Friday, April 25, 2014

Do not knock.

Sophomore year of college I discovered a book called Diet for a New America, by John Robbins. Robbins was heir to the Baskin-Robbins chain, but before he took the reigns, he wanted to see where BR's dairy came from first hand. He discovered the grim realities of factory farming and decided to forsake the family business. His stories immediately inspired me to change my dietary leanings and delve into the world of animal rights literature, philosophy, and activism. I wrote several papers on animal rights for classes, printed up essays I'd found and shared them with others, left pamphlets at cafes around town, even protested (gently and respectfully) a fur shop and rodeo. The strangest part of this expedition was the opposition I found in the Christian community I was a part of. I was on a campus that declared Jesus the Prince of Peace, but any time I even mentioned I had recently gone vegetarian/vegan I was hit with waves of confrontation. I had found a new way of living that meshed perfectly with the ideas of the figure-head of my faith, but those around me just wouldn't have the same epiphany I had.

When we had the sweet-baby-cake-O'-wheat a few years ago, we had issues with solicitors knocking on our door and throwing wrenches in our newly-found routines. After visiting a friend down the street, we stole her idea and put a colorful sign on the door that said:

 Please, no soliciting. Sleeping baby inside. If we do not already know you, DO NOT KNOCK.

Last summer that sign wore thin and fell off. Luckily, our picture window lends me a heads-up so I can see them coming. Though I feel like a jerk about it because our baby is older now, I've taken to just not answering the door. They usually leave a pamphlet rubber-banded to our door explaining how I need their cable services, lawn-care services, meat-delivery services, or church services, etc. More often than not, it's a local church trying to gather a constituency. This struck a conversation with a neighbor, she said, and I'm paraphrasing: If they truly believe we'll be condemned to eternal torment in Hell if we don't embrace their belief, I guess I respect that they're reaching out and trying to save our souls. I just don't want to be interrupted by strangers, no matter their agenda.

As I found all this AR literature I was also making a case to present to other believers that the animal-concern was also a faith-concern. Aside from what I deemed ethical responsibilities to "do justice and love mercy," I remember talking to my dad on the phone about the story in Genesis where god gives man the freedom to eat animals after the fall, the story every voice of opposition would site. The point I argued was this:
After the fall, Eden's paradise was no longer an option, so god allowed humanity to kill after they'd turned their backs on innocence, it was a concession, not god's ideal. And if we're to be praying for life here to be "on earth as it is in Heaven," surely Heaven is god's ideal and free from concessions. Thus, if "the lion will lay with the lamb," how can we willingly take up the knife here, but pray for the opposite? Isn't that prayer hoping to re-establish Eden?
It's a solid argument, and one that opened him up to vegetarianism as a faith-based way of life. Two points for the boy! But even though I felt completely comfortable arguing this to other believers, even my father, the Minister, arguing my faith itself to non-believers always left me feeling inadequate.

My Genesis argument (stolen from greater thinkers) exists in the theoretical realm. I would never have tried to convince someone who didn't believe in the Genesis story in the first place that any of this was a legitimate reason to consider vegetarianism. Believers have already accepted the Eden story, whether as allegory or literal, and the fall of man is ever-present at the pulpit. But for me the very reason to find this argument and transmit it was inspired by tangible and unequivocal evidence about animal practices. However, the need to save souls from eternal condemnation draws inspiration from a few passages, and one very colorful (and terrifying) final chapter, in one very disputed book. What allows people, with only their faith in the stories of an ancient book, to feel comfortable claiming they know what happens to everyone's souls after death? The other extraneous reasons aside (the way, the truth, the life, etc.), this is the brass-tacks reason why people are knocking on my door and leaving flyers inviting me to their church barbecue next Sunday. It's in the book.

Last week, a few days before Easter, an elderly customer approached me at work, this was our exchange:

Lady: Oh there's Aaron!
Me: (thinking: do I know you?) Hi there!
Lady: That's such a good biblical name! 
Me: (thinking: oh noooo...) It is? 
Lady: You didn't know that? 
Me: No, I did. 
Lady: I belong to a nice church, would you like to come with me Sunday for Easter?
Me: No thanks.
Lady: Well, that's disappointing....

After a final greeting, smiling through my teeth, I professionally turned my cheek. No matter how condescending I perceive her to be, she's simply trying to reach out, the only way she knows how. Several deep breaths later, I let it go, because it doesn't matter. She has her views, I have mine.

No matter how clear the evidence is, people want to accept information on their own terms. Whether it's the effects of our cultural-dietary-habits, or the knockers' offer of eternal paradise, no one wants to be interrupted by someone else's agenda. I toned down my rhetoric years ago, partly from dissolution, but mostly because I see the grey areas in life a little more every day, allowing the Golden Rule to be my rule of thumb.

Change and inspiration must come naturally through relationships that are unfettered by agendas. Though I think my motives from once-upon-a-time were righteous, my methods were innately wall-building. It seems clear that no one wants to be cajoled, argued, persuaded, pushed, reasoned, or guilted into a different point of view, even if it's smothered in bbq-sauce. 

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