Animal Interfaith Alliance Chair, Rev. Feargus O’Connor, has been holding Interfaith Celebrations for Animals at this Unitarian Church in Golders Green for 13 years, to celebrate World Animal Day (WAD), also the birthday of St Francis of Assisi, the Patron Saint of Animals.
13th Interfaith Celebration for Animals
Sponsored by The Animal Interfaith Alliance (AIA), The World Congress of Faiths and Quaker Concern for Animals and held at Golders Green Unitarians.
22nd October 2016 at 3.00pm
Service led by Rev. Feargus O’Connor, MA, Chair of AIA and Secretary of The World Congress of Faiths
Rev. Prof. Martin Henig (AIA and ASWA), Barbara Gardner (AIA and CCA)
Organist: Mary Craine, Pianist: Georgina Drewe, Soprano: Caroline Hunter, Harpist: Marilene Berryman
With the participation of representatives of various world faiths.
Order of Service
Musical prelude (Mary Craine, organ)
Words of welcome from Rev. Feargus O’Connor
Lighting a candle for the world’s animals and a special candle for animals harmed by climate change.
Hymn: Reverence for Life (John Andrew Storey)
Universalist prayer for animals – Rev. Feargus O’Connor
Buddhist, Hindu, Jain, Sikh
Address by Barbara Gardner, Director of AIA
Prayer for companion animals fondly remembered
Two animal songs sung by Caroline Hunter (Soprano)
Sweet Chance, that led my steps abroad by Michael Head
Rooster Rag by Michael Hurd
Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Pagan, Unitarian Universalist
Hymn: We Celebrate the Web of Life (Alicia S. Carpenter)
Address by Rev. Prof. Martin Henig
Voluntary collection for the Gandhi Schweitzer Universal Kinship Appeal of the Dr Hadwen Trust
Address by Rev. Prof. Martin Henig
Divine Music: The Mystery of the Creation
All world religions pay lip service to the sanctity of the natural world, either as divine or reflective of the divine creator, but most are highly defective in the way they reflect that sanctity. Animals are killed and mistreated by human kind with apparent impunity, and the environment is degraded. Humans treat both animals and other humans, indeed, so badly that it is sometimes hard to avoid despair. As an Anglican priest from a Jewish background, I have for years been stressing the prophetic insights that reveal that all creatures are inter-related and all loved by God. This seems to me to be far more important than differences between faiths. We are judged and will be judged by the genuineness of our love and compassion. Central to my faith is the Pali doctrine of Ahimsa , not doing harm to any living creature. Everything else is ultimately of minor relevance. I find hope in the Platonic doctrine that we live now in a world of shadows and imperfection, blind to the vision of the divine as the divine truly is albeit far beyond our comprehension, and deaf to the heavenly music which orders the cosmos. In order to begin to achieve enlightenment we need to abandon our pride, our selfishness and lust for power, stop desecrating the earth and killing animals and treating them, our brothers, sisters and cousins, as mere commodity. Only then will true peace descend on our errant species.
In this year when we have been celebrating five centuries since the death of William Shakespeare, I have to begin my talk with a few of my favourite lines:
Look how the floor of heaven
Is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold;
There’s not the smallest orb which thou behold’st
But in his motion like an angel sings,
Still quiring to the young-ey’d cherubins;
Such harmony is in immortal souls,
But whilst this muddy vesture of decay
Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it.
Shakespeare, most probably took his theme from the glorious Psalm 19 which begins (in the King James version):
The heavens declare the glory of God;
and the firmament shewith his handiwork.
Day by day uttereth speech,
and night unto night shewith knowledge.
There is no speech, nor language,
where their voice is not heard.
Such ideas that we, as creatures on earth, are separated from the divine music where true reality dwells, originated in the Western tradition with Socrates and Plato though similar notions are found in other philosophical and faith traditions. And that is not surprising with our perception, the perception of all creation, of the manifold pains of the world, whether these are chance disasters or the result of human agency. C.S. Lewis wrote about the view of the heavenly bodies as animate and, indeed, mentions them as the source of celestial music in his book on the Medieval world view, The discarded image. However, I am not so sure that this image of celestial harmony does not still have relevance, that it does not retain something essential to inform us about our relations with all other living beings.
All faith traditions are rooted in the strong belief that better things are possible, that salvation is within our sights, that somehow we will one day be able to hear the divine music. In whatever way we conceive of the divine, whether as deity or pure spirit, we instinctively know that the divine attributes are love, justice and mercy embracing the entire creation, not just humans.
Two books that I recently read and reviewed respectively by Lisa Kemmerer and our own Barbara Gardner say as much. All religions in theory at least take cognisance of the wider creation and a proportion of adherents, and it is often only a small proportion alas, live up to those ideals, but it is impossible to ignore the massive and varied cruelties inflicted by humans on other humans and on animals. Some of these are intentional and reflect the evil psychopathic element that must lurk deep within our species, but more often it is simply the consequence of human selfishness and greed. It is to combat such abuses that AIA exists.
I was brought up during the period of the Cold War and at that period on paper the Soviet Union had an almost ideal constitution: in practice it was a tyranny and in practice our own consumerist societies, and by implication the religions which underpin these societies, equally betray our own ideals. In today’s world, humans are able to exercise limitless tyranny over their fellow creatures, through the iniquity of factory farms, by the cruelty of the slaughter of millions of sheep, cattle, pigs and poultry, including, it must be added, for consumption in religious Festivals. Animals are tortured in laboratories on the specious and speciesist excuse that such dark deeds will save human lives. We greedily expropriate habitats, dredging the seas of marine life and destroying forests. Our politicians call the expansion of human habitation and factories, of roads and airport runways, of railways and other so-called ‘infrastructure’ progress, without regard to animals or, indeed, indigenous humans. In addition, the iniquity of warfare maims and kills both other humans and unremembered animals. This year is the anniversary of the Battle of the Somme in which vast numbers of horses died. In all 9 million horses, donkeys and mules died in WW1 and only 60,000 made it back to England. In the words of the Roman historian Tacitus we ‘create a desert and call it peace’. We do so again and again.
In most instances the perpetrators of this destruction are nominally religious and apt to utter pious platitudes, in defence of whatever allows them to continue to act as they have always acted. It is notable that self-designated ‘religious people’ often seem obsessed with matters that are at best irrelevant and often down right bad, without ever considering the environment in which we all ‘live and move and have our being’ and in which the Divine must have most concern. Their preoccupations range from excluding other humans on the grounds of differences in doctrine and on grounds of sex or sexuality-even on the grounds of supposed racial inferiority- to the methods of ritual slaughter. Kindness, which might have to involve abstinence, is too often not the first priority. So, to take my natal religion, Judaism, it is undoubtedly true that shehita was originally instituted as a ‘humane’ method of slaughter and it was also thought that life lived in the blood and so ritual slaughter meant the vital element was not consumed. Now, knowing as we do so much more about animal sentience, that animals feel fear and pain, you do them no favours by killing them in that way, or indeed in any way because in fact other methods of slaughter are no better. The answer is simply to abstain from meat and adopt a vegan life style on the grounds that all killing is illegitimate and not kosher. The only logical approach is the total acceptance of the ‘other’, that is of other creatures of all kinds including humans. Certainly, full inclusiveness of other marginalised humans and probably by implication animals was propounded by Jesus, amongst others; However, it finds its fullest expression in the doctrine of Ahimsa which is central to Jainism: Ahimsa warns us not kill at all and rather to be compassionate to all living beings. If all religious people adopted Ahimsa as a norm, their religions might hope once again to seize the moral high ground from which they have fallen.
When I preach at Christmas I remind my congregations each year that it is neither appropriate nor acceptable to kill and eat turkeys in honour of the Lord of Life who came to share our sufferings, and that the triumph of the Lamb of God at Easter is made into a travesty by the holocaust of young sheep. The same sort of statements could be made apropos of the Celebrations of other religions, or at least those which indulge in shedding blood. Such radicalism is, however, no more and no less than the radicalism of the Jewish prophets. Indeed in my opinion it does not matter in the least what religion one espouses if one lives a life of love and empathy with all creatures.
I will give two examples from different religious traditions of attitudes which look beyond speciesism to embrace an animal, as it happens in both instances an ass. The first may have originated as a folk story but is one of the most memorable episodes in the Hebrew book of Numbers, that of Balaam’s ass upon which I remember preaching at Evensong in Gloucester cathedral a few years ago. Balaam has set out at the wrong time to visit King Balak and God was displeased. His way is blocked by an angel which he does not see though the donkey, wiser than he, does. The donkey three times refuses to go forward and Balaam beats the creature which remonstrates with him, and then the angel appears and tells him that the donkey has more insight, and if the donkey had gone forward he would have killed him and let the donkey live. The second is the story as retold by the Isiac devotee, Apuleius, in The Golden Ass. Here a man is metamorphosed into a donkey and suffers many hardships in this guise before, in book 8, the goddess Isis restores him to human form. The Egyptian cults especially the cult of Isis so popular in the Roman period had a gentle view of other created beings and a tendency to treat animals as sacred, reminiscent of some Oriental religions today.
Of course there are many folk tales and fables such as those of Aesop in Archaic Greece or the stories of the Ngoni people of south-east central Africa, which I discovered when I was at school and which imply an awareness of inter-relatedness. But in practice as I have said animals have simply been treated as mere commodity, as food or sources of clothing, as machines to draw carts and ploughs or to drive mills. Most cultures have revelled in exhibiting power over nature and masculinity in hunting. And in recent times they have been additionally treated as material for cruel experiments. None of these ways have anything to do with joy.
I walk down long streets in cities lined with restaurants or fast food outlets mainly serving meat, that is the corpses of dead animals. Only a minority of such outlets serve more than a token vegetarian let alone vegan menu. How many creatures have died to titillate the jaded appetites of diners in any street one could choose. Think of the millions of chickens reared for a short time and eaten without a thought. Think of the weight of fish, ‘miraculous draught’ or not weighing many tons suffocating in nets.
It is very easy to be bowed down in grief by the cruelties of the world, especially in these days when we are assailed by emails bearing petitions every hour. It is very easy to be near to despair. Interest in animal welfare is often pigeon-holed as the concern of batty old ladies, not the very proper concern of vigorous women and men.
Where do we go from here? I must say I was heartened by a sermon from our new Bishop of Oxford for his welcoming service, based on the upbeat Psalm 96 in which the whole of Creation is asked to praise God:
Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; let the sea roar, and the fullness thereof.
Let the field be joyful, and all that is therein; then shall all the trees of the forest rejoice.
That is a reminder that we humans are not and have never been Lords of Creation; our task was not to plunder the world at the expense of other creatures but to honour it as belonging to God, and therefore holy. The sentiment of the psalm embraces all our environmental concerns and reminds us that God, the Divine Spirit, Lord of Worlds without end is on our side.
However, if you prefer an outlook not so obviously Jewish or Christian, or formally religious at all Shelley offers us words of defiance to throw against the exploitative voices of power, the dark forces of cruelty, and by enduring both ultimately to triumph. These wonderful lines by the poet in his sequel to Aechylus’ Prometheus Bound have lived with me since my own schooldays. We must never follow the majority in condoning whatever is wrong in society, but campaign for a better world, for better attitudes to our fellow creatures in the sure belief that one day we will succeed, that one day the chains which shackles us as much as the victims, other animals whether human or not, will fall away. Do not be afraid to call out ‘Not in my name’ again and again and again.
To suffer woes which Hope thinks infinite; To forgive wrongs darker than death or night; To defy Power, which seems omnipotent; To love, and bear; to hope till Hope creates From it’s own wreck the thing it contemplates; Neither to change, not falter, nor repent; This, like thy glory, Titan, is to be Good, great and joyous, beautiful and free; This is alone Life, Joy, Empire, and Victory.
We are inhabitants of finite time, and finite space. God is beyond time and beyond space; God is totally incomprehensible Our own knowledge, with all our science is limited; God’s wisdom is infinite. During our time on earth we cannot do better than to try to learn more of all the other animals which live alongside us with true empathy. Of course much remains imperfect: animals prey on each other, but as omnivores we do not have to if we choose not to. We can look forward to the Perfection that is in the mind of the creator in the Eschaton. Only now we are fated to look at the world as Plato tells us as though from the dimness of a cave, though sensing the light beyond it.; God sees the world as a single episode in infinite creativity. We see in prose; God sees in poetry. And in the vase Empyrean which for us is cold and silent, the divine music plays on and on.
I cannot do better than end with a prayer by John Donne approximately contemporary with the Shakespeare passage with which I began:
Bring us, O Lord God, at our last awakening into the house and gate of heaven to enter into that gate and dwell in that house, where there shall be no darkness nor dazzling, but one equal light; no noise nor silence, but one equal music; no fears nor hopes, but one equal possession; no ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity; in the habitations of thy glory and dominion, world without end.
 Merchant of Venice Act 5 scene 1,ll.57-65
 Psalm 19:1-3
 The discarded image. An introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature (1964) especially ch.5
 L. Kemmerer, Animals and World Religions (Oxford 2012); B. Gardner, The Compassionate Animal (Ivybridge, Devon 2012; revised 2014)
 D.Cohn-Sherbok, After Noah. Animals and the Liberation of Theology(London 1997),54-56
 Idem, 56-8
 Numbers 22:21-34
 Geraldine Elliot, The Long Grass whispers (1962)
 Psalm 96:11-12
 Prometheus Unbound. Act IV
Address by Barbara Gardner, Director of AIA
In early 2014, when we were first setting up the Animal Interfaith Alliance, Feargus and I attended an event organised by the government department responsible for interfaith co-operation, who were looking to support faith groups working in the community. Somebody there told us that we would never get all the faiths co-operating on the issue of animals, as there was so much religious division surrounding them, particularly in the area of religious slaughter. It would, at best, be problematic and, at worst, be totally unworkable. Well here we are, over two years on, and I can tell them that, so far, they were completely wrong.
I am delighted to say that we have 15 member organisations from across all the main faiths who are totally committed to animal welfare and rights and are totally in agreement that we should treat our fellow travellers in this cosmic journey with kindness and compassion and that we should apply the golden rule, which is common to all faiths, to all sentient beings and not just humans. In other words, we should treat all sentient beings as we would wish to be treated ourselves. The differences in views on religious slaughter, so feared by our friend at that meeting over two years ago, has never been an issue – all our members are agreed that we should not be slaughtering animals at all.
This year, AIA launched its Cooler Eating Campaign, to put the issue of the effects of meat-eating on climate change on the agendas of the environment, development and faith organisations. Amongst the many animal cruelty issues that we are concerned about, one of the most troubling issues is the suffering of billions of farm animals each year throughout the world, in factory farms, in long distant live transport and at slaughter. Not only is it an aberration, in my view, that many people who care so much for other humans and for their cats and dogs, can be so untouched by the suffering of the animals that have now become their Sunday roast, their chicken drumstick or their hamburger, but it is also an aberration that people so concerned about the environment and climate change and third world poverty can totally ignore the role played by large-scale factory farming.
Methane and nitrous oxide emitted from farm animals are the most potent greenhouse gases and far more rain forest is destroyed for cattle ranches than for palm oil. (Methane is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide is 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide – see Lisa Kemmerer’s book Eating The Earth and the film Cowspiracy). Yet the environment movement still focuses on cutting carbon emissions and reducing palm oil and are failing to embrace the challenge of eating less meat, or better still, changing to a plant based diet, in order to tackle climate change and environmental destruction. This issue was not on the table at last year’s Climate Change Conference in Paris.
Likewise, organisations campaigning to end world poverty are not embracing the challenge of redirecting the grain, which is fed to farm animals to provide meat for the first world, to the poor and starving of the third world, who are being deprived of that grain. This is an issue about human health as well, and the multi-billion-dollar medical bill of dealing with heart-disease, stroke, diabetes and some cancers – money that could be going to help the poor. The World Health Organisation recently officially labelled red meat as carcinogenic. Encouraging the poor of the world to share our meat-based diet will only exacerbate the problem and we should set an example to them by changing our eating habits.
Sadly, too, these movements seem to be overlooking the wonderful things said about animals by Pope Francis in Laudato Si’. The encyclical is being used, quite rightly, as a guide for saving the environment, protecting against climate change and caring for the poor, but the message about our proper treatment of animals is being ignored. All these issues are inter-related and inter-connected, and we cannot ignore one issue without a knock on effect on the other issues.
Our job is to work with these other organisations to re-connect the issues that they are concerned about with the plight of the animals and to get the issue of large-scale factory farming and the mass eating of meat by those in the first world onto their agendas.
AIA has started working in collaboration with The Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC) which was established in 1995 by Prince Philip to bring faith organisations together to work for the environment and is headed by Martin Palmer. ARC has established a large global network of faith-based organisations undertaking initiatives for the environment. More recently, they have become interested in embracing animals in their circle of concern.
Earlier this year AIA worked with The Gandhi Foundation and jointly hosted the multi-faith event Gandhi: The Sanctity of Life and the Ethics of Diet. I would like to thank Thom Bonneville of AIA and Graham Davey of The Gandhi Foundation for all their hard work in organising this and to congratulate them on such a successful event.
AIA has provided some financial support to The Compassion Project which is a project recently set up in the U.S. by Dr Will Tuttle and others to produce a film about faith leaders speaking out for animals. They have already produced a trailer for the film which can be viewed online. You may also like to support them.
On 29th August, AIA joined Compassion in World Farming in Parliament Square in London to protest against live transport, as part of their Animals are not Freight campaign and we also ran a social media campaign to get this message out.
I was delighted to join our patron, Nitin Mehta and our member organisation, The Young Jains on 1 May this year at the Mahavir birthday celebrations, in presenting the Mahavir Award to Darryl Cunnington and Roger Swaine, who were brutally attacked by fox hunters whilst monitoring an illegal fox hunt on behalf of The League Against Cruel Sports.
Radio Safe & Sound, an animal rights radio station in New Zealand, kindly interviewed me twice this year, firstly on AIA and the faiths’ teachings on animals, and then on more esoteric subjects, such as are animals like us, do they have consciousness and do they have souls? These programmes went out on 26th September and 3rd October. Please visit their Facebook page as they have many interviews with interesting animal rights advocates, for example, Peter Singer.
On 17th – 20th September, we attended a Liberal Democrat Lawyers Association Rights-Liberties-Justice (RLJ) meeting at the Liberal Democrat Conference in Brighton, entitled ‘Animal Welfare – Animal Rights. Time for a Review?’ and we put forward the motion that there should be a review of how to include the rights of animals in legislation. Our patron, Dr Richard Ryder, was one of the speakers there and he spoke eloquently on the teachings of Pope Francis in Laudato Si’.
We continue to run the Gandhi/Schweitzter Universal Kinship Appeal which was set up ten years ago by Rev. Feargus O’Connor to raise funds for medical research using humane methods that don’t involve testing on animals. This helps both humans and animals and, thanks largely to the Unitarians, has raised over £25,000. The fund is managed by the Dr Hadwen Trust for humane research. I am enormously grateful to Feargus for all his hard work in promoting both the fund and awareness of the need to find alternatives to animal testing in much-needed medical research.
None of these activities would have been possible without the very generous funding from The Romeera Foundation and the individual donations from some of our patrons and member organisations, so I would like to express my sincerest thanks to them for all their support and for making this possible.
I would also like to thank the individuals who have worked hard on AIA’s behalf – our patrons, particularly Anant Shah, Dr Richard Ryder, Joyce D’Silva and Nitin Mehta – our directors, Rev. Feargus O’Connor, Thom Bonneville, Marian Hussenbux, Ketan Varia, Harshad Sangrajka, Chris Fegan, Fr Martin Henig and Sarah Dunning.
I would particularly like to thank Marian Hussenbux for her letter-writing campaign work. Hardly a day goes by when Marian doesn’t write or email, on behalf of AIA, about some animal cruelty issue in the world in order to try to bring it to an end. She has written about bull-fighting, pig wrestling, the killing of elephants and the plight of captive elephants, grouse shooting and hare coursing, to name just a few issues.
If you feel inspired by the work that AIA does, please do feel welcome to join us. Further information about our work is available on our website, Facebook and Twitter pages.
12th Interfaith Celebration for Animals – 12th July 2015
At its first AGM held on Sunday 12th July 2015, the Animal Interfaith Alliance (AIA) unanimously approved the following resolution:
“That the Animal Interfaith Alliance abhors and condemns the attempt to undermine the Hunting Act 2004 by the proposed Statutory Instrument.”
The motion was proposed by Chris Fegan, AIA’s Director of Education & Campaigns and Catholic Concern for Animals’ (CCA) General Secretary. It was seconded by Sarah Dunning, AIA director and trustee of the Anglican Society for the Welfare of Animals (AWSA).
The AGM followed the 12th annual Interfaith Celebration for Animals, led by AIA Chair, Rev. Feargus O’Connor, at which readings on animals were given by Anglican, Buddhist, Catholic, Hindu, Jewish, Jain, Muslim and Unitarian speakers from each of their faiths.
The keynote speaker was Dr Deborah Jones who talked on Pope Francis’ new Encyclical on the Environment, Laudato Si’ and discussed its historic importance for animals. Dr Jones is AIA’s Vice President and is also Vice Chair of Catholic Concern for Animals. A Catholic Theologian, she is author of The School of Compassion: A Roman Catholic Theology of Animals.
Dr Alpesh Patel from the Dr Hadwen Trust spoke on the humane medical research undertaken by the trust, for which AIA’s own Dr Schweitzer Universal Kinship Fund is a sponsor. The research involves no animal testing and therefore saves both animal and human lives.
AIA’s managing director, Barbara Gardner also gave an update on the progress of AIA since its formation in 2014 and expressed AIA’s goodwill and gratitude to Pope Francis for the excellent document, Laudato Si’.
Funds raised at the Interfaith Celebration will be donated, half to the Dr Schweizter Universal Kinship Fund and half to Friends of the Earth, in support of the environment highlighted in Pope Francis’ new encyclical.
11th Interfaith Celebration for Animals – 4th October 2014
On Saturday 4th October 2014 he held the 11th Interfaith Celebrations for Animals, which was sponsored by The World Congress of Faiths, The Animal Interfaith Alliance and Quaker Concern for Animals.
ORDER OF SERVICE
Words of Welcome from Rev. Feargus O’Connor.
Lighting a candle for the world’s animals and special candles for the Animal Interfaith Alliance, all animal protection campaigners and for polar bears and other victims of global warming.
Universalist Prayer for Animals – Rev. Feargus O’Connor
Readings: Buddhist, Hindu, Jain, Sikh
Prayer or Companion Animals fondly remembered
Readings: Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Quaker, Unitarian
Address by Dr Alpesh Patel of the Dr Hadwen Trust
Hymn – We Celebrate the Web of Life (Alicia S. Carpenter)
Voluntary collection for the Dr Hadwen Trust and the Animal Interfaith Alliance