It's now over six hours since I read two distressing blogs about a dog and a cat passing on. This affected me so deeply that I still feel 'bruised' inside. I always find it so easy to identify with others in this situation.
Anyway, not wishing to dwell unduly on the profound sadness of such circumstances, it got me thinking of a certain event in my early schooldays which left a mental 'scar' on my sensitive mind.
I would have been 9 years old and our teacher for that year was the eldest (and sternest) of the teachers in my primary school. (The school headmistress was a nun, as was the most senior teacher. The remainder, apart from two men, were all lay women and all, incidentally, unmarried.) I'm not sure how the subject arose, but it was probably during a religious class when this class mistress asked the class as a whole "What's the difference between humans and animals?". I recall vividly a ginger-haired boy putting up his hand. "Please, Miss. An animal has no soul." The mistress allowed a slight smile of satisfaction across her wrinkled face "That's right. An animal has NO SOUL!" she said, slapping down on the desk to emphasise the last two words. I was stunned. I don't remember anything that came after. I think she coldly moved on to the next subject as though what she'd just said was of no great import, while I sat there flustered and wondering - "But that means if they've got no soul they can't go to heaven. There can't be ANY animals in heaven, then." (As long as I can remember, I've always been an avid animal lover, coming from an animal-loving family, though out of the seven members it was my mother and myself who were the most fond of them. By the time I was at the age of this 'discovery' we'd already have had two or three cats.) I think this little incident - 'little' in terms of time, major in terms of effect - was the first time that I'd experienced real conflict between myself and the religion I was being taught. I'm pretty sure I thought that if there are no animals in heaven then I didn't want to go there either. I wanted to go where the animals went.
Right through my life I can never understand the dismissive attitude nearly all religions have towards animals. In my re-reading of the Bible, for instance, at the beginning of Leviticus, it tells how animals (cattle, goats, lambs etc) are to be sacrificed and their bodies to be burnt as 'a sweet savour to the Lord' (re-translated in the New English Bible as 'soothing odour to the Lord'). Clearly this God has such 'refined senses' that He requires men to slaughter blameless, sentient beings and dispose of their corpses by fire so that he can delight in the 'aroma' so produced. Strange that if He likes it so much, the Almighty is unable to conjure up the equivalent sensation by Himself. And, to add a further absurdity, if priests or common men commit 'sin' they are to offer up the prescribed number animals in sacrifice to atone for their own misdeeds. WTF! It's not the animals fault, for goodness' sake! Yes, such a 'compassionate' God - NOT!
Throughout my life I've been accused explicitly or by implication of caring more about animals than humans, and more than children in particular. That's unfair and untrue. I cannot bear to witness deep grief for anyone, man or beast, having to switch channels if there's footage of, for instance, the recent floods in Pakistan. I find it impossible even now to watch re-runs of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. (There was a 2-hour TV documentary here on the event just a couple of nights ago. Couldn't watch it! Too under-the-skin!) But when it comes to animals too few societies and countries recognise their true value and worth - and the fact that they feel pain, distress, fear etc. There are just too many countries that have no laws at all against animal cruelty. And there are too many religions which continue to peddle the primitive belief that animals are there to be 'used' - actually put here by a 'God' for that very purpose.
But I will concede one admission. I do find animals generally easier to get on with than any human being that I've personally known - and I know for a fact that I'm not the only one.
10 minutes ago