Photo: by kind permission of Chris Gale.
7TH. INTERFAITH CELEBRATION OF ANIMALS AT GOLDERS GREEN UNITARIANS, ON SUNDAY SEPTEMBER 5TH. 2010
After his welcome and the lighting of the candle for the world’s animals by the Revd. Feargus O’Connor and the hymn Reverence for Life (John Andrew Storey), the congregation heard readings from eight faith traditions.
Sid Dahar, the speaker for Hinduism, reminded us of the Golden Rule and our obligation to work towards non-injury and freedom from the fear of death. It is our common duty to work for the common good and true religion means compassion for all beings.
Indranyl Singharay spoke for the Jains. He mentioned the quintessence of wisdom being compassion and told the story of how the Lord Mahaveer, on the way to his wedding, freed the “lucky” animals penned up for slaughter for his feast. Happiness was impossible, faced with such fear and pain. He advocated a religion of law which benefits all living beings.
The Pagan speaker, Clare Slaney-Davies, spoke of other creatures as beings who shared the eco-system. She referred to totem animals and especially the mare – Epona.
(Extra information: In Gallo-Roman religion, Epona was goddess of fertility and protector of horses, donkeys and mules, and it is suggested that the goddess and her horses were leaders of the soul in the after-life ride, with Welsh parallels in Rhiannon of the Mabinogion. Unusually for a Celtic deity, most of whom associated with specific localities, the worship of Epona, “the sole Celtic divinity ultimately worshipped in Rome itself,” was widespread in the Roman Empire between the first and third centuries CE.)
Such creatures are represented widely in this country as White Horses. They exist for their own sakes, not ours, and Clare referred to our interconnectedness with other beings – a breath shared in the circle of creation with humankind.
The Christian speaker, Matthew Houlihan, reminded us of the many stories of Celtic saints who enjoyed a close fellowship with animals – St. Patrick and the fawn, St. Kevin and the blackbird’s eggs he allowed to hatch in his hand, the boar he saved and the goose – St. Brendan and the crow and interestingly, the patron saint of whales – St. Ciaran and the cow. The theme of helping hunted animals was especially noticeable.
David Russell, for Judaism spoke of the love of dogs and compared this with the love of God. They are in so many ways alike. Dogs make us better humans.
Khalid Hussenbux provided the reading for Islam: And the earth hath He appointed for (His) creatures. He spoke of the concept of ehsan – benevolence – contained in Islamic law, which is the basis of how we are to treat animals. The ehsan to animals means providing them with food, letting them graze until full, being gentle with them while loading them with weight, and not demanding of them more than they can deliver. The female animals should be milked in such a way that their young ones should have enough to drink. The law also implies that animals should be treated with kindness when they fall sick. According to an authenticated saying of the Prophet, providing water to animals is an act for which you can expect God’s reward. Religious scholars cite the famous Hadith: whoever sees an evil, let him change it by his hand… to argue that it is quite right to cast away the extra burden on the back of an animal if anybody overloads it. There is no doubt that the message includes all animals, not just domestic livestock, in whose welfare we have a vested interest: There is no moving creature on earth, but Allah provides for its sustenance…
The Spiritualist speaker, Susan Farrow, spoke of the telepathy that may exist between, again, in her example, a dog, and his guardian. The terrier, sensitive to his guardian, responded to mental requests to return home.
Finally, the Unitarian Universalist, Yvonne Aburrow, read a wonderful poem by Walt Whitman – the son of a Quaker – from the collection Leaves of Grass:
I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and
I stand and look at them long and long. –
They do not sweat and whine about their condition,
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,
Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of
Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of
Not one is respectable or unhappy over the whole earth.
ALL THINGS ARE CONNECTED
“All things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. Man does not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand of it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.”
These words are attributed to Chief Seattle, but in the interests of accuracy, it was the scriptwriter Ted Perry who put them in the mouth of the character of Chief Seattle in the film Home, produced by the Southern Baptist Radio and Television Commission and aired in 1972.
“What is man without the beasts? If all the beasts were gone, man would die from a great loneliness of the spirit. For whatever happens to the beasts, soon happens to man. All things are connected.”
Feargus has invited me to speak today in a personal capacity. However, as Quaker Concern for Animals (QCA) is an important element of my animal advocacy, in the course of this address you will hear about the work of our group – which, we think, has an unbroken record dating from as far back as 1891.
In what ways are things connected and what can we do to foster these links in our campaigning?
Connections can be inter-national. The internet allows us to build up an inter-linked web of contacts worldwide, and QCA has been involved in the anti-bullfighting campaigns in the Hispanic countries, Portugal and SW France, against hare coursing in Ireland, ritual sacrifice in Nepal, live exports and wildlife destruction in Australia, circuses and zoos in the United States, to name but a few. We maintain reciprocal links on overseas web sites, promote their news on our web site and in our newsletter and, as funds allow, support their animal shelters and campaigns. In India and Guatemala, Sri Lanka, Morocco and Croatia, we have funded street dog sterilisation and anti-rabies vaccination. We support humane medical research and via the British group InterNICHE, which develops materials for humane education in universities, translated into many languages from Arabic to Urdu, I have maintained contact with the University of Lahore Vets’ Care Organisation – whose volunteers have done sterling work helping the stricken people and animals in the recent floods in Pakistan.
If our work is to advance, there should be an inter-generational aspect. At Friends’ House, the Children’s Officer edits materials aimed at providing inspiration for worship and activities in Children’s Q Meetings. There is now an issue on animal rights available, focussing on hens in batteries and in free range – the starting point for children’s worship in two British and one American Q Meeting.
Responding to appeals for funds, whether here or overseas, is especially effective when they have an educational element, involving children in their activities; we are happy to promote the SOFA club in Norfolk – a group of junior girls who, inspired by their teacher, have won an RSPCA award for their microchipping campaign. We take a particular interest in a campaigning group in New Delhi, which is involved in humane education in schools.
Important secular initiatives, and one in which some QCA members are engaged, are Animal Aid school talks. Volunteers have been giving talks in secondary schools for some years now, on animal rights and vegetarianism. This service is now offered to junior schools. Bearing in mind the age of these children and their lack of influence at home, the focus is on respect for all creatures, starting with their companion animals and widening onto other species. We have seen how young people can easily take on the prejudices of their parents; an excellent DVD produced by PETA called Share the World is exactly the message we attempt to pass on to future generations. We cannot start too early: the children want to learn and have not yet absorbed the hardened or cynical views of older people. I recently gave talks to children under Protection Orders; because of the nature of their circumstances, I was very much constrained in what I could say, and could not assume, as one usually can, that they had companion animals at home – some were not allowed, in case they hurt them. It is vital that such children are exposed to the message of kinship and compassion.
Now to inter-faith and ecumenical – today’s celebration highlights the importance of the interfaith approach and QCA seeks to work with friends in other faith traditions. We have a special link with the Jains, whose precept of ahimsa – harmlessness – is very much in accordance with our thinking, to which we al aspire. At the Manchester Jain temple, with my husband, our Muslim speaker, I supported their RSPCA fundraiser, attended a non-violence session and talked to them about QCA. Last year’s recipient of the Mahaveer Award, given by our Jain patron Nitin Mehta of The Young Indian Vegetarians to the founder of Freshfields Animal Sanctuaries in Merseyside and North Wales, was my nomination.
When we lobby governments on animal protection matters, as we frequently do, we are happy if representatives of other faiths will join with us.
In the case of opposition to the Gadhimai ritual sacrifice in Kathmandu which made headlines last year, having protested to the authorities, we approached the Hindu Council UK and the Hindu Academy, who pledged their moral support on our web site, together with that of the Amida Buddhists in Leicestershire, who disseminated the news on their site.
Ecumenically, we have a good working relationship with Catholic Concern for Animals and made a joint submission to the Farm Animal Welfare Council earlier this year. Last but very much not least, we value our close rapport with the GG Unitarians.
Links between human and non-human animals – scientific observation more and more reveals in what ways species resemble each other. In 25 years living in the Welsh countryside, I never got used to that time when the lambs were taken from their mothers and sent to market and the ewes grieved for days. Local people ignored their crying, because they didn’t believe that was in any way like human suffering. Now we know it is. Now we know that sheep can recognise not only their own herd mates, but the faces of humans with whom they come into contact – how much more will they love their children? We know that dolphins may fade away and die in captivity and we have seen the stereotypical behaviour of animals in zoos and know they are going mad, just as we might.
Though the rational capacity of our fellow creatures is irrelevant, the series of tests carried out in 2008 by Dr Helmut Prior and his colleagues from the Goethe University in Frankfurt, on five hand-reared magpies, are of interest for the purposes of this argument.
The researchers tested the magpies’ abilities by placing a bright yellow or red mark on the feathers just below their beaks, so the dots could only be seen by looking in the mirror. Several of the birds reacted when standing in front of a mirror by trying to scratch the stickers off with their claws. When no mirror was present, the magpies took no notice of the stickers.
The findings contradict the notion that only higher mammals with a neocortex brain area – the source of conscious thought and reasoning – could develop rudimentary self-awareness. This study suggests that magpies and other social birds with large brains and expanded cortical-like areas display at least some level of self-recognition. No claim was made that such findings demonstrated a level of self-consciousness or self-reflection typical of humans, but they did, however, show that the magpies respond in the mirror test in a manner so far only clearly found in apes, and, at least suggestively, in dolphins and elephants.
Let us remember that we all share many of the same qualities, pleasures and fears. In 1906, the Chicago zoologist, J. Howard Moore, argued that the physical basis of the humane philosophy rests on the biological fact that kinship is universal. Moore anticipated our current concern with abuses arising from the “divisive prejudice” we now term “speciesism”, and his work is described as a major contribution to the task of putting “science and humanitarianism in place of tradition and savagery”.
Moore states: “The partially emancipated human being who extends his moral sentiments to all the members of his own species, but denies to all other species the justice and humanity he accords to his own, is making on a larger scale the same ethical mess of it as the savage. The only consistent attitude, since Darwin established the unity of life (and the attitude we shall assume, if we ever become really civilized), is the attitude of universal gentleness and humanity.”
Albert Schweitzer spoke of extending the circle of our compassion to include all living beings and we in QCA wonder why our Quaker testimony to peace and non-violence is limited to the human species. We became affiliate members of the Movement for the Abolition of War and we have been represented for the past two years in the service at the Animals’ War memorial in London; last year, in Eastbourne and Warrington, we also attended Remembrance Services wearing purple poppies and laid wreaths for those of our fellow creatures who, like the most vulnerable human conscript, were drafted into service in war zones, where they suffered and died in their millions.
We hope that, on November 14 this year, there will be more cenotaphs adorned with purple poppies. Let us honour our fellowship with these sentient creatures, who still serve on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Quaker way has been described as one of practical mysticism and we work to incorporate this linking of the secular and the spiritual into our advocacy for the animals. In our Quaker silence, we are open to the leadings of the spirit and try to let these inform our work. Daoism, thought to have influenced Zen Buddhism, has very similar precepts: one of the Dao meditations states:
“Be still to know the absolute. Be active to know the outer. The two spring from the same source – All of life is one whole.”
In Quaker Faith & Practice 25.04, a collection of writings intended for the guidance and inspiration of Quakers, Audrey Urry highlighted this link in 1994:
All species and the Earth itself have interdependent roles within Creation. Humankind is not the species to whom all others are subservient, but one among many. All parts, all issues, are inextricably intertwined. Indeed, the web of creation could be described as of three-ply thread: wherever we touch it we affect justice and peace and the health of all everywhere. So all our testimonies, all our Quaker work, all our Quaker lives are part of one process, of striving towards a flourishing, just and peaceful Creation – the Kingdom of God.
Some 8 faith traditions are represented here today, joined in love and respect for our fellow creatures. As I began, I’d like to conclude with Native American thinking, this time, part of an authentic prayer from the Lakota Sioux tradition.
“ Mitakuye Oyasin…All my relations. I honor you in this circle of life with me today…
To the Creator, for the ultimate gift of life, I thank you.
To the mineral nation….To the plant nation …To the animal nation …To the human nation …To the Spirit nation, I thank you.
You are all my kin, without whom I would not live. We are in the circle of life together, co-existing, co-dependent, co-creating our destiny. One, none more important than the other. One nation evolving from the other and yet each dependent upon the one above and the one below. All of us a part of the Great Mystery.
That was a Lakota invocation –I discovered that “Lakota” means “friendly, united”- All things are indeed connected.
~ Marian Hussenbux.