Does Anyone Know Where the Love of God Goes…?

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Oso, Washington, is a very small town (at least, it used to be). Until now, most people had never heard of it—it doesn’t even show up on Mapquest.com. Suddenly, in the time it took for a mountain to tumble down to the valley below, everyone worldwide seems to have heard about Oso.

I knew of it because we built our family cabin at Lake Cavanagh, which is at the end of the gravel, potholed Oso Road. Now half the town is under a mountain of dirt, rock and mud.

When it first hit the news, I thought it was just a standard mudslide like the ones we regularly see around here when the rains come down extra hard in the winter. Because of all the logging that Washington State is famous for, washouts are now commonplace. Logging slash left behind from years of clear cutting clogs up in the creek beds and blows out the culverts in a dramatic race to the bottom, taking out everything in its path and choking the salmon spawning streams below. But these slides are usually limited by the size of the creek where they originated.

It wasn’t until I saw aerial photos of the enormity of this washout that it became clear something strange and new had happened in the town of Oso. This was no surface water run-off, but though timber companies will probably never admit it, you can bet your bottom dollar that this will also ultimately prove to be the result of clear-cut logging in years past. Trees grew tall and wide in this neck of the woods, before the initial assault on old growth cedars around the turn of the 20th century. Many of the forests in Washington have been logged off several times by now. The aerial photos reveal smaller, even-aged trees on the slope above the washout. I learned from having a 300′ deep well drilled in western Washington, that, despite the sometime steady rain, there is really no aquifer to speak of. And no real rocks in these foothills either. Water finds its way through cracks and fissures in the claylike soil that passes for rock.

While old growth trees are vast reservoirs for rainwater, younger, smaller trees only hold so much. Although this winter has been a comparably dry one, heavy rains in late February and March have made up for it. In a sure sign of climate change, the northwest has been seeing more downpours measured in the inches per hour, rather than per day. Excess water can fill the cracks and fissures to overflow, forcing the cracks to expand and sometimes, as we saw in Oso, break away large chunks of earth.

For now all we do is hope for the people who were trapped, entombed, in their uprooted houses. Hope that they died quickly, that is. President Obama stated today that we should “pray” for the victims. Pray for what? Their souls, that they made it to heaven? If anyone is trapped under the mud this long, they’ve surely run out of oxygen by now.

Also in today’s news, a train derailment resulted, surprisingly, in no deaths. It was a “miracle,” the media announced. So my question to the media is, where are God’s miracles in the case of the Oso mudslide? All of this reminds me of those haunting lines in Gordon Lightfoot’s song, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” asking, “Does anyone know where the love of God goes, when the waves turn the minutes to hours?”

If you think you know why any loving god would save a train full of people, while letting others suffer under the weight of a mountain, more power to you. Personally, I still haven’t figured it out.

Timely Quotes on Dog and God and Death and Shit

I watched the movie The Unbearable Lightness of Being last night, hoping it included this classic quote found in the original novel by Milan Kundera…

“True human goodness, in all its purity and freedom, can come to the fore only when its recipient has no power. Mankind’s true moral test, its fundamental test (which is deeply buried from view), consists of its attitude towards those who are at its mercy: animals.”   

Unfortunately, the film version, while still a great flick throughout its 3-hour running time, did not make room for that or these other timely quotes (also found in the book) about dog and god and death and shit, which (aside from shit) have been the topics of some of my recent posts (my emphasis add in bold)…

“Dogs do not have many advantages over people, but one of them is extremely important: euthanasia is not forbidden by law in their case; animals have the right to a merciful death.”

“The very beginning of Genesis tells us that God created man in order to give him dominion over fish and fowl and all creatures. Of course, Genesis was written by a man, not a horse. There is no certainty that God actually did grant man dominion over other creatures. What seems more likely, in fact, is that man invented God to sanctify the dominion that he had usurped for himself over the cow and the horse.”

“…Nietzsche leaving his hotel in Turin. Seeing a horse and a coachman beating it with a whip, Nietzsche went up to the horse and, before the coachman’s very eyes, put his arms around the horse’s neck and burst into tears.

“That took place in 1889, when Nietzsche, too, had removed himself from the world of people. In other words, it was at the time when his mental illness had just erupted. But for that very reason I feel his gesture has broad implications: Nietzsche was trying to apologize to the horse of Descartes. His lunacy (that is, his final break with mankind) began at the very moment he burst into tears over the horse.”

“Spontaneously, without any theological training, I, a child, grasped the incompatibility of God and shit…either man was created in God’s image – and has intestines! – or God lacks intestines and man is not like him.

“The ancient Gnostics felt as I did at the age of five. In the second century, the Great Gnostic master Valentinus resolved the damnable dilemma by claiming that Jesus “ate and drank, but did not defecate.

Shit is a more onerous theological problem than is evil. Since God gave man freedom, we can, if need be, accept the idea that He is not responsible for man’s crimes. The responsibility for shit, however, rests entirely with Him, the creator of man.”

“The river flowed from century to century, and human affairs play themselves out on its banks. Play themselves out to be forgotten the next day, while the river flows on.” ―  Milan KunderaThe Unbearable Lightness of Being

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God damn the Preacher Man

Yesterday I attended my aunt’s funeral to pay my respects to an exceptionally caring woman who extended her compassion to the animal kingdom. Much was shared about her rare and genuine goodness, but at the end of the ceremony the preacher had to go and spoil it for me. He proclaimed that her selfless acts were just God working through her (like she was just a puppet or some kind of brain-dead zombie who never had an original thought of her own). He said the the “fact” that she was created in God’s image meant she was a reflection of Him. (So, God is a hunched-over, little old lady?)

I left there thinking: What about those who are intentionally cruel to animals or other people—are they also a reflection of God? If so, why is He so two-faced, when He’s supposed to be all about love and kindness? Did He bring selfishness and cruelty into this world just to fuck with us, or is He, Himself, in fact not infallible?

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On a related note (sorta), the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics put out this:

Photo and idea for title thanks to Steppenwolf

Photo and idea for title thanks to Steppenwolf

  1 July 2013

IS RELIGION GOOD FOR YOUR CAT AND DOG?

A new research project at Oxford will examine whether animals benefit or suffer thanks to religion.

Inspired by Baptist Preacher Charles Surgeon’s claim that a person cannot be a true Christian if his dog or cat is not the better off for it, the Centre will explore whether religious traditions are animal-friendly.  The questions to be addressed include whether religious people and religious institutions benefit animals? Are they more or less likely to be respectful to animals – either those kept as companions or those used for other human purposes?

The project is being organised by the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics. It will be multidisciplinary, multifaith, and draw in not only theologians and religious thinkers, but also other academics including social scientists, psychologists, historians, and criminologists.  “We want to know whether religion makes any difference for animals”, says Oxford theologian, Professor Andrew Linzey, who is Director of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics.  “We often hear of how religion is detrimental to human rights, but is it also detrimental to animal protection?”

The first stage of the project will culminate in a Summer School on Religion and Animal Protection at St Stephen’s House, Oxford, from 21-23rd July 2014. St Stephen’s is an Anglican Theological College and a Hall of the University of Oxford.

Academics interested in contributing to the project should contact the Centre’s Deputy Director, Clair Linzey, in the first instance depdirector@oxfordanimalethics.com or (+44) (0)1865 201565.

The Last “Traditional” Thanksgiving

In the beginning, God created turkeys…well, that’s not exactly true—turkeys evolved in North and Central America somewhere in the neighborhood of twelve million years ago, during the Miocene/early Pliocene epoch—but it makes for a good story.

Turkeys are intelligent, highly social and easily distressed when isolated or kept from their familiar surroundings. Adults can differentiate between friends and possible foe, and have been known to go into attack mode to drive off outsiders. Benjamin Franklin described the turkey as “a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.”

Their size, showy feathers and territorial disposition make turkeys an easy target for anyone with a weapon and an unwholesome urge to kill. Native Americans have a long history of feasting on turkeys that began well before the first Thanksgiving—the California turkey was hunted to extinction over 10,000 years ago. Meanwhile, modern human’s industrialized abuse of turkeys is nothing short of barbaric. Man has become so proficient at playing God with the turkey that nowadays the once proudly feathered bird is hardly recognizable. The vast majority of domesticated turkeys are bred to have white feathers because their pin feathers are less visible to the feaster when the carcass is “dressed” (glib jargon meaning butchered and mechanically plucked).

Any compassionate creator would be appalled by the unimaginable scale of institutionalized abuse of turkeys on factory farms or even on pseudo “free range” feel-good farms. Yet, each year turkeys are depicted—appearing at ease or even pleased with their plight—in inane commercials meant to soothe any holiday shopper who may have inadvertently stumbled onto the ugly truth about the suffering and cruelty inherent in the meat industry.

If you’re feasting on the flesh of one of the 45 million turkeys slaughtered this Thanksgiving season, please take a minute to consider the unnecessary suffering your meal caused and make this your last “traditional” Turkey-kill Day. Next year, try celebrating the life of the turkey while you feast on Tofurky or Field Roast, cranberries, candied yams, mashed potatoes, dressing, pumpkin pie and all the other tasty non-animal fixin’s. You may end up stuffed, but at least a bird won’t have to be.

Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson, 2012. All Rights Reserved

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That Thing Called God

As I’ve stated in earlier posts, and on the “About” page, I don’t normally approve comments from hunters trying to defend their blood sport. But I do sometimes save them as fodder for future posts. This is one of those comments, from someone going by the name “Sparky,” which warranted some examination on its way to the round file:

“Fine I’m a Psychopath. I enjoy feeding my family wild game meat instead of highly processed burger king. It’s healthier, period. Also animals ARE things. God created them for us to EAT!”

Okay, first of all, this may be one of those rare cases where the hunter in question is not actually a psychopath, simply because he says he is. A true psychopath would not have the insight to see it, nor the honesty to admit it.

On the subject of healthier eating, no one here is promoting or defending Burger King; but the fact is, a “processed” patty is probably not much worse for you than freshly killed venison—they’re both red meat, riddled with cholesterol. At least the hamburger might have a few vegetables and grains to provide some fiber to move things through that would otherwise sit in the colon and rot. Meat contains 0% fiber. And really, where did Sparky get the idea that there are only two food choices in the world: wild game or Burger King? Millions of good people are living proof that you can get by quite comfortably (and much more healthfully) on a completely plant-based diet.

Now, on to the last point sparky raised, “Also animals ARE things. God created them for us to EAT!”…instinct and better judgment would have me avoid any argument involving religion, but this is too outrageous to ignore. If all of the animals are merely “things” created by a god for people to stuff their faces with, then everything that was ever written by the world’s top scientists is wrong. Forget evolutionary biology, geology or physical anthropology: all we need to know was spelled out over 2,000 years ago on papyrus by people who knew nothing of science and had an agenda to champion the sandal-clad 2-leggers they deemed God’s favorite species—superior to all other animals in mind, body and spirit. Heck, to hear some folks’ interpretation, we humans are practically gods ourselves. But where does that leave all the other precious and amazing life forms who evolved along with us? According to the prevailing religion, they’re just “things” whose only purpose is to provide (colon-clogging) meat for the palette of the once-plant-eating-now-carnivorous-primates-gone-berserk.

Perhaps some hunters weren’t born psychopaths; for some, grandiosity, a lack of empathy and the objectification of our fellow beings are traits acquired by attending one too many sermons preaching that humans are the only ones that matter. It’s a pretty convenient mindset for those lucky enough to be born human, but I’m afraid it mirrors the kind of biblical misinterpretations that have been used to elevate one group of people and subjugate another. There is no chosen species any more than there is a master race. I don’t know what sort of thing God is supposed to be, but I can’t cotton to any being, supreme or otherwise, who plays favorites and gives special treatment to one creature while forsaking all others.

Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson, 2012. All Rights Reserved