Friday, September 17, 2010

For the Love of Animals (1)

I love it when birds carelessly stroll in my path on the city sidewalk, pecking away at seeds or insects invisible to me. I feel so honoured that birds and other wild creatures have come to feel so much at home with us humans that they share intimate space with us without fear. Though our society has plenty of raw sides that I can and in due time will rant and rave about, it says some very good things about our communal values. Not only do we humans regard untamed animals as our friends and respect them, but they have also learned to accept us in what is their territory just as much as ours.

This mutual sharing of space and respect is, probably with the exception of our bovine friends in India, hardly practiced in most non-western countries. There animals are seldom treated with kindness. Even domesticated animals such as dogs or cats, those we consider pets, are routinely roughly chased out of people’s way without a grain of kindness. I have lived in such countries for 30 years and have seen it all. Closer to home, the other day I watched an obviously foreign mother with two small children in Stanley Park. The children were, playfully to be sure, chasing the large gaggle of Canadian geese strolling in the grass. The mother, rather than restraining and teaching them the better way, obviously encouraged the children. I was there with two grandchildren who were also tempted to the chase, but my wife and I restrained them, even though I am no particular lover of those geese in the Park for reasons my Vancouver readers will understand. So much for my fellow immigrants accepting Canadian values. Or has love of, respect for and delight in animals not yet been included in the hallowed status of Canadian values?

But neither has it always been that way in our own western society. When I was a child, pets were usually treated with kindness by its owners. Other than that, animals were seldom treated with respect or love. Of course, cattle and other animals kept for profit were treated well, but others were readily chased away with no one challenging it. We had no birds or ducks sharing our space, for they knew we were their enemies.

During my forties—a long, long time ago, I admit it—I was once part of a relaxed circle of chatting friends. One of us—not me, I rush to say it!—saw an ant close to his foot and he casually crushed it with his foot. Another member—not me, I hesitate to admit—stopped the conversation and asked that friend why he so callously crushed that ant for no reason. He had no explanation, of course, certainly not a valid one. That incident was a turning point in my life when it comes to treatment of insects, animals, birds, fish, whatever, and my relationship to them, though the friend who gave the challenge did not remember the incident when I reminded him years later.

It is good that we in our society have come to this stage in our relationship with birds and animals, including wild ones. It is good, for these are God’s creatures that He made for a purpose. They enrich nature and, once you begin to study their world, you will delight in how these creatures fill this world with incredible diversity in the sky, on the land or under the waters. It has taken us way too long to reach this stage. Apart from that, of course, they largely keep the entire ecological system in balance, though imbalance can and does set in occasionally.

Perhaps there is an explanation for this difference between the West and others in this respect. Part of it, no doubt, is the continuing penetration of Christo-humanism in the minds of Westerners. Growing realization of the need to respect creation in general based on a combination of both Bible and reason for some and only on reason for others. It is part of the promise of Jesus that God will lead us collectively into truth as we make our way in this world.

But there is also the economic factor of greater wealth that makes us more relaxed. My wife and I were in our office in Nigeria together with a Nigerian friend. A beautiful bird was flying about outside, jumping from tree branch to branch. My wife and I both commented on its beauty, but our Nigerian friend shrugged his shoulder and muttered, “But you can’t eat it!” Though he may not have been poor himself, he was part of an economically challenged community that naturally reacted in that way. It had no value for him and he had no respect for it. We don’t crave the meat of animals in the space around us, for we are already satiated. And we have the time to admire animals without that craving.

But then we have other animal issues that seem to militate against the love and respect we have for them. I will deal with some of these issues in the next blog.

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