Sunday, October 25, 2009

In My Opinion, No. 1: Animals

It may surprise some of you, readers, but I'm deeply interested in animals. I blame my parents, who got me a subscription to Zoobooks while in my formative years when I didn't know any better. Thus began a long-lasting interest in the kingdom that is defined, according to the Smithsonian Institute's Animal, as any multicellular species that takes in food. As a food-consumer myself, I can identify with that sort. That's my kind of organism!

Resultantly, I know things one shouldn't know about animals. I know why pigeons have acclimatized so well to urban settings. I've read how certain ravens have been observed using passing cars to open hard seeds and nuts. I know that, in danger, squirrels circularly climb, simultaneously escaping danger on the ground while putting the trunk between themselves and any airborne predator. Owls' ears are on the sides of their head, while the tufts on top simply direct sound. While cheetahs are the fastest animal on land, pronghorn gazelle are the second fastest, peregrine falcons fastest in air, and sailfish fastest in water. The axolotl is a creature that even in adult form has not metamorphosed as other amphibians do (and as its DNA was designed) but can be artificially matured in a laboratory. The ancestors of gerbils come from the Gobi Desert in Mongolia, while chickens hail from tropical jungles in Southeast Asia. And, yes, I have read cover-to-cover the book sitting on my shelf entitled How to Raise Milk Goats Successfully.As I've matured, the basis for my interest in animals has shifted from boyhood curiosity to firmer ground. As with so many other things in my life, I find that my spirituality influences my way of thinking. How compelling it was for me to discover that animals have spirits of their own and that some will inhabit the heavens, that they too are here to fulfill a measure of creation, and that God has commanded humankind to treat animals well. As a practicing Latter-day Saint, I am reminded every time I go to the temple how important the Earth and its lifeforms are to God. Nature is beautiful, complex, and majestic and, in my opinion, worth preserving even if we are inconvenienced in doing so.

I'm a firm believer that all lifeforms have intrinsic worth and that to take a life, directly or indirectly, animal or human, is a practice that must be held up to careful scrutiny. That being said, I'm not a vegetarian and I value human life much more than the life of, say, a cat. Even a really awesome cat. In fact, the aesthetic or utilitarian qualities of animals seldom affect the importance I place on any particular species. I kill only in self-defense or to eat. If a mosquito attacks, I fight back. I feel no guilt eating meat. But I am willing and do pay more for animal products humanely raised and slaughtered. I've even been known to go out of my way to take a nasty insect outside instead of crushing it with the nearest shoe.

But it's strange to me that so few people share my feeling. After thinking about it, I grew surprised that the Christian world in general seems so apathetic toward animal life, with little or no liturgy on the subject.

That said, might I suggest some reading material on the subject of animals/nature that might be of interest to Christians (and Mormons in particular): Genesis 1:26, 28; 9:2-5; JST Genesis 9:10-11; Deuteronomy 12:15-16; Psalms 115:16; Proverbs 12:10; Isaiah 45:18; Daniel 1:8, 12, 15; 1 Timothy 4:1, 3-4; Doctrine and Covenants 49:18-19, 21; 89:12-13; 104:13-14; Moses 7:48-49. Also, Gerald E. Jones' "The Gospel and Animals."

What especially saddens me is the extinction of an entire species. As a LDS, I know that all animal life will be resurrected so, in a way, the species is not forever lost. But is that a viable justification for causing a species to go extinct? If so, the same rationale can be used about taking other forms of life, even human. Through intentional harm, apathy, overhunting, or lack of foresight, we sometimes bar a unique group of animals from multiplying. Do we not rob them the ability to obey the law God specifically gave them in the creation?

I conclude with a Zion's Camp story, from the life of the Prophet Joseph Smith: "We crossed the Embarras [R]iver and encamped on a small branch of the same about one mile west. In pitching my tent we found three massasaugas or prairie rattlesnakes, which the brethren were about to kill, but I said, ‘Let them alone—don’t hurt them! How will the serpent ever lose his venom, while the servants of God possess the same disposition and continue to make war upon it? Men must become harmless, before the brute creation; and when men lose their vicious dispositions and cease to destroy the animal race, the lion and the lamb can dwell together, and the sucking child can play with the serpent in safety.’ The brethren took the serpents carefully on sticks and carried them across the creek. I exhorted the brethren not to kill a serpent, bird, or an animal of any kind during our journey unless it became necessary in order to preserve ourselves from hunger" (History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2:71-72).


  1. I loved this post! I have a love for animals probably due to growning up in a farming community! I find it very exciting to see that I am not the only person who has looked into the spiritual life of animals and their roles in the Plan. Thanks for the scripture references, you listed a couple of my favorites! I am looking forward to the next post! :)

    P.S. I never milked a goat, but I did milk cows for four years... If you ever take up milking goats, let me know, I might be able to help out!

  2. You know how much I love animals. Recently I've been trying to come to terms with the disconnect between my passion for animals and conservation as a child, and my disillusionment with such in the present. I think I gave up. Wilderness areas are in danger of destruction everywhere in the world. Do you think there's actually any hope of preserving the wild animals that we still have from extinction? I don't know. Working at the zoo is forcing me to make a decision on this. The only real point of zoos is to expose people to wildlife and to work for conservation through breeding programs and educating the public. I think that to make the zoo the best it can be and to make my employees feel like they are a part of something important, I may have to put my own disillusionment aside and BELIEVE once again that we can do something to help animals. This is going to be tough for me to do. Deep down I really think the planet as a wild place is screwed. Anyway, I could use your help trying to be conservation minded and believing that we actually can help wild animals. Thanks for the post. This stuff has been on my mind.

  3. I can't wait until I get to read "How to Raise Milk Goats Successfully". ;-)

  4. Adam,

    I share your beliefs about animals and I am pleased that you have taken the time to write about it. We have a responsibility to be good stewards of the earth and its populations.
    I get frustrated with some who place a higher emphasis on animals than on man though. I recently read an article on the insectiside DDT. It was banned for harming the birds that ate the insects. However, it was also very effective at killing mosquitoes that carry malaria. Tens of millions of children have died from malaria in the last 40 years that could have been saved by using DDT. So, we have an obligation to balance things out and make informed decisions - remembering that the earth was made as a home for man and to see how he would take care of it.


  5. Dad-While we're on the same page that human life is more valuable to animal life, in the case you mention there are other proven measures that, when followed, can also be effective and less costly than spraying with DDT.

    Additionally, DDT is harmful to humans and birds when ingested, not just mosquitoes. If applied in great quantities it can lead to infertility, miscarriage, fetal defects, and even death. Scientists have also discovered new DDT-resistant strains of mosquitoes as natural selection takes its course, making DDT less and less effective.

    Education and prevention are the best measures. I don't think wiping out all mosquitoes wherever humans live is the answer. They too are God's creation.

  6. watever works to get me milk! i support it, even if we have to make pigeons....uum i think ive said too much..

  7. Cool Joseph Smith quote. It makes sense, after all. You know I was kidding about killing squirrels. I think they're actually quite cute. One time I saw a bird get sucked under a car tire and "poof" it was gone. I felt sick for several hours. It totally offended my spirit to see one of God's creations lose its life.

    Have you ever read the James Harriot books? I was way into them as a wee lass.