Piddington: at Ham Farm
other credit: Flickr
On Sunday morning the radio (BBC Radio 4) told the story, with interviews, of a woman who runs a retirement home for chickens. They’ve worked at laying eggs in battery or free-range farms, and their residual value is too low to be worth feeding any more. She offers their first-ever chance to scratch the ground for worms and beetles, and to flap their wings freely. In their new-found contentment, many start egg-laying again, but in any event they discover what life as a chicken should be, and die happy of natural causes. A sick bay nurses the wounded and diseased birds back to health. She’s the Mother Theresa and Florence Nightingale of the hen world.
One morning last week, I went early to the communal rubbish bins at the back of the flats and heard a noise. Looking inside, I saw two cute young rats checking me out with intelligent beady eyes. I went to get my camera, not so much for their cuteness but to try and persuade the Council to change the bin as I have been asking for the last three months, as it’s broken and lidless and a threat to hygiene. When I returned ready to take the picture (which, placed in the local paper, could have shamed the Council), the rats were in a more nervous mood, desperately trying to jump out of the bin. So I leaned a plank in the bin to provide them with a ramp. Their comfort was more important than my cunning scheme to get my way.
Though we are programmed by evolution to survive at all costs, there’s a place inside for compassion to all living things. We’re close relatives, and our species are interdependent. Setting post hoc rationalisations aside, there is something instinctive about caring for others as well as oneself.
Contrast this with the fundamentalist versions of three religions: Christian, Muslim, Jew. Their Gods help them smite their enemies. How so? They themselves are merely the mouthpiece and the agents of their Gods' agendas, disclaiming conscience and responsibility.
So am I an atheist? No, that is another form of fundamentalism. To be an atheist is like denying the existence of pain or drunkenness. “I don’t understand, therefore the phenomenon cannot exist.” No. As a human being, I understand God as well as anyone. God is like seeing a footprint in the mud, and imagining the whole creature which made it. I clothe my imagination with the attributes I want to see in a God. Some clothe their God in less compassion than I have in my elbow.
Governments all want to look virtuous. Rama reports here on the real reasons why Calcutta wants to abolish leg-powered rickshaws, and my newspaper had a feature on Asia’s largest slum, Dharavi in Bombay, and the motivations for trying to pull it down.
Is there any justification for smiting our enemies, or letting them rot when their interests don't coincide with ours? I don’t know. When I'm linked to every creature as one family, there is no enemy.