Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Animals in Early Christianity

The Christian contribution to this whole debate is patchy to say the least. Christianity became established under the Roman Empire, and the RE, which was founded and extended by wars of conquest, generally prized the military virtues, which left little room for such sentiments as sympathy for the weak. As we know, there was a time when Christians were thrown to the lions at the so-called games, and the slaughter of humans and other animals was looked upon as an exciting form of entertainment. Later, when they were not themselves persecuted, Christians were forbidden to attend the games, on pain of excommunication, and the gladiator, who survived by killing his opponent, was regarded by the Church as a murderer. Soon after the conversion of Constantine to Christianity, gladiatorial combat came to an end altogether, but killing and torturing non-humans was permitted and apparently only declined with the empire itself as wild animals became more difficult, because too expensive, to obtain. The bullfight is perhaps the last vestige of this kind of entertainment.

Only a very few Romans had objected publicly to the use of sentient creatures for human pleasure, be it pleasure at the table or in the arena, and we have to wait nearly 1600 years before a Christian writer attacks cruelty to animals as wrong in itself.

The New Testament contains no injunctions against cruelty to animals, nor any exhortation to consider their interests. However we interpret the account of Jesus inducing a herd of swine to hurl themselves into the sea, we cannot avoid the impression that he was at best indifferent to their fate. After all, they were swine, and he was a Jew. Augustine used this incident to argue that our behaviour towards animals should not be governed by the same moral rules as our behaviour towards one another, and St Paul asks, Does God care for oxen?, in a context that clearly invites the answer 'No'.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Animals in the O.T.

Judaism is of course the other great root of western thought and attitudes, and in the biblical story of creation we have set out clearly the nature of the relationship between man and animals as the Hebrew people saw it.

And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.

So God created man in his own image.

And God blessed them, and God said to them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.

On this account, man alone is made in the image of God. Man alone is given dominion over all the animals and told to subdue the earth. It’s true that in the first chapter of Genesis this dominion does not involve killing animals for food, and Adam lives on herbs and fruits. But after the Fall, for which incidentally two of the lower life-forms, a woman and an animal, are held responsible, killing animals for food and clothing is expressly permitted.

It is at least possible to argue that the Old Testament is against wanton cruelty. But although in Isaiah there is a lovely vision of the time when the wolf will dwell with the lamb, the lion with the ox, for, says the Lord, ‘they shall neither hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain’, this is taken by most commentators to be a vision of a distant utopia rather than a description of how we should or could possibly live now.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Agony at Sea

The Victorian Peeper asks 'Is this the greatest British painting of the nineteenth century?' and in so doing recounts an earlier disturbing manifestation of compensation culture.

Thursday, July 26, 2007


A comment from the Brentwood Weekly News.

"We have a huge house in our street.

The extended family is run by a grumpy old woman with a pack of fierce dogs.

Her car isn't taxed or insured, and doesn't even have a number plate, but the police still do nothing.

Her bad tempered old man is famous for upsetting foreigners with racist comments.

A shopkeeper blames him for ordering the murder of his son and

his sons girlfriend, but nothing has been proved yet.

All their kids have broken marriages except the youngest, who everyone thought was gay.

Two grandsons are meant to be in the Army but are always seen out in nightclubs.

The family's odd antics are always in the papers.

They are out of control. ..........

Honestly - who'd live near Windsor Castle ?"

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Animal Liberation

MadPriest has kindly directed traffic my way, so I'd like to devote a few postings to this and related subjects.

Concern for animal suffering can be found in the earliest writings of Hinduism, and the ancient Buddhist idea of compassion is a universal one; it embraces animals as well as humans. Our Western traditions are very different. Our intellectual roots lie in Ancient Greece and in the Judeo-Christian traditions. Neither of these is kind to those who are not of our species.

Among the rival schools of thought in Ancient Greece was that of Pythagoras, he of the famous theorem. Pythagoras was a vegetarian because he believed that the souls of dead people migrate to animals, and he didn’t want to end up eating his own grandmother. That’s more or less what it amounted to. Pythagoras however did not have anywhere near so many followers as Plato and Plato’s pupil, Aristotle, and it was the school of Aristotle that eventually became dominant. Aristotle taught that nature is a hierarchy in which those with less reasoning ability exist for the sake of those with more reasoning ability. Thus plants, he said, exist for the sake of animals, and animals for the sake of man, to provide him with food and clothing. An extension of this was that, in human society, the less rational barbarians exist to serve as slaves to their more rational Greek neighbours. Aristotle was, of course, Greek. Nice one, Aristotle.

Because, unlike Aristotle, we really are nice, we no longer follow him in applying the aforesaid logic to human beings, but our attitudes to non-human animals have barely changed at all.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Inkindness to Aminals

It’s hard to tell how I as a teenager came to be interested in animal welfare. Like many of my friends, I had a pet dog. I’d had it for seven years when my dad, let’s say for business reasons, had her put down. I was fourteen, and I remember that this experience of grief and loss was far more painful than when either my maternal grandparents had died ten years earlier, or even when my other grandma passed away about a year later; later, that is, than my dog. My knowledge of animals apart from my canine companion was severely limited. We lived in Ardwick, near the heart of Manchester. We were fortunate to enjoy occasional visits to the nearby Belle Vue Zoological Gardens, but there again I preferred the more human spectacle of Speedway Racing, the famous Belle Vue Aces, and the funfair. The characters in the books I read as a boy were in the main human. My fictional heroes were Biggles, Just William, and Superman: so human if not superhuman. The only animal characters I found at all sympathetic were Rupert Bear and King Kong, though I must say that as a teenage boy I did find mermaids strangely alluring. I was perhaps more familiar than most young people with dead animals, in that my father, a grocer, frequently took delivery of pig carcasses, which he would then bone and cut and sell as bacon, gammon steaks, ribs and pork joints. During my teenage years we lived as a family over my father’s shop. We were as you might say ‘open all hours’.

I know that by my late teens my conscience was troubled. Apart from sex (and mermaids) and the things that trouble most teenagers, I had got religion. I’d presented myself earnestly as a confirmation candidate at the age of seventeen and in so doing had come to know our local Rector who was an ardent. outspoken, and extremely courageous pacifist. For him Christianity meant loving your enemies and not killing them. It made simple sense to me at the time, perhaps not quite such simple sense as I got older, but the thing that really grabbed me was the underlying philosophy of reverence for life. The Rector was fond of quoting Albert Schweitzer, and it might have been this that influenced me more. Schweitzer’s teaching went much further than a prohibition on killing other human beings who happened to be on the wrong side of a war. He taught that Christians should refrain from the killing of any creature, great or small, wondrously fashioned as they all are by God. And this presented me with a conflict that I still struggle to resolve. At mealtimes I began to imagine the messy and possibly painful process that had brought the meat to my plate. And the more I imagined, the less I liked what I imagined. The less I saw on the table a slice of bacon or beef, and the more I saw a bit of dead pig, or dead cow, slaughtered in the prime of it’s life, the less I enjoyed my dinner. The obvious solution was to become vegetarian, which very soon I did, and have so remained for about the last forty of my sixty-two years.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Are you avoiding me?

If I wanted to spend an evening and run no risk whatsoever of bumping into you, where might I go? For me it would be something like a George Galloway book promotion. But here comes an event where you would be in no danger of meeting my wife.

The Wigan pie-eating competition.

What's the most unlikely place you would be found?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Miaow if you believe in maniples

Damian at Holy Smoke makes this unwarranted attack on a fine example of Catholic journalism, though he follows a tortuous path to do it.

"I have joined a Facebook group that goes right to the heart of the debate about the future of contemporary Christianity.

"It’s called: “Every time you celebrate Mass without a maniple, God kills a kitten.”

"The group is for “everyone who truly appreciates the maniple”. And that most definitely includes me. What do you mean, you don’t know what a maniple is? OK, I’ll tell you.

"A maniple is “an embroidered band of silk, or other fabric to match the other vestments the priest is wearing. In the same liturgical colours as the other vestments, it is worn upon the left arm of the priest. Symbolically the maniple refers to the rope whereby Jesus Christ was led, and the chains which bound His sacred hands. It also became known as an emblem of the tears of penance, the fatigue of the priestly office and its joyful reward in heaven.”

"If it is true that God punishes kittens for the abandonment of the maniple, then I’m surprised there are any of the poor creatures left, so widespread and shameless is the celebration of Mass without this glorious accessory.

"Note to priests: a maniple can also be used to wipe away tears of boredom induced by reading the Tablet."

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Single Parent

The Word at the Barricades publishes a letter from an imaginary youngster.

"My name is David. I am 9 years of age. I stay in a housing estate near Glasgow. I stay with my Mum. I don't know or see my Dad. My Mum is young. Sometimes she is patient sometimes not. Sometimes lonely, sometimes not. But she is my Mum and I love her. According to a recent report my situation means that I am much more likely than others to do badly at school, to get into trouble, to get involved in drugs and to commit crime. But Mr Cameron, he is also called David, is going to help. He is going to help by giving other families where there is a Mum and a Dad more money. How that will change my life I don't know. But he must know, because he went to a better school than me."

As I understand it Mr Cameron intends to extend his tax break to gay and lesbian couples in civil partnerships with or without children. Should be a vote winner!

Believing and Doing

Norm has a piece on the importance of taking seriously the claims of religious people who have taken great risks on behalf of others, namely that their beliefs were an important part of their motivation for doing so.

Here is an email he received:

"I am Jewish, and a complete atheist. Many years ago, when I was still a student doing my D. Phil. in Oxford, I travelled down to London on a bus. I was reading Nietzsche's 'Antichrist', when the elderly lady next to me asked me, in German, what I thought of the book. She was Polish, but spoke good German.

"When I started to express my admiration for Nietzsche, she listened benignly for a moment and then told me how she, as a fervent Catholic, had fought against the Nazis at the side of the Jews in the Warsaw uprising. She described it all in great detail, no pathos, no false heroism, just a straightforward and honest account of what she had done, what she had seen, and how she had escaped after the failure of the uprising through the tunnels under the city. It was her religion which had kept her going, given her strength, and given her her love of humankind, justice, and of goodness, full stop. I put my Nietzsche away, said not a word, and listened in total silence, and with a humility and admiration I have rarely experienced before or since.

"I've never forgotten the episode, it was some forty years ago, and to this day I've taken the greatest care not to offend people of a religious bent when it is obvious they are sincere in the best way in their beliefs and actions. Religion, it seems to me, is far too complex a phenomenon for one to treat each and every religious person as some kind of idiot bent only, whether they will or not, on evil. That lady, empowered by her religion, had done what I could never have accomplished in a million years, and to claim she would also have done it merely out of the goodness of her heart without her religious belief was, as far as I could tell (and as a religious sceptic), simply not true. She was the living embodiment of what religion at its best can achieve, and even to have suggested she would have done the same without her beliefs would have been to profoundly insult a woman of the greatest courage and moral rectitude.

"This tale is to me too important and still so moving that I felt it right to pass it on..."

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Yusuf Islam

Is the Yusuf Islam awarded a degree by Exeter University for his 'humanitarian work and improving understanding between Islamic and western cultures' the one who, upon the publication of 'Satanic Verses', rather than go to a demonstration to burn an effigy of the author Salman Rushdie, said ''I would have hoped that it'd be the real thing.''?

The one who also said that if Mr. Rushdie turned up at his doorstep looking for help, ''I might ring somebody who might do more damage to him than he would like.''?
If so, has he since recanted? If not, on what specific grounds does Exeter University justify the award?

He made lovely records as well.

Monday, July 09, 2007

On not jumping to conclusions

According to the Sunday Telegraph, Sejad Mekic, the imam at the Cambridge mosque which Bilal Abdullah (one of the Glasgow car-bomb suspects) also attended, gave a sermon on Friday condemning all acts of terror. However, he later said he had doubts that the incident at Glasgow airport was a terrorist attack, saying it could have been a car accident. ’I still haven’t made my conclusion,’ he said. When it was pointed out that containers of petrol were reportedly found in the car, he said: ‘Maybe they used to sell petrol.’

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Not All Bad

Whatever happens will have good consequences as well as bad consequences.

An example:

"Gore points out that with global warming we’re going to see more heat deaths. That is true; we will see 2,000 more heat deaths in Britain by 2080. But at the same time we will also see 20,000 fewer cold deaths from climate change in 2080. It seems to me that only drawing attention to the 2,000 heat deaths and neglecting to tell us about the 20,000 cold deaths is not a good way to inform the democratic debate."
Bjorn Lomborg

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Live Earth

I am what you might call an eco-skeptic; not convinced that global warming is caused by human behaviour. I take the view that the planet is big enough to look after itself and that it will still be here after we've gone for good.

But if I did believe that we could make such a difference, and wanted to convince the world by appearing in Live Earth, I'd be embarrassed to admit, with Katie Melua, Duran Duran, Corrine Bailey Rae, James Blunt and Jon Bon Jovi, in the Radio Times, that flying round the world in pursuit of even greater wealth and success, was the one environmentally unfriendly habit I could not give up.

It does rather take the edge off the message.


What do a blogger who works for the London Ambulance Service, Perry de Havilland of Samizdata, a Libertarian blog, and Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm, according to Normblog, have in common? You wouldn't think much. But they share an extremely worrying view of the present terrorist threat, as illustrated by these three quotes.

"I'm not scared of terrorism, no-one I work with is scared of terrorism. We recognise that the chance of dying in a terrorist attack is much, much smaller than the numerous other causes of death and injury that we face everyday. What makes us more nervous is considering what the British government might do in response to these pitiful attacks."

"Frankly I am more worried about the pervasive threat posed to my civil liberties by Gordon Brown than the more or less random threat to my life posed by Al Qaeda."

"It is nonsense to suggest that al-Qaida or similar movements present an existential danger. Rather, the use of an alleged existential danger to justify extreme policies is where the real threat to world stability lies."

Friday, July 06, 2007


Random Acts of Reality is a Blog written by one who works with the London Ambulance Service. In his introduction the writer tells us that his Blog was previously known as "Why I Hate Humanity" but the anti psychotic medication seems to have kicked in.

I'm not so sure. In his latest posting he complains:

"It's tiring sometimes, the grind of going to people who aren't really ill all day, every day.

"I have dark and horrible thoughts sometimes. If it rains after a period of heat I know that the roads are going to be slippery - perhaps there will be a car crash? It's a Friday night - maybe someone will get stabbed? The security level is critical - maybe someone will do something more scary than burn a jeep?

"It worries me that I think like this, it worries me that I'm happy when people injure themselves. I know I'm not alone, I know that the other services also like a good 'shout', but it still seems wrong to want people hurt so I can test myself, so I can have an 'interesting' day.

. . . . .

"I am not mad.

"Just bored."

And in conclusion: "Right now I'm thinking about an idea for a TV series - an ambulance worker who sets up increasingly bizarre 'accidents' in order to sate his desire to actually use the skills that he has."

One of the first comments he receives has contemporary relevance.

"...and aren't we hearing that some of the people connected with the London car bombs are doctors? Fanatical terrorists, or just really, REALLY bored ? - the mind boggles!"

My mind boggles too. Here is someone, upon whom in an emergency I may depend for my life, sharing the darker side of his own mind. The richer the imagination, the blacker and crazier may be the thoughts. But it's one thing to confide them to friends or weave them into a fictional narrative, another to broadcast them as a working professional on the internet. Keeping things to oneself is not now fashionable, but exercising proper self-control in a public forum can sometimes be the responsible thing to do.

Sunday, July 01, 2007


You know how they have these surveys of the 100 Best This and That in which the popular contemporaries are ranked higher than the established greats, so that in the league table of female vocalists Lily Allen is ahead of Ella Fitzgerald? Well Wikigroaning is a way of enjoying this dissonance.

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia anyone can edit, is the basis of a game you can play while awaiting the second oblivion.

"The premise is quite simple. First, find a useful Wikipedia article that normal people might read. For example, the article called "Knight." Then, find a somehow similar article that is longer, but at the same time, useless to a very large fraction of the population. In this case, we'll go with "Jedi Knight." Open both of the links and compare the lengths of the two articles. Compare not only that, but how well concepts are explored, and the greater professionalism with which the longer article was likely created. Are you looking yet? Get a good, long look. Yeah. Yeeaaah, we know, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. (We're calling it Wikigroaning for a reason.) The next step is to find your own article pair and share it with your friends, who will usually look for their own pairs and you end up spending a good hour or two in a groaning arms race. The game ends after that, usually without any clear winners... but hey, it beats doing work."

Among articles hilariously compared are

Gray's Anatomy: Grey's Anatomy

Raphael (archangel): Raphael (ninja turtle)

God: Kevin Smith

Love: Masturbation

Japanese mythology: Japanese toilet

Sports: Chronic fatigue syndrome

Aristotle: Oprah

Ash Wednesday: Ash Kethchum

List of conflicts in the Middle East: List of furry role-playing games

Women's suffrage: List of fictional gynoids and female cyborgs

List of people who have disappeared: Characters of Lost

Go play!