On Honoring Living “Things”
William Horden's, "The Sacred Space of the Shared Heart" is exactly the type of piece I am talking about when I express frustration over "spiritual" people who kill nonhuman animals or who have them killed for a meal.
"My father once explained to me that he felt the profoundest guilt for having to kill other living things in order to survive, so much so that he never took more that he needed and he always apologized to the spirit of the animal or plant for cutting its life short. He always promised to use its life wisely and never waste it on trivial pursuits. In this way, he had come to hold sacred everything he encountered in life–and come to have a sense of his own sacredness. It took a while before I really began seeing everything the way he did, but now that is the view and those are the feelings that I carry with me all the time.
. . .
The big change, of course, was my realizing that I didn't feel any remorse for having to eat animals and plants to live.
. . .
This isn't about what we should eat. That's a matter of personal conscience. What it's about is this: Honoring. Honoring the lives of the animals and plants that die so that we can live.
. . .
Who knows–maybe we are the shaman, the healer of the community we have been waiting for. Maybe it is as simple as the turning of the tides: We enter the age of peace and prospering for all simply because too many people have stepped into the sacred space of the shared heart of goodwill and nonviolence to keep it at bay any longer."
That last sentence is the final sentence of the piece and my mouth was agape when I got to the word nonviolence.
- When he refers to living "things," he is referring to nonhuman animals as well as plants. As frequently happens with "spiritual"types, there's an apology to a corpse. In this case, the spirit of the corpse. Horden's father promises the corpse not to waste "its" life on trivial pursuits. Now, in 2010 in the developed world, therein lies the rub: killing someone to eat them is a trivial pursuit for you. And for the animal, it means death. How exactly does an apology in any way alter that fact or affect what has occurred? The apology is for the person holding the fork, and tossing around "sacred" and "community" and "thinking about feeling for them" is meaningless to the being whose life was taken in order to be on the other end of the fork.
- Horden's "big change" was completely internal. He changed his relationship to what he was doing (by choosing to feel remorse); he didn't change what he was doing (i.e., the animals are still dead).
- I find the bit about personal conscience completely backwards. It's not about conscience, he says, it's about honoring. No. It's about conscience because honoring doesn't mean anything to the being whose life you just took. Conscience, on the other hand, might have stopped you from taking that life.
- And finally, if I were to think about the job of a "healer of the community," I'd require that person to indeed be nonviolent, as Horden implies. Truth be told, I'd dispense with the language of sacred spaces and instead say that a healer of the community would be someone for whom justice was paramount.
And if justice and nonviolence are your mission, the living "things" you eat wouldn't include beings as sentient as your dog companion. We can argue about where to draw that line all day long, but here are the facts of the case:
- The "spirit" of my dog companion, Violet Rays, may or may not exist. We have no proof that it does and just because a spiritual tradition says it does, doesn't mean it does in reality.
- The sentience of my dog companion Violet Rays is a fact.
- To kill Violet Rays so I may eat her (or for any other reason other than to relieve her suffering) would be a betrayal, not to mention unnecessary. Once she's dead, all of the apologies in the world don't mean anything to her.
The same is true for cows, pigs, fishes, turkeys, chickens, buffaloes, sheeps, goats, and many other nonhuman animals whom we call "food." This is indeed a matter of conscience.