Love the animals! God has given them the rudiments of thought, and joy untroubled. Don’t trouble it, don’t harass them, don’t deprive them of their happiness. Don’t work against God’s intent!
Fyodor Dostoyewsky The Brothers Karamasov
As to the Origin of Man, there abound a surprisingly large number of ideas, conclusions, convictions, doctrines or inklings, all depending on the quality of perception and panoramic overview of their apostles, or the general absence of both. Take, for example, my Editor (God bless him and all who sail in him!). He is of the scientific opinion and as far as he can see, which is very far indeed if limited to the confines of time and space, that we have crept long ago as something grey and slimy out of a primordial ocean and developed, not exactly accidentally but rather randomly, by means of a so far not wholly satisfactorily explained process called natural selection or Evolution, into what we are now.
Whereas I, sadly unscientific as I am, hold a diametrically opposed conviction. To the effect that it all happened when our Good Lord Almighty reclined one day in a meadow sprinkled with one thousand flowers in every colour, shape and perfume, and while He was busy designing a violet which had been taking shape in His mind since a week, that an idea occurred to Him, namely how nice it would be if there were someone, say for example a lovely young girl walking her dog, who could behold and appreciate this immensely generous and truly magnificent display of divine Beauty and Love. Which led, after some preliminary attempts, to you and me.
A line of reasoning far more compelling and uplifting than that of my Editor, you will agree, particularly since you haven’t any scientific means to prove me wrong. Yet I must admit that I’m myself something of an Evolutionary, though with the one difference that I begin where he has ended. Meaning some two and a half thousand years ago, with the arrival of two mighty and clearly God-sent teachers called Buddha and Jesus Christ. Whereby the latter is in this context of greater interest, due the impact he has had on the Western World.
Let us begin with the old Greeks who brought to breathtaking perfection what had been handed to mankind at Lascaux and Altamira some ten thousand years earlier, namely the divine spark called Art. And who nevertheless entertained the habit of attacking and overwhelming their own kind in the next city-state, killing the males and infirm, and selling the women and children into slavery. A barbarous point of departure, most certainly, but fundamentally upset by Christ’s Teachings which somehow, like Ariadne’s red thread, helped us to find our way through the ages towards the present day. And where we can say without blushing that some significant steps towards a better and more humane society have come to pass, particularly in the Christian world. To the effect that were you to explain a Pension Fund, Medicare or Animal Protection to an ancient Greek, he’d surely believe you demented or worse.
As it is, we are still far removed from a perfect Utopia, a place that hovers on the distant horizon like a shimmering Grail. Yet I fervently hope and pray, and sometimes even believe, that one day, one day after many a summer, mankind will be able to manage this immensely beautiful and limitlessly bountiful garden called Planet Earth with all the loving care and respect that is its due. A time that will come to pass when we have rid ourselves of power-hungry crooks and thieves and murderers, or whatever barbarians challenge the God-given right to till our soil with wisdom instead of greed, and to harvest its fruits in peace, and to laugh and to love to our hearts content whenever we feel like it.
Unfortunately, and sadly, and as a premise for these Halcyon days, must we recognize a basic aspect generally absent in every curriculum, namely that mankind was never a Family of Man as we were made so piously to believe, but has long since split into two branches that move alongside each other as if of the same genus, yet are fundamentally different. I am referring to the heading of this little essay, namely those who can feel and those who can’t. And which I have declared in one large brushstroke, and rather unscientifically, to represent two entirely dissimilar species, namely Humans and Inhumans.
The two will clash sooner or later, and it depends on the outcome of the battle if you and I and our children and grandchildren will be able to move on towards a feasible Utopia. Or if we relapse into a society of hapless ghouls crammed into shantytowns, who will finally, for want of acumen and stamina, revert to cannibalism before sinking into oblivion.
The parliament of New Zealand has recently approved a law that explicitly prohibits shechita. By doing so it followed the example of Iceland, Norway and Sweden who passed similar legislation already some time ago. Not to mention Hitler’s infamous Third Empire, who did the same as the first country worldwide in 1933, embedding it in a comprehensive body of laws for the protection of animals, including rigorous limitation of vivisection, that are exemplary and the precursor for most of our present laws of the same kind.
Shechita? you may ask.
To be honest, I wasn’t familiar with the term either. Though shekl, skiksa, shmonzes, shmock, shreck or shpielberg ring a bell, shechita has so far eluded me. Meanwhile I know better. It is Hebrew and details the ritual slaughter of animals. Who, as a result of this devout and allegedly religious treatment, are elevated to a higher plane and thus render certified kosher meat that can be consumed by every observant Jew without endangering whatever might be endangered if it were not. The custom, called Halal, is performed by pious Muslims as well. Shechita in practice looks like this: female animals have their throats cut, males their private parts severed, and fowl are strung up by the wings and slashed open from neck to bottom. And while they roar and scream and wither in terrible pain, their blood gushes out of the gaping wound, for ten minutes and more, until it becomes a mere trickle and death mercifully ends the agony. During the unfolding of this gruesome scenario a specialized rabbi hurries by and blesses the tormented beasts and sanctifies their meat and thus guarantees its safe consummation.
In my late teens, already fully indoctrinated and beset with a profound shame for crimes my fatherland has never committed, I eagerly swallowed the glorious accounts of Israel’s untimely birth as a welcome antidote. It prompted a vague relief triggered by the realization that those who were only recently led to the ovens like helpless lambs could suddenly take up arms and turn into fierce warriors. And it excluded any historical objectivity, something hard to come by in any case as the combined media onslaught had been relentless long since. Movies like Exodus caused every guilt-ridden Christian heart to beat higher, underscored by a distinctly Aryan looking hero who ridiculed still cherished old stereotypes. And books like O Jerusalem were all-time bestsellers.
The latter is a gripping tale of that ancient city’s latest and presumably final conquest, and includes a particularly heroic account of the battle for the control of the road which winds its way from the plains into the Judean hills and towards the Holy City itself. Defended furiously by Arab sharpshooters who had no earthly right to be there except that they owned the land, did the advance of Jerusalem’s liberators come repeatedly to naught until someone conceived the brilliant idea to sequester a bulldozer and fashion a provisional track further to the south. Which enabled the attackers to sneak into the enemy’s rear and confound him accordingly. And which gave you a foretaste of the future IDF’s handling of the situation in Gaza and on the Westbank. Much later in life, after a hearty pint of cool wine in the Trappist monastery at Latroun, I walked the road myself for a stretch to get an impression, and wondered as so often before how far imagination and reality can lay apart. As to the conquerors, they were mostly Haganah and became famous afterwards. Except for one intrepid commander called Shaltiel whom I never heard of again in later accounts. He is still much on my mind, because it was him who sacrificed a new-born lamb on the flanks of Mount Scopus once the conquest of Jerusalem was complete.
I remember to this day how a cold finger run down my spine when I read these lines. It abruptly quenched any enthusiasm and made me feel instead as if I had peered into an abyss that could never be bridged. To cut a sweet little lamb’s throat and let it slowly and agonizingly bleed to death as tribute to a bloodthirsty god, one who presumably had facilitated the victory, seemed a relapse into Man’s distant and darkest past, a barbarous act that no civilized society could ever condone. Yet there it was, in front of my eyes, and couldn’t be refuted. Feeling bewildered and unsure of my new heroic perceptions, I decided to treat the whole thing as an isolated incident, a kind of faux-pas unrelated to the brave new country that had so miraculously sprung up in what was once euphemistically called Palestine.
Around the same time I read Lawrence Durrel’s Alexandria Quartet, a collection of four loosely connected novels that were much acclaimed and are probably still good reading. Among the generally elegant and sophisticated scenes one stands out that is breathtaking in its sheer horror. Namely when one of the leading characters finds himself in a walled yard and sees how a few Bedouins wield heavy axes and hack off the legs of a living camel and let it bleed to death.
I’m writing from memory, and perhaps do Durrel an injustice, but what struck me most was the nonchalance with which he described the horrible feat. As if it were part of life, like fly swats or tea with fresh peppermint. Much later I witnessed accidentally a similar incident in North Africa. It cured my desire to visit Muslim countries for good and made me a fervent foe of their relentless encroachment of our civilized Christian world.
So where does this lead to?
To my dog.
Meaning, I own a dog. Though I might also say, he owns me. In other words, the borderline between who owns whom has never been clearly defined and is generally fluctuating. Of course he depends on me for dinner and visits to the pub, items that stand high on his daily agenda. Whereas our long morning and evening walks, of great importance for my health and weight control, are largely his responsibility. God help me if I don’t roll out of bed at seven a.m. latest and put on my walking boots. Because if I don’t, due perhaps to a soiree that ended in the early morning hours, I am treated to a slowly escalating intimidation that begins with nearly inaudible moans, builds up to my slippers being lifted and dropped, and culminates in censorious barks. Someone, though hopefully not you, may say: well, hit the troll over the head and he’ll shut up!
Yet this I can’t do.
And why? Because I love him, just as he loves me. Like so many civilized pet owners the world over, have I discovered one of God’s greatest mysteries, namely that a dog, or most animals at that, have not only the same range of emotions as I have, from despair and sadness to contentment and boundless joy, but are also capable of compassion. In their simple way, of course, which is nevertheless as pure and deep-felt as that of a child. And since my wife has long ago parted company, and since so far I haven’t found a new one, and since my sons whom I love more than my life have recently stepped out into the world to become men in their own right, I regard myself lucky indeed to have someone who fills, at least in part, the void they have left in my heart.
Now you might say: fair enough, and may he wag his august tail forever. But don’t you get carried away and whine about God’s great mystery, namely the compassion of animals. Because if you do, I must remind you of the eagle that strikes the pheasant, or the lion that slays the antelope, and how hard I’m put to recognize a great deal of compassion there.
To which I say: I know!
Or better, I’m aware of the contradiction and need to paint a slightly larger picture to set it right. Whose canvas, or fabric, is the premise that a benevolent God has created the World, with each and every detail a finely tuned and thoroughly considered masterpiece. If this line of argument isn’t to your taste, I can fully understand it, but beg you to read on since we might be able to meet halfway down the road. Yet if you do agree to this point of departure, allow me to speculate as to His whereabouts. Meaning whatever the dimension that could be called His abode, it most certainly includes all of ours. Which implies in turn that He and I are interwoven in a way that escapes my understanding, particularly since He has elected to remain in the background and is recognizable only by His works, but that one day I’m bound to make His acquaintance. This because interwoven cannot, in the last consequence, be defined as anything else but sameness.
If this is an acceptable idea, it provides me with my first argument. Namely that death has no sting, a fact maintained long since by every decent mystic and thinker. Animals know this. I’ve had a number of dogs in my life. Most have died peacefully of old age, two were killed by cars, and one developed in his old age a bad ear-infection that no medicine in the world could do anything about. While I saw him suffer and felt unable to make up my mind, I found him one icy winter-morning after a long search in the outmost corner of my garden, laying there, slightly shivering, but looking up at me with a calm and far-away expression in his clear brown eyes. His time had come, it was obvious. He stood on the threshold and wished to return to his Maker. We spent most of the day in my armchair, he on my lap and with a painkiller, and the next day I gave him a sleeper and called the vet. Whereupon I buried him, got mindlessly drunk for a day or two, and continued to live. But I took away the realization that whenever I was shocked in the past by seeing, perhaps in a documentary, one animal killing another for food, I could from now on divide the event into two positions, namely pain and death. With the latter having been, consciously or subconsciously, by far the larger horror. But not anymore. As to the former, it contained indeed a moment of terrible fear and suffering. Though usually only a moment.
Once, on the high seas, I had a tooth pulled with carpenter’s nippers and no anaesthesia whatsoever, because my temperature was rising and I simply couldn’t stand the pain anymore. To tell you the truth, I might have preferred to be munched by a crocodile or slain by an eagle. The difference, in any case, couldn’t have been very great. As to eagles, I once saw one in Spain’s magnificent Parque Doñana, a large natural reserve set into the estuary of the Guadalquivir. An Imperial Eagle it was, a bird so large as I have never seen before. He flew up from his nest, entered into a warm current and sailed skywards with hardly moving a wing until lost from view. While I stood there gaping and stunned, my friendly guide told me that I had been lucky, since the bird was shy and this grandiose display of God’s magnificence was a rare occasion indeed.
Magnificence, yes! Which brings me to my second argument. Could I imagine an Imperial Eagle living on peanuts? I can’t. Could I imagine the animal kingdom without eagles? I can, but prefer it to be as it is, even if it includes moments of fear and pain, my own as well. Because whoever falls victim to a larger predator, will return almost immediately and without delay to its Maker. This because of the fundamental truth that animals, contrary to man, are by definition innocent.
Whereas those who inflict suffering and prolong it because a heathen god demands it that way, or for any reason whatsoever, are hideously and unforgivably sinful. And who must therefore pay dearly for their evil deeds when the hour of reckoning arrives, when they will find themselves in a timeless mirror image of their past cruelties, when their gruesome habits will have accumulated to a scenery worthy of Dante’s Inferno, when they wade in a sea of blood accompanied by the screams and roars of their victims, when they will eternally… despair!
Laws then, like those already promulgated before you and I were born. Laws that explicitly prohibit Shechita and Halal, and thus are a first good step to rid us of Inhumans who multiply out of all proportion and vie already for the day when they have overwhelmed us and force us into barbarous slavery.
Michael Colhaze (email him) is a pen name.