This phrase has been on my lately, especially since we marched against the badger cull.
What does it mean to live compassionately? How can I be a joyful vegan and shine the Light of God in everything I say and do? How can I show compassion for every living creature on the planet--humans and animals?
I think living joyfully, living vibrantly, living compassionately are the best arguments to convince others to come over to your way of thinking. Preaching at people, scaring them using fear tactics, speaking unkindly about certain types of God’s creatures only serves to alienate people.
Making racist generalizations about people of other faiths is a problem currently in the news here due to the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby by the hand of a Muslim fundamentalist extremist. The rise in Islamophobia is hard to bear. I worry for the families I know in the Muslim community. I don’t want to see them abused or tarred with the same brush as this extremist who murdered Lee Rigby. The same way I don’t want people to think I am the same kind of Christian who attends Westboro Baptist church and pickets gay funerals shouting abuse. A fundamentalist is a fundamentalist no matter whose side they are on. If they preach hate then I guarantee that goes against the principals of their faith. Most people don’t know that the word Islam actually means Peace. I have sent word to our local Mosque through one of my students to let them know that not everyone hates them--that we are appalled at the behaviour of anyone, but particularly Christians who take part in the racist abuse--just like the Muslim community is appalled by the man who murdered Lee Rigby. That is not what our faiths are supposed to be.
I think it is equally important to show compassion to animals--perhaps more so simply because animals cannot speak up for themselves. They have no voice but ours. Every living creature is beautifully and wonderfully made and blessed by God. We are driving wild animals to extinction by our greed and selfishness. By demanding cheap food we are forcing farmers to use the most heinous principles of agriculture to cram as many animals as we possibly can into the smallest of spaces, to use cruel ways of suppressing natural behaviours such as debeaking chickens with out anesthetic to stop them from pecking their neighbours, to making animals live in their own filth, in misery and fear until the day they are murdered. We take away their children just so we can drink the milk that was intended for their young. I am certain God does not approve of factory farming.
The best way to show compassion for animals is to stop eating them and stop wearing them. It is the law of supply and demand--as long as there is a demand, farmers will continue to use barbaric ways of “harvesting” as many animals as they can, treating them in a way that if it were being done to people we would call it a concentration camp, but as it is animals we call it a farm.
I also think it harms animals to think of them as “just animals” who somehow deserve less compassion because they are not human. Anyone who has ever owned a pet knows that companion animals have feelings and emotions. I know our cat Bucky grieved himself to death after the death of my father. Farm animals are the same way. They feel love for their offspring, just as we do. They feel pain and fear, just like we do. If we do not wish suffering for ourselves, why would we wish it on another living being? This goes for people as well as animals.
We are called to be stewards of this planet, to care and protect it and yet we burn old growth forests and poison the three sacred realms of the land, the sea and the sky with pollution. Our dependence on fossil fuels makes us dig so deeply it causes earthquakes just for a miniscule return of coal or oil. Our circle of compassion needs to include ALL of creation--the people, the animals and the plants and trees.
I am currently reading a book called Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life by Karen Armstrong. It opens with a description of the fact that every major world religion has a version of the golden rule. It is the basis of every faith.
In 2009 she helped to create a Charter of Compassion. Thousands of people from all over the world contributed to a draft charter on a multilingual website in Hebrew, Arabic, Spanish and English. Their comments were used to create the final draft by a group of notable individuals from six faith traditions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism) to help restore compassion to the heart of religious and moral life. The charter would counter the voice of extremism, intolerance and hatred.
Here is the final version. It is talking about people, but I truly believe this compassion needs to extend to all of God’s creatures and that includes our animal brethren.
The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical, and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves.
Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equality and respect.
It is also necessary in both public and private life to refrain consistently and empathetically from inflicting pain. To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism or self interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others--even our enemies--is a denial of our common humanity.
We acknowledge that we have failed to live compassionately and that some have increased the sum of human misery in the name of religion.
We therefore call upon all men and women
To restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion
To return to the ancient principles that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hated, or disdain is illegitimate.
To ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures
To encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity
To cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings--even those regarded as enemies.
We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries.
Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensable to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.
Words to live by. May it be true of all of us. Amen.