Thursday, May 31, 2012

The major religions and animal rights

Many people around the world feel that our superior intelligence in relation to other animals gives us the right to dominate them. Basically, they argue, these "lesser beings" should serve us - to be our food, our clothing, our entertainment, our transportation, etc. Some people justify this by claiming that these "beasts" either don’t feel pain, or don't feel as much pain, or it is somehow not important that they feel pain, that they were "meant" to suffer. (I realize that there are a lot of quotation marks here, but that's only to underline how ridiculous this way of thinking is.) Too many people in this world believe that not only is the life of an animal not as important as the life of human being, it is really not that important at all. All of these concepts are related to each other, and all betray our arrogance and lack of respect for the life of other sentient beings. While there is no single cause behind this way of thinking, I would like to briefly examine the role the major religions have played (and continue to play) in formulating this viewpoint.

Religion plays an important role in the way we interact with each other as well as with animals. Even in modern times, with their position in many parts of the world fading, the main religions continue to influence the minds and morals of a large percentage of the planet’s inhabitants. The animal rights problem begins with the approbation of eating meat. Most religions either overtly state that it is acceptable to eat the meat of some or all animals, or simply say nothing on the subject, which many believers interpret as an unspoken approval. This approval, either overt or unspoken, sets a precedent of violence, regardless of whether this contradicts the other beliefs of the religion. "Thou shall not kill" exists in many belief systems, but very few apply it to all sentient beings. Furthermore, many of the world’s main religions still sacrifice animals, or turn a blind eye to people sacrificing animals in their name.

Some major religions (especially Jainism, but also some schools of Hinduism and Buddhism) do encourage vegetarianism. Still, many animals are mistreated in the areas where these religions predominate. This failure to adhere to these particular teachings, the reason why one still sees animal abuse in these areas, can be due to either a lack of familiarity with these teachings or a lack of a true understanding thereof. Sometimes, however, it is because the teachers fail to reiterate certain important points regarding our interaction with the animal world, opting, instead, to focus on other topics.

The above-mentioned lack of interest in vegetarianism is part of a lack of interest in animal rights in general. Many of the major religions’ holy books and teachings are silent when it comes to general animal rights issues and the way we treat other animals. If mentioned, it is usually treated as something rather insignificant, almost an afterthought. This is largely due to the fact that many major religions have the wrong idea about why we are different from other animals, and what it ultimately means to be "intellectually superior". Even when a religion doesn’t explicitly state that we should use our intelligence to dominate other sentient beings, it often encourages this by placing other animals on a lower pedestal than humans. The Catholic Church, for example, has historically claimed that animals do not have souls, at least not the same kind that humans have. Many life-long Catholics become depressed to no end when they find out that their religion, in fact, says that their beloved dog or cat will not be in Heaven with them. Whether or not Heaven exists is not the issue here; the issue is the duality created by the Church, one which sets animals on a lower scale than humans, as mere "beasts" unable to perceive God, - which, while not condoning violence per se, still opens up a whole world of opportunity for abuse, mistreatment, abandonment, and killing. The Catholic Church is not alone. Many other belief systems, either through their holy books or through verbal teachings, send a similar message: that we should simply not worry about the fate of animals as much as we worry about the fate of other human beings. Since the major religions have been instilling this belief in people’s heads for millennia, this is the way most people function.

Another important issue related to the above topic is the major religions’ lack of condemnation of injustices against other animals. Even with the lack of explicit passages in their holy books, one would hope that they would improvise just a bit, that they'd speak out against obvious injustices. Sofia, Bulgaria, and Bucharest, Romania, for example, both have an alarming number of abandoned dogs. Abandoning a pet is obviously a very cruel thing to do, and as a supposed moral force, the Orthodox Church should regularly remind its flock to refrain from doing it. So how many sermons has this problem been mentioned in? From what my sources tell me, hardly any. As I have said above, the suffering of these animals is simply seen as not being as important as other issues. Once again, I’m not trying to single anyone out, but rather to give an example. This lack of involvement in animal rights issues is evident in many different religions, and in most geographic regions, including many regions where Hinduism and Buddhism dominate. Anyone who dismisses this as insignificant is missing the point. The way we treat (and mistreat) other animals is paramount to the kind of world we have (and will have in the future). Every action that leads to the suffering of sentient beings, be they human or otherwise, will have a negative effect. Every action that helps other sentient beings will have a positive effect. Animals are sentient beings, and nothing good will come from either encouraging actions that cause their suffering, or being silent when these actions take place.

Religion, of course, is not the only thing responsible for shaping the way people think. The way to encourage a better interaction with the animal world is by educating people from an early age to respect all sentient beings. A good way to do this is by adding programs in kindergartens and grade-schools that teach children the importance of empathy and respect towards other animals. Still, even though the influence of religion is fading in some parts of the world, many people still listen closely to what their religion tells them. It would be great if all religious leaders out there were given a reminder of the importance of encouraging a positive interaction with the animal world. Speak out against the mistreatment and abuse of animals. Find empathy for the suffering of all sentient beings and try to use your influence to improve our interaction with other animals. The current way we interact with other animals is partly the cause of the violence and negativity in the world, and the more we do to improve that interaction, the better we’ll all be for it.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

K-Holes ~ Rats

Raises awareness about animal experimentation (at least that's my take on it)...

Monday, May 28, 2012

Fur, leather, meat, and the pitfalls of an "all-or-nothing" approach.

People who oppose the fur industry, but wear leather and/or eat meat are often labeled "hypocrites". This is also often the case with vegetarians who wear leather. I’d like to discuss several points which shed some light on these and other related "dilemmas".

1) While not ideal, being against fur if you eat meat/wear leather is not as hypocritical as some might think. Though imperfect, the ethical argument that by simply consuming the animal we at least provide ourselves with food, is a somewhat valid one. Breeding an animal solely for the purpose of having a cute, furry hat, or a fur coat, and then discarding the rest of the animal, is worse, ethically speaking.

2) The argument that leather is a by-product of the meat industry is, for the most part (though not always), a valid one. For the most part, animals are not killed for their leather. This only becomes an ethical issue for someone who doesn't eat meat, and even then it's important not to fall into the trap of adopting a "you’re either a saint or sinner" approach, but to encourage people by educating them.

3) The way animals are trapped and killed for fur is often reprehensible. Unfortunately, with fur, the "coat" is the business, so the preservation of the "coat" often takes precedence over the level of suffering inflicted of the animal. This leads to some very cruel practices both in the way the animals are kept, as well as in the actual processes of killing/fur removal. And again, all for fashion.

4) Sustainability is not an excuse for cruelty. In theory, it preserves a species, but at what cost? In terms of the fur industry, and other such industries based on the darker side of the human soul, all “sustainable” means is that there is an endless cycle of highly cruel behavior. Remember, nature, when not interfered with by us, requires no help in evening out population levels of species.

I personally don't eat any meat, wear no fur or leather, and avoid all animal-based products about 95% of the time. I will not, however, call someone a hypocrite because they haven't gone all the way in their realization of the way we mistreat animals. Progress should be measured step by step. If you still eat meat and wear leather, but you're against fur - good for you! You've taken a good first step in identifying a very cruel phenomenon, one that will hopefully open your eyes to others.

Roaming the forests of Warsaw's Wawer region

The fairly well marked "Lasy Wawerskie" bike trail

Not Louisiana

You know you're in Poland when

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Thursday, May 24, 2012 - A good way to learn a whole lot of languages

As someone who speaks five languages and runs a series of language-learning websites, I know a useful ELT site when I see one, and is definitely that. So what are you wating for? Go learn some Klingon.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


...over a bed of spinach covered with red bean sauce. I'm not always impressed with everything that I make, but this was good.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


Apart from being a great singer and lyricist, whose Smiths-era songs were (and in many cases still are) some of my favorites, he, like myself, is an avid advocate of animal rights and vegetarianism. This ties in nicely to the fact that today is Animal Rights Day (Dzień Praw Zwierząt) here in Poland.

My "Meat Is Murder" tattoo. Though it's more for the thought than the Smiths song/album, if it weren't for the song, there might not have been a tattoo.

Morrissey's "Interesting Drug" video, which includes some good animal rights messages:

Monday, May 21, 2012

a baltimore band that's not beach house

this song was featured on an episode of THE WALKING DEAD, and is actually better than most episodes of THE WALKING DEAD.

Sunday, May 20, 2012