On Veganism, Atheism and Tiger Attacks
January 2008′s Harper’s has a fascinating article by philosopher and author John Gray (and thanks to Rob for alerting me to my confusion about which John Gray), called "Faith in Reason: Secular fantasies of a godless age." And what does it have to do with animals? Nothing, directly. But indirectly there’s a parallel between religion and the eating of animals.
- Gray begins with: "There exists a widespread belief that as people become more modern they become less religious; that the ongoing growth of human knowledge contributes to the development of human reason, with the result that societies become more secular. Religion retreats as science advances" (85). The reality, as Gray will demonstrate, is in fact the opposite. He will close with: "Despite the advance of science, humankind remains incurably religious, and the place of religion in society continues to be intractably contested. The belief that we are moving into a secular age looks ever more like an unwitting tribute to the perennial power of faith" (89).
- Now let’s look at the way we treat animals, and at the perennial power of the palate, if you will. With the increase in knowledge about the sentience of nonhuman animals would come–you would think–an increase in reason and a decrease in the usage of animals. You would think that once humans knew the truth about the capacity of certain nonhumans to experience states of being that we thought were unique to us, we would then act accordingly. And, just like some of us whose religious preference changed when new information was available (or when we really started examining what we were doing and believing, and what we were being told), some of us also changed our eating and other lifestyle habits as a result of the knowledge that the animals were were using are sentient.
- However, just as many people will indeed alter their lives based on new information, the majority of people continue not to, and in fact become more defensive and adamant about what they believe than ever before.
- And tiger attacks are related how? People who continue to use animals often spout the gem: we’re at the top of the food chain. Tell Tatiana, the now dead tiger that. Newsflash: we are not predators. Our physiology doesn’t say "predator," even if we’ve got a rifle in hand. Now, that doesn’t mean we haven’t chosen to act like predators, simply because we can. And there is no one food chain, although we like to think there is and that of course we’re at the top.
- I used to think it was funny that some people would ask me if I’m an atheist when they found out I’m a vegan. (And as I’ve mentioned before, depending on your definition, I’m an agnostic, and atheist, or a Buddhist.) And I’m sure that for most of them the connection is: this person is anti-establishment. But there’s a far more legitimate connection there, at least for me. Both my spirituality and my lifestyle are driven by what I know to be true (and I’m not saying I know that there is no god, depending on your definition).
The real question is why do some people insist on adhering to a system of belief that is so fraught with problems? When it comes to religion, if you’re not hurting anyone because of your belief, as far as I’m concerned you can believe whatever you want. But the belief system that includes using animals despite our knowledge of their sentience simply cannot be justified. It is a belief system that harms at every twist and turn. Why don’t more people find it objectionable? You would think that we’d be well on our way to being a vegan society based on the knowledge we now have. But despite advances of science, mankind remains seemingly incurably lacking in moral fortitude when it comes to nonhuman animals.
PS-Oddly, William Blake was always my favorite poet. Here’s an homage of sorts, to both he and Tatiana, by Scott Horton in Harper’s. (Those who know Blake will know what’s coming . . .)