Friday, 31 January 2014

The Arrogance of Faith and Vegetarians

There is the distant sound of a solitary Mullah chanting his haunting call to the faithful.  It is a beautiful sound that weaves its way through the air falling softly like a whisper. A lone dog barks in response. Here history is in the dust, on the rocks, in the language of the people, in the perfect blue of the sea. The sky and ocean bleed into one in a startling fusion of colour. A blanket of heat settles over everything as a sudden breeze blows the sawdust wind that runs its abrasive hand through my hair and over my face. I see the surrounding hills that rise reluctantly to kiss the horizon. Turkey lacks no charm.

Scattered across the hillside, jagged and broken, covered in reclaiming vegetation stands the remnants of a fallen village. Built during the late eighteen hundreds on the site of an ancient city Kayakoy remains as it was when the forces of foolhardy faiths conflicted with each other. The bones of the forgotten world lay long buried although fragments still remain as reminders of times past.

Seen from the sky Kayakoy looks, at first, glance, to be just another Turkish village nestling snug among the mountains; upon closer inspection you can see the roofs are missing and that many buildings have crumbled or collapsed. The skeletal remains of the village have scattered like dominoes into the dust. I walk around these vacant buildings, mostly small houses and cottages, with their walls cracked and I get the odd feeling I am being watched. The eyes of the men and women that once lived here look on with heartbroken memories.

Sometimes the biggest sin comes from those who profess their faith in the loudest voices, for their sin is not having the ability to see that all faiths are as equally right as they are wrong. In 1923, with the accepted, ignorant stupidity so often employed by organised religion, 25,000 Greeks living in Kayakoy were repatriated. This incident was not isolated to just the village but extended throughout Turkey as a million plus Christians were literally driven out of Turkey. This act of ethnic cleansing was mirrored by the Greeks who in turn booted out any Turkish Muslims living on their land. The untold suffering of so many innocent souls all of whom had lived peacefully side by side followed the Greek war of independence. I suspect such acts are more the fault of political polemics than they are the act of blind, blinkered faith but nonetheless it was a religion that provided the excuse for men again to prove they sometimes do not deserve their position at the top of the food chain.

I stand inside one of the two churches that remain. A slight breeze blows the dust into a ragtime waltz. The windows are blank like blind eyes; they see nothing for there is nothing to see just house after house built so one doesn’t overlook the other, tumbling clown like down the hill. This church is quiet and so reflects the spirituality of its design even if its congregation are spooks and spectres and sightseeing tourists. I think of this place, of this church and of faith and I reflect that sometimes man’s arrogance is just a little hard to bear.

I first became a vegetarian in 1972. I was eighteen. I had heard the views of people such as George Harrison and Paul McCartney whose influence on my thinking then was immense. This fact coupled with an interest in all things ‘Eastern’ – Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism and the teachings of Confucius led to my adopting a non-meat-eating regime.

What made me become a vegetarian was the perceived notion that killing animals were wrong, that it was cruel. This belief sustained me for thirty-two years. Back in my tender years when the food I ate, salads mostly, reflected a green naivety in my thinking. It was due, in great part, to my concerns over the ‘murder’ of animals. It appeared to me not only an act of cruelty but also unnecessary as we humans were able to live healthy lives without killing animals or consuming their flesh. But as I grew and matured - and like many men that take's a lifetime - so I began to question my own beliefs, my own faith. If eating meat was cruel and wrong then what of the indigenous peoples of Africa, America, Australia and so forth; were they being cruel or were they simply doing what mankind has for thousands of years? We are after all closely linked to chimpanzees who, along with gorillas, humans, and orangutans, are all part of the Hominidae family. Chimpanzees are also omnivores even if they seldom eat meat there are times when they do, often as an act of cannibalism. Are we so different to them? Are we, as some veggies would have us believe, better than them?

The more I thought on this subject, as I eyed my Linda McCartney microwave meal,  the more I thought of how often we vegetarians claim the high moral ground by suggesting that eating meat is cruel. Killing anything is cruel but nature, the kind of god I can understand, is as cruel as it is random as it is unknowable but we are not, no matter how we dress it up, superior to the laws that govern us all. A tiger is cruel when it kills the antelope but that act of cruelty is determined by the feline’s need to survive and that, perhaps, is where our differences as animals divide us – we do not need to kill to survive. However, we are, no matter how often you deny it, part of nature and still, as part of what defines our species, just like our cousins the chimpanzees, irregular meat eaters. This will change.

I believe as we evolve and no longer have to hunt for food so our instinct to eat flesh will go. Nonetheless, there is an arrogance surrounding some vegetarians that border upon having a superiority complex. Of course, I displayed a similar attitude when I first gave up eating meat, it is much in the way of the converted smoker, one who having smoked forty a day has an epiphany that reveals his own failings after which he/she then tries convincing other smokers of their misguided ways. It rather smacks of puritanical preaching, of a religion founded on pure emotion and little else; perhaps not in the case of converted smokers but nearly always with vegans and vegetarians.

The same syndrome can be seen in those of faith. They often have that desire to prove their own singular belief is the only one and that all others are secondary, misguided or downright evil. We have witnessed this through the ages as Romans fed Christians to the lions, Catholics tortured Protestants and vice versa, Muslim’s warred with Hindus and Jews were hounded wherever they went. Hindus have a saying that goes something like this; all paths lead to the top of the mountain but only a fool says his path is the right way. A fundamental wisdom too often overlooked.

Is having faith wrong? Only if you try to foist it on someone else. Is organised religion the cause of war? Yes, it is for it takes the words of faith and transcribes them to suit their own ends. It is easy to forget that at the heart of religious faith, misguided as it is, exists a core of good. The religious wars that have plagued our short history on this long-lived planet have nothing, in reality, to do with the faith they profess to support but everything to do with man’s desire to indoctrinate, via the offices of organised religion, all with their pointless dogma and ritual. The vile acts committed historically by Judaism, Christianity and Islam should be condemned. Religious education should be replaced in schools with science fact and not faith. This is not faith, it is power and as we all know power corrupts.

If God were a creative being and not a random force of nature He would weep at the sight of his creation killing in his name. The IRA are not Christian, Al-Qaeda is not Muslim. They are gangsters dressed in balaclavas. 

The heat of the day causes ripples in the atmosphere, shimmers of light that form as a haze. A spotted dog of cream and black passes by with its tongue lolling. Goats range freely over the hills bleating occasionally. I cannot imagine living here for long as it is far too hot for my tastes but people have for thousands of years. Mankind defies common sense sometimes, or so it seems, inhabiting territory with what appears to be inhospitable climates. The sun, though, as fierce as it is here, only goes to prove how untamed the universe still is and how random and cruel the force that made it. This planet of ours has been shaped by the arrival of mankind who has sought to make gods in his own image. It is hard for me, as the heat causes droplets of sweat to form on my chest and forehead, to fully understand all the complexities of life but I believe that ritual and dogma are not faith, they are tools of control. Whether you are vegan, vegetarian or carnivore you are all subject to the same inscrutable laws. The way of nature brings into sharp conflict our own desire to be masters of our destiny, to become better human beings. We are no more in control than the fish in the pool, the lamb in the field or the vegetarian eating his bean curd. All we know is that we have choice, individual choice and we should always remember to keep our choices to ourselves and not try, no matter how well intentioned, to cajole others that there is only one way, our way.

Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.


Cara H said...

My son and I were being very good semi-vegetarians until I was recently diagnosed with diabetes. Many vegetarian dishes have very high carbohydrate content, and I can only eat 200 grams of carbohydrates a day at this juncture. Thus far, we've been eating quite a bit of fish!
Like you, I have no problem with people having a system of belief, so long as they don't try to shove it down other people's throats. This includes atheists. I dislike the sneering attitude of hardline atheists towards anyone who has any spiritual beliefs just as much as I dislike the attitude of fundamentalist whatevers (usually Christians) who spout that anyone who doesn't believe in their version of the deity is going to burn in an eternal lake of fire.

LeeKwo said...

A thought provoking read Russell as usual and a smooth style/I gave up meat at 18 as well/I was working in a slaughter yard Jacksons meat works saving money to travel to Europe and it was the only job I could get/After handling skins and scrapping the meat off them for 8 months I was off meat for good/

Russell Duffy said...

Cara>>>Being both diabetic and vegetarian is tough...I know, I am both. Carrots are full of fast acting natural sugars as are peas and virtually all veggie food. The newer diabetics such as your self should, I would have thought, be able to utilise the basal system which, if you get your carbs and sugar intake accurately detailed, enable you to eat veggie food.
I am a devout atheist but not so extreme as to knock anyone's faith. With me it is always organised religion I dislike not Christians, Pagans, Hindus etc who go direct to their god(s) but don't preach to the rest of us who will only believe in anything only after proof has been supplied.

Russell Duffy said...

Cara>>>PS. Type 1 of course and not type 2 of which I a have no experience or knowledge.

Cara H said...

I'm not insulin dependent, so there is a difference there. My pancreas makes insulin, my body just doesn't utilize it properly. So I end up with a buildup of glucose. I'm kind of flying by the seat of my pants trying to follow the American Diabetic Association diet on my own. I've figured out how to eat so I don't feel like I'm going to pass out all the time, but I'm still learning. I kind of feel like I got turned into a vampire, what with ending up eating more meat again. I go to the natural food store for the organic stuff rather than shopping at the regular grocery store, where the meat they carry is factory farmed crap.
I don't care for organized religion either. Really, if one looks back on the history, it's about politics and controlling people. It has fuck all to do with spirituality.

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