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Preaching the Gospel of Violence

Subject: Preaching the Gospel of Violence...
Date: Sat, 18 Dec 2010 10:56:27 -0500

Gretchen McKay:

I recently became aware of your story on Father Mike Zavage who claims to find spiritual peace in the violent act of hunting. Please consider the implications of his callous disregard for the lives of the innocent creatures he hunts down without remorse.

What does it say to a community, when the person entrusted with their spiritual development and guidance finds peace in killing, violently taking the life a living being who has harmed no one. This is not idle speculation. A deer is a gentle animal who peacefully makes his/her way through the forest while foraging for greens, running and communicating with its fellow deer. Deer value and seek to preserve their lives just as humans do. Rather than show appreciation for this graceful creature and find joy in the living deer, Father Mike Zavage has chosen to 'hunt' down this animal for the pleasure he derives from the experience...

His casual acceptance of the violence of hunting indicates a profound lack of understanding on the nature of compassion. Violence to animals and humans is profoundly connected. When the slaughter of animals is endorsed and sanctified, it often acts a precursor to human on human violence. It is therefore morally irresponsible to teach people to kill any living being, especially so in the name of sport.

Ideally religious teachings profess to guide followers to a higher spiritual and moral state. Some religions extend compassion to ALL living beings and deliver a message of unconditional compassion for both animals and humans. The Semitic religions extend compassion only to humans, and as defined by the concept of dominion, grant man the right to harm and kill animals for his own benefit. The three Semitic religions which includes Judaism, Christianity and Islam are not strangers to violence. In the beginning, 5000 years ago, the slaughter and abuse of animals for human need and entitlement was first sanctioned in genesis:

"God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them: 'Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. The fear and dread of you shall rest on every animal of the earth, and on every bird of the air, on everything that creeps on the ground, and on all the fish in the sea; into your hand they are delivered. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and just as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.''"

Since this mechanism, based on fear and dread, which so devalues animal lives, was set in place, every manner of animal abuse and slaughter has relentlessly increased. Some would argue that it is necessary to kill animals to be eaten, but this is hardly the case. The Seventh Day Adventists are vegetarian/vegan and have the best health statistics in the USA: lowest rates of cancer and heart disease and greatest longevity.

The reason for hunting according to Father Mike Zavage is based on the enjoyment he derives from it. The pleasure and peace he claims to find during the hunt is most troubling. His position is both contradictory and cruel, for peace resides in compassion, not killing. Compassion is defined as deep awareness of the suffering of another coupled with the wish to relieve it. There is nothing peaceful about inflicting pain, fear and suffering on a creature that is as entitled to be on this earth as are humans. Furthermore the act of stalking and killing does little to increase compassion and spiritual awareness, rather it stifles and suppresses them. The claim that the act of killing an innocent being creates a bond between the humans involved is yet another indication that he does not understand the nature of gratuitous violence. There are plenty of ways to bond without violence, such as observing and photographing these graceful and gentle creatures. What are the social skills and mental state of someone who has to dominate and kill a harmless creature to feel a bond with another human being? One has to wonder if the endorsement and promotion of hunting is a responsible position for a religious authority with the power to influence his congregation, especially given the recent spate of random and gratuitous violence in the USA.

It is no secret that there is an epidemic of violence in western society, particularly the USA. Virtually every day there is a story of gratuitous violence in the news, which often involves angry and alienated individuals, who for their own reasons, seek out the innocent bystanders in shopping malls, schools, churches and the work place and hunt them down. The first victim in an act of violence or abuse is compassion. Once one is acclimated to the act of killing, the next act becomes easier. The act of killing, once it receives endorsement by religion does not have boundaries. It is not a great leap from killing a harmless animal to killing a child, one's spouse or even a total stranger. To an individual who perceives s/he has been wronged, hunting down a human is no different than hunting down an innocent deer for the gratification derived.


Reverend Christopher Wenthe also finds peace in violently taking an innocent life. (see appendix A)

Taking pleasure in violence whether towards humans or animals is sadistic and gratuitous. Where does one draw the line? Father Mike Zavage is from a religious tradition with a terrible track record of animal abuse in the countries where blood sports are seen as a form of religious worship. In these countries, such as Spain, Mexico, Portugal and much of Latin America, religious festival days are celebrated with sports such as 'fire bull'. A bull is set on fire and the frenzied crowds cheer as the bull charges through the crowd in terror and pain. Each of these fiestas, along with bull fighting has a patron saint associated with the celebration. It is no wonder that notable human genocides such as the inquisition, the crusades and the holocaust originated in such a tradition.

One has to wonder about the root of the moral confusion displayed by Father Mike Zavage. Clearly it resides in the double message of compassion of the Semitic religions: there is a strong prohibition against taking innocent human life, but the harm and slaughter of animals is sanctified as a right bestowed on man by God. This paradigm of animal compassion has resulted in the mistaken belief that it is possible to kill and abuse another living being and still be a respected and righteous member of society:

"Proverbs 12:10 states, "The righteous person regards the life of his or her animal." In Judaism, one who is unnecessarily cruel to animals cannot be regarded as a righteous individual." Prof Richard Schwartz

The corollary: He who is of necessity cruel to animals can be regarded as a righteous individual. It appears that there is no contradiction between cruelty and righteousness .

This is a fallacy, and though not understood in western civilization, the nature of the harm done by sanctified violence is understood by the Jain religious tradition of India. In this tradition the lives of both humans and animals are precious and to be respected:

"For there is nothing inaccessible for death.
All beings are fond of life, hate pain, like pleasure,
shun destruction, like life, long to live. To all life
is dear." Jain Acharanga Sutra.

Furthermore, it is considered a sin to harm or kill any living being:

"All things breathing, all things existing, all living beings whatever, would not be slain or treated with violence, or insulted, or tortured or driven away. This is the pure unchanging eternal law, which the wise ones who know the world have proclaimed... He who harms animals has not understood or renounced deeds of sin" Jain Acharanga Sutra

In the Jain tradition one is not respected for the harm one does, but for the harm one avoids doing. The result is less human societal violence as well. One does not contain violence by encouraging it, but by showing respect for the sanctity of life - ALL life.

Would you be so kind as to pass this information on to Father Zavage.

Respectfully,

Ruth Eisenbud


appendix A

Animal Abuse is NOT Sacred:
From: homerific1990@hotmail.com
To: frwenthe@delanocatholic.com
Subject: Animal Abuse is Not Sacred
Date: 20 Jan 2010

Dear Father Wenthe,
http://www.startribune.com/sports/outdoors/69343007.html?elr=KArksi8cyaiUgOahccyiUiacyKUUs

It has come to my attention that you are a man of religion and an avid hunter. At first glance the contradiction between these two avocations is perplexing, as traditionally religion has been thought to encourage and embrace compassion.

Ideally religious teachings profess to guide followers to a higher spiritual and moral state. Some religions extend compassion to ALL living beings and deliver a message of unconditional compassion for both animals and humans. The Semitic religions extend compassion only to humans, and as defined by the concept of dominion, grant man the right to harm and kill animals for his own benefit.

Your casual acceptance of the violence of hunting and meat consumption indicates a lack of the understanding done by such violence. Violence to animals and humans is inextricably linked. When you allow for the slaughter of animals, it often acts a precursor to human on human violence. It is therefore morally irresponsible to teach people to kill any living being, but especially so in the name of sport.

In religions which grant unconditional compassion to all living beings the harming or killing of an animal is viewed as sinful:

"He who harms animals has not understood or renounced deeds of sin" Jain Sutra "

Great secular thinkers in the west have also understood the root of compassion that seems to allude you: the taking of an innocent life cannot be justified to benefit man:

"For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other. Indeed, he who sows the seed of murder and pain cannot reap joy and love." Pythagoras, mathematician

"The time will come when men such as I will look upon the murder of animals as they now look on the murder of men." Leonardo da Vinci, artist and scientist

"Nonviolence leads to the highest ethics, which is the goal of all evolution. Until we stop harming all living beings, we are all savages". -- Thomas Edison

Violence is violence and encouraging it whether it be towards an animal or a human does not fall within the definition of compassion, which is: deep awareness of the suffering of another coupled with the wish to relieve it. This definition does not specify human or animal just another. Furthermore your lack of awareness of the suffering caused to the animals you so enjoy harming is troubling in a person empowered to promote the message of Christian compassion. The ability to extend compassion to the weak and disempowered is the mark of high moral development. The converse is also true.

In your words: "I enjoy being out in God's creation in this particular way. It's very peaceful and rejuvenating."

Peaceful is not a word that comes to mind when one thinks of stalking and hunting down another living being, who cherishes his life as you do yours. The taking of a life that is not freely given is an act of violence. Distorting the meaning of the word peaceful to suit your own selfish pursuit does not change the definition. Peaceful: undisturbed by strife, turmoil, or disagreement; tranquil. Your inability to see the turmoil and pain you wreak on the creatures you hunt down defies logic and distorts the meaning of peaceful to include violence and domination.

When consideration and respect are granted to All beings...ALL beings benefit. The definition of dominion established thousands of years ago is a relic in the modern world, where the concept that All beings exist to be mutually beneficial to each other would go a long way towards healing a troubled and violent world.

The lack of compassion in your position undermines your moral claim as a spiritual leader for your community. It is irresponsible and cruel to endorse hunting for the pleasure of the sport, as there is no pleasure in it for the victim. The self-serving position granting humans the right to harm and kill living beings who have done them no harm cannot be used to justify the killing of innocent creatures, who are as entitled as humans to dwell on the earth It is a poor excuse for the suffering it inflicts.

The harm do is twofold: you have let down you parishioners by encouraging violence and taken innocent life as you find it pleasurable. Your failure to grasp the spiritual poverty of your position is distressing and alarming as you have been entrusted with the spiritual development of the members of your congregation. You have let them down. Perhaps it is time you considered renouncing your deeds of sin.

Respectfully,

Ruth Eisenbud

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