I was raised on a small farm where most of the work was done by hand. Hoeing, hand-plowing, and using a pitch fork were usual activities. There were also animals to care for. In those days we were omnivorous, eating from our vegetable garden and from the flesh of slaughtered animals.
We raised hogs, chickens and even pheasants, and kept a "milk-cow." I had to feed and care for the animals but was never forced to take part in activities like putting rings in the nose of pigs to prevent rooting, or castrating or killing the animals. I was always upset about animal suffering.
Slaughter time was the worst. To see chickens with their heads placed on a chop-block was almost more than I could bear. And to see them flopping around after their heads were cut off is a sight that still stays in my mind. However, like everyone else, I put this scene out of my mind as we enjoyed fried chicken for Sunday dinner.
Slaughtering of hogs was also difficult. My father did this with the help of neighbors, but I was not forced to witness it. I don't think I could have endured it. To this day, I am thankful I was not forced to participate. When slaughtering time came I would hide in my bedroom and hold my fingers tight against my ears to avoid hearing the gun shots. But I did help in the meat processing, making sausage and tenderloin—I also ate these things. I enjoyed the taste of meat and did not think that eating it was a moral wrong.
There were other, painful routines involved in animal husbandry and when I saw how pitiful the animals looked after undergoing these things, I knew I wanted no part of farming that involved such practices. Gardening, putting-up hay and raising tobacco was hard, dirty work, but it was preferable to seeing the animals suffer. However I knew nothing about vegetarianism, and somehow accepted that these things were "part of life."
I also hunted, but never killed anything. Perhaps I was a poor shot, or maybe I missed on purpose. I really don't know the answer to that. When my friends killed rabbits, squirrels and ground hogs, I was appalled by how pitiful their lifeless bodies looked, and the same was true when without remorse, they randomly shot birds.
My parents taught that "wanton" killing was wrong, meaning that killing for no reason was wrong. (Killing for food or livelihood was excepted). So my brother and I tried our hand at trapping muskrats because we heard that money was paid for their pelts. Thank God, we never caught anything.
Since we lived near a lake, fishing was a normal past-time for kids and adults. Fishing for food seemed more acceptable to me than hunting, but I hated to use live bait—I was painfully aware that these creatures suffered when they were put on a hook. So I stopped fishing, along with hunting.
As a young adult I still had no real knowledge of vegetarianism although I did wrestle with the idea of the "rightfulness" of killing and eating animals. But after all, didn't they teach us in school that meat was required for a healthy diet? And didn't "good christian" people raise and slaughter animals for food? Even our church pastor was a beef farmer. The whole world did it. There was no protest—-apparently God meant it to be that way.
It wasn't until well into my adult life that I became a vegetarian and an animal rights advocate.(I cannot separate the two areas in my mind.) My mother had become ill and orthodox medicine couldn't help her so she began to see a naturopath. He put her on a fresh-juice diet for six weeks. She began a remarkable recovery and the elimination of all animal products was the major part of that recovery. My sister and I joined her in this new lifestyle. However, a brother who is a beef farmer, remains firmly committed to that way of life.
Finding books on the subject of vegetarianism and animal rights fueled even greater interest in this new way of life. The first book that really got my interest was Beyond Beef. I began to understand that not only was the slaughter and use of animals for food morally wrong, it was also an environmental disaster. About that time, I somehow learned about an organization called PETA. Even the name "People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals" appealed to me. I joined the organization and a world of information was opened to me. So much of what I read in PETA's publications made sense. Things I realized had always been in the back of my mind, were now articulated by others.
My mother became widely read on these subjects through books like A Vegetarian Resource and became an expert on nutrition, organic gardening and food preservation. And we began to wonder how God and religion fit into the picture. Logic said that since the slaughter of animals was wrong it must also be a "sin." But what about the Bible? Didn't it sanction killing animals? Weren't the scriptures filled with references to slaughtering animals for food and sacrifice?
Then we saw a book advertised in the PETA catalog, written by a minister and called The Slaughter of Terrified Beasts: A Biblical Basis for the Humane Treatment of Animals. Through contact with Viatoris Ministries, publisher of this book, we found out about other books regardingthe Bible, the treatment of animal and the practices of early Christianity.
I feel now that I understand things I should have known earlier in my life, and would have known if I had not closed my heart and my eyes to the cruelty around me; if I had not accepted the judgement of others about these things. From my reading, I realize that these truthshave been known through the ages, but for the most part, the have been ignored.
I know it is the grace of God that has enabled me to be receptive to these truths, and I feel a commitment and a responsibility for the insights I have been given. The torch of compassionate living that was kept burning by so few, for such a long time, has reached a generation in which the few have become many.
I feel a part of the many who are now committed to bringing to light the cruelty towards other creatures that is now hidden from sight—cruelties that undermine the very soul of our civilization.
The author, DON CROSS, is a Telecommunications Engineer and part-time organic gardener.
Reprinted from the March/April 1996 issue of Humane Religion. Copyright 1996 by Viatoris Ministries.