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Animals and Religion

Story ID:7672
Written by:Suzana Margaret Megles (bio, contact, other stories)
Story type:Musings, Essays and Such
Location:Washington D.C. District of Columbia usa
Year:2011
Person:Pacelle/Gutleban
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I am an inveterate channel changer as I'm sure most of you are. So, I came upon
the ending of a segment on the Today show which talked about Fr. Barron's new
book - "Catholicism." Since I missed most of the segment, I took to the internet re
it. It seems to be a defense for the changes in the liturgy language which I personally
saw no need for. But that's not why I'm writing. The featured priest used the words
"joy" and "non-violence" as the catch words of the church's mission to us. Really,
I almost choked on hearing them because I have my own vision of church - so unlike
his.

Though I do experience joy at being able to receive Jesus daily at the Divine
Liturgy, I am joyless when I think of how little the Church does to make this
earth a "Peaceable Kingdom." Do you remember the short-lived TV production
of this name many, many years ago which featured Lindsey Wagner as the curator
of a zoo? Even though I'm not high on the idea of keeping animals captive in
zoos, I basically loved the concept and of course the title. But wouldn't you know,
there were probably few people at large who did, and I think it lasted only one season.
The title reminded me of the oft-quoted Biblical Isaiah who said that one day the animals
would live together in peace and harmony. The carnivores and herbivores would
now be friends forever - and none would fear violence of any kind from the other.

I would love to ask that priest how can I and others experience joy when we realize
that the Catholic Church and even other Christian churches turn a blind eye on the
suffering of animals? I tried - I truly tried to make the church aware of the need to
have a teaching of compassion for the animals. I believe that this would hugely
impact re their treatment by the one billion Catholics world-wide. I wrote the Pope,
bishops, and area priests, but it was basically an exercise in futility. However, I hope
others will try too if they feel the same way I do. As OWS has taught us, there is
strength in numbers. Please don't be one of the "Let George do it" type. We have
too many of those already.

And the priest also used the catch word "non-violence" as part of the Church's message
to the world. This made me cringe as well. If the church preaches non-violence, then it
should extend this concept to all living creatures including the animals. Sadly, they are
not included in any church teachings I'm aware of. Maybe they get a small mention
in a teaching on the environment, but they need way more than that.

No way did I feel the priest's message of non-violence could be construed as holistic
because to exclude billions of animals from the circle of compassion is indefensible.
They are also living, breathing beings as ourselves -having basic needs like our own
and deserve to be spared violence of any kind. If we look hard enough in the Bible,
there are passages which show that Jesus cared for animals too. Certainly, for me,
that He chose to be born in a stable with animals speaks volumes.

Re the supposed non-violent teaching of the church, in the case of animals, they are
often violently slaughtered for the food tables of America. At one time I could not
fault anyone for hunting and killing animals. If they hadn't, they would have starved.
Happily, those days are basically over because many of us contentedly subsist on the
grain and seeds God offered to our parents in the Garden of Eden - not only for us
but for the animals as well. One lady commented angrily re my eluding to this in one
of my posts - what's all this biblical nonsence? Well, of course, if you don't believe in
God and the Bible - it does seem like nonsense.

Then there is sadly violence in the raising of our food animals. I can't understand how
anyone owning a CAFO can say that living conditions are humane. They are basically
abominable. I would ask those people who defend this animal raising only one question-
If you were an animal, would you be happy living this way?

Daily, billions of animals world-wide suffer in horrible confining conditions - deprived of
fresh air and the warming rays of the sun. They are also family-deprived. Sex is gone as
they are artificially inseminated. There is no bonding with the young. Baby male chicks
are put through a shredder because they have no commercial value. Male calves are
either killed outright or placed in tight veal crates. Yes, their poor mothers feel keenly
their absence. Why does the church think that only man needs the basic elements of life
and be spared from violence? The only reason I can think of is that they enjoy their bacon
and eggs, steaks, etc. too much. Can anyone tell me differently?

I know of a Franciscan priest who sees absolutely nothing wrong with a member
of his family owning a hog CAFO. One time I thought- if anywhere we would hear words
and actions of compassion for the animals, it would be from a Franciscan community.
That's why I became a Third Order Franciscan with the naive belief that they followed
the charisms of St. Francis. I'm sorry to say that I saw no evidence of this while a
member. They wouldn't even promote in any way my homespun book about my
experiences with animals. I soon realized that I had made a mistake and no longer
felt part of that community and told them I would have to leave. Somehow I just
know that St. Francis understoood. I also believe that he is looking down from
heaven and wishing that those who profess to follow him would have more
compassion for animals.

Now the happier news re faith-based communities. In the Humane Society's glossy
magazine ALL ANIMALS, I read HSUS' wonderful account of spreading the "gospel"
of animal welfare to a group called Q (questions conference). In late 2010 HSUS'
Wayne Pacelle had hosted a summit for religious leaders. Among them I'm surmising
were probably Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim representatives. It was hoped
that this summit would spark interest in learning more about animal issues. It seems
that only the "Q" group who I believe were from the Protestant or Evangelical
denomination extended an invitation to HSUS to speak to them in this regard.

The article in the HSUS magazine was titled "Fertile Ground-Compassion in the Pews."
How appropriate. It started with a throw back to 1955 with a remembrance that in
that year HSUS was then called the National Humane Society. I appreciated the
comments of the then chairman of the board Robert J. Chenoweth. He said " Our
faith is that there is a God who created all things and put us here on earth to live
together. Our creed is that love and compassion are due from the strong to the weak...
If we hold this faith, and accept this creed, we are mortally bound to be teachers and
preachers and evangelists."

And so, HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle and Christine Gutleben, senior director of the HSUS
Faith Outreach would now -a half century later be able to assume the role of teachers in
accepting an invitation from the "Q" (questions conference) where ideas are exchanged.
Some of these ideas will set the agenda for mega churches and nonprofits as well. What
a wonderful opportunity for them both, and they wanted so much to speak compellingly
on the need to care about animal welfare issues and our responsibility toward animals.

Now the moment of truth for both Pacelle and Gutleben who had only 18 minutes to
make their case to an audience of about 650 people - mostly white and disproportionately
male. I enjoyed the description given of this theologically conservative but progressive
group which is pragmatic when it comes to social issues. They believe they can change
the world. Hopefully, they will be instrumental in changing the way we look and treat our
animals.

As a group, they are blest with many talents and among them are gifts of intellect,
creativity, and drive. And they come from a high-enough socio-economic status to afford
the $825 conference tickets (plus airfare, lodging, and meals). They subscribe to the
biblical notion: "For unto whomever much is given, of him shall be much required."
(Luke 12:48).

In their 18 minutes, Gutleben and Pacelle started with some prime movers of the concern
for the animal movement. They mentioned 19th century reformer William Wilberforce, who
took on animal cruelty along with slavery. They also mentioned 20th century scholar
and writer C.S. Lewis, who explored God's and humankind's relationship with animals.

At one juncture, Pacelle remarked: "We can choose to be abusive or exploitative, or we
can choose to act with decency and mercy...Christians and people of conscience and
values are the ones who have to be at the forefront of (the humane) effort."

Re our eating habits, Pacelle and Gutleben shared disturbing images: "a downed
cow pushed around by a forklift, pigs jolted with electric prods, a veal calf tied at
the neck in a tiny pen, hens jammed into small cages."

I've only touched the salient points of their presentation, but I know that whatever else
they said would have brought home the imperative need for a change in the way we
treat animals. I was very anxious to see how their precious minutes counted in trying
to convince these movers and shakers to care about animal suffering. I was very glad
to read that Lyons, the conference founder, when asked about which presentation made
the group think or most challenged them- that the respondents ranked the HSUS talk
in the top five of 35 presentations. This is good news indeed, but it will mean almost
nothing if what they learned about animal suffering will not be used to convince others of
the great need to promote humane changes for the animal condition.

Naturally, my condensation of the HSUS talk at this Q conference did not do justice to
it or the complete excellent 6- page article found in All Animals. But if interested in reading
more, I hope that you will look for it at the HSUS All Animals internet site. If you want
a video of the HSUS' Q conference speech, go to humanesociety.org/faith.