrent to her. The man of blood may not enter the sanctuary. The slayer of animals may not lift his hands in the sacrifice of the altar. Our Lord chose his first dwelling-place on earth with the ox and the ass. Shepherds were his first visitors. The saints have been the best friends of animals. Their tenderness towards their "lesser brethren" is one of the beauties of their lives. The saint who could brave the anger of kings could give shelter to the hare and forbid the chase while the dumb thing made good its escape. If the legend of the wolf of Gubbio is a legend, it is worthy to be true, for ferocity is tamed by kindness. The keepers of wild animals have wrought miracles by their studied and systematic kindness to the wild things from the jungle. A touch of kindness makes the whole world kin.

As kindness is a virtue instinctive to rational beings, and is raised to its highest power by pure religion, so cruelty is an outrage on God's goodness and a defacement of the soul of man. A cruel nature is the most abominable deformity in creation, in whatever guise cruelty may display itself. True kindness is not, however, a sentiment only, much less is it sentimentality, but it is a reasoned attitude of the mind, just as cruelty is a distortion opposed to reason, as it is a violation of love.

We have little sympathy with the refuge of those who are "cruel to be kind." There is no condemnation of cruelty under the law of love. But here we are brought once more against the impenetrable mystery of life and death. Nature is "red in tooth and claw." Nature seems lavish in destruction, and yet we know that nothing good is lost, that all created things are good, and all things work together in the Providence of God for good. That is our certain faith and sure hope under the law of love. The seeds that perish are as the sands of the desert compared with the seeds that take root and live.

No man can tell which grain will grow and which will not. The teeming life of every species that fills the sea and the air and the dry land is as a raindrop to the ocean compared with the life that disapears even as it is called into being. In all creation we see death paying the tribute of life to the creatures that survive. But it is the prerogative of man, as he is merciful to his kind, to show mercy to the lower animals in the disposal of their lives. The mystery of pain in the jungle we cannot fathom. But it is the spiritual privelege of the human soul to lessen pain, and if in that pursuit of mercy life must needs be sacrificed for food and healing, that very end enjoins the condition in the means that will forbid torture and show mercy, even as the surgeon's hand is moved in mercy. But tenderness to animals is in no wise to be confounded with the selfish caricature of kindness to animals which lavishes on pets luxuries foreign to their nature, while the children of misfortune are perishing with hunger."

The Universe - Editorial of May 1st, 1914.

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