Posts Tagged ‘violence’

Why not like a Rooster?

September 24th, 2010 No comments

First a poem. (via)

Poor Patriarch
The rooster pushes his head
high among the hens, trying to be
what he feels he must be, here
in the confines of domesticity.
Before the tall legs of my presence,
he bristles and shakes his ruby comb.
Little man, I want to say
the hens know who they are.
I want to ease his mistaken burden,
want him to crow with the plain
ecstasy of morning light as it
finds its winter way above the woods.
Poor outnumbered fellow,
how did he come to believe
that on his plumed shoulders
lay the safety of an entire flock?
I run my hand down the rippled
brindle of his back, urge him to relax,
drink in the female pleasures
that surround him, of egg laying,
of settling warm-breasted in the nest
of this brief and feathered time.
from Quickening; Slate Roof Press, 2007
Then …

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!  (Luke 13:34, Mat 23:37)

In this passage the very Son of God chose a female, mothering, nurturing metaphor to express how he desired to relate to Jerusalem.   I like the combination of that and of urging the Poor Patriarch to “drink in the female pleasures … of egg laying, of settling warm-breasted in the nest of this brief and feathered time.”   Beautiful.

“Cheap food is Cheat food”

September 15th, 2010 No comments

via SoulVeggie

“We don’t pay that, they pay that.”

They – domestic workers, domestic animals, third world countries, or, back in the day, slaves and conquered peoples  -pay … externalizing the cost.  Scapegoating, substitution, that’s one kind of sacrifice.  Self-sacrifice is another.  Granted there are different frames for all kinds of things that get labeled religious sacrifice, but I’m interested in blood sacrifice and specifically ones that involve some notion of propitiation or guilt removal. Not so much in the brute act of killing but in the narrative transformation of another’s loss into your gain, the logical move that absolves you of the guilt.

I’ve always puzzled at the difference between the notions of killing vs. sacrifice.  It seems like killing is a scenario in which there are only two agents involved and one agent takes the life of another.  It seems that religious sacrifice involves the deflection of that responsibility onto a third party, via narrative.  From the objective outsider perspective, it’s identical.   I can’t remember who said it right now, I think it was Rene Girard, “We’re all butchers pretending to be priests.”  I’m not sure of the original context but in many ways, that seems about right.   Even if you don’t believe in the metaphysical propositions behind it, what would the image of the bloody, torn body of God represent to you?

Lunch meat?
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Happy Meat and Religious Sacrifice

June 11th, 2010 No comments

There really is nothing new under the sun especially when you look at today’s rituals of animal slaughter with the critical literature on religious blood sacrifice.  In my cultural time and place we think of “animal sacrifice” as something spooky and violent that other people do.  We ‘other’ it either by geographic location, cultural location, or temporally with some designation of “primitive”.   We also distance ourselves from it, mystify it, simply by labeling it “religious sacrifice” or conversely in the secular sense, by hiding it away out of sight.  So for the sake of conversation, let me put it in the most simplistic terms possible.  Blood sacrifice involves one individual or group killing a victim (human or animal) in order to receive some expected benefit from its death, a benefit that putatively can’t be obtained otherwise (favor of the gods, i.e. communal cohesion, agricultural success etc., communication from the gods, i.e  divination-reading entrails etc., “spiritual energy”, the ‘power’ contained in the victim, etc.)  That’s it.  That’s the brute fact that unites the backyard bbq, the temple cult of ancient Israel, the Aztecs, etc.   At this most basic level there’s nothing spooky, mystical, religious, or even really interesting about it.  It’s calculated and mechanistic, this for that.  It’s predatory.

The level that is interesting to me is the cultural narrative.  Though the act remains the same, it’s the narrative, the cultural packaging, the language describing the logic (what the benefit is and how it is supposedly being obtained by the killers) that changes.  What does this have to do with Happy Meat and Conscientious Carnism?  And aren’t I just being polemical constantly referring to “meat consumption” with the language of religious sacrifice?   (if you’re really, really interested in this perspective see The Cuisine of Sacrifice Among the Greeks.) Well, no, I don’t think I am.  Much of blood sacrifice is alimentary in nature, having roots in some notion of literally feeding (propitiating) the heavenly gods – if you don’t keep them properly fed they get really grouchy and things get screwgy.  made in the image of God.

<tangent> That’s the thing about the Genesis story.   Unlike the creation myths of the surrounding cultures, it was a peaceful creation, at least the first story is.  I think the second story would count as peaceful too, in the sense that there wasn’t any battle.   At any rate, creation in Genesis didn’t come into being by way of thievery, angst, mischief, or some cosmic cage match.  If we were created in the image of that god then that means something very special as far as creation stories go.  I hate to see it treated as the lay person version of ‘justamyth’.  It may be a myth in the technical literary sense but creation myths are the most important foundations of culture.   Language goes a long way toward creating and maintaining our perception of reality, our grounding if you will.  God spoke the world into being.  I don’t think you can say, “just a myth”, and understand the work true myths actually do.  I also hate to see the extent to which, in some versions of Christianity, the cosmic cage match or the idea of violent creation has been put back into the story, substituted for the real one .  By that I mean the way in which some Christians see the cross as the beginning of their world as if that was the beginning of the world … if the cross is seen as the necessary holy violence in which the Christian creation myth is grounded, rather than as a critique of it, then you’ve totally undermined the whole thing.  That may be some sort of Christian creation myth but in my opinion, it’s given up any claim to relationship with the story in the beginning of the book.</tangent>

Anyway, when you blow away the smoke of both religious and secular obfuscation it looks pretty much the same; slaughter is as slaughter does.  Here’s one example.  Think of the narrative around more ‘humane’ food animal husbandry.  Food animals of course are sacred, sacrificial. They’re set apart to be used by and killed for others.  We think their death gives us life. Better yet we think their death is necessary for our life.  Anyway.  In reaction to the utter inhumanity of factory farming, the new marketing focus is on how caring the farmers are, how they have respect for their animals.  The caring farmer treats his animals more like ‘family’ compared to the animals in the care of those other farmers who end up on those horrible expose videos.  The “conscientious carnivore” gets to know the animals they pay others to kill for them, or at least wants to know the farmer knew his animals.  Some go so far as insisting on doing the killing themselves.  Often times this getting close to the animal before you kill it will be described in positively nostalgic, even romantic terms.

That’s so religious.

Compare it with the following description of a religious ritual of the “primitive” Ainu people of Japan:

The Ainu celebrate a bear feast; a very young bear is captured, suckled and carefully reared by a woman, pampered and spoilt for several years and finally killed; in the slaying the whole community participates, at least symbolically; it is then sincerely mourned, and consumed ceremonially in a communal meal.  It is the animal of the community; and this follows from the fact that it can be a sacrificial animal only if it has grown up in the tribe, so that a wild bear would be useless for the purpose; it is as it were the child of the woman who brought it up, and who laments it.

~ excepted from G. van der Leeuw,  Religion in Essence and Manifestation in Understanding Religious Sacrifice: a Reader, 157.

They care for it.  They nurture it.  They literally bring it into their metaphorical circle or tribe or family. It’s domesticated.  It’s one of them. They kill it.  They mourn it.  They consume it.  It’s sacred.  And they either do it or reenact it according to some need or schedule.  Killing for selfish gain and wrapping the whole process in the blanket of nurturing and caring and relationship. That’s the shared meta-narrative of happy meat and of much “primitive” ritual killing / religious blood sacrifice.  Truly, they pity and eat the object of their compassion.

(Now, I get the extent to which this process is metaphorized, spiritualized in Christianity.  But the fact that the ritual killing of human “animals” (conversion) is spiritualized doesn’t change the fact that real animals, sentient and morally innocent creatures, are still being actually, literally scapegoated and sacrificed today.)

Once you get out of it, once you see the extent to which the veil of “tragic necessity” really is just a veil (it’s tragic, but not a necessity) it all seems so … bizarre.   Let me clarify that … the killing of real animals is, for most people, nothing like a necessity.  The metaphorized killing of the human animal, more so than ever.  If only we could see the extent to which our behavior toward other real, literal creatures makes us worse than those real animals by an almost unimaginable degree.  Unimaginable, that is until you actually see it, literally and spiritually.  Seeing it – now that’s an Apocalypse.  Maybe that’s why we work so hard to keep it both literally and linguistically hidden.

Bearing Witness

May 26th, 2010 No comments

Ohio dairy farm.

Mercy For Animals is doing great work – give if you can.

Think about what you see here.

The deplorable conditions uncovered at Conklin Dairy Farms highlight the reality that animal agriculture is incapable of self-regulation and that meaningful federal and state laws must be implemented and strengthened to prevent egregious cruelty to farmed animals.

Although many of the abuses documented at Conklin Dairy Farms are sadistic in nature, numerous MFA undercover investigations at dairy farmspig farmsegg farmshatcheries and slaughterhouses have revealed that violence and abuse to farmed animals – whether malicious or institutionalized – runs rampant nationwide.

Compassionate consumers can end their direct financial support of farmed animal abuse by rejecting dairy, and other animal products, and adopting a vegan diet.

Challenging the Inevitability

May 20th, 2010 No comments

h/t Experimental Theology for the link to the interview of Stanley Hauerwas by the Center for Public Christianity.

… the Church is always going to challenge those political entities that seem to make war inevitable

— there seems to be a glitch with the embed code … if this doesn’t load, you can watch it here.

Religion and Violence from CPX on Vimeo.

Hauerwas on Creation:  The Chief End of All Flesh.

Seeing the Interconnections, Racism-Sexism-Speciesism

April 25th, 2010 No comments

Theodicy, Animal Pain, and Pathetic Cyclopsian Hordes

March 9th, 2010 No comments


Here’s a page with a couple of good entries on the problems for theodicy presented by animal pain and suffering, from the online journal of philosophy and animals Between the Species.  The two articles I found most interesting are :

Theodicy and Animals, by Joseph Lynch.  This is a good short summary of the problems animals pose for traditional theodicies as well as some of the general attempts by theists to address those issues. Nature Red in Tooth and Claw: Theism and the Problem of Animal Suffering, by Michael Murray would be a similar treatment in book length.

Darwin’s Doubts and the Problem of Animal Pain, by Eric Kraemer.  This one touches on a few points of interest, Plantinga’s use of ‘Darwin’s doubts’ and whether evolution is in fact reconcilable with the propositions of traditional theism.  I appreciated the example of the Cyclopsian Hordes in response to framing the significance of animal suffering in terms of human character building … honestly … could there be anything more selfish than explaining someone else’s suffering in terms of yourself?

To claim that animal suffering is required for human character building, free will, etc. not only ignores the huge amount of animal suffering in nature which has no effect on humans at all.22 To avoid this last problem, suppose we try to justify animal suffering in terms of requirements involving another kind of creature, for example a very large number of idiotic giants, modeled perhaps after the Cyclops, who live on other planets but are obsessed with observing all nonhuman suffering on Earth through powerful telescopes, so no bit of animal suffering ever goes unobserved. If there are enough giants on other planets and if every bit of animal suffering goes towards improving the moral situation of these pathetic giants, the theist might claim that earthly animal suffering was counterbalanced by creating greater goods elsewhere in the universe.23 However unlikely this situation might appear to us, and even if we accept the crude Utilitarian calculations it presupposes, the Cyclopsian scenario faces a standard problem confronting most theistic attempts to explain away the existence of evil.24 This is the problem of making it plausible to believe that God, an all-powerful and all-knowing being, really had no better method available for the moral improvement of the Cyclopsian race than to permit the huge amount of animal suffering we find on Earth. Since we can, with no apparent difficulty, imagine God making video tapes of animal suffering, or showing movies of animal suffering to produce the same good extra-terrestrial effect, to think of God’s ingenuity being defeated by the mental limitations of the Cyclopsian hordes is a possibility that is hard to take seriously.

Cognitive dissonance is a social issue.

February 11th, 2010 No comments

While we’re talking about dissonance and eating dogs and whatnot …

This arbitrariness, this apparent lack of coherence in our attitudes and behavior toward animals, perhaps reflects a fundamental conflict of interests. Viewing animals as unconscious, Cartesian automata places them in the same morally neutral space as objects or inanimate entities that can be used or abused with virtual impunity. But if we regard animals as unfeeling and uncaring objects, then their apparent interest in us—their affection and companionship—must be just an illusion, an epiphenomenon that has no real social or emotional value. Conversely, if we truly regard animals as equivalent to friends and family, we cannot expect to be able to exploit them harmfully without experiencing moral anxiety in the process.

We are, in effect, trapped between the proverbial rock and a hard place. If we place animals beyond the pale of moral consideration, we can harvest their economic and instrumental benefits with a clear conscience, but we cannot simultaneously claim that these animals are members of our families, the subjects of profound emotional attachments, or sentient and cognitively sophisticated beings worthy of special treatment and protection. So, our solution to this dilemma seems to be to compartmentalize—to allocate our moral obligations to some animals but not others—and to invent elaborate belief systems and “just-so stories” to explain why animals do not actually matter even when our gut instincts, our moral intuitions, tell us that they do. These are, of course, precisely the same techniques that people have used throughout history to justify the abuse and persecution of other humans (Bandura, 1999), and that, more then anything else, is why animals are a social issue.

J A Serpell, “Having our dogs and eating them too: Why animals are a social issue,” Journal of Social Issues 65, no. 3 (2009): 633-644.  can also be found here.

Belly and Body, serving the belly god today.

February 5th, 2010 No comments

It just doesn’t get any more current than this.  He just had to eat the dog in sacrifice to the belly god …

But, as I’ve learned, logic has its limits. It’s the heart not the head that governs this world under the sway of the dizzy gods.

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Trumping the Hitler card

January 7th, 2010 No comments

Godwin’s Law refers to playing the Hitler card in an argument.  It was coined in the early 90’s to capture the fact that the longer an internet forum conversation goes on the more likely it is that someone will resort to a Hitler/Nazi reference.  A snippet about Godwin’s law from here,

Note that the Law does not apply to serious discussions of Fascist Germany or its policies, but rather describes the point at which a serious discussion unrelated to those topics has degenerated into mindless namecalling and is no longer worth the time spent reading it. It is generally accepted that whoever is the first to play the “Hitler” card has lost the argument as well as any trace of respect.

Godwin’s Law as logical fallacy explained here.  The basic idea is to introduce guilt by association, imply the slippery slope etc.  The “Hitler was a vegetarian” move gets it’s own page here where it’s stated simply, “The fact that Hitler was a vegetarian does not discredit vegetarianism, any more than the fact that he didn’t smoke discredits not smoking.”   So if you’re reading this as someone who’s had the Hitler card played against you, enjoy the links above and know that you’re in good company.  If you’re someone who plays the Hitler card in the ways described above … honestly, just don’t.  Hitler ate sugar.
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