From Roman Catholicsm to Secular Humanism
#1
Soul Searching: From Roman Catholic to Humanist

By Kevin Saldanha, DVM, BVSc&AH, MVSc
Mississauga, Ontario

I have been a companion animal veterinarian for more than 20 years and a practicing Roman Catholic for most of my life until about five years ago.

My journey away from Catholicism and organized religion to atheism and now secular humanism was via a dietary change to vegetarianism coinciding with a quest to understand the after-lives of animals. It was through a discussion about having a 'Blessing of the Pets' at our local church that I started questioning my concept of 'soul' and how that applied to animals.

The parish priest was reluctant to allow a "St. Francis of Assisi" type blessing because of an incident at another church where a pet owner wanted her poodle to partake in the Eucharist and receive Holy Communion after the blessing. After acknowledging that it was inappropriate, I suggested that only a very passionate pet owner would want the similar blessings of communion for her closest companion.

He argued that the dog could not have benefited in any tangible way because it did not have a 'human' soul. A discussion ensued as to the difference of animal and human souls which left me more confused than before. Until that time, I had never questioned that animals had a similar after-life to humans, where we would all meet up once again, being whole and healthy as described in the comforting poem 'The Rainbow Bridge'

A few months before this conversation, I had chosen to follow a vegetarian diet while trying to follow a healthier lifestyle. Until then, I had not considered the after-lives of animals we breed, nurture and slaughter for food. Through my professional training, I learned humane animal husbandry techniques, but I never made the connection between the pets we treat with such love and compassion and the food on my plate.

I started becoming aware of the inconsistency of my attitudes towards different classes of animals based on their utility for humans. Two books which were instrumental in changing my attitude were 'Diet for a Small Planet' by Frances Moore Lappe and 'The Pig who Sang to the Moon' by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson.

While I had effectively compartmentalized my knowledge of evolution from my religious beliefs, I was now beginning to feel the need to reconcile the two and felt that there could only be one truth. Which was it? That all animals, including the ultimate primate, Homo sapiens, had souls which then made the assumption that all had equally significant afterlives, or that none did.

Two books by animal rights activist and lawyer, Steven M. Wise—"Rattling the Cage" and "Drawing the Line"—blurred the line on sentience and intelligence in primates and other species respectively. When exactly, during evolution or gestation, did the eternal human soul get infused into our bodies?

As that concept began to unravel, so did many others of the faith of my baptism, leaving me bewildered and lonely. I knew that I wasn't the only one to come up with this conundrum and went online to find like minded individuals. I had to bypass the angry atheist and Internet infidel sites, finally landing on the secular humanists, who put reason and intent to our lives without need for a supernatural deity.

(I am originally from Goa but was born in Kenya and now live in Canada.
This article was written in response to a call from the Humane Society of the United States to it's members asking how animal values had influenced religious thought. I don't think they expected my response, but to their credit, they published it here:
http://www.humanesociety.org/about/depar...12907.html )
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#2
That was an interesting story. I like to read about people's de-conversion stories because it is always fascinating to know what exactly triggers this whole process of questioning their faith and questioning the orthodoxy. Thanks for sharing.
"Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?" - Douglas Adams

http://dsriharsha.blogspot.com
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#3
Thank you for sharing your story with us, Kevin. I found it very fascinating.

When it comes to eating animals for food, there are indeed arguments to be made that can in theory permit one to continue doing so, but of course none of those can be supernatural. Personally, I agree that there is something inherently hypocritical in showing love and affection to some animals and not to others. This is even more exaggerated in the West, where people shower affection on their hamsters while they eat meat at the dinner table.

But this issue is not so simple. The minute we start making these judgments, we have to realize that there is some cut-off point. Every action of ours is a compromise between how much we desire something and how much destruction we are willing to let out actions cause.

I am perfectly fine with considering some animals as food and some others as not. Perhaps it is morally repulsive to some, but I'm just not there. I do not pretend to justify it in any way, except to point out that in the time between our messages, a few hundred people have died of starvation, something that we could have avoided. We both made a compromise there by choosing to ignore suffering that we know is happening. We're doing it right now. I think the best way to deal with this moral problem is to look at it as a utilitarian problem, like Peter Singer does. Perhaps someday I'll be able to give up eating meat as well, and truly practice the ideas of Singer, ideas that I agree with.

As I mentioned before, I think its really great that vegetarianism brought you to atheism. I don't think that happens often enough. It's perhaps possible that vegetarianism makes people Buddhists too smile
"Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian"
~ J.B.S.Haldane, on being asked to falsify evolution.
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#4
The problem with the differences between animals used for companionship and those used for food, specially in the west, is compounded by their proximity to the end user.

In Canada, companion animals (pets) live in very close quarters with their humans for most of the year as climatic conditions are not conducive to roaming. The become part of the family and that closeness develops into what we refer to as the human-animal bond.

Conversely, meat production is so carefully secured from public view that most kids (and many adults) really don't know the conditions under which their meat, milk and eggs come to their table. Supermarkets have sanitized the end product into shrink-wrapped cuts, milk cartons and egg trays that have removed all semblance of their biological sources. So consuming those products is not really associated with the warm, furry pet sleeping on the bed. I lived through decades of that innocent denial, despite having the professional knowledge that should have made a difference.

I am now rethinking my philosophy after having read 'The Vegetarian Myth' by Lierre Kieth. It goes a step further to include monocultured crops in the same category as CAFO operations while removing sustainably produced animal products including meat.

It is keeping an open mind to new ideas that is the hallmark of a freethinker.

Kevin
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#5
This is a very good point- Monoculture crops. Many people are unaware of the dangers that this form of agriculture represents, especially with the advent of globalization and industrial farming. The destruction of biodiversity is a terrible mark against humankind.

Regarding eating sustainably produced meat, I would also include the caveat that we could try to make sure that the animals lead as "natural" a life as possible till they are killed. And the killing could be done in as humane a way as possible. Unfortunately, as you mentioned before, people would rather not talk about this uncomfortable middle ground. So what you often see is one extreme wanting all meat eating gone and another side that wants to eat meat without having to make the association with real animals.
"Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian"
~ J.B.S.Haldane, on being asked to falsify evolution.
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#6
(21-Apr-2010, 05:11 PM)Ajita Kamal Wrote: This is a very good point- Monoculture crops. Many people are unaware of the dangers that this form of agriculture represents, especially with the advent of globalization and industrial farming. The destruction of biodiversity is a terrible mark against humankind.

Regarding eating sustainably produced meat, I would also include the caveat that we could try to make sure that the animals lead as "natural" a life as possible till they are killed. And the killing could be done in as humane a way as possible. Unfortunately, as you mentioned before, people would rather not talk about this uncomfortable middle ground. So what you often see is one extreme wanting all meat eating gone and another side that wants to eat meat without having to make the association with real animals.

Although I am a meat eater, I can identify with Peter Singer views as you do Ajita.
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#7
1) What a terrific heartwarming story of deconversion, purely by following the goodness of the heart and doing the right thing (being considerate to other organisms) for the right reason (Homo sapiens are just another animal, and all animals have their 'rights').

2) Like Ajita, I am also reminded of Peter Singer's stance on Animal rights, as in the below conversation with Richard Dawkins
Peter Singer - The Genius of Darwin: The Uncut Interviews - Richard Dawkins
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GYYNY2oKVWU

He talks about how it would be cruel to kill an animal which may have high levels of sentience, especially if it has 'made plans for its future'. RD talks about a science fictional event of mankind discovering a live, hidden, hominid (Africanus Afarensis, IIRC), and how mankind would treat it. Would we treat it like a human, or as an animal?

3) I am a vegetarian, because I grew up in such an env. However, as I grew older I saw other cultures be non-veg for a very good reason.. When I visited tokyo, they ate fish all the time, and it seemed to me that their hilly country wouldnt allow growing of crops in lareg scale. And I also learnt that humans themselves probably evolved their big brains, as they consumed more protein from animal meat. So I dabbled with eating meat myself, but couldnt get past step 1 :-)

4) At the same time, this thread brings to mind the depressing story of how mankind is raping the earth, with most individuals being unaware of it. Mankind was preoccupied with its own well being and survival at the cost of other species.. at least in the last 50K years. We have consistently wiped out big animals in North America (by 10K years ago), and elsewhere too. The time of european imperialism was very bad too (as documented in the book I am currently reading.. "Song of the Dodo" by David Quammen).
The sad thing about religion is that it makes people stagnate in their intellectual development, and thereby not concentrate on great issues facing mankind. And religion actually tells people that we DONT have to worry about those issues. For e.g Christians think that they can rape the earth as much as they want, coz Jesus is going to replinish it when he comes back. And Re: Global Warming.. nope, Jesus will cool it down when needed.
And without a critical mass being intellectually liberated, mankind can not possibly solve those issues. The below video is a good one..
HOME (English with subtitles)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jqxENMKae...pqSQeaJIZw
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has - Margaret Mead
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