Why the Lord’s Prayer really is dangerous and offensive

The agency that handles British film advertising for the major cinema chains, Odeon, Cineworld and Vue, has banned a Church of England’s advert featuring the Lord’s Prayer because it believes it would upset or offend audiences. I am currently in the process of writing my next book on this short 70-word prayer. For me, the question of “why has this advert been banned?” should be recast as “how can Jesus’s radical call-to-action be seen as anything other than dangerous, offensive and inflammatory?”

Our Father who art in heaven

tutu 1By referring to God as our Father, we are making a statement about God’s loving relationship with us, but we are also saying something profound about our relationships with each other. If God is our father, then we are compelled to treat each other as if we are brothers and sisters. This is a revolutionary call to show love and compassion to those who we don’t get on with and those don’t agree with. It is a call to care for the ill, the poor, the hungry, the disenfranchised, the refugee, the alienated, and the oppressed. As Desmond Tutu puts it: “In God’s family, there are no outsiders. All are insiders. Black and white, rich and poor, gay and straight, Jew and Arab, Palestinian and Israeli, Roman Catholic and Protestant, Serb and Albanian, Hutu and Tutsi, Muslim and Christian, Buddhist and Hindu, Pakistani and Indian – all belong… We are members of one family. We belong… God says, ‘All, all are my children’. It is shocking. It is radical”.

Hallowed by thy name

poor_children04To Jesus’s disciples being “holy” (“hallowed”) would have meant something very different from how we might view the word. In the Old Testament, God’s holiness is frequently related to his role as deliverer and redeemer of the oppressed. The theologian Karl Barth asserts that by praying that God’s name be hallowed, we are asking that we become worthy bearers of God’s name in our loving and compassionate actions. ‘Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy’”, God tells Moses in Leviticus. We have, then, a revolutionary imperative – to stand alongside the poor, to defend the defenceless, to liberate the persecuted, to offer justice to the oppressed, to speak for those with no voice. Holiness is a radical call to action, and not a retreat into inaction.

Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven

This is not an appeal for us to wait for God to reveal himself. It is God who is waiting – he is waiting for us to open our eyes and recognise his kingdom breaking through all around us. God’s kingdom comes to us through those driven by “the imperative for practical service and love” (Rowan Williams). When pain and suffering are countered, the kingdom breaks through. When violence, wealth, power, and prestige are opposed, the kingdom flourishes. When people reach out to those in need, those who are oppressed, and those who feel they have no hope, then God’s will is being done. The revolutionary call of the kingdom is to bring God’s light to the most hopeless and desolate situations.

Give us this day our daily bread

money-bread-16570679_sIn this line we are, first of all, asking God to help us combat poverty. It is commendable that we support food banks and other ventures to help those struggling on the bread line, but it is scandalous that such charities need to exist in the first place. “We are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside,” asserted Martin Luther King, “but one day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed”. Secondly, though, by asking for “daily bread”, we are also asking God to keep us away from wealth. The predominant ‘story’ that our society teaches us is that money matters, that it is worth something, that it is something we should be desiring. Christians are called to question this myth of money incarnate, and offer a liberating alternative. After all, the gospel of grace and selflessness surely stands in direct opposition to the financial law of supply and demand.

Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us

forgive“Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive”, asserted CS Lewis. Forgiveness is difficult, but it is what God expects from us. It is part and parcel of what it means to be Christian. It’s not an optional extra for us. It is, though, radical and revolutionary. After all, forgiveness is far harder and braver than retaliation and hatred. But we do get a pay-off through forgiveness. By forgiving, we are released from our personal prisons, to move forward and onward in our lives. The Huffington Post recently reported that many in the Middle East are turning towards forgiveness, rather than retribution, for the terrible crimes of Islamic State. “I won’t do anything to them,” one young Christian refugee said after seeing her community and family decimated by the group, “I will only ask God to forgive them”.

Lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil

moneyTemptations promise us joy and fulfilment. Our faith, though, teaches us the radical truth that we are being sold a lie. The comedian Russell Brand was drawn at an early age into a world of wealth, fame, and excess. “I was treating a spiritual malady… I was actually seeking salvation”, he writes. It is not easy for us to grasp that lasting joy and fulfilment will not be found in those places where we have been told excitement, fun, and fulfilment comes from. Brand writes that he sometimes sees old photographs of himself emerging from London nightclubs with blonde women on his arms. “I can still be deceived into thinking, ‘Wow, I’d like to be him’, then I remember that I was him”, he concludes. Temptation merely promises us fleeting joy; faith reminds us that a deeply satisfying life can only be found in spiritual peace. This is a message that our world does not want to hear; it is a truth that our world does not want to face.

For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory

In 1975, a team of students from Manchester University subverted BBC’s quiz University Challenge by answering every question they were asked with the name of a Communist leader: “Karl Marx”, “Trotsky”, “Lenin”, “Che Guevara”, and so on. As Christians, though, the answer to all our questions really is “Jesus”. He offers life, he offers a new way of thinking, he offers a profound transformation in our understanding of the concept of power. His is not extrinsic power, foisted on us all from outside, compelling us to be obedient. His is, rather, an intrinsic authority, persuading us and inspiring us to join him on a revolution of compassion. As we face terror on the streets of Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and elsewhere, the Lord’s Prayer is a dangerous, radical alternative to today’s powers of military muscle, violent extremism, fleeting fame, and rapacious wealth. But Jesus offers a different kingdom, a different power, a different glory. Jesus offers radical and revolutionary love.

To view the Church of England’s advert: www.youtube.com/watch?v=vlUXh4mx4gI&

 

Compassion and Refugees

As I sat in my local doctor’s surgery last week, a young boy started staring at me. He was of middle-eastern origin and was not much older than the age of the Syrian child in the photographs that have recently shocked the world. I smiled at him and said “hello”, but he simply kept on staring with inquisitive eyes. Noticing this one-sided conversation, his father nodded his head towards me, smiled, and said in a strong accent to his reticent child: “come on now – say hello to your uncle”. A smile broke across the hitherto unresponsive little face and a big cheerful “hello” followed.

HopeTo be called an “uncle” by a complete stranger got me thinking of our response to those coming to Europe and those attempting to cross the channel to make a home in our “green and pleasant land”. A number of commentators have challenged us to see beyond labels that are placed on such people. They are certainly not “scroungers”, “criminals”, and “benefit cheats”, but we are also urged to see beyond their labels as “refugees”, “immigrants”, or “migrants”. We are challenged to see them instead as “people”, just like you and me. As Christians, though, our call is to go even further than this. After all, Christ did not simply see “people”, and to see the kingdom of God as a kingdom of “people” is to miss how radical a call we have on our lives.

compassion-definitionPoliticians of all sides of the political spectrum have used the word “compassion” on many of occasions in recent weeks. There seems to be a consensus that compassion is essential when treating those fleeing from war, conflict, and turmoil. Yet “compassion” is not simply a buzzword to be used when convenient and it is essential that we do not miss the profound depth of the challenge of “compassion”. The English word derives from the Latin words cum and pati, meaning ‘to suffer with’. In other words, when we feel compassion towards others, we suffer with them. We don’t make judgements on their backgrounds or motives, but we put ourselves in their shoes and truly feel their suffering.

rechemThe Hebrew word for compassion is even more revealing. In the Old Testament, the most frequent word that can be translated “compassion” is the word rachamim. ‘The Lord Almighty said: “Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion [rachamim] to one another”’ (Zechariah 7.9). The word is related to the Hebrew term for womb, rechem, indicating that our compassion for those around us should reflect family bonds. The same link with the word womb (rahem) can be made with Arabic word for compassion/mercy (rahmah), which is found frequently in the Qur’an. In other words, compassion is about treating others as if they were in the same family as us, as if they were our own flesh and blood, as if they had shared the same womb as we did.

WelcomeThe French Cistercian monk Charles de Foucauld referred to this concept as the “universal brotherhood” – that we treat everyone as our brothers and sisters. If we are to interpret compassion in this way, as the great monotheistic religions do, this is a huge challenge to our lives and our politics. How many politicians treat so-called “immigrants” as if they were related to them? The most wonderful thing about the widely-reported response to the present crisis in Germany is that many are actually welcoming refugees into their own homes. Through an “Air B’n’B” website, many hundreds of Germans, including students, single-mothers, and retired couples, offered their homes to refugees from countries such as Syria, Somalia, and Burkina Faso. That is compassion. That is truly treating others as family.

After all, when we see others as our kin, all their labels will peel away. The Jesuit contemplative Anthony de Mello used an analogy of a menu in a restaurant. However much we might salivate while considering the list of food, not one of us will decide to eat the actual menu. It is the food that we want to eat, not the words about the food! As far as possible we must attempt to experience people themselves, rather than experience the labels that we or other people put on them. As soon as we slap a label like “immigrant” and “refugee” on a person, our understanding of that individual becomes distorted. We start to see the label rather than the person, and every label, of course, has undertones of approval or disapproval. My wife is German. When I look at her lovingly over a romantic meal, I do not stare into her eyes and say, “darling, you are such a beautiful immigrant”. Likewise, in our church community we have individuals from across the globe who are active in the congregation. None of us see them as “immigrants”. Once we know a person, they cease to be a label and they simply become family.

family 2As I sat in that doctor’s surgery, it made perfect sense to be called “uncle” by that little boy. If God is our father, as we pray in the prayer Jesus himself taught, then we are compelled to treat each other as if we are brothers and sisters. As Christians, there is no opt-out clause in Christ’s invitation to view others as “family”. Instead, it’s at the very heart of our faith and is fundamental to our radical call to live out the compassionate kingdom. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu put it: “I hope we can accept a wonderful truth – we are family! We are family! If we could get to believe this we would realise that care about ‘the other’ is not really altruistic, but it is the best form of self-interest”.

For more on this theme, see chapter 5 “Radical Compassion” in The Compassion Quest.

 

 

“We don’t do God”: A call for faith to inspire politics

Religion-and-PoliticsIt has become popular in recent years to divorce faith and politics, and to treat them as if they are separate domains that don’t have any bearing on one another. When the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair attempted to talk about his Christian faith in an interview with the magazine Vanity Fair, his communications manager Alistair Campbell immediately stopped the interviewer’s questions. ‘We don’t do God’, was Campbell’s now famous retort. However, I believe that the attempt to separate faith and politics is not only unhelpful and unrealistic, but can also ultimately be dangerous and have grave consequences.

While there are certainly examples of where faith has been, and is still being, misused in the political sphere, this should certainly not mask the amazing social and political reform that has been inspired by faith. It could even be argued that the majority of great political reformers down the centuries have been motivated by faith, and many have even used religious language to express their views. In the UK, we have had a long tradition of faith inspiring political and social action – not least William Wilberforce’s stand against slavery in the eighteenth century, the faith-based leadership of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in the 1970s, and the profound Christian influence on the main political parties down the centuries. As former Prime Minister Harold Wilson put it, even the Labour Party owes more to Methodism than to Marxism. The picture is the same worldwide, with faith motivating individuals (like Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr, Mikhail Gorbachov, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu) to bravely challenge corruption and prejudice.

Believing in the Dignity of All: Desmond M. TutuIt is, of course, not surprising that so many people are inspired through their faith to engage either directly or indirectly in the political sphere. In the Christian tradition, the Bible brims full of social justice, peace, equality, and freedom. As Desmond Tutu once famously stated: “When people say that the Bible and politics don’t mix, I ask them which Bible they are reading”. In all his tireless campaigning, in South Africa and beyond, Tutu has always maintained that poverty, sexism, homophobia, and racism are not merely political problems, they are spiritual and moral issues. “The gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is concerned for the whole person,” he asserted. “When people were hungry, Jesus didn’t say, ‘Now is that political or social?’ He said, ‘I feed you’. Because the good news to a hungry person is bread”.

Jesus’s ‘Sermon on the Mount’ has especially inspired countless political leaders, not least Gandhi (“when your country and mine shall get together on the teachings laid down by Christ in this Sermon on the Mount, we shall have solved the problems not only of our countries but those of the whole world”) and Barack Obama (“a passage so radical that it’s doubtful that our Defence Department would survive its application”). Yet Jesus’s social and political influence went far beyond one sermon.  Jesus’ very presence, along with his teachings in general, were regarded as such a threat to the political powers of Rome and Jerusalem that they conspired to rid themselves of this first-century Palestinian rebel rouser.

obama prayingIf Jesus was concerned with engaging practically and compassionately with society and the world around us, surely it is only natural that Christians allow their relationship with him to do likewise. Barack Obama, for example, was not raised in a religious household, but he was moved to his baptism as an adult precisely because he saw in faith a vehicle for social change.  In his autobiography he talks about politics leading him to faith and faith leading him to politics. On the one hand, it was his work as a community organiser for churches in Chicago that led him to be drawn towards a political life. The pastors and other Christians who worked with the unemployed, drug addicted, and poverty stricken in the city “confirmed my belief in the capacity of ordinary people to do extraordinary things”. On the other hand, it was the power of religious traditions to spur social change that drew him to faith. The African-American religious tradition, as he put it, “understood in an intimate way the biblical call to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and challenge powers and principalities”.

However, Obama, like other Christians involved in social and political change, emphasizes that bringing his faith into politics certainly does not mean losing respect for those with different beliefs. In fact, the Christian faith teaches that all life is sacred, and so faith should actually lead to more respect and reverence for the world around us – for the environment, for animals, and for all other people, whether they share our beliefs or not. In other words, yes, our faith should inform and inspire our political views, but these views should also be transformed into universal, rather than religion-specific, values.

Keith Hebden protest drone warfareBy doing this, people of faith should echo the prophets of the Old Testament by being the first to speak out and protest against corrupt governments, greed-obsessed corporations, ethically-blind companies, and environmentally-damaging activities. A friend of mine, who is a Church of England vicar (and author of Seeking Justice: The Radical Compassion of Jesus), regards his tireless work for ethical and social justice as absolutely integral to his faith, and, as a result, he has even been arrested on numerous occasions while campaigning against drone warfare, nuclear weapons, and hate preaching. Other Christians, of course, work from the inside of the political systems to effect change, just as Daniel did in the Old Testament. Either way, the faith of each individual could contribute so much to the important issues of poverty, welfare cuts, economic debt (personal and national), the environment, asylum seekers, international aid, and so on.

Wall faith politics

For the Christian, God is connected to every single aspect of our lives and of the life of the world. Church does not start and finish on Sunday, but continues in whichever community God has placed us. I would argue that it is a duty for Christians, along with people of other faiths, to bring their faith into the political and social realm. If we do not, we run the danger of ending up with what Barack Obama calls “bad politics”, where the only people who bring their faith into the social and political sphere are those who want to misuse both politics and faith. By leaving our own faith out of our politics, we leave a vacuum in politics for those with insular and hateful beliefs, or for those who cynically use faith for their own means.

I once heard it said that religion is like water poured on our hearts. We all have either thorns or flowers growing in the garden of our hearts. If we pour water on thorns, they will grow. And so religion can make the thorns grow and choke the goodness in our hearts. This will then engender hatred, prejudice, and disunity. On the other hand, if we pour water on flowers, they will also grow. And so faith has the potential to make the flowers in our hearts flourish and thus bring so much love, joy, and peace to the world. Our aim should not be to stop faith being involved in politics. Rather, our aim should be to make sure that people have flowers, and not thorns, growing in their hearts, so that a loving, compassionate, and liberating faith can inspire politics and bring hope and new life to individuals, communities, and societies.

politics and faith

  • The above was a talk I gave to over 100 sixth formers at the Sixth Form Faith Day on Faith and Politics at St Teilo’s High School, Cardiff. In an exciting project, the sixth form students are starting their own “faith blog”, dealing with issues surrounding faith and society. In due course, I will provide the link.

Crime and Compassion: Does Mick Philpott deserve any compassion?

Certainly the crime committed by Mick Philpott, Mairead Philpott, and Paul Mosley was utterly deplorable and horrendous. The judge in the trial, Mrs Justice Thirlwall, concluded that the plot to set fire to the Philpott’s house and to rescue their six children was “a wicked and dangerous plan”, which was “outside the comprehension of any right-thinking person”. The tragic consequence was the death of six innocent children.

media-general-newspaper-images-3However, the reaction of some sections of the press and the media to the perpetrators of this crime leads us to consider whether “evil Mick Philpott”, as much of the press have now rechristened him, deserves any of our compassion? This question brought to mind an interview that I recently gave to a blog about the legal system in the UK. I am, therefore, posting below some of the questions posed by the The Law Map, a blog for people in the legal profession, and the answers I gave:

TheLawMap: Should the need for compassionate living require a more compassionate justice system? How could this be achieved?

At the core of a compassionate justice system is the way that we as individuals view those with whom we come into contact, whether they are victims or perpetrators. As such, the process of compassion must be one of recognising our common humanity with each other, and taking seriously the backgrounds that others hail from.

Compassion is certainly not a case of allowing people to avoid “justice” or letting people “get away with it”. Still, we should never forget that people are not open books. Situations, traumatic upbringings, and backgrounds are not always apparent to us, and so we should take care not to judge others directly on what we do see them do, how we see them act, or on what others tell us about them.

Dredd 1In the recent Hollywood film Dredd [2011], Judge Dredd is stopped from implementing the death penalty on an individual when his psychic sidekick is able to reveal the abuse and humiliation to which the character had been subjected. Life is not like a superhero blockbuster, but our role is still to take seriously the paths, often relating to broken childhoods, that people have trod.

Too often our politics, legal system, and especially the press want to separate people into saints and sinners. Compassion, though, demands from us a recognition that our inclination towards good and bad is, very often, related to suffering in our past. As such, we have to face the reality that if we had the same genes and the same upbringing as others, there is a good chance that we would be acting the same way. That is a huge challenge to the way that we as individuals, as well as every part of our society, including the legal system, treat other people.

The Law Map: Are there individuals locked in correctional facilities who could be beyond compassion & should compassion be the basis of a penal system that reflects the pain and suffering of the victims?

Certainly, the pain and suffering of victims should never be devalued, as our love and care towards them is paramount. But compassion towards the victim and the perpetrator are not mutually exclusive. As such, no one is beyond our compassion. After all, compassion challenges us to recognise our common humanity with all, even convicted criminals.

A few years back I took a group of students to a former Nazi concentration camp. At one point, as we all stood silent in the midst of our thoughts of the horrors the prisoners had faced, one student said: ‘imagine if we had been one of the guards here’. At that moment, it dawned on me that, yes we could have been one of the prisoners, but we equally could have been one of the oppressors. We are so used empathetically to putting ourselves in the shoes of the oppressed, that we forget that the oppressors are also human, just like you and me.

MirrorHowever heinous we regard the actions of others, our call should always be towards compassion. The sickening actions of Myra Hindley were clearly abhorrent. However, the reaction of our society after Hindley’s death reveals how little self-awareness we have of the capacity for the most horrendous evil, as well as the greatest good, that is present in us all. The Sun exclaimed that ‘Myra the Devil’ would never be forgiven, The Daily Mail bemoaned the fact that she had a peaceful death, while The Daily Express’s front page headline simply read ‘Go to Hell, Myra’.

The temptation is certainly to demonise offenders and regard them as ‘different’ from us and our loved ones. By doing so, we are led to believe that reform, redemption, and restoration are naïve and implausible. We, therefore, separate and stigmatize those who act in ways that go against our moral codes.

Beasts Of Southern Wild poster review

In my own Christian tradition, Jesus Christ certainly held a rich concept of justice, but he also clearly held that nothing or no one was beyond redemption. His love, acceptance, and compassion had no boundaries, a fact that even many parts of the Church today fails to live out. The recent film Beasts of the Southern Wild [2011] beautifully summarised the concept that our common humanity challenges us to show care for even the most broken and lost souls: “The whole universe depends on everything fitting together just right. If one piece busts, even the smallest piece, then the entire universe will get busted”.

The Law Map: Does the technologically interconnected nature of modern living allow us to be more compassionate and concerned about human rights issues across the globe?

At the heart of life is relationship. We are as a species utterly dependent on each other. The French Cistercian monk Charles de Foucald suggested a concept of the ‘universal brotherhood’. In other words, all of us are intimately connected as one large family and should treat each other with this in mind. As Desmond Tutu put it: ‘I hope we can accept a wonderful truth – we are family! We are family!”

Mick-Philpott-on-Jeremy-Kyle-Show-1798447Yet, in our everyday lives, we often revel in our separation from each other. Television shows such as The Jeremy Kyle Show and The X Factor, for example, fail to recognise our unity and common humanity, but instead rejoice in our dissimilarity with those whom we are watching. We almost delight in the rejects of these shows, and enjoy the feeling that we are so very different to them. Our enjoyment at the appalling vocal performances of early contestants in the auditions for The X Factor, or the poorly spoken guests on The Jeremy Kyle Show, help to make us feel better personally, but always at the expense of the weak, powerless, or ignorant.

One might think that the technologically interconnected nature of modern living would help us feel more connected with the world around us, but, in fact, in many ways it serves to distance us from others. In our workplaces, we don’t have to see people face-to-face these days, or even chat to them on the phone, but we simply fire a quick email away to them. With regards to the law, this detachment from others has led to a new kind of criminal activity. Internet crime is the ultimate faceless disconnection, where the perpetrators do not have to look us victims straight in the eye when they carry out their crimes.

IMG_0215On the other hand, technology has been at the forefront of liberating social change, as shown in the prevalence of social media during the Arab Spring uprisings, and it is also helping to highlight the centrality of compassion and compassionate actions in our daily lives. Movements like the Charter for Compassion, Compassion It, Compassion International, Compassion in World Farming, and Compassionate Action Network themselves utilise technology either to advocate concern and care for the environment, human rights, and issues of poverty, or to simply to urge people worldwide to practice compassion in their everyday lives. ‘I know we are all pretty small in the big scheme of things, and I suppose the most you can hope for is to make some kind of difference’, muses Jack Nicholson in About Schmidt [2002]. He then asks two questions that all of us, whether we are working in the legal profession or not, should ask ourselves as we reflect on our lives and careers thus far: ‘What kind of difference have I made? What in the world is better because of me?’

For the full interview, please visit The Law Map.

See also Chapter 6 of The Compassion Quest.

Horses with no Names: What’s Faith got to do with Horsemeat?

‘We have seemed to ask – is it profitable? God is saying what we ought to have been asking – is it right?’ (Archbishop Desmond Tutu at the World Economic Forum, Switzerland 2009)

horse 1This morning I received an e-mail from my son’s secondary school informing us that all beef products were off their menu until further notice. The horsemeat scandal will certainly continue for many more months. In many ways it has led to a strange paradox of disgust and humour in the UK. Feelings of shock and revulsion are mixed with laughter and mirth, shown in the myriad of comments on facebook, from genuine concern at the huge issue of public trust in labeling to comments about people feeling “a little hoarse” after eating Tesco lasagne. In a small way, my own children are reflecting this dichotomy. On the one hand, they are palpably upset that they may have been unwittingly eating “My Little Ponies” at school. On the other hand, they have adapted UB40’s 1980s hit “There a Rat in Mi Kitchen (what am I gonna do?!)” and are presently jumping around downstairs singing “There’s a Horse in Mi Burger (what am I gonna do?!)”.

horse 4As a person of faith, my real concern is that, once the labelling issue is put to rest and once the public is given a guarantee that they will no more be eating intelligent (pigs?) and cute (lambs?) animals like horses, the whole scandal will fade into a distant memory. The whole situation, though, points to a disturbing issue that we should be facing as a society, but is being conveniently ignored as the “flesh we so fancifully fry”, to use the words of 80s icons The Smiths, is served on our plates. What the horsemeat scandal should be doing for us is reminding us exactly where our food comes from, so, if we do decide to eat meat, we truly appreciate the gift of life that has been taken to give strength to our own bodies.


For the most part, of course, our society has little or no respect for the wonderful plethora of animals that are around us. In our global economy, just as we de-humanise humans so that we can exploit the poor and oppressed without feeling ashamed, we also de-animalise animals so that we can eat as cheap food as possible without feelings of guilt. Animals literally become, to adapt the title of America’s huge hit of the 1970s, “horses with no names”. Rarely are farmed animals now treated with the respect and dignity that the farmers of old used to treat their livestock. Especially in the large, global corporations that dominate the food industry, livestock (such as cows, hens, and sheep) are viewed as simply a product to be reared for the fast-food outlet. They are bred specifically for death.

Perhaps the indigenous hunting communities of our world can teach us something of the respect and gratitude towards the “calves that we carve with a smile” (The Smiths) for which we should be aiming. Many of these communities hold a great affinity for the prey they hunt and they recognise their utter dependence on the animals that are sacrificed so that their people might live. Compassionate ceremonies and rituals are often performed to show gratitude to the animals for the gift of their lives.

kalahari bushmen huntingThe tribesmen of the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa will, for example, symbolically enter the suffering of their hunt by re-enacting the final death throes of their prey. This is a marked contrast to our own food system, which is largely controlled by a small group of multi-national corporations, who attempt to hide the truth about what we are eating and the abuse of animals and workers in their factories. ‘In the meat aisle, there are no bones anymore;’ comments the Oscar-nominated film Food, Inc. [2008], ‘there is this deliberate veil, this curtain, drawn between us and where our food is coming from’.

Yet, Christians especially should recognise that all parts of creation, in life or in death, are equally worthy of our attention, respect, and love. After all, while Christ has an independent identity from his creation, he is also ‘all, and in all’ (Colossians 3:11). Embracing this view should have huge implications on moral and ethical matters – not least on our attitudes towards environmental matters, food production, health care, emerging technologies, animal care, energy development, environmentalism, and so on. ‘Do not do any injury, if you can possibly avoid it’, the great Welsh Celtic monastic St Teilo is purported to have said while reflecting on creation.

yelena cherkasova the deliverance of creation 1997The old anthropocentric, human-centred paradigm does not reflect a truly Christian worldview. God looked at creation and saw that it was “very good” (Genesis 1), not because it was useful or beneficial to us humans, but simply because it is “very good”! We must never forget that the whole web of life is valued and loved by God, not merely one strand of it. ‘I tell you, my friend,’ writes Michael Morpurgo in his bestselling War Horse, ‘there’s divinity in a horse. God got it right the day he created them’.

For more on this subject, see my book The Compassion Quest (Chapter 7 “Reverence for Life”).