The Fellowship of Life
Letter in the Anglican Society for the Welfare of Animals Bulletin (Spring 2010)
In response to your article 'Where are all the young people?' - I decided to check-out the situation locally because of similar curiosity over recent years.
I became involved in the secular sphere of animal rights campaigning during 1987 (in my late teens) and ad hoc Christian activity by 1992. It became increasingly easy, thereafter, to lose touch with secular activity, 'on the ground' at any rate. Maybe this type of detachment from the 'public face' of animal rights protests can become comfortable wherever it tends to increase our influence within the Churches; as well as among friends and colleagues who may be that much more prepared to consider one ethical issue or another rather than an entire ideological package.
There's been a street stall in central Cardiff for at least thirty years and I've given it a somewhat guilty wide-berth over the past twenty because there's only so much of one's life outside of the workplace that may be considered 'campaigning time' by those of us that lack the saintly dedication of the few. Many Church-focused activists leave 'non-Christian' activity to non-Christians in the hope that they'll hardly depend on our involvement and instead focus upon our own daunting challenges, as specialised 'campaigners' (if that's even the term for cultivating spiritual empathy towards other creatures.)
So what's changed since the 1980's, if the once thriving Cardiff-based FAUNA (Friends of Animals Under Abuse) are representative of the U.K. as a whole?
Well, there are no longer the monthly meetings (packed with under-25's) which used to organise activists and introduce the public to animal-related issues through talks, screenings and a strategic local response to particular concerns. The criteria at any given meeting was usually led by one of several upbeat campaigns from one of the national societies (whose journals still contain regular action plans with free literature) but it's only the membership of those societies that respond today and the response may often be bleak.
For example, there is no longer a coach from South Wales to what was then the near-mandatory 'World Day for Laboratory Animals' and the seasoned activists to whom I spoke would be surprised if the same event could attract 1000 protesters, nationally, today.
The SHAC demos may have taken-up the space left by the decline of large-scale protest but campaigners have laterally abandoned the strategy because of police restrictions on individual effectiveness and indeed the sacrifice of individual time and potential which tends to result from participation in a leaderless and conflicted mass.
On a more uplifting note; the League Against Cruel Sports recently requested that their supporters turn-up at Waterstones branches to hear a talk by a British bullfighter promoting his book and ask him awkward questions afterwards. The notification was withdrawn after about 24 hours when the chain of stores cancelled the tour!
So it would take a general survey to reveal the actual state of the animal protection movement in this country. There are certainly pockets of energy and tactical focus but what most of us may envisage or remember of the wider movement may well be figments of a bygone era.
I found myself at the FAUNA street stall for half an hour longer than anticipated due to a visitation from one of the city centre evangelists who declared that "animals have no rights" which - perhaps predictably - led to a somewhat acrimonious dispute with one of the activists running the stall. And this was particularly sad because it was so easy to quietly confront this bloke with the implications of his theological contempt for vegetarianism (and other forms of practical kindness) when the stand contained dozens of leaflets that depicted scenes of hell upon earth.
Many an archetypal Bible-bashing 'speciesist' may have much more sympathy for abused animals than their minds have allowed them to realise over the years and a single photograph with an appropriate plea for reflection may unlock most hearts. Animal rights campaigners have nothing to justify in a world which religion has largely ruined for creation but recrimination should really be a last resort in seeking the sense of humility which enables opponents to discuss issues of a compassionate nature.
It has always seemed obvious to me that secular campaigners may be used to dealing with the 'general public' but a large proportion of that public are likely to dismiss supposedly 'non-Christian' values. I should not have been too surprised at the FAUNA stalwarts' complete lack of awareness of Christian advocacy on behalf of animals and a week later, I brought a batch of Christian-veggie leaflets for 'under the counter' distribution which were enthusiastically received.
We should really be on hand to assist the remaining but tireless local street-groups throughout the country in their occasional encounters with hostile Christians, if only to challenge their unsavoury notion that Christian ethics and respect for animal life are somehow separate concepts.
Anglican Society for the Welfare of Animals: http://www.aswa.org.uk .
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