Posted by: megshoeman | May 5, 2008

Something In the Air

Driving along the countryside this morning, I realized (again I guess) something about the depth of grief I often feel over non- human animal suffering.
When I clean the front ISO kennels at work, I stow my dogs in the crematorium while I attend to their individual kennels. Of course I then take each dog for a walk. Otherwise for the whole of her day she’d see maybe only the cremo which is not just dull but also heavy with the smell of the remains of bodies of her own kind-a painfully confusing and frustrating confrontation for a dog, I can only assume.
Anyhoo, last Saturday I couldn’t at first keep my kennel dogs there while I cleaned because a dog’s body was inside with a sign that read “EVIDENCE. DO NOT TOUCH.” Obviously this dog’s death was pending investigation, meaning that she or he was likely abused. I could see just a tuft of white fur through the bag as I moved her body to a safe place away from the dogs awaiting tidy kennels.
Later the same day, two allegedly murdered dogs were brought in. Again, I could see only parts of form through the bags. I caught glimpses of how beautiful they all had been. I was indescribably sad as I knew God’s creative love violently wasted, particular bodies ruined.
That’s what it’s all about, I thought as I drove along this beautiful morning: particular bodies. I’ve thought this many times before but I thought it again especially as I passed a field where cattle were resting. The Lord of the universe intentionally created each one of those cattle, each one of those dogs, each an individual whose idosynchrosies and hairs he knows by heart. Everything matters. Everything matters.
This isn’t a sort of laffy taffy, tree- hugging while-a-day-away problem for me. It’s what keeps me up late nights. The fact of non- human animal suffering is the absurdity that crawls on my neck and tempts me to question life’s meaning, what human beings are, who God is. Hm.
You know what I always come back to around this thing? Evil. Nobody really likes to think about this but I confess I just don’t know what else to call it. When particular bodies in their perfect beauty and utter helplessness are brutally destroyed, we are dealing with no less than evil. It’s almost simple, really! Hm.
Now the mechanisms by which cattle are walked off to their slaughter have, of course, the character of abnormal (or moral) evil whereby the human agent willfully does harm. So of course with the fate of the dogs. I’m a Presbyterian. I can almost grasp this level of evil. In love God created a good world, there came a fall from grace, humans sometimes take their total depravity to extremes. I get that.
Here is what I find harder to live along with: the natural evil that renders their suffering ostensibly irredeemable. The verbal language non- human animals lack apparently lends some sense of redeemability to the tragic human situation, doesn’t it? We think, therefore we are, hm? Then surely God will redeem our suffering, we think. But the lack in non- human animals that’s viewed as a deficiency usually gets interpreted as a discount on even the significance of this brand of creaturely pain. If their suffering itself is undervalued and indeed generally dismissed, then we’ll come to presume too that God will not bother to redeem it. If God won’t bother to redeem it, then why should we let it touch us much?
But wait! This is all wrong. Difference doesn’t equal worthlessness! Difference doesn’t equal worthlessness. The fact that a dog feels her pain differently than you feel yours doesn’t erase the reality of her pain. The Lord of the universe knows her as well as he knows you. She is beautiful in her own right, isn’t she?
The lack of speech we take for natural evil is rather really a precious and perhaps mysterious part of the diversity of God’s creative love. We deliberately (through our sloppy anthrocentric sciences of philosphy and tradition) subvert such goodness by our denial thereof. The absurdity lies not in who, what the suffering animal is. It lies in the cruel hate through which we humans choose to interpret it as we presume to stand over and above it. And vicious circle whiles on and we may never know.
I’m tired now. Bye bye.



  1. This is so beautifully written – it brought tears to my eyes. I don’t have an answer, but I am thankful for the work, the thinking, the writing that you do – I just question why the greater church is not thinking more about it.

    The last time we got together, we talked a little bit about some of my theology about living peacefully with the earth – this would tie into that, in my opinion. We’ll have to do lunch again soon and maybe we can think through this a little bit more together then.

  2. Glad you’re back, Amy. Thanks for the comments. Let’s get together soon..we have lots to talk about. I agree this has a lot to do with peaceable living. I’m really looking forward to seeing you. ;o)

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