Sunday, 20 April 2014

One Christian's Conscience on ~ Animal Welfare

This exchange took place on Snowbrush's blog and I decided I would respond. I can't speak for anyone but myself, obviously, but Christianity gets a bad rap and it is a pity because it is the Christians rather than the Christ who let the show down.
"This woman who tried to get her church people to help with 60 kittens and cats she found abandoned, and none would..."
"I've never known of a church to do anything to help animals. I think it safe to say that, as an entity, the church regards animals as unimportant, probably because they aren't perceived as having souls (and therefore emotions much like our own), and partly because the Bible describes them as being put here for the use of the human species. Help a person, and you might save a soul from everlasting torment (or at least oblivion). Help an animal, and it will be forever dead in 5-10 years anyway."
I believe that the church as an institution should primarily be busy with the concerns of humanity and that those needs are so extensive that we need to direct limited resources towards people. I don't believe that animals are unimportant, lacking in souls or immune to physical or emotional suffering, therefore it is the responsibility of all Christians, as private citizens, to be responsible for their own treatment of animals, both in their direct interaction with animals and indirectly through their spending habits. The bible is clear on it's instruction for us to be stewards of all we are given and it is also specific about the need to show compassion to our animals.

I learnt compassionate treatment of animals as a child in my parent's home, I very much doubt that Mum or Dad regarded it as a specifically Christian compulsion, more one of general decent humanity but of course, nobody can lay claim to Christianity if they are unable to achieve a life of basic decency.

As I have extended my awareness of all sorts of things I have realised that it is not just the animals I come into direct contact with that need my consideration but also the ones I am responsible for by way of how I spend. I can't say that every animal product I buy is completely ethical. I am aware, for example, that male calves born in the dairy industry are often quickly and wastefully disposed of, yet I continue to enjoy dairy products with (mostly) little thought of the calves. I ease my conscience on this matter by sometimes substituting dairy products with plant based alternatives and acknowledging that even small changes in habit are great when multiplied by repetition and lasting change is better achieved when one enters into it slowly but with full commitment.
I buy free range chicken at times and always barn laid or free range eggs, I also cook one or two meat free meals every week for the purposes of killing less animals, lessening our family's environmental impact by way of meat production and teaching my children to regard animal products more as a luxury than some kind of inalienable right. Now that my conscience has demanded these actions and believing that conscience is God's instruction, tailored to me personally, it becomes a sin for me to revert to any old habits.

I started this post by referencing sixty abandoned kittens and cats and while I have no inclination to add to our current menagerie, if I were faced with an immediate need like that one, I would have no hesitation in giving foster care to a homeless cat or two and would then try to rehome them myself or find a reputable shelter to leave them in.

Speaking of shelters, my charity dollar is sometimes directed towards animal welfare but with limited funds my donations are limited so I also use the commercial side of RSPCA operations as vet care providers for my own animals, that way an unavoidable expense has some value to an animal welfare charity. 

I would never buy an animal from a puppy farm or pet shop while there are shelters full of rescue opportunities and I regard the spay/ neutering of any animal I own as an essential part of responsible pet ownership.

You may argue that my efforts towards animal welfare are merely efforts at ethical behaviour, in no way related to Christianity and i would agree that I don't need to be Christian to have ethics, ultimately the difference is in accountability. If I am to identify as an ethical human being I am responsible to myself and the animals. As a Christian I am bound by my own conscience in tandem with written biblical instruction to be compassionate and a good steward, with these factors in mind I become accountable to God Himself for my actions in these matters. 

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Boom to Bust

Every day I receive emails from advocacy groups, petitioning me for financial contributions or asking me to lend my voice to various causes. Governments and corporations are the targets and I am reminded that our current federal government was elected by the people. If my inbox is to be believed, the people are not overly happy with their elected representatives so either, the unhappy few whose petitions I receive were the ones voted for "someone else" or the ones who did vote for this government have become disillusioned.
Of course we know that this is the way with humanity, with leadership and loyalty; almost every leader eventually becomes unpopular. The fall from grace in any relationship happens when the honeymoon ends and the "beloved" is finally seen as human and fallible. In the political arena (as with the personal) the expectation may have been unrealistic to start with or the politician might just fall victim to their inability to please enough of the people enough of the time......
Back to Australian politics: I think about the last election and I know that mostly, this government was elected not for their policies and promises but for the fact that they were not the incumbents at the time, they were elected to be the saviours from a weak and fragmented Labour Party and it wasn't very sound reasoning. Our collective dislike of our previous leadership has led to a situation where the new, anticipated saviour is eroding public freedoms, human rights, education, technological progress and  environmental protections.
Our political reality parallels in some ways with the events of Palm Sunday, Holy Week and Easter, summarised here:

"...the praise the people lavished on Jesus was not because they recognized Him as their Messiah. They welcomed Him out of their desire for a deliverer, someone who would lead them in a revolt against Rome. .... But when He failed in their expectations, when He refused to lead them in a massive revolt against the Roman occupiers, .....the crowds quickly turned on Him. Within just a few days, their Hosannas would change to cries of “Crucify Him!” Those who hailed Him as a hero would soon reject and abandon Him."

In both cases the people (rightly or wrongly) place an expectation on the saviour, in both cases they become bitter when their expectations go unmet. In the case of Australian politics there may not have been enough attention paid to what was actually being promised, in the case of Jesus' significance as a leader there was a fundamental misunderstanding of the promise.

As I reflect on the state of my country and on this pivotal week in the life of the church I am led to consider some questions, not just for my nation or my own life and spiritual journey but questions for all of humanity, individually and in our various collectives, at all times: What is it that we want saving from? Is that a realistic hope? Is that where the real danger lies? and where should we look for the salvation we need?

Monday, 7 April 2014

a poor reception

i like to occasionally blog about my visits to the immigration detention centre because it makes me appear to be more interesting than i would otherwise. i like to make the actual visits because, as my insightful son reminds me, detainees can't get away :)
i love to be approved of and it is flattering to be commended for visiting but it's really not saintly. i wonder if it is my Christianity that motivates me or if it is my socialist tendencies or maybe it is just that i want to feel useful. one thing i know is that altruism usually has an attached benefit.
the message from detainees inside Villawood Immigration Detention Centre, just this past weekend

when i arrive at the IDC i park under a tree if i can and then walk down the road, maybe 200 metres, towards reception. the existing detention centre is to my left, there are two cyclone wire fences with a transit zone between them. in the distance i can see washing flap on lines as detainees shuffle about their day.
the new, fancier looking, more comfortable  jail  centre, as yet uninhabited, is to my right. the buildings are named after australian towns or explorers, something that attempts to make it all less institutional but really, a block number would be more honest. the brand new sport facility looks artificially cheerful with it's well watered turf and i wonder who they think is fooled.
i think about all of this every time i walk along this road and the weather always seems less kind than in any other situation: hot days seem more unbearable, if there is any rain about it always stings, a winter wind will blow grit.....

as i enter the lino floored reception area i breathe a quick sigh of relief that the road has been successfully navigated, there will often be one or two people surrounded by the scraps of possessions that they bring in plastic shopping bags for newly detained friends and  i wonder which of the reception people will deal with me. will it be the terminally bored young guy? or the middle aged woman who swings from pie- sweet to annoyingly aggressive and back again?

they issue me a locker key and put their black light squiggle on my wrist. on a good day i might be asked to step through the metal detector, other days i wait in vain for someone to acknowledge my passage into the secure zone. there might be a narcotic swab but most likely i will just go through to the courtyard.
( i do always go through the security system but sometimes it is so routine that i feel like a ghost)

there are well worn dust tracks through the grass and the undercover area is crazily placed right in the middle of the yard. i never fail to be irritated by the moronic non design. detainees lighting cigarettes from a hole in a wall seem to me to be the picture of institutionalisation, not even sharing a light but they appear strangely unbothered. small children on the crappy plastic excuse for a play area seem not to notice that there is little light in the eyes of their adults.