Monday, February 05, 2007


I've been tossing around this topic in my head since I was in PNG, but I'm just now getting around to spitting it out. Not christianity in general, but specifically, how it relates to animal rights. First, some background info.

When I was in Papua New Guinea for two months, we lived in the JCU house at the Mahonia na Dari conservation centre. This is also the housing for the resident JCU researcher. For 5 weeks Andy and I shared the house with Naomi and her assistant, Joe. Both are devout christians, a fact that they made known early, by leaving bibles and other religious books around the house. Both Andy and I, however, try to steer clear of religion as much as possible. Discussions about the subject (luckily) never came up between us, except for a few times when Joe talked about his plan to move to the Solomon Islands as a missionary--which he did as soon as he left PNG.

There were a few things about both Naomi and Joe that made me wonder--about their commitment to christianity, and about the religion in general. First of all, there was a tine, quite cute, black mouse living with us in the house. Naomi saw him on her first day and came out screeching about the "rat" in the laundry room. She wanted it dead, so Joe set about baiting some traps. I thought it was completely unnecessary. What's the harm in the little guy being there, except for a few little poops on the counter? Plus, being so close to the jungle in a house that had woven palm fronds for walls, I knew it would be about two days before a new one moved in. Andy snapped the trap and chucked out the bait a few times (isn't he wonderful??), and luckily the little rodent didn't fall for their tricks. He still had the run of the house when we all left, so Andy and I left a few Fruit Loops on the floor for him just before we left for the airport.
Next, Naomi's attitude towards marine life was appalling. Her research was on cardinal fish, and their abilities to find their way home when moved 300 meters.
Cardinal fish amongst the branches of an Acropora coral.

To do this, she caught them in a tank (which contained a 3 pound lead dive weight to keep it from floating away as she captured them), tagged them, and then moved them, counting how many tagged fish returned over the next few days. One day, she came home laughing about how stupid her fish are: she forgot to remove the dive weight on the ascent, and two fish were crushed. Going through my head was not the stupidity of the fish, but the carelessness of the researcher. Another time, I was talking to Andy about one of our dives. We laid measuring tapes on the reef to mark out his study species' territories, and sometimes overnight crinoids (aka feather stars) would perch on the tapes. One day I would the tap up without realising one was on there, and he got an arm tangled up and broken off. I felt quite bad (I made sure to check for them every time after that), but as Naomi overheard she busted out laughing about the injured crinoid and its 'lack of common sense'.

A deep red feather star perched atop a Porites coral.

A blackish/brownish feather star on top of a blue sponge.

Now, onto Joe. Although in general a nice guy, he is an avid spearfisherman. Instead of a speargun, he had a metal dart that he shot from a really big rubber band. He would brag about how he shot big trevallies, only to have them keep swimming despite the blow. The bragging was mostly about how he retrieved his spear from the fish, and then watched it swim away in a daze.

A school of trevally on Joel's Shoals in Kimbe Bay.

There was one night when Joe couldn't sleep, and he could hear the mouse running through the kitchen cupboards. He ended up going crazy trying to shoot it with his makeshift speargun. Joe knew that I'm vegan, and knew that it was an ethical lifestyle choicee rather than some fad diet. But still, he gave a detailed play-by-play of this crazy mouse chase. After I told him I don't mind sharing the house and a bit of rice with the little guy, he kind of laid off, but it took a while.

So, how is it that two strict adherents of a religion that preaches love and compassion can have such utter disregard for non-human life? I understand that christians are just like anyone else in that they don't automatically make connections between the food on their plate, and cruelty and exploitation. But, to go out of their way to kill animals, either for sport or fear (of a tiny litte mouse!) seems antithetical to the bible, in my opinion. And, possibly the most egregious offense in my mind, Naomi's laughter at the death of her study fish--fish that she is spending three years researching and getting to know and understand--seems just plain un-christian. How do they reconcile their belief in the teachings of Jesus with this aspect of their lives?

1 comment:

bazu said...

I tend to agree with you- of course, there are some great Christians out there, but then, especially here in the U.S. there are some haters (animals, gays, women clergy, liberals, peace activists, you name it and it is a target of hate or disregard from those who call themselves christian.)
I extend this to all the major religions- how many horrible acts get committed in the name of Judaism and Islam also? Unfortunately, just b/c someone subscribes to a peaceful religion doesn't mean they embrace the full meaning of peace.

I was so tickled to hear about you guys leaving the fruit loops for the mouse before you left! Tee hee. =)