100 donkeys

(A profane meditation)

What is man, that you think of him, and the son of man that you care for him?

For you have made him a little lower than the angels, and you have crowned him with glory and honor.

You make him ruler over the works of your hands. You have put all things under his feet:

all sheep and cattle, and also the wild animals,

the birds of the sky, the fish of the sea, and whatever passes through the paths of the seas.

Psalm 8: 4-8

I can’t get out of my head a recent news report of a ‘veld-slaughterhouse’ where witnesses watched as men armed with with hammers casually bludgeoned 100 donkeys to death. This is just one more insignificant cruelty, in a forgotten corner of our little planet. Somehow, mercifully, it was reported to the police. How much cruelty goes unseen? A list of genocides and megadeaths indicates the ubiquity of cruelty amongst humans: only the angels keep tally of the suffering animals experience at the hands of men.  (This particular story becomes more sinister still, by the way: carcasses and hides of literally thousands of donkeys were discovered on the Olifantshoek farm. The illegal slaughter feeds China’s ejiao industry, “which produces tablets, tonics and a sweet syrup” for human consumption. So the banality of evil is pervasive: the men with the hammers are simply the suppurating sore on a massive ganglion of evil.¹

you have made him a little lower than the angels

The angels? Do they not object to the use of hammers on a donkey’s skull? How much lower must man be than the angels for him to behave thus? Or was the psalmist oblivious of the depths of depravity to which man can sink?

Yesterday I received a report of an incident a mere half hour’s drive from my home: 50 monkeys rescued by authorities from a local “garden centre” (a perverse euphemism if ever there was one). Malnourished, deformed, dehydrated, in a small, filthy cage, the monkeys were kept for the entertainment of children and gawking adults. (Have you noticed how people love staring into cages? I am fascinated by the pathology of that staring, and what it reveals about our species. Is it the abject which takes us to that wire mesh boundry? What monsters did those monkeys see peering into their hell from outside? Creatures a little lower than the angels perhaps? Creatures without souls, without authenticity, like zombies? Like us?

The rhesus monkey genome shares about 93 percent of its sequence with the the human genome.² Think about that- let it sink in for a bit. The sentient, suffering creatures looking back at you are your relatives. We share, however far back, common ancestors. Maybe that’s why we stare, laugh, shout, mock, jibe, tease, scare and poke sticks through the wire: unconsciously there is a primal recognition. We find a mirror, however dim, and the recognition is, as is the case for all sadists, sublimated by the act of cruelty.

On what side of the wire cage exactly are the more wretched beasts to be found? Inside – with the starving and thirsty, the malformed creatures dying in their own excrement? Or perhaps outside the cage: the dead of conscience, the malformed of spirit, in the excrement of human indifference?

You have put all things under his feet…

Why would You, O Omnipotent God of Mercy, “put all things under man’s feet”? A licence for indiscriminate slaughter placed in the hands of a criminally insane psychopath. Your Omniscience didn’t forewarn you of trouble to come? Or knowing of what was to come, did you choose to simply, irrevocably, let it be so? And in your Omnipotence you still see fit not to withdraw this long-abused authority? And on top of it all, to browbeat and threaten those who question those who cry foul?

A young Xhosa work colleague teased me recently, saying: ” you whites care more about animals than people”. She’s wrong of course: cruelty towards animals is as much a feature of the white race as it is of any other (as any anti-cruelty activist will tell you). From individual acts of sadism to animal trapping, hunting, blood sports, the nightmare of factory farming, not to mention vivisection and animal experimentation – we whites even have the edge on cruelty perhaps: a certain refinement in torture. Compared to what happens in a ‘first world’ vivisectionist’s lab, a hammer to the skull of a donkey in Africa seems, if barbaric, at least a quicker death.

(Visit http://www.peta.org if you doubt me).

Still; white or otherwise, In my case at least, perhaps my colleague was correct after all: the treatment of animals is in my view a barometer of our humanity – or lack thereof.

“…the birds of the sky, the fish of the sea, and whatever passes through the paths of the seas.

Yes, man rules like a megolomaniac, psychotic killer, over his grim, charnel house kingdom: his Slaughterhouse Earth.

What is man, that you think of him, and the son of man that you care for him?

You think of us? You care for us? How can this be? How is this remotely conceivable? If you think of us, if we are even on your divine-cosmic radar, then questions of theodicy necessarily clamour for our attention – if they are not first extinguished by the prophet’s words:

“Woe to the one who quarrels with his Maker – An earthenware vessel among the vessels of earth! Will the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you doing?”

(Thus spake the prophet Isaiah, whose name means “God helps”, husband of “The Prophetess”and the son of Amoz, father of Shear Yashub and Maher-shalal-hash-baz, during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, the kings of Judah.)

The prophet of the three monotheistic faiths for whom the blood and flesh of animals are inscribed in scripture.

And so to my misotheism, my view of the knackers yard where the men with hammers go about their bloody business for their customers in far off China. I have in my hand a short written prayer, a petition if you like, on behalf of all animals that suffer. Nothing like Martin Luther’s Disputatio pro declaratione virtutis indulgentiarum, his “Ninety-five Theses”. Just seven holy words from a layman’s pen:

“Father please save all the animals. Amen”. A child’s prayer.”Unless ye become as children…”

Would the hammer-men of Olifantshoek object if I nailed the petition to the gate behind which the moaning animals hang, perchance a merciful God might see? Perhaps I could tape it to the barn where the flies and stench of death keep even the angels away?

“Go ahead”, they say, eyeing me suspiciously, wiping their bloodied hammers,

“But don’t go interfering now, with our work, that is. We may be a little lower than the angels, but God has crowned us with glory and honor. He has made us ruler over this place of slaughter. Over sheep and cattle, and these 100 donkeys…”

 Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” 

 


 

References and further reading

(1) http://mg.co.za/article/2017-01-23-donkey-killings-100-bludgeoned-with-hammers-on-olifantshoek-farm

(2) http://science.psu.edu/news-and-events/2007-news/Hardison4-2007.htm

 

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