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Archive for October, 2014

animal rights

“We must realize that all life is valuable and that we are united to all life. From this knowledge comes our spiritual relationship with the universe” – Albert Schweitzer.

In Peter Singer’s essay titled “Animal Liberation,” the author subtly weaves elements of truth with a dangerous lie. The term that Peter Singer introduces for animals – “nonhumans” – is as misleading and ridiculous as the term some people are trying to introduce for pedophiles: “minor attracted persons” (“Pedophiles” par. 1). Both are misnomers given in an attempt to distract readers from the primary issues at hand. In the matter of “nonhumans” versus “animals,” the primary issue I am referring to is a complex one, yet one that I intend to shed light on in this essay.

I have to admit that, if my knowledge of Peter Singer was nothing more than having read his essay on “Animal Liberation,” I would have been much more open to his stance and argument regarding animals. Unfortunately, I was subjected to watching an interview where William Crawley interviewed Peter Singer. With illogical arguments replete with logical fallacies – such as the “example” of a child born without a brain to promote killing disabled children and “prove” that a chimpanzee is more capable of love and reason than this hypothetical child without a brain – Singer tried to convince Crawley and the audience that our society has moved beyond the necessity of living within moral boundaries. Those were not his exact words, but it was clearly the essence of his message (“William”).

With one issue after another, Singer’s ultimate point was that we, as the human race, should have the option to rid our society of those incapable of caring for themselves – whether too old or to young to do so – and those incapable of living a life of ease, comfort, and perfection. With a stance like that, Peter Singer might have done well in a society like Germany when it was under Nazi rule – except that at that time Germans probably didn’t treat animals better than humans, and Singer’s ultimate message is that we as humans should actually have fewer rights than animals. He doesn’t make that exact statement, but when we weave together the basis of his messages in “Animal Liberation” as well as in the interview mentioned above, this is the crux of the message we receive from him.

The subtle point Singer promotes under his seeming respect for life is a path of moral ambiguity that in fact serves to destroy any and all true reverence for life. He makes this blatantly clear in his promotion of euthanasia, infanticide and surprisingly, even pedophilia. William Crawley asked Peter Singer what would happen if Singer’s “ivory tower” ideals would be put into practice in everyday life. Singer ends his long and tedious explanation by saying, “I think [these ideas] should become more prevalent … [it] would greatly reduce the unnecessary amount of suffering in the world” (“William”).

Singer also questions why we have to keep such a strong “gulf” or gap in society that prohibits sexual relationships between humans and animals, suggesting that to maintain an attitude of “abhorrence” is putting ourselves on a pedestal over animals. He suggests that this “taboo” is similar to the taboos that used to be held about masturbation or same-sex relationships, and doesn’t see a logical basis in that. As a “consequentialist” Singer doesn’t see that anything is, in fact, “wrong” – even pedophilia. He doesn’t feel that saying “It’s just wrong” is a solid moral position on which to stand.

It seems that, in all these issues, Singer seeks to complicate things, perhaps hoping that it would confuse anyone seeking the true intent of his message by bogging them down with obscure wording and complex ideas. For instance, in “Animal Liberation,” Singer utilized so much space discussing the signs and symbols of language and of pain, as if a simple child can’t figure out by throwing a rock at a dog and hearing him yelp that it causes the dog pain. We don’t need Singer to tell us that animals feel pain. I could ask my eight-year-old, my six-year-old and my four-year-old if an animal feels pain and each time I would receive the same response – an unequivocal yes. Singer has unnecessarily created a link between humanity’s treatment of animals and the question of whether animals suffer. To be sure, if an animal suffers, we as humans should undoubtedly avoid causing it pain, but is the avoidance of pain the central reason why we should treat animals with gentleness and respect? Or should we act this way simply because we have a respect for life in all its forms?

Albert Schweitzer, a doctor and philosopher of the 20th century who spent half a century ministering to the people of Gabon, Africa, wrote much on the topic of what he termed “reverence for life” (Answering 168). Ken Gire, in his biographical novel about Albert Schweitzer titled Answering the Call, shares the following quotation from Shweitzer regarding this philosophy:

The fundamental fact of human awareness is this: “I am life that wants to live in the midst of other life that wants to live.” A thinking man feels compelled to approach all life with the same reverence he has for his own. Thus, all life becomes part of his own experience. From such a point of view, “good” means to maintain life, to further life, to bring developing life to its highest level. “Evil” means to destroy life, to hurt life, to keep life from developing. This, then is the rational, universal, and basic principle of ethics (Answering 168).

Yes, it is wrong to cause wanton harm to animals, just as it is wrong to take within our own hands the decision to end the life of a human being – no matter how young or how old. It makes no sense to promote the ideal of animals living in freedom, ease and comfort while at the same time promoting the murder, however “humanely” people might claim it to be, of unborn children, of the terminally ill and the aged.

My aim in this essay is not to refute Singer’s point regarding the necessity to treat animals with respect and keep them from pain as much as it is possible. In fact, I commend Singer for his courageous attempts to help animals receive kind and caring treatment. What I take exception to is the underlying essence of Singer’s argument for both animals and humans. His ultimate message is one of seeking after “the good life” – a life free from any form of pain, suffering, or hardship. Taking this concept to the furthest extent, we find that Singer believes that we not only have the right to abort babies, but that we also should have the right to “humanely” end the lives of (yes, kill) babies after they are born if the child has some form of mental retardation or physical abnormality. When asked by BBC’s William Crawley how long he would recommend parents and doctors go before a baby would be too old to kill, Singer doesn’t say. He mentions that the cut-off date he had earlier proposed was when the child was around 28 days old, but then decided that he didn’t want parents and doctors to feel they had to be too “rigid” (William). His stance on what grounds doctors and parents should have the right to end a baby’s life is similarly vague. We get the understanding from Singer’s words that basically, anything less than perfect is grounds for termination. In this, Peter Singer not only pushes the envelope of civil and moral behavior, but he flies right past it.

Singer also uses this argument to promote euthanasia of the aged or terminally ill. Again, the idea is to remove anything from our lives, and from society at large, that is less than perfect – anything that might bring us suffering or an element of pain – whether it is caring for a mentally or physically deformed child or for an aging spouse or parent. Where then do we draw the line? With Singer, there doesn’t seem to be a line. The problem with this is that when we lift the boundaries of morality and virtue, there remains no stopping place. Humanity would continue seeking after some utopian form of existence by any and all means possible, which is more likely to end not in utopia, but dystopia at worst. At best, it would only bring disillusionment. Seek “the perfect life” by removing any imperfections from it will not bring us true joy in the end.

Perhaps the question should not be how perfect we can make our own lives, but how we can improve the lives of others who walk the path with us, by bringing them hope and purpose. Not hope for a life free of any form of pain and suffering, but a life of joy and meaning even in the midst of it.

In the interview, William Crawley brings out the inconsistencies in Singer’s position, saying, “You say we should not eat meat in order to reduce suffering to animals and yet parents should have the freedom to kill children under certain circumstances. We should give money to reduce suffering and death and yet we can deny vulnerable children born with a defect the protection of life” (“William”).

Peter Singer responds by saying, “I think the consistent thing is that I’m trying to reduce suffering. In all cases, I’m trying to reduce suffering. … The common element is clear” (“William”).

Our society has come to fear difficulty and pain; however it is by going through these things that we find grace, beauty and depth, which are elusive when we actively seek after them by trying to push away anything that might bring us hurt or sorrow. Anne Lamott, in her bestselling book Bird by Bird, tells the story of two friends of hers who had a baby “who was born so damaged that he died at five months old” (Bird 189). She writes that the parents, and the baby, taught her so much. She kept a journal of the baby’s life and death in an attempt to stay open and connected “to all that life and love” (Bird 190). Anne Lamott writes, “Some people saw Brice [the baby] as a tragedy … The rest of us felt incredibly sad but also that maybe we were in the presence of something holy, something that didn’t have to do with personality or character or age” (Bird 191).

I believe that Lamott’s words bring out the difficulty I have with Singer’s teachings. Every human life is something precious and holy, something sacred, given to us as a society – and to his or her family – for a reason. Every life has a purpose and isn’t something to be cast away or cut short because it seems an inconvenience to our pursuit of “the perfect life.” We’ll never find perfection in this world anyways. Does it not make more sense to embrace all that life brings our way – the good and the bad, the ugly and the beautiful – and allow it to make something wonderful of our lives? Anne Lamott states that moments shared with these ones we love – even those who are dying or too young or sick to function as “contributing” members of society – are the moments “that change us and deepen us” (Bird 192). I would suggest that these are the moments we need to seek more of in this life.

Singer ends his essay by stating, “If this book does have a significant effect … it will be a vindication of all those who have believed that man has within himself the potential for more than cruelty and selfishness.” In the same paragraph, he states that if we were to stop “exploiting” animals, it would be an act of altruism. This is based on the whole idea of humans and animals standing on an even playing field, so to speak.

The truth is that we do not stand on an even playing field with animals. We have not been “created equal.” As such, we have the privilege and the responsibility of caring for the creatures that coexist with us on this planet. As Ravi Zacharias, Christian apologist and speaker, stated during a question-and-answer session with college students at Cornell University, “God expects us to be good and faithful stewards. … We are not sovereign over [animals] … we are sub-stewards appointed by God. … There is a stewardship that is needed and society ought to follow that.… No matter what our religious beliefs, it makes no sense to abuse the environment and abuse the animal world” (“Ravi”). Humanity – set apart from the animal world in that we have been created in the image of God –holds the blessed task of treating both animals and other people, with respect.

In closing, I find it difficult to reconcile that someone who pushes for morally deviant practices such as bestiality, pedophilia, and the murder of babies could be considered by society as an ethicist. I would recommend those who consider Singer’s “ethical” stance to look closely at the overall message he promotes, and to consider the inconsistencies thereof, before making a decision as to whether or not they agree fully with the issues he promotes. If we are to revere life and truly respect it, we would do well to respect all forms of life – including the unborn child and the mentally and physically disabled – rather than only regard the lives of animals as worthy of our respect and concern.

 

Works Cited

Crouse, Dr. Janice Shaw. “Are Pedophiles Disabled?” Concerned Women Blog. January 12, 2012. Web. Accessed 30 April, 2013. http://www.cwalac.org/cwblog/?p=561. Print.

Gire, Ken. Answering the Call. Thomas Nelson: Nashville, 2013. Print.

Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird. Doubleday/Bantam: New York, 1994. Print.

“Ravi Zacharias Q&A: Sin vs Sickness, Treatment of Animals, Fight vs Forgiveness.” youtube.com. Web. Accessed 30 April, 2013. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IJInbWH8xxE. Print.

“William Crawley meets Peter Singer.” youtube.com. Web. Accessed 30 April, 2013.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3bi81JcddWc. Print.

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waiting for autumnNot a breath of life teases the trees. They perch still, and green as the day they budded. I wonder, if I could will them to autumn, would I? Would I usher in the golden, the crimson, the vibrant hues of transforming trees? Or would I leave it to nature’s touch, at times harsh, at others, little more than a lover’s whisper?

Is it foolish to even consider such questions? I could not, even if I wanted to, prolong a season, or shorten it. Nature herself chooses to, it seems at whim.

It is October, and temperatures pushing near 100 degrees. I wait, as breathless as the still air, for the brush of autumn to paint the world around me. But I think, I know, nature understands best the timing of the seasons.

Not nature, but He who holds the seasons loosely, letting the heavens sift through His fingers. Snowflakes. Raindrops. Sunshine. Mist.

I recall a story I read as a child, of a boy with a magic thread wound around the spool of his life. He had the power to tug on the golden thread, and watch time pass swiftly before him. Time and again, he chose to pull on it. Dull school days that seemed to last forever. Waiting for marriage. For the birth of his child. For that child to be grown. He moved past them and watched the moments fly by. Finally, the spool was nearly spent, the thread as silvery white as the hair on his head. His life neared its end.

And he had missed it all. Urging time to speed past, seeking out only the highlights, he had thrown away the most precious gift he had. Time.

Every piece of it. The mundane. The magical. The tense torture of waiting. The miraculous moments when unexpected joy pierces the pain like a sunbeam at midnight. The old man pleaded for another chance, and received it. He was a boy again. His golden life threaded before him.

Since sitting on my front porch and starting to write this post, the glow of evening has faded into night. Seven stars shimmer through the navy blue. The neighborhood trees jagged cut outs before the sky. The heat has dissolved into a gentle cool. Still, the air is silent, unmoving.

But not nature. Nature is always moving, its rainbow threads weaved into a pattern of transient beauty, designed.

Purposed. As every moment in this golden thread of life.

Precious. As every person in this wondrous, wild world.

Loved. By He who holds the seasons and spins them to the majesty of His grand design.

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