The current financial crisis as a symptom of our relationship with whales

I hope the strange and personal aspects of the following won’t put anyone off too much. It’s a little more serious than I usually am on this blog. Apologies up front.

In the early eighties as a BYU student I had ear-marked part of my paycheck to help save the whales. Since then, ‘save the whales’ as become so hackneyed that even unswerving environmentalists smile at the kitschy phrase. But at the time I really was concerned with protecting these great creatures (and still am actually). It was being reported in the news at the time that the great blue whale and many other species of marine mammals were on the verge of extinction and urgent action was needed. However, at the same time that I became aware of the whales’ crisis, a movement called Food for Poland had just been launched at BYU by one of my heroes, Eugene England, to alleviate Regan’s suspension of aid to the bedraggled satellite of the Soviet Empire. The movement became the causa sine qua non for student activists. I was torn. I wanted to help, but what about the whales? On my meager student budget, I could not afford both causes and the logic that ‘weren’t starving people always more important than any animal?’ tore me in two. How could I in good conscience step away from my responsibility to succor my hungry brothers and sisters in what was an obvious need? I wrestled and twisted on the horns of the dilemma of which cause I should support and I could not seem to feel satisfied at choosing either good at the expense of the other. Finally I decided to pray about it. I suppose I went into the prayer thinking that the Lord would tell me to support the people of Poland. It seemed somehow obviously improper to put creatures above the spirit children of God. As I prayed however, I was immersed in a profoundly affective spiritual experience. It was as if my mind’s-eye were opened to how God viewed the whales—as if a corner of His mind were present to me. This is hard to explain, but I sensed He loved them. More than that, I knew He knew each of them as individuals, as if He knew their names and cherished them deeply—not as possessions nor pets nor useful creatures nor lesser beings of any kind. He seemed to esteem them as fellow beings. Sibling creatures of dignity and worth. I staggered to my feet, found I was crying, and wrote a check to the Save the Whales Foundation.

The ‘vision’ (and that is how I represent it to myself, recognizing its personal and incommunicable aspects and meaning) has dimmed in impact and memory, but I have never forgotten the experience and while I recognize this was not your revelation, I wanted to share it because it profoundly changed the way I looked at nature and its creatures and motivated my interest and eventual decision to become an ecologist. I wish I could say that I have lived up to that experience, but I have fallen short in many ways. But I now feel somehow I need to embrace that experience more fully. It deserves my attention and reverence.

Can we really claim that we think God is creator when we seem not to care much about that creation? Does the fact that it was given for our ‘use’ translate into a license to exploit? What if God really does care about our fellow creatures as fellow travelers through existence? How would that change our world if we really took that seriously. What if the greed we’ve seen in the recent financial crisis is a symptom of our exploitive attitude? Grasping at the treasures of the Earth always comes at the expense of that Earth. But, hey, we have Armies and Navies to buy up. Why should we deny ourselves the treasures of the Earth when they are there for our use? Drill. Drill. Drill.

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11 comments to The current financial crisis as a symptom of our relationship with whales

  • Rink

    Amen! I think drilling for more oil is a quick fix. It’s very temporary and does more damage than good. Our society lives on quick fixes. Look at our economy, enviroment,etc. Is it because we are lazy as a society and don’t want to expand our minds or do the work it takes to fix real problems? It’s got me worried.

  • Getting people to quit eating them is about all we have to saving the whales right now.

    But it is a good cause.

  • DavidH

    Beautiful. Thanks for posting.

  • Karen

    As members of the church we don’t get to pick and choose what commandments we will obey. We are commanded to be good stewards of the Earth (a weighty task I don’t think we are living up to). It was not that giving money to “feed Poland” was wrong, but that saving the whales was/is equally important! We are taught to avoid greed and selfishness, but somehow are able to justify the greed and selfishness in order to carry on with social trends and lifestyles. Family is central to our religion, and yet we convienently overlook the health of the Earth that we hand over to subsequent generations. Let us be the shining examples that we should be and oppose the “Drill, drill, drill” on the foundation of our religion!

  • Cap

    Steve, Thanks for sharing. I think it is hard trying to sort out what would be best in any given situation. I like the point you made about praying and trusting in the lord. What a beautiful description and insight regarding our Heavenly Fathers love of all creatures. There, I feel, should always be a great respect for all creatures, and a recognition that they are beloved creatures of our Heavenly Father.

  • SteveP

    Thanks cap, as one of my most faithful readers I appreciate your kind words and insights.

    Thanks Karen, I too wish people saw this as a scriptural duty

    And Rink, I’m worried too. We keep doing more of the same rather than exploring the depths of innovation an energy freedom.

    And David and Stephen thanks for your kind remarks. And I do wish people would quite eating whales.

  • Steve,

    Thank you for sharing your experience. It has been my experience that in those rare moments when we are allowed to see some portion of this life through God’s eyes we often step away knowing even more certainly that we know very little of how important everything is. Too often I see God as a grand administrator, straddling some imaginary line of competing interests, always making sure HUMANS come out on top.
    In light of your insight I’m forced once again to think through my own understanding of what it means to be stewards having dominion over the earth. It seems to me ours is not the onus of administration but rather protection…hmmm? maybe there is something to all those shepherd allegories (maybe we need a little less emphasis on the Lord of the vineyard/kingdom/etc. metaphors)

  • A fellow idealist and whale-supporter salutes you. (We must be about the same age, too. Don’t tell.)

  • Cap

    When I think of steward, I think of a king. A steward over the land. (Either that, or I think of stew, and then get hungry). Now, when I think of a good steward or king, there are some examples that come to mind. many from the Book of Mormon. These men, like King Benjamen, (or the Baron of Ibolin, (From the movie Kingdom of Heaven… I don’t know why that popped in my head)), Went among the people. Worked with them. So if we count ourselves stewards of this planet we, I feel have an obligation to the creatures. Like those kings we must count ourselves equal to all creatures. After all, the song All Creatures of Our God and King is speaking to all creatures. Not just humans.

  • SteveP

    Thanks Cap and David that is way I like to think of it too–one of obligation rather than one from which we make demands. In fact, the idea of a king was that they were responsible for the safety of those in their lands. He (or she, there were lots of ruling queens) was in obligation to them as much as the populous was to the throne.

    Thanks Bored in Vernal! How did we get this old? I’m still 18 in my head. (However, I can’t seem to convince my kids that I did not hunt mammoths or have ward off Sabre-tooth tigers back in the day).

  • I’ve felt all my life that animals are fellow creatures to us, family even, and very important beings indeed. I think it’s possible to be born with this feeling, as one of my nieces seems to have it and the other two don’t. It manifested itself from the very earliest possible age for both of us.

    My mother and many other people have rolled their eyes at me and told me I was crazy for doing some things I’ve done, for treating individual animals as though their lives have worth. For instance, when I found a feral kitten who had just been hit by a car on the side of the highway, and nursed her back to health. My mother thought that rather than spend thousands on medical care for that kitten, I should have her euthanized and get a healthy kitten from a shelter somewhere. She thought my idea that this particular kitten deserved a chance at life was insane and even cruel. Several of the engineers at my office joked about the same idea. To me it was entirely obvious that this particular kitten deserved the best care possible. In fact she turned out to be a most amazing loving intelligent delightful cat, one who blessed my life daily for over a decade.

    How could a God who loves us so unaccountably not feel the same about our cousins, his other children? I think the only thing that makes them of lower worth to us than humans is our inability to notice them sufficiently, and our refusal to give weight to their individuality, their needs, and their love.

    How greatly enriched human life would be if we could learn to do that! How damaged it is now, with our concomitant inability to live on the earth in a way that can be sustained. We’re galloping headlong toward our own extinction because we can’t see that individuals of other species matter. When we damage the earth’s biosphere badly enough we will certainly be among the species who go extinct in the aftermath. Yet we can’t seem to see that and stop in time. If only we could learn to appreciate and love other species as much as we do humans, we would all thrive together, and there would be a flowering of the arts, of science, of technology, and life in general such as we’ve never seen before.

    Our greatest sin will be our downfall, the blindness toward the suffering we create in other species besides our own. But it’s not too late for us to learn a better way. I feel it so powerfully that I can’t help but cry repentance to my fellow humans, though I know it’s an idea that’s unpopular and held up for ridicule among many people like my mother.

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