On this day, let us remember the example of St. John the Baptist when confronted with evil. Moreover, may the memory of those who perished eighteen years ago be eternal!
On a more cheerful note, I received a lovely letter over the weekend from a lady named Zoe, who has given me permission to post our exchange about veganism and the Christian life. I’m continuing to be embarrassingly negligent of this site, and I don’t feel any worse shame for parasitizing my email for a post. I have scores of post ideas saved to which I may eventually get—maybe when the weather cools and my garden enters into dormancy.
I was wondering what you thought of the compatibility of veganism and Christianity, especially when considering the following things:
- Veganism is not the belief that eating meat or killing animals is inherently or intrinsically evil.
- Veganism is not the belief that humans or animals are equal, or even that animals are equal between themselves.
- Veganism is not against human life or the maintenance of human society.
- Veganism is the belief that when possible and practicable (for humans) one ought not to cause pain or suffering to animals, beginning with a change in diet, clothing, entertainment, and general products. [An example of where it is not practicable is when a person needs a certain medicine that has been tested on animals, or itself contains some animal products, and they will die otherwise. Another is the maintenance of hospitals, which require the killing of rats and cockroaches as long as it is open without ceasing. A final example is when there is literally no other food source available, although this does not apply to the majority of modern Westerners in decadent democratic first-world societies.]
- Veganism seeks to curb mass environmental damage from animal agriculture, and to use the earth more responsibly.
- Veganism seeks to curb damage to human health from the excessive use of animal products.
- Veganism is a simple praxis [a way of life that seeks to exclude cruelty to, harm of, exploitation of, animals for food, clothing, or any other purpose, as far as practicable and possible for humans] that can be participated in by many.
- Veganism is not the belief that killing animals is always wrong, or that humans will ever be able to completely cease all harm to animals own their own.
- Veganism if the whole world was such would end as much as possible animals in domestication/captivity relationships with humans.
Or simply this definition with nothing extra added or implied: “A philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of animals, humans and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”
I am aware (I think this is true at least) that Christians believe that the whole world will one day again be even better than Eden, with no strife between the creatures of God at all (Isaiah 11 and so on), and was wondering if you thought it would be morally acceptable to approximate or imitate such a thing now (by reducing harm done to animals as much as possible)? In the time between times (between Eden and the End that is).
You have a fitting name for someone who cares for your fellow creatures. I am not a vegan, but I’ve been a vegetarian since the 1990s (and I’ve had “fits” of vegetarianism since I was five, maybe earlier). I go through periods with a vegan diet, but not year round. You mention Eden, and that was exactly my inspiration—and it remained my inspiration even when I went through an agnostic period as a young man. I’ve always thought—felt, really—that a world where life requires death was somehow broken . . . fallen. Of course, I marvel at the beauty of nature and the circle of life . . . the tendency for balance to be reasserted when things go awry. Nonetheless, this state has always seemed like a second best scenario—God’s making lemonade out of lemons, so to speak. We live in an imperfect world of sin and death, but when we can refrain from participating in it—and when we can make it better—we thereby cease falling and start a return to the divine cosmic order. I think that such is true, both as a Christian and as a Platonist. Even when I ceased to be the former for a time, I remained the latter.
It’s clear that the Hebrews and then the Christians never condemned meat eating, but they also had strong traditions to care for animals, both wild and domestic. Mosaic law involves animal welfare in several ways, and there have been Christian vegetarians from the early Church—and no shortage of stories of saints who lived among beasts in a manner similar to Adam in the garden. Americans may know of Francis of Assisi, but there are scores of such people in Christian history. Also, the Christian monastic life might be the most explicit about leaving the allowed though fallen order behind and focusing on a life wholly committed to communion with God. It’s not surprising to me that the monastic diet veers toward veganism—as a sort of return to Eden. Monastics will eat dairy and eggs for some periods during the year, and they’ll also eat fish and shellfish at certain times, following the examples of Jesus and John the Baptist (they equate invertebrates generally with St. John’s locusts).
That said, I don’t mind animal husbandry if it’s done with respect for the nature of the animal. Sadly, this isn’t often done. Male dairy cows, dairy goats, and chickens are usually slaughtered, many beekeepers kill their queens annually or biennially (I don’t—I let the colony regulate itself), and sheep raised for wool probably aren’t always treated properly. Yet, I don’t think that there’s anything intrinsically wrong or fallen about exploitation as such. People usually speak of exploitation in a negative manner, but it simply means making use of something or someone. That can be done without tarnishing the things or creatures used. I’m a big fan of child labor in the household—helping with chores, gardening, and such! Sticking kids in factories or mines—that’s where exploitation becomes wicked. Farm life, like domestic human life, can instantiate an image of a higher order—concrete beings in time and space cooperating in a valiant effort to allow paradise to appear, if only for moments, in this vale of tears.
I disagree with well intentioned Christians who deride the Jews’ tikkun ha-olam—the idea that we should participate in the healing of the world. These critics think that such is a form of modernistic humanism, where men supplant God in trying to overcome the fall (the Cartesian project of the modern world). I disagree. Of course, we should work to make the world better, and we can only do anything good through God’s gifts to us. Other Christians think that the totality of the Christian life involves simply an exercise of the will (in obeying God), and they dismiss everything outside the will as unneeded at best, idolatry at worst. Again, I disagree. I think that our whole lives should be transformed into a sacramental life where we redeem the time—and everything around us—by incorporating the world into our lives and into a restored order in our souls as we travel our path toward the Lord. We fail miserably, yes, but not entirely. Even the most wretched sinners can have moments where they allow God to work through them, touching lives and spreading light in darkness.
Now, I’m a spiteful, proud, lazy, wasteful, critical, unsocial, disagreeable, impatient person with a massive deficit of charity. I certainly have no delusions of personal sanctity or spiritual grandeur. However, we all struggle in our own ways, and for me, vegetarianism is a way that I try to live in harmony with God’s plan for the cosmos. So, I commend vegans, though, as I stated earlier, I approve—and am enthusiastic about—human relationships with animals when such elevate both human beings and other animals. Determining that, of course, calls for wisdom and good judgment, as all moral deliberation does. Is the human/domesticated dog a nature-respecting, life-affirming relationship? It certainly can be. People with cheetahs or apes? Hmm, I suspect that it’s usually not. In between, though, is a messy spectrum. Like most things in life, we see through a glass darkly!
The Daily Mail features this charming story from Brazil: “‘I love the penguin like it’s my own child and I believe the penguin loves me’: Bird swims 5,000 MILES every year to visit Brazilian man who nursed it back to life after he found it covered in oil and dying on a beach.” Those Daily Mail titles are a drag, but the stories make for perfect clickbait and, in this case, heartwarming satisfaction.
From a certain perspective, the world is but a series a remarkable miracles. We just have to decide to look.
We are almost halfway through February, and I am already getting cabin fever. My winter sowing gallons have been outside since New Year’s, and I have already begun growing some of the early inside sowing species. I wish that I had a proper greenhouse, but we all make do, no?
Speaking of dream gardens, it seems that some Doctor Who fans have allowed their enthusiasm to escape out the back door:
The Daily Mail features another gardening fan’s TARDIS shed: “Something for the back YARD-is: Mother uses Doctor Who Tardis as garden shed but this one is no bigger on the inside with just enough room for a wheelbarrow.” Just imagine what substitutes as a hedgehog in her garden . . .
Enjoy this time lapse video of the sky at Saint Catherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai:
As you may know, I have been raising Blue Orchard Mason Bees (Osmia lignaria) for several years now. I have mentioned them before in “Spring Arrives Slowly.” An online store where I have bought supplies for this garden-friendly hobby is Crown Bees, which specializes in different species of native pollinators. Check them out; they are a treasury of information. The folks at Crown Bees do not see the company simply as a commercial venture but rather as a horticultural and agricultural crusader in the eco-conscious sustainability revolution. To spread the word, I am posting their bee-awareness campaign picture:
If you have the proper habitat for native bees in your neighborhood, consider becoming a bee farmer! It is fun, educational, beneficial to nature, and beautiful.
Matt Miller in Cool Green Science showcases some gorgeous photographs by camara trap photographer Jonny Armstrong: “Camera Trap Meets Studio Lighting: Stunning Images and the Story Behind Them.” Awesome.
The BBC news reports on blatant sexual discrimination suffered by Kenyan women in “Monkey misery for Kenyan women villagers.” The article actually uses the term “sexual harassment” in covering the monkeys’ rampages; I hope that its inclusion was tongue in (red) cheek. From the article:
They estimate there are close to 300 monkeys invading the farms at dawn. They eat the village’s maize, potatoes, beans and other crops.
And because women are primarily responsible for the farms, they have borne the brunt of the problem, as they try to guard their crops.
They say the monkeys are more afraid of young men than women and children, and the bolder ones throw stones and chase the women from their farms.
Nachu’s women have tried wearing their husbands’ clothes in an attempt to trick the monkeys into thinking they are men - but this has failed, they say.
“When we come to chase the monkeys away, we are dressed in trousers and hats, so that we look like men,” resident Lucy Njeri told the BBC News website.
“But the monkeys can tell the difference and they don’t run away from us and point at our breasts. They just ignore us and continue to steal the crops.”
In addition to stealing their crops, the monkeys also make sexually explicit gestures at the women, they claim.
“The monkeys grab their breasts, and gesture at us while pointing at their private parts. We are afraid that they will sexually harass us,” said Mrs Njeri.
The article is a goldmine for irreverent commentary, which I in an unusual deferment to good taste will leave to readers. What I find most interesting, though, is how other species—even seemingly unintelligent ones—recognize sex in other species. I have noticed this throughout life with pets. How do they know? For I expect creatures like rodents and parakeets to know better than American womynist professors, but exactly how do they know, even acknowledging that they remain unburdened by leftist twatwash. Very curious, indeed. The world is a fascinating place.
Happy Ascension Day!
Drudge knows his canine-loving audience well because he often features dog stories on his site. Today, we read in The Telegraph that “Dogs have been man’s best friend ‘for 40,000 years.’” The article does not explain much about the recent finding as published in Current Biology—an unfortunately common trait of mainstream articles on science. You may read the abstract and the original article (perhaps through your school or local library system): “Ancient Wolf Genome Reveals an Early Divergence of Domestic Dog Ancestors and Admixture into High-Latitude Breeds.”
Speaking of dogs, I recently read Notes from the Dead House (Записки из Мёртвого дома), and I found the passages about the prison dogs quite moving. Well, the novel as a whole is moving—I continually marvel at how perceptive Fyodor Mikhailovich is in his writings—a truly inspired sage.
Happy springtime—de ephemeride if not yet fully de facto. I hope that you are having a fruitful Lent. I do not have much to write; the events of the day repel me so much that I do not have the desire to write about them. I find myself longing for some terrible catastrophe qui écrasera l’Infâme! So, I turn to distractions—or, rather, toward reality in the midst of this age’s delusions.
One such refuge for me is gardening, and there are sure signs of spring hereabouts. The lawn and the beds are full of hundreds of crocus, squill, and aconite flowers. The dwarf iris, primrose, and hellebores have proudly displayed their riches to spite winter’s greed. The hyacinthoides, Byzantine gladiolus, and daffodils are announcing their imminent arrival. This week, I have spotted some wild mason bees beginning to use my reed stations (in my mason bee “homes”). I have not yet put out my harvested bee cocoons from last year—it looks like the fruit trees will not blossom for a few weeks, and it might be a late release this year.
Speaking of Osmia lignaria, Crown Bees has created a new native bee online “community,” Bee with Me. If you are interested in raising bees but do not have the time or resources to look after honey bee colonies, you should consider mason bees. They are easy and rewarding—and rather charming with their gentle dispositions, industrious habits, and beautiful metallic blue bodies. Different regions have different native mason bees, and there are suppliers that will sell you the appropriate cocoons for your area if there is no longer a significant wild population near your home. I started raising mason bees four years ago, and their numbers increase each year. The downside is that they are active for only a short spell—less than two months. In addition to my little masons, I would like to begin honey bee keeping, but I keep deferring the project. Maybe next spring . . .
The other treat that I have to share is “What Plants Talk About” from Nature. You may watch the entire episode on PBS. I found it informative, surprising, and delightful, and I wonder what Aristotle would have said about the vegetative soul had he known.
I hope that you are having a fruitful Clean Week.
Myself, I am already looking forward to Pascha and to spring. Indeed, the weather may make us reconsider the meaning of White Lent (typically used for Advent). It is too late to be this cold!
At least, the Cincinnati Zoo’s red pandas are enjoying themselves. Behold my brother’s favorite animals:
Enjoy the snow—and be thankful for it. It’s keeping your plants and bulbs insulated from the arctic air.