by: Marybeth Wosko
While Churches today do well in helping people who are poor, they are ignoring the plight of the most disadvantaged: animals.
We are far more powerful than animals. Yet our treatment of them is unconscionable: we eat them, skin them, hunt them, and use them for “sport”, entertainment, and experimentation. Morally and ethically blinded by habit, denial, and tradition, our religious leaders have not even asked serious questions about our relationship with our nonhuman brethren.
If churches are serious about promoting compassion in accordance with the Gospel and other sacred texts, they must first start thinking critically about our treatment of animals.
Our culture is more callous, violent, and arrogant than compassionate. Sure, we love our families and companion animals. But many people eat the flesh of cows, chickens, turkeys, pigs, fish, and other animals. Many drink the breast milk of cows who are continually impregnated to keep lactating and whose babies are ripped away from them shortly after birth. Some wear the skins of animals who often die by anal electrocution so their fur is not bloodied. Some stalk, terrorize, and murder birds, deer, elk, and other animals with guns and arrows. Some frighten and harm bulls and other animals in rodeos. Some imprison elephants and others to a life of restriction, misery, and loneliness in circuses. Some deceive, impale and asphyxiate fish as a hobby.
Given these practices of violence, it is unsurprising that, inter alia, some hate people that have a different color skin, or practice a different religion; that women and children are too often abused; that we have wars; that we have a crime level that exceeds what one might expect to occur naturally; that addiction (and particularly food addiction) is commonplace; that the divorce rate is high; and that we have poisoned our natural environment.
Where are the voices of churches, our moral stewards? One thing is certain: as long as we practice exploitation and violence against animals, particularly on our dinner plates, churches will be guaranteed that their flocks of people thirsty for meaning, will wonder, “why do I feel disconnected?”
I believe they feel a lack of connection because many regularly practice violence against, instead of showing mercy for, the most disadvantaged: animals.
Practicing violence, or complicity in violence, leaves us necessarily calloused or in a state of denial. I interpret the lack of serious dialogue on animal rights issues by most major religious institutions as suggestive of churches’ interests in retarding spiritual advancement, much like the pharmaceutical industry benefits economically from chronic disease. A more generous view would be that churches are doing the best they can, and don’t realize they are only applying Band-aids.
In any event, churches’ intentions are irrelevant, just as an intellectual analysis of the reasons behind human slavery was irrelevant to the man in shackles. What is relevant is that we have considerable violence against animals, people, and the environment, and churches are failing us by not asking questions about the source of this disconnection and by not seriously encouraging conduct consistent with Truth and Compassion.
Churchgoers and others today, in their regular practice of violence, particularly at the dinner plate, are like Little Leaguers who are practicing, over and over, bad fundamental form on fielding grounders. Garbage in (violence), garbage out (food addiction, obesity, heart disease, certain cancers, impotence, diabetes, perception of a “dog eat dog”, rivalrous world of scarce resources, misery and death to animals, environmental degradation, etc).
Eating and recreation should be a celebration of life – not a celebration of death, violence, and suffering. Practice compassion – honor God, however conceived – by adopting a vegan diet and making other ethical consumer choices.
Challenge your church’s silence about how animals are treated. Help your church find its voice to start asking questions about our relationship with the poorest among us. Help your church return to the fundamentals of living with compassion. Only then, may we all find peace.