For the 10th. consecutive year, Feargus O’Connor, QCA committee member and Unitarian minister, organised the Interfaith Celebration of Animals at Golders Green Unitarians on Saturday October 5. The photos courtesy of our member Thom Bonneville, of Muswell Hill Meeting.
As well as representatives of many faiths, Gavin Grant and Barbara Gardner, CEO and Trustee of the RSPCA, were key speakers.
~ Above, Feargus helps a young member of the congregation light a candle for the world’s elephants, both wild and captive.
Sonia Waddell – reading in the photo above, who represented Quaker Concern for Animals, reports:
It was a heartwarming and uplifting Service. Interspersed with Feargus’ words of welcome, and candle-lighting for the world’s animals – with special candles for elephants and badgers – together with hymns, prayers, and readings from the various faiths, the two Speakers, in their different ways, gave totally inspiring talks.
Barbara Gardner (author of The Compassionate Animal) – shown in the photo above, in front of Sonia, told us that part of our human evolution is the necessity to develop and grow to a higher level of consciousness, in other words to aspire to God realisation. She said that great world teachers are needed from time to time to discard the unnecessary rules, regulations and observances which over the centuries tend to clog up many religions, and these teachers are needed to bring us back to the ultimate spiritual truths. She mentioned the allegory of the blind men who were led up to an elephant. One felt the trunk and said, This is a snake; one felt the tail and said, It is a rope; one felt a leg and said, It’s a tree; and one felt an ear and said, This is a piece of cloth. None of them had the whole picture, but each one was sure of his own truth.
What is the Extended Circle of Compassion? Barbara said it is based on empathy – the capacity to recognise and share the feelings of others – and compassion – the desire to alleviate suffering. She told us that the common theme of all the world’s religions is ahimsa, that is, non-violence towards all living beings, and she mentioned individual teachers of the past, such as Pythagoras, who refused to countenance any form of killing and was of course vegetarian.
In the Christian Church, the early Saints and religious teachers, such as St. Francis and the Benedictines, all advocated living in peace with the animals and non-meat-eating. This unfortunately ended with Thomas Aquinas, who based his beliefs on the dubious teachings of Aristotle, rather than on those of Jesus Christ. Aquinas almost single-handedly introduced speciesism into the Church.
At a time when the whole world is becoming smaller and humanity is intermingling, Barbara stressed that we should focus on our similarities rather than on our differences. In particular, we should follow the Golden Rule, which simply states that we should treat all other life-forms as we would wish to be treated ourselves.
~ RSPCA CEO Gavin Grant addresses the congregation.
Gavin Grant said that he was proud to celebrate the diversity of creatures with whom we have the privilege of sharing the planet. He told us about the early days of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which was founded in 1824 in a coffee house in London, ironically named ‘Old Slaughter’. The prime mover was Richard Martin, from Galway in Ireland, who together with Thomas, Lord Erskine, had fought for many years for legal protection for animals. They were joined by several others, including anti-slavery MPs William Wilberforce and Thomas Foxwell Buxton. Richard Martin was already well-known for his work against cruelty to animals, especially bear-baiting and dog-fighting, and a bill passed in 1822, against cruelty to cattle, was known as Martin’s Law. King George IV had nicknamed him Humanity Dick!
The Society had a difficult start. In its first year, it brought 150 prosecutions for cruelty, and campaigned against a wide range of abuses including painful experiments on animals, but it fell into debt and its first secretary was thrown into prison and was later bailed out by Richard Martin. The second secretary, Lewis Gompertz, turned the Society’s finances around, enabling it to continue – but was persecuted by his enemies for being a vegetarian, and was forced to resign.
Matters improved when the young princess Victoria showed enthusiastic interest in the Society’s work, and in 1840, when she was queen, she gave the Society her royal patronage and it became the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the RSPCA.
The original founders of the Society understood something very profound. They recognised the divine in all beings, and believed that God had placed a special responsibility upon us to care for the animals. They realised that if you hurt even the smallest creature, you damage yourself – whereas in the exercise of compassion, you are working towards unity with all.
It is well-known that those who abuse animals will also abuse children, and vice versa. Consequently, in 1880 the RSPCA helped to establish the NSPCC, and indeed they shared offices during the early years.
Gavin pointed out to us that the animals don’t care about our personal labels – rich or poor, male or female, religious or otherwise – they just love us – and confidently expect love in return. Since his appointment as CEO of the Society about twenty months ago, he has worked to return the RSPCA to its early roots, to re-energise it in the knowledge of the responsibility that God has placed upon us to care for all animals.
Photo courtesy of committee member Joan How.
Maureen and Angel are already wearing their Animal Aid purple poppies for Remembrance of Animals in War and Conflict.
Please see the separate post on this campaign and QCA involvement.