Friday, January 13, 2012

Wherein There is Life

This weekend we took the kids down to the Fort Worth Science and History Museum to see "Born to be Wild," a film in the Imax Theater about the rescue efforts to save orphaned baby orangutans and elephants headed by two incredible women who can see the worth the animals' divine creation.

Now, I am not an "animal person," the kind of woman that will age add a cat to the foot of my bed with each decade of life; I don't even have a goldfish right now. But I have been moved to wonderment about animals lately. I did a bit of reading about the emotional response of elephants a month ago when I wrote this piece for Segullah. I marveled at how expressive and open they were with each other; how caring, compassionate and beautiful their relationships were. When I see something that beautiful, I always know it is of a divine origin.

And as I sat there during sacrament meeting this week, I was still thinking.  God sent man and woman out from the Garden of Eden due to their choice to know good and evil: to become as God is. I know that much. But what of the animals? They were with Adam and Eve in the Garden, and they exist outside of it as well. What are we to make of them? They never chose their future, it was our actions that brought about the fall for them. A consequence of our "dominion over them." God allowed them to continue with us. And though it seems like a stretch when I think of vultures and termites, animals can "please the eye and gladden the heart." (At least those animals have practical value as part of nature's recycling team.) So, I feel some responsibility for them. 

Then I read in the first chapter of Genesis
20 And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.
21 And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
22 And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth.
23 And the evening and the morning were the fifth day.
24 ¶And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his akind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so.
25 And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
                                                                            *  *  *
30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for ameat: and it was so.
31 And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.
 "Wherein there is life" jumped off the page at me. All these creations, each of the species, everyone of those animals were created by the same life force that created each of us. God didn't have someone lesser create those things, they were also personally made by God. And they were "good," "very good." More than just very good eats. Now, I am not condoning eating meat- we aren't supposed to do that (D&C 49). I am just stepping back, grappling with what my "dominion" over these creatures means. 

I don't think of dominion as ultimate power, not at all, that is something only God possesses. Sovereignty, influence and exercise of control are definitions of  dominion that I resonate with. Dominion is not to dominate, but to act as a leader, and thus responsible for that within our stewardship. D&C 76:111 points out that we will be accountable for this: 
111 For they shall be judged according to their works, and every man shall receive according to his own works, his own dominion, in the mansions which are prepared;
Any Christ-like leader, as we all seek to be should understand and exercise the virtue of kindness. One of our prophets wrote an essay entitled, "Kindness to Animals." I agree that it should extend there. While editor for the Juvenile Instructor (an old church publication), President Joseph F. Smith wrote,
“Kindness to the whole animal creation and especially to all domestic animals is not only a virtue that should be developed, but is the absolute duty of mankind. … It is an unrighteous thing to treat any creature cruelly. … It will be a blessed day when mankind shall accept and abide by the Christ-like sentiment expressed by one of the poets in the following words: ‘Take not away the life you cannot give, For all things have an equal right to live.’”
And while we still do use animals for meat, I don't think we have the right to exploit them for that purpose. They are entitled to fulfill the measure of their creation, although different from our own, they are to have joy, be fruitful, to multiply and replenish the earth. I believe that even when we do use them as meat, when serve chicken for dinner, when or if we hunt for wild game, or buy a burger, we should uphold that kindness to animals. That those animals should be have been given those kindnesses, treatment worthy of creature that was made both spiritually and physically by God. In general conference in 1951, Prophet David O. McKay also spoke for the need of humanity for all:
 “a true Latter-day Saint is kind to animals, is kind to every created thing, for God created all.”
 I come back to the another word that accompanies dominion in Genesis: subdue. That word more than any other brings me back into focus, helps me understand my stewardship with the earth. Subdue is to tame, to pacify, to calm. As we subdue the earth, fishes, fowl and the noxious weeds threatening to take over my backyard, we are reestablishing the Garden of Eden. A "second innocence" to borrow a term from poet William Blake.  Changing our actions toward animals will bring us closer to the way the earth is to be renewed, how we are to live in the future. I love these words from Brigham Young:
Brigham Young also showed concern for animals. For example, in a sermon preached in Salt Lake’s old Tabernacle, he said, “Let the people be holy, and the earth under their feet will be holy. Let the people be holy, and filled with the Spirit of God, and every animal and creeping thing will be filled with peace. … The more purity that exists, the less is the strife; the more kind we are to our animals, the more will peace increase, and the savage nature of the brute creation will vanish away.” (Journal of Discourses, vol. 1, p. 203.)

I will have more on how I apply this in the next post, since this one was getting a bit long. Until then, what do you think? Do you resonate with this?


  1. Thanks for your thoughts! I don't think a whole lot about eating meat, but I also don't eat it all the time. I should be better about where I get our meat and learn if those animals were treated humanely. I try to focus on the bigger picture of being a "good steward" to the earth, and this is definitely part of it. Recycle/compost...check. Cloth diapers...check. Better food choices...still in progress :).

  2. This is the exact reasons we started to eat a more vegetarian diet. I watched a bunch of documentaries on how animals are treated as food sources in America and my heart was broken because I knew the way they were being treated was not they way Heavenly Father intended. I tried to imagine the love I have for my dog multiplied and I knew Heavenly Father's heart must be aching for his creatures. I knew I had a responsibility as a steward on this earth to do better. Most of our meats now come from from my father the hunter (wild game).

    Thank you for this post, this is what brought me to your blog 2 1/2 years ago! That and I googled Word of Wisdom and vegetarianism :).

  3. Thanks for kind responses. I feel really strongly about it, but I know this is a touchy subject.


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