Category Archives: Politics

The green desert

The Wildlife Trusts recently released a little film based upon The Wind In The Willows, designed to show how our precious British wildlife is in trouble and calling us to rally together to act to save it.

It is powerful and very well done. But something (other than Ratty’s accent) has been bothering me. It’s taken me a while to put my finger on what it is exactly, but I think I have it:

The film begins with typical scenes from the story, Mole and Ratty having a picnic in a beautiful lush riverside meadow, Badger at home in his underground house, Toad speeding down verdant country lanes on his latest fad, a motorbike… and then all changes. Bulldozers move in, the countryside is laid to waste with roads and the earth churned up to build more. The river, once lush and clear, is now dirty brown with obvious pollution pouring in and litter everywhere. The animals are left stranded.

It certainly highlights in dramatic fashion how our nature is losing its homes.

But. This is not our experience, is it?

When we go outside, generally all seems fine if we are honest. The countryside and parks are still lush and green. Our rivers run clear. The sun shines, the birds sing, flowers bloom. Sure, there is rather too much litter in places, and the odd road or housing development is going up here and there, but it is not the scene of utter devastation the film depicts.

That vision, to me, feels too disconnected from reality. I struggle to connect what I see with my eyes with the message that nature is losing its home here in our land. It would be all too easy to see the film, take a look out the window, shrug and carry on. It can’t really be all that bad! Not here.

And yet…

That disconnect is the big problem.

Nature is in absolute crisis. In spite of green appearances, the UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the entire world, ranking a shocking 189th out of 218 countries studied in terms of how intact our nature is. The vast majority of the country has lost its natural habitat and balance of native wild species; whereas once the country was largely woodland, today just 13% of the country is wooded and much of that is under a century old. We have lost 98% of our wildflower meadows* in under a century. Over half our species have declined since 1970, the figures similar even if we just look at this century, and 15%, that’s 1.5 out of every 10, are either extinct or threatened with extinction in the UK. Of the almost 8,000 species of plants, mammals, reptiles, birds, amphibians, fish and invertebrates studied for the State Of Nature Report 2016**, 56% are in decline.

It’s true that the British landscape does not look all that different from when I was a kid growing up in the 1980s.

I visit my parents, who still live in the same place, and things are apparently almost unchanged in all that time (barring a few housing developments of the outskirts of the city that have encroached onto what had been farmland). It is entirely recognisable and familiar, still green and pleasant semi-rural England, not a trace of post-apocalyptic wasteland.

But then I cast my mind back.

My earliest nature memories are of my parents’ fairly ordinary suburban garden. It had tall deciduous hedges running down both sides, and a couple of apple trees at the far end. We had a patio, flower bed, lawn and veg patch. The neighbouring gardens were not dissimilar, though they differed in the amount of open lawn. I remember song thrushes bashing snails on the rocks in the flower beds, blackbirds and robins nesting in the hedges (on one dramatic occasion a blackbird nest was raided by a magpie and ‘I’ aged about 4, presumably with a certain amount of help, wrote in to a TV nature programme about it and had my letter read out!), and being frequently startled by frogs jumping out of the vegetation at me as I walked past in the summer! I remember having to scare off the rowdy flocks of starlings that descended if we tried to feed to birds to make sure the other birds got a look in. Occasionally, a lesser-spotted woodpecker called in and sat on our peanut feeder, shyly edging round to the back if it thought it was being watched. And sadly I remember having to get my parents to check up and down the road in the mornings for dead hedgehogs so I knew when to look away as I walked to school each day. Thankfully we often saw the live animals snuffling about the garden on summer evenings too, but the sad sights on the street were all too frequent. Every year we knew spring had arrived when we woke one morning to the sound of a cuckoo singing somewhere nearby, most usually in the trees of a neighbouring garden.

Out and about, our favourite local walk took us out down the back lanes from our large, suburban village into the countryside, where as a child I liked to see all the different farm animals. Along the lanes we would see flocks of swooping swallows, hear yellowhammers singing for bread and no cheese, a song I learnt very early on, and frequently spotted owls and partridges. Drive anywhere and the skies were full of lapwings, year round, a sight so everyday I blanked them. And on summer evenings, even as a teenager in the 90s, the car would become liberally decorated with insect remains, the lights often picking up small animals darting across the road or swooping bats or owls. A walk along the canal in early summer almost always guaranteed you the sight of a cuckoo, and the waterside hedges were alive with warblers singing away.

It all looks much the same today. The village, fields, lanes, canals and hedges are all still there, even if some of the hedges are now rather sparse in places. But if I compare my experiences back then with my experience of the same landscapes now, something has changed.

The song thrushes, hedgehogs, cuckoos and lesser-spotted woodpeckers are gone from the neighbourhood. There are still thrushes out there, but they are shy woodland birds, no longer the common garden snail-bashers that children would grow up familiar with. I don’t recall the last time I even saw a hedgehog dead in a rural area, much less in a town or village, or a live animal. Today it seems unthinkable that the latter two species would ever occur in a suburban garden at all, much less within an ordinary agricultural landscape like the one I grew up in. It’s an exciting day when a frog is spotted; they no longer spawn in the pond. Starlings are seen in small numbers in the winter, but are gone by spring; the great winter murmurations I used to watch from my bedroom window are now something to travel to a nature reserve or seaside town to witness, the noisy bird-table-raiding summer flocks a thing of the past. And it is now a rare neighbourhood with gardens as green as those I grew up with. Perhaps slug pellet use may have gone down in that time – but so has acceptance of trees, hedges and ponds. Most gardens are still green, but that green is typically lawn, low maintenance ornamental planting, or even plastic turf, walled in by solid, wildlife-proof fences.

Last time we walked out along the lanes, to my delight we did indeed see swallows and a yellowhammer – but I certainly don’t see so many these days. Most of the time I am out and about in the countryside in summer these days I would expect to see a few swallows, but would get excited if I encountered a yellowhammer as a rare treat. If I see partridges now, they are the introduced red legged partridge, and usually they are present in large numbers with the equally introduced pheasant – any there is always a game release not far away. The native grey partridges are gone. In contrast to my childhood experience, I have perhaps seen two in this country in my adult life, despite being a keen birder. I no longer see lapwings at all when I visit my parents unless we go to a wetland nature reserve in winter or happen to see a few passing high overhead. It’s been some time since the farmland in their area played host to the flocks it used to. Where I now live in the south west I do see them – but I know I am privileged to live in cycling distance of one of their last two breeding grounds in the region, a nature reserve where the field they breed on has to be protected from predators by use of an electric fence, so precarious their existence here has become. Driving about on a summer’s evening no longer requires screenwash, and rarely affords the sight of an owl or a small shape running across the road, unless it is a rabbit or fox. And to see a cuckoo these days requires a special trip to one of their last strongholds; here, that means hunting about on Dartmoor, where small numbers cling on, or a visit to the nature reserves of the Somerset Levels. They are gone elsewhere, and certainly would no longer be seen or heard by the canal near my parents. Lesser-spotted woodpeckers? Wow. Ancient woodland only, and only if you listen and look very carefully.

All of this in my short lifetime in a landscape still so green and familiar. Nothing seems to have changed, yet casting my mind back, everything has.

The disconnect goes deeper too.

I believe the British public care about nature; the current outrage over single-use plastic generated by Blue Planet is an obvious sign of this. But here is the problem; because of the visibility of this issue, I get the impression most people think that this is the biggest threat nature faces. This was highlighted in a recent survey by Surfers Against Sewage, asking their members what they thought the biggest threats to the ocean were and what they should therefore focus their campaigning on. Plastic*** topped the poll. In reality, as visibly disgusting as plastic pollution is, it is only one small aspect of pollution affecting our land and marine environment, and pollution itself as a whole, though important, is having a much lesser impact on nature than other less visible issues. In the oceans, climate change and over-exploitative and damaging fishing practices are by far and away the biggest causes of loss, whilst on land, agricultural change, climate change again, and other forms of habitat loss such as wetland drainage or changes in forest management are driving the declines. Unlike plastic, none of this results in a sea less blue or a countryside less green, but catastrophe is unfolding nonetheless.

The barren nightmare vision of the Wildlife Trusts’ film is not what ecological crisis really looks like, most of the time. In all honesty, whilst most our nature is declining imperceptibly, there are a few evident species we can see bucking the trends, as species like buzzards and otters recolonise and the occasional conservation success is rightly heralded, making it even harder to see the underlying problem. In spite of the shocking declines nature is experiencing, more than half of the British public actually think that nature is in a better state today than 50 years ago.

Ecological crisis in reality looks deceptively green and pleasant, whilst our expectations of our experience of nature gradually, imperceptibly erode.

We look out on a countryside that still feels delightfully lush to ourselves. But what we can’t easily see is that to nature, the landscape is becoming a green desert, fields being cropped and harvested at the wrong times of year for ground nesting birds, hedges left to grow straggly and sparse or cut or flailed so hard back that they no longer afford safe nesting cover, and wild plants, ‘weeds’, being so near eradicated from arable land, pasture, verges and gardens that there is very little food available across vast swathes of landscape for pollinating insects, seed eaters, or the creatures that eat them. Invasive species have invaded, our riverbanks now festooned in beautiful Himalayan balsam and buddleia, leaving no room for wildflowers or the invertebrates that rely on them, whilst in the water signal crayfish and mink prey upon native species. Even pasture land has changed – from species-rich grassy meadows full of different grasses and wild plants, supporting all manner of other species and grazed by a range of different cattle breeds, much pasture now is a near monoculture of pure grass, grazed by high milk-yielding, intensive breeds of cattle. Still green, even more lush – but unwelcoming to nature.

I might well still be able to go out and have a nice picnic by a verdant riverside – but I would be accompanied today by fewer singing birds, blooming wildflowers and buzzing insects than I would 100 years ago, and would be very unlikely to bump into Ratty or Toad.

We need to wake up to what we’ve lost, in spite of appearances, and lift our expectations. Somehow we have to scratch the surface and see how impoverished we have become, and turn things around. Whatever the shortcomings of the Wildlife Trusts’ film, we should step up to its challenge to get involved and call for greater action to protect our nature. There is still time – where we make an effort and intervene we can and do turn declines around, and examples like the RSPB’s Hope Farm have shown it is possible to run a profitable modern farming business in a way that still benefits nature – but we must wake up and see what we are not seeing.


*That is, real species-rich grassland, a habitat vital to a huge diversity of species, which is not the same as beds planted with annual flower mixes. Most of our wildflowers are not even annuals at all! This figure comes from the Save Our Magnificent Meadows project.

**All other stats in this paragraph come from this report, pulled together by over 50 different conservation and research organisations.

***Most marine plastic is in fact not single-use plastic such as bottles and carrier bags, but microplastics from a range of sources (including the synthetic fibres of our clothes), and fishing gear.

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The Brexit fiasco

What can I say about Brexit that hasn’t already been said? What can my voice add to all the noise that’s already out there?

Maybe my own position…

I can’t be on the People’s Vote march today as health currently doesn’t permit. But if it did, I would absolutely be there.

I voted remain. Although there is plenty I dislike about the EU, I can’t see any advantage to leaving and losing our influence to change those things, and can see far, far more benefits to membership. I believe in international cooperation and freedom of movement. Although I voted remain, I can respect that we lost the vote in 2016 (the remain campaign was stunningly uninspiring it has to be said!). However – the result was extremely close. Since 2016, it has come to light that not only were the promises of the vote leave campaign false, but that the campaign broke the law, and that all economic analyses have concluded that all Brexit options would leave the country worse off than currently. Many leave voters have changed their opinion on the basis of all this. Polls are still close but seem now to be marginally in favour of remaining. Meanwhile, the government has ploughed ahead stubbornly as if the vote had been a landslide in favour of leaving the EU, refusing to engage in any debate or listen to any nuance. I feel like the almost half of voters who voted remain have been ignored and silenced through the whole process, in spite of current evidence being in favour of remaining. Both sides needed to have been listened to, but what we have seem instead has been inflammatory polarisation, extremists pitched against each other, and only one side being given any influence.

Looking at it pragmatically, I would have thought it would have made sense for the government to look at the result of the referendum and take note that leave won by a narrow margin. Therefore since almost as many people voted to remain, a sensible way to proceed would be to perhaps plan to leave since that is undeniably how the vote came out, but to spend a good period researching what reasons people had for voting the ways they did on each side and what aspects came out most strongly as to what people liked and disliked about EU membership and hoped to get from the result in future. Then they could have come up with a range of possible outcomes, carefully negotiated with the EU, to try to meet those aims, and put these back to the people directly or to parliament to vote on. Once a course of action had been agreed, likely a leave scenario, but possibly not, given that it looks like leaving will not benefit the country, that would then be the point at which to trigger Article 50 if needed. We could then have spent the two years carefully preparing a good exit strategy and making sure the legal framework and trade deals were all in place and well communicated to the population by the time we exited to allow businesses and British and EU citizens to know where they stood and make appropriate plans.

However, this is not what has happened.

Whilst I recognise it is a very tough job and what I’ve suggested as a sensible way to proceed would not be nearly as straightforward as I make it sound, there is no excuse for the shambolic way this has been handled so far, with Article 50 being triggered before there was any semblance of a plan, and the time to exit day simply being run down to force last minute decisions.

On Thursday I attended a talk that was supposed to be about the impact of Brexit on farming and farmland wildlife. However, with just over a week to go to exit day, the speaker was still having to speak speculatively about what possible impacts Brexit might have. What a crazy situation, to not even know what the law will be next week! It sickened me to think how this is impacting farmers, who will be having to plan their crops, livestock, and land management operations for the year, or years, ahead, without even knowing what the legal requirements on them will be, or what payments or support they will receive. Conservationists are in a similar position, being unsure what legal frameworks will or won’t exist to protect nature in just a week’s time, what funding will be available, and what their own legal requirements will be.

How have we got to this situation?!

Businesses, institutions, investors and workers are leaving the country en masse because of the uncertainty already. In a week’s time, those of us left with it could be facing food and medicine shortages, and a breakdown in legal frameworks that could cause severe damage to the country and to us. And yet, we still do not know!

What staggers me the most is that the media is still baying that the patriotic thing to do is to press on with the course of action we know will damage our country the most, crashing out with no deal, and that the most democratic thing to do would be to deny the public and their MPs any further say in the matter, and that the public are buying it on a large scale!

Leaving the EU could have been done well. With some pragmatic acceptance that we got it wrong this time, we could still revoke Article 50, and still start the process over again, making it work as well as it can.

But right now we face a national crisis. Disaster needs to be averted.

This is why I support a new vote, with all leave and remain options on the ballot, and also support the Revoke Article 50 campaign.

If we are to leave, we need to stop, cool off, rethink, and then do it well. Otherwise, we need to be given the chance to do what currently seems to be the best we can for the country by remaining.

RefuJesus

I woke up this morning, looked at my phone, and saw social media flooded with the growing storm over asylum seekers’ children being taken from their families in the USA and detained in cages.

Opening my email, I found a second response from my MP to my letter about the treatment of detainees in Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre here in the UK; he sent me the response of the Immigration Minister, in which she claims the government’s good intentions to treat people fairly and respectfully are in fact reality, contrary to the evidence pouring in from the detainees themselves.

We’re also in the middle of a campaign, spearheaded by Lord Dubs who himself came to the UK as a child refugee in the second world war, to persuade the UK government to do more for today’s vulnerable unaccompanied child refugees and take in 10,000 of them over the coming decade, echoing our wartime response.

Meanwhile, thousands of desperate people are still piling into unsafe boats and attempting the dangerous crossing of the Mediterranean to try to find safety in Europe, many dying in the attempt.

My Bible reading plan this morning happened to bring me to Matthew 2, in which I read how Joseph had to get up in the night and flee over the border into Egypt with the baby Jesus and his mother Mary to escape king Herod’s attempt to kill the child, and how the young family had to remain in the foreign country’s sanctuary until after Herod’s death before being able to return. Like so many today, they wouldn’t have been able to fill in a visa application first…

And it happens to be World Refugee Day. This year it seems a bigger global issue than ever.

According to Safe Passage this week, there are currently 68 million displaced people in the world, of whom 24 million are refugees. 82% are in developing countries. Over half of these people are children.

Refugees are those who have had to flee for their lives due to some form of fear of persecution. Asylum is an international process whereby those who have to escape their country can claim protection from that persecution in another country. Usually, this is the neighbouring country to their own. Because, like Jesus’ family, people are often having to flee in an emergency, it is not only legal under international law but vital that they are able to enter that other country for the sole purpose of claiming asylum without the necessary documentation that would otherwise be required, and they must claim asylum on arrival. There is then a process within that country to determine if asylum should be granted.

In addition, many people emigrate from their home countries. This happens for a variety of reasons, including for work, family or a simple change of scene, but many are also in desperate circumstances such as crushing poverty.

Probably my biggest fear when it comes to climate change is not that we may lose iconic species like polar bears, as appalling as that would be. No, my biggest fear has long been the borders going up, as more and more people find themselves under pressure to move, either directly because of resource wars or increasing natural disasters, or indirectly as the world becomes more unstable or they find their livelihoods less profitable. I fear this becoming an increased driver of refugees and migration, and that the response of countries like ours that are less affected by these pressures will be to close our borders. Alas, I’m seeing it happening already, along with rising xenophobia and fracturing of non-military international cooperation. I fear the sort of world this will create, where desperate people will have to be kept at bay by force, and will likely respond with terrorism, as desperate people so often do, fuelling a hateful vicious cycle. It’s not a world I want to live in.

Although the vast majority of displaced people are either moving within their own countries or to neighbouring countries, the figures are still shocking. The default position when faced with increasing numbers of people attempting to enter the country either as refugees or migrants seems to be ‘How do we keep numbers down? How do we keep them out? How can we get rid of them?’

What about if we took the time to ask why they come?

I can understand that we on the ‘right’ side of a border want to hang on to the benefits of our position. We feel entitled to the privileges we experience as a result of being born in a safe and prosperous country, despite our place of birth being pure serendipity, not something we have earned ourselves. That entitlement is strange framed like that – but then, a desire for safety and prosperity is no bad thing, and when we have it, it’s no bad thing to want to hang onto it. It only becomes problematic when we don’t want to extend that to others.

I suspect we have more capacity to help than we think we do, but we are still not infinite. We can’t take in the world. But surely the real solution is not to harden our hearts and strengthen our borders, clinging to what we have and shutting out anyone else, but to extend humanity and generosity as far as possible whilst working to tackle the causes of movement, the war, persecution, poverty, that drives it?

As long as we live in an unequal world there will be net movement from more disadvantaged and dangerous places to places of safety and opportunity, either because people have to flee for their lives from the former, or because they will choose to migrate to the latter. Not many will be moving the opposite way.

I dream of a more equal world. For now, we really need to extend mercy, compassion, fairness and kindness to those who come to us and treat them with human dignity, even if some must be turned away, especially considering the horrors and hardships so many have endured and escaped to get here. But long term, I dream of a truly free world. We need to work to understand and end the things that are forcing people from their homes, the war, poverty, persecution and climate change, and work towards a world where all countries are equally safe and prosperous, where people can be free to move as they please, where there is no net movement of people because as many people are moving in one direction as in the other, and there are no refugees. We need to build other countries up, rather than shutting our doors and building up ourselves. That’s ambitious, but surely we are capable of that if we try? Wouldn’t that be what true progress looks like?

Meanwhile, Jesus stands on the ‘wrong’ side of all our borders – with the poor, the refugee, the persecuted, and with those working for them, suffering with them. When we welcome others, we welcome God. Is God truly welcome here, or are we ‘full’? Can we expand our hearts’ borders? I fear that if we don’t, as well as seeing an increasingly dangerous and divided world, it is Christ Himself we will be shutting out.

Breaking the silence at Yarl’s Wood

On 24th March, M and I got on a 7am train to travel to Yarl’s Wood detention centre near Bedford. We went to join a solidarity demonstration, aiming to give support and encouragement to the (mostly) women inside the centre who were themselves protesting their treatment. 120 of the detainees had been on hunger strike for a month, and we felt so moved by that show of courage and desperation that we felt we had to show up to support them and do what we could to make their voices heard.

Yarl’s Wood is an immigration detention centre. People who do not yet have leave to remain in the UK can be raided and taken to these centres, and locked up there indefinitely. Sometimes they are released, sometimes they are deported, and often without notice. Those detained may be undocumented immigrants, or they may be detained during the process of claiming asylum. They may have had asylum claims rejected and are either in the process of appealing their rejection, or have been left destitute with no means of leaving the country (and in any case, nowhere to go to if they feel that ‘home’ is no longer safe for them). It is government policy that asylum seekers may neither work nor claim benefits, so that if their claim is rejected they are often left destitute, in theory to ‘persuade’ them to leave.

Claiming asylum is a right enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. If a person is in danger and has to flee their country, they may claim asylum on arrival in the first country they arrive in after escaping. If the receiving country finds their claims to be reasonable, they must accept the person and give them protection as a refugee. But countries such as the UK make it a very difficult process. As part of the policy of creating a ‘hostile environment’ towards immigration, targets are set for the number of deportations, which means officials are under pressure to reject as many claims as possible to keep numbers of accepted refugees small. As a result, asylum seekers are often lied to or given confusing and conflicted information on arrival about the proper process to making a claim, meaning they can easily be refused refugee status later when it is shown they didn’t follow procedure. If they do claim, they can be kept waiting long periods, refused arbitrarily and forced to go through long appeals processes, made to give concrete proof of their claims, or provide documentation they cannot obtain without putting themselves further at risk. Conversely, they may be ‘fast tracked’, giving them just days to make their case. And all the while, they may be detained and risk deportation.

We first became aware of what was happening a few years back, when a couple we knew were detained, mistreated and deported.

The husband was involved in a political party in his home country, but his political involvement attracted the attentions of a rival, more extreme political group that were known for ‘disappearing’ political opponents. Realising they were in danger, but not understanding their rights to asylum, the couple decided to escape to the UK where they could study towards their profession under student visas. When their studies and visas ended, they then tried to claim asylum, but were rejected as they hadn’t claimed on arrival. They appealed the decision; whilst in the UK, the situation back home had deteriorated. His brother had been hunted down and murdered by the extremists, and furthermore, the couple had become Christians here, which put them at additional risk of persecution back home (and was also how we had come to know them). They went through lengthy appeals; they had the documentation necessary to prove their identities, their political involvement, the activities of the rival group, their relation to the murdered man, his death and the facts surrounding it, and there was plenty of evidence for their new faith being genuine. At the end of the process, their claims were eventually thrown out on the grounds that, as corruption existed in their country, they could in theory have bribed multiple agencies to falsify all the documents. There was no evidence that they could provide that would be accepted in any circumstance, simply because of their country of origin. (That is particularly awful; I challenge you to find me a country in which corruption is completely absent.)

Now pregnant, the couple were detained, I believe in a sudden raid, and taken to Yarl’s Wood. Whilst there, we got word that the husband was being physically abused. The church attempted to gain access to him, to have his wounds investigated, and gain access to a legal investigation into how he had been hurt, but this was denied. The border agency then made a rushed, botched attempt to deport them. The private security firm guards contracted by the agency tried to force them to board a flight to their country of origin; when they struggled to resist this and screamed for help, they were both beaten, subjected to anti-Christian abuse, and handcuffed so tightly that their hands turned blue due to loss of blood circulation. Other passengers on the aircraft who expressed concern were told not to worry, and that the guards would keep them safe from the ‘illegals’ who were making such an unruly racket. The pilot then intervened, and upon seeing how the couple were being treated by the guards, ordered them all to leave the aircraft.

Eventually the agency managed to deport them by separating them, holding them in solitary confinement in different detention centres for a period, and then misinforming both of them that the other had been deported so that they finally consented to be taken. We heard from them shortly after their return that they had immediately fled the country again and were now in hiding over the border. Thankfully their baby survived.

What outrages me most about this process is that people fleeing danger in their own countries are treated with fewer rights than criminals, despite having done nothing wrong. I accept that our country’s resources and capacity to help are not infinite, and also that some bogus claimants will try to play the system, and that it is legitimate (though in my opinion not necessarily moral) to want to exclude such people and ensure that they use legal means of entering the country if they wish to do so. But I don’t accept that we should deny compassion and human rights to anyone, especially those who come to us claiming to be in grave danger and seeking a safe refuge.

Even the most dangerous serial killer is considered innocent until proven guilty (this is because it is easier to disprove a person’s claim to innocence by producing evidence of their culpability than it is to produce evidence that nothing happened, as well as to avoid the possibility of a miscarriage of justice). They must be given a fair trial. They have access to legal representation, medical care, and protection of their lives. Once they are found guilty, they are given a defined sentence. Once they are locked up, they lose their freedom for the duration of that sentence, but are still given adequate food, clothing and medical care, and allowed contact with their families unless deemed dangerous to them.

But an innocent person seeking sanctuary, who has committed no crime but may have escaped a war zone, or torture, or persecution due to their religious or political beliefs or sexuality, is considered guilty until proven innocent. They can be detained without warning, and without trial, denied access to legal representation and medical care. Their detention can be of any undefined duration. And whilst detained, they may not be given adequate nutrition or medical care and may be held in solitary confinement, without access to their families or other detainees. And all this is extremely damaging to a person’s physical and mental health.

Human rights abuses are occurring. In addition to taking away a person’s freedom, access to adequate care, dignity and rights to a fair trial and determined period of detention, there are allegations from former detainees of physical, sexual and emotional abuse taking place within the secretive confines of the detention centres, away from public scrutiny, so numerous that such treatment may be the norm.

When we heard the women of Yarl’s Wood were on hunger strike as a result, we felt we couldn’t stand by and do nothing to back them up.

When we arrived at Yarl’s Wood, we saw a large, long accommodation block, surrounded by a tall, green security fence and CCTV cameras. Outside the fence, stretching most of the length of it, was a crowd of fellow demonstrators, many of whom were themselves former detainees of Yarl’s Wood or other centres, with PA systems set up. Inside the fence, though the windows of the centre were only able to be opened a hand width, we saw the vague shapes of many women detainees in the windows, heard their voices calling for freedom, human dignity and closure of detention centres, and saw their waving hands. Many of them had put up placards in the windows with slogans such as ‘No human is illegal’, and some were waving bras(!) or beating the windows with plastic bottles. Placards on the outside of the fence held encouraging messages about other detention centres that had been closed down. The demonstrators had put up a phone number that detainees could call to be put through to speak to us over the PA, and between chanting (‘Yarl’s Wood – shut it down!’) and beating on the fence to make a noise that the detainees could hear to know we were there with them, we were addressed by speakers from both sides of the fence. It was incredibly powerful; the stories we heard and the courage evident in the detainees’ protest were moving and humbling.

We heard both current and former detainees tell their stories. Some had escaped torture. Several were in danger of persecution or of the death penalty for their sexuality (they told of the difficulty and humiliation of having to try to prove their sexuality). One was in danger because of her opposition to the government. Some could not speak of what they had escaped. They told how they were qualified in fields such as nursing and engineering. We heard from some how they longed for home, but could never return whilst the danger persisted, from others how frustrating it was to be unable to do the jobs they were qualified for here and realise their potential.

We heard story after story detailing demeaning treatment from officials, of dismissed evidence, of being detained without warning in dawn raids. We heard of lies they’d been told whilst in detention to repeatedly raise and dash hope, amounting to psychological abuse (the worst example was from one of the current detainees, telling us how another couple had suddenly been summoned early one morning, told they were being released and to pack because they would be leaving in a mere matter of hours, and being overjoyed – only to find it was a deportation attempt). Several reported that detainees were offered a paracetamol for any medical complaint, regardless what it was or how severe, so that detainees themselves sometimes had to call an ambulance to gain proper medical attention, and of suicide attempts being met with removal of possessions and humiliating denial of privacy as the suicidal person was put under constant watch. And we heard that they were offered ‘work’ such as cooking, decorating, cleaning and repairs at the centre – for £1 a day! Tantamount to slavery, and assisting in their own detention. Several former detainees had told how they had been detained and released multiple times.

We also heard stories of courageous resistance; of hunger strikers, of detainees standing up to the authorities, of those put to work in the centres deliberately being non-cooperative (for example, one man told how, made to work in the kitchen, he had emptied a pan onto the floor in front of the guard who was ordering him to work). Former detainees urged those inside to stay strong, to keep resisting, to make life difficult for their captors (one spoke of how he had been accepting and compliant during his first detention, believing what he was told about his release being sped up if he behaved well, but found that those who made the most trouble were released sooner, and had subsequently learned to fight back), and to believe that change is possible and that we were here supporting them. They told them the authorities were running scared, and encouraged them to keep up the pressure.

These people showed tremendous strength of character, enduring and resisting under conditions I don’t doubt for a moment would break me. I was profoundly humbled.

It was clear that the process was both inhumane and damaging for individuals, but also ineffective and costly to the state.

These detainees strike me as brave, educated people, wanting to contribute to society and with so much to offer; already brave in escaping such awful dangers, they are now speaking out for justice in a shamefully hostile environment here. I was humbled and inspired by their bravery and strength. I felt honoured to have the chance to meet some of them, to hear their stories, and I couldn’t help feel that these heroic individuals could only be of benefit to our society for their courage, compassion, wisdom and determination to see the world change for the better. The more I heard, the more I was inspired to keep speaking out with them.

Short-term, I want to see asylum seekers treated like (suspected) criminals – and it appals me that that would be an improvement on the current situation. I want to see the hunger strikers’ demands* met. I want to see asylum seekers informed properly of their status, rights and procedure, and what they can expect of their treatment from the outset. I want to see them given fair trials. I want them to be presumed innocent until proven guilty (ie, that their claims would be taken to be true with the onus on us to try to disprove what they were saying and produce contrary evidence, or else accepted). I want to see those detained given definite, fixed detention periods, and full access to food, clothing, contact, legal services, medical care, protection from abuse, and human dignity whilst detained. Medium-term, I hope one day we can see the end of detention all together, and a much fairer and more compassionate approach to asylum.

Long-term… I dream of a world that is safer and more equal, where people can move freely as they choose, where borders are reduced to a line of an address and an administrative convenience, and no longer deny anyone’s freedom. So long as some countries are relatively poor, dangerous or unstable there will naturally always be both a flow of refugees and a separate pressure of net migration away from them, but I believe the better response to this (though more difficult) is to work towards the prosperity, stability and safety of those places, rather than to close the borders of our country and our hearts against those trying to find a better life here.

Break the silence, cross every border that divides us, unite us…’

– Delirious?, Break The Silence

Below is a copy of a letter I’ve written to my MP; if you want, please feel free to use this as a template to write to your own MP, though I’d advise you to put it into your own words since I’ve written it from my own perspective as someone who attended the demonstration and heard these stories first-hand. You can send an email to your MP quickly and easily here, all you need to know is your own postcode as the site finds your MP’s name and contact details for you from that.

I recommend the Detained Voices blog for more stories from inside the detention centres, and Liberty for more on asylum and human rights.


Dear MP,

On 24th March, after hearing that 120 detainees had been on a month-long hunger strike in protest at their treatment, we went to attend a solidarity demonstration at Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre. I want to tell you what we saw and heard there, and ask you to speak up on their behalf and mine as one of your concerned constituents.

(I here added much of what I’ve written above)

I believe human rights abuses are taking place in these detention centres and in the asylum system as a whole. It appals me that people who have committed no crime but are fleeing danger and horrors are given worse treatment and fewer rights than even the most dangerous criminals. I want to at the very least see asylum seekers treated like suspected criminals: I want to see them informed properly of their status, rights and procedure, and what they can expect of their treatment from the outset. I want to see them given fair trials. I want them to be presumed innocent until proven guilty (ie, that their claims would be taken to be true with the onus on us to try to disprove what they were saying and produce contrary evidence, or else accepted). I want to see those detained given definite, fixed detention periods, and full access to food, clothing, contact, legal services, medical care, protection from abuse, and human dignity whilst detained.

Please would you do all you can to put pressure on the government to:

Short-term:

  • Meet the demands of the hunger strikers (which are detailed below*, as written by them)

    Longer-term:

  • Close detention centres like Yarl’s Wood and move towards a fairer, more humane process
  • End the ‘hostile environment’ policy to immigration

Our country is not ‘full’, and I believe there is plenty of capacity, will and ability to help many more people seeking sanctuary than we are currently. Furthermore it is inhumane to set quotas on the numbers of people fleeing for their lives who we will help.

I want to see the government stand up to xenophobic rhetoric head on and assert the UK as a place of safety for those in genuine need of it, as far as we possibly can as a prosperous nation, whilst working towards a safer world, tackling the dangers that force people to flee their countries in the first place.

Thank you for your time.


*The demands of the Yarl’s Wood hunger strikers:

1. Shorter bail request periods
Legally it should 3-5 days, however it can take anywhere up to 21 days, or even a month before you get a bail hearing date

2. Amnesty for those who have lived in the UK 10 years and above

3. End indefinite detention
Detention periods shouldn’t be longer than 28 days

4. End Charter flights
Charter flights are inhumane because there are no prior notifications, or only an oral notification with no warning. They give no time to make arrangements with family.

5. No more re-detention
Redention should not be allowed – if you have been detained once, you should not be re-detained if you are complying with the laws they have applied. This is a contradiction, you are being punished for complying with the law; it ruins the whole purpose of expecting compliance

6. End systematic torture
Systematic torture takes place in detention – at any point an officer could turn up and take your room mate; you’re constantly on edge, not knowing what will happen next. Those who are suicidal now have their privacy taken away because they are being watched – you don’t know if an officer is coming to check on you or coming to take you away. Our rooms are searched at random and without warning; they just search first and explain later

7. Stop separating families
Separating families is inhumane – people in here are married or have British partners and have children outside, and they are denied their right to private life and right to privacy; their Article 8 rights

8. No detention of people who came to the UK as children
Young adults who came to the country as minors should not be detained, deported or punished for their parents’ immigration histories

9. The beds need to be changed
Some of us have been here for a year on the same bed; they’re the most uncomfortable beds

10. LGBT+ persons’ sexuality be believed
It should be understood that explaining your sexuality is difficult

11. Fit emergency alarms in every room in the detention centre
Only some rooms have them, and there have been a lot of cases of people being very ill in places where they can’t call for help

12. Give us access to proper healthcare

13. Give us proper food to look after our diets

14. Release people with outstanding applications

15. We want to speak to Alistair Burt MP for the constituency

An ocean of plastic

I’m a 34 year old environmental scientist, and I’ve just been schooled by a nursery on an environmental issue.

All eyes seem to be on the subject of plastic pollution at present, thanks to the combined efforts of environmental groups from Surfers Against Sewage to Greenpeace, the takeup by large businesses who are getting rid of or phasing out single use plastics like straws, and of course the BBC wildlife show Blue Planet.

Personally, I’ve felt closer to the issue since living near the coast, and seeing how much rubbish washes up on the strandline every day. I try and remember to take a rubbish bag with me when I go to the beach to do a spot of beach cleaning before I leave.

But it was the news last week of a nursery school ‘banning’ glitter to reduce microplastic pollution that really got me thinking.

I love glitter! I have a stash of it myself, which I use for crafts and homemade cards, and more in the form of makeup, which I use for samba performances, gigs, parties and festivals. It sounds ridiculous to me now, but it had simply not occurred to me that most of it is made of tiny pieces of plastic, which end up in the environment.

I was well aware of the plastic pollution issue, that the plastics we don’t see can be even more harmful than the ones we see on the beach, of the microbeads added to certain cosmetics and cleaners, and the damage they cause, and would never knowingly buy or use them. I also know that when we throw or wash something away that there is no ‘away’; everything ends up somewhere, be it landfill or sewage treatment or eventually the oceans. But it turns out I had a sparkly blind spot!

It got me thinking. Where else am I releasing plastics into the environment without realising? The stuff that my home recycling bin gets shamefully full of is the obvious stuff. But if glitter is a plastic then that can’t be the end of it.

My toenails are currently painted blue. A small piece of varnish chipped off a couple of days ago whilst I was in the shower and I saw it wash down the drain. Varnish. Plastic. Hmm. I can try and stop bits going down the drain I suppose by being more careful with it, not getting it outside the edges of the nails in the first place so it doesn’t wash off my skin, and removing it and binning the paper I removed it with once it threatens to chip… but maybe I should stop using it, or at least see if there’s a truly biodegradable alternative. I now genuinely wonder if there’s plastic in any of my other cosmetics?

My mind wandered back to a conversation with my dad a while back. He’s already switched on to this, and is busy replacing most of his wardrobe with natural fibres. Now I’m thinking of it, that makes sense. How much dust and fluff do our clothes and furnishings give off all the time? If they are made of synthetic fibres, that is more microplastics that we’re releasing into the environment every time we do laundry, empty the vacuum cleaner, or even in tiny quantities just whilst out and about.

And today I’m working on some DIY. I just scrubbed a painted wall I am renovating with a scourer, and the water coming off it contained tiny flecks of white paint and green scourer. I flushed it away… but there is no away, right? Cleaning sponges, cloths and scourers are made of plastics and synthetic fibres too (as is the paint – at least what I’m replacing it with is a less plastic based mineral paint, even if that’s not perfect!), and as they wear, they are losing tiny plastic particles into the water. The same goes for my plastic chopping board and utensils in the kitchen.

My life is full of plastic!!

I know I can’t fix the problem by myself and that my own impact is small compared to the scale of the problem. I also know it may not be that smart to throw away useable items just because of this. But I am thinking about it now. Maybe when it comes to replacing things I’ll think a bit more carefully about what I replace them with. There are alternatives out there, even including eco glitter, as a colleague of mine joyfully shared with me! Maybe I can become more conscious of what I am releasing into our water and soils in future, and take better care over the small things.


Edit: Someone else is talking about this too in this article, which identifies tyre wear and tear on roads, alongside other sources we might not have considered. I’m wondering if we need not only to tackle plastics at source in manufacturing, but also develop new water treatment techniques that somehow remove microplastics before they enter the environment or drinking supply…

Chasing the wind?

I read the book of Ecclesiastes this summer. If you’re not familiar with it, it is the musings of an old ‘Philosopher’ on life; what satisfies, what is the point of it all? He tries to make sense of life, and what the purpose of both life itself and its pleasures are, given its brevity, the randomness of chance, and the fact that, taking the long view in his eyes, everything comes around again in an endless cycle in which nothing lasts. ‘Everything is meaningless, like chasing the wind’. He speaks with great wisdom, and yet I found myself debating with him as I read.

It occurred to me I’m thinking like the Philosopher, and not in a good way; in the long, slow recovery from the depression that has knocked back my energy for activism, if not my desire to see things change, I’m starting to succumb to the feeling that everything has happened before and will happen again, it all comes around again and nothing makes a difference. And then as I try to nurse myself, I find I am just trying to ‘feed’ myself, give myself the things I want, as if that could satisfy, and finding unsurprisingly that it doesn’t.

The Philosopher blows back and forth on this, on the one hand saying it’s useless as chasing the wind, on the other that enjoying what we have is all we can and should do.

But is that true?

I think adding Jesus to the equation changes everything. In Him there is a bigger narrative of hope and direction. There is eternity. Everything is headed somewhere. There will be justice – beyond the timeframes of our lives. Which side of that we choose to stand on now matters, not because we can change the endless cycles of rise and fall in this world in our lives, but because He sees it, and is honoured and assisted, or dishonoured and hindered, in His work by our actions and inactions in all things.

Recently at church the speaker preached on the whole book! Their conclusion was similar, that you need Jesus to complete the picture. The service was focussed on wisdom, rather than any other aspect of the book, but it took a similar course. The Philosopher points out that wisdom does not guarantee success, and asks what the point is, and yet concludes that it is still the best way to live and enjoy life. And yet wisdom is personified in Jesus; without Him, there is a hole in the logic. Why live wisely if it doesn’t bring us any benefits, except to know and please the one who is Wisdom?

The speakers made a big deal of how ‘depressing’ the book is to keep emphasising the reality of death. But isn’t this an important, and even life-giving, perspective, a wake-up call to remind us to actually remember to live whilst we have time? It is good and healthy to look at the material and remember how transient we are. But the conclusion of that should not be that we can only consume it in the time we have, but that we need to find contentment. And more than that, we can do far more than simply enjoy what we have; we can actually use it to help others thrive. We are blessed to bless, given to to give. In this way we build something bigger and more lasting than anything merely material we could build and invest in here for ourselves.

Everything may well come around. The justice, peace and progress we work for may well never be seen in our lifetimes, and may be undone in the generations to come. It is important to remember that I cannot fix the world. Even small acts of good that I do may be undone again afterwards. Does that mean it is worthless? No, it is worth it if I can help others now nonetheless. It is not my own legacy that I’m working for, but God’s, not my own kingdom but the eternal Kingdom of God. Never let fatalism become an excuse for apathy! It matters now!

What struck me most from the church sermon was when we were told the meaning of the word translated as ‘meaningless’ – ‘hevel’. It means vapour, breath, smoke.  Real, but intangible, transient, hard to grasp, hard to hold onto. Life is like this. It isn’t meaningless, but we cannot hold on to it, or anything in it. We can enjoy them. We can live in the now. But the only solid, lasting thing we can build is the Kingdom of God, and making life more enjoyable for others.

This is the perspective that I need right now. I cannot truly care for myself and nurse myself back into health by simply feeding my desires, though a certain amount of that is no bad thing. It won’t actually satisfy; but blessing others will. And whilst I cannot fix the world, I can always look for the opportunities before me in all situations and take the baby  steps towards bringing in God’s Kingdom that will get me walking again with some direction.

Don’t try to run from what’s uncomfortable; look for what opportunities you’ve been given to do good, and take them. That will satisfy in a way that feeding our comfort and material desires never could. It will outlast us all.

Veggie Theology

“All creatures of our God and King

Lift up your voice and with us sing

Sun, moon and stars rejoice on high

Praise to the Lord of light divine!”

 

“Praise God from whom all blessings flow

Praise Him all creatures here below

Praise Him above you heavenly host

Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost”

 

“Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!”

 

 

What do you think of that? We sing these songs, and others like them, all the time, but do we ever think about what we’re singing?

 

My initial reasons for going veggie were purely ethical, and I was extremely surprised when my Christian boyfriend, now husband, told me that he was veggie for spiritual reasons. It hadn’t occurred to me that being veggie related at all to Christianity. However, over the years, I have come to appreciate the links between my faith and our relationship to animals.

 

Here is some research I did into the subject a few years ago for a workshop I was leading at a food justice gathering; if you want to study along, I’ve included links to each scripture I quote, which will open in a new window, or you can look them up in your own Bible:

 

A Brief Biblical History:

In the beginning, all things were made by and for God (Colossians 1:16).*

We were made together with the animals, but we alone were made ‘in God’s image’ and put in charge of other animals and the rest of the Earth. We were given grains and fruits to eat. God looked at it all and was pleased with it. (Genesis 1:24-31) Jesus is our model for how to be good rulers.

We were put in Eden to care for and work the Earth, in companionship with animals (Genesis 2:15-20).

We were permitted to eat animals as well as plants following the fall and flood, when much of the Earth was destroyed (Genesis 9:3).

When the law was given, animal welfare commands were put in place (for example Exodus 23:12 and 19, Deuteronomy 22:6-7 and 25:4).

 

God’s plan:

We often assume animals have no soul, but the most the Bible says explicitly is ‘who knows?’! (Ecclesiastes 3:19-21) There are strong hints that they do, in that the creation story uses the same original words for the bringing to life of other animals as for humans, but this is translated as soul for humans, and breath for animals.

In Isaiah 11 a return to Eden’s peace (restored relationships, not mere absence of conflict) is prophesied.

John 3:16 says that God so loved the ‘kosmos’… (meaning pretty much exactly what it does in English); God’s purpose in Jesus was far bigger than just humanity.

This is expanded in Romans 8:19-21 and Colossians 1:20 – all created things are waiting for salvation, via us, via Christ!

 

So that’s the Bible’s view of our relationship with animals. However, I don’t think it stops there, as the Bible also teaches us ethical principles:

 

Ethics:

How we treat others is important, so we should always think about our impacts on fellow human beings and how we can best live in love (Matthew 22:36-39 and 25:31-46, Romans 12:1-2, 1 John 4:16, and many more!).

Meat impacts on the lives of other humans in many ways. About 10% of the average Brit’s carbon footprint comes from meat and dairy; beef and milk in particular have huge carbon impacts associated with them as cattle produce a lot of methane, which is 25 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2. A vast amount of land is also being deforested globally for livestock farming, either directly for pasture or indirectly to grow animal feed, releasing more greenhouse gases, removing a carbon sink, and also often taking land away from indigenous people. All of this matters as climate change is already hitting the poorest and most vulnerable people hard through famines, land losses and natural disasters, and adding to human migration pressures. Meat production also requires up to 20kg grain per kg of meat produced (and a vast amount of water); whilst there are still so many people going hungry in the world, isn’t it unjust to make more food into less food just for our own personal preferences? The land we have could feed many more people if we used more of it to feed people directly, rather than feeding so many livestock and making a relatively small amount of meat. I’m convinced that being veggie reduces my impact on others, and that this is therefore another way I can choose to live with a slightly more Christlike attitude.

 

And yet in spite of this, I still hear people say some weird stuff about Christianity and veg(etari)anism. Here are a few, and why I think they’re false:

 

  • Animals were made for our use

Animals, along with us and all other created things, were made for God and God’s praise and pleasure (Psalm 24:1, Colossians 1:16).

This is the stunning truth we so often, so easily sing in church without even thinking about it; we are not the only part of God’s creation made for worship, but everything that has breath should praise the Lord! Are we helping or hindering that praise to rise..?

 

  • We were given dominion over the animals

Absolutely; but Christ is to be our example, not a crazed, exploitative human dictator! Philippians 2:6-11 sets out what this looks like, a life of selfless love and service.

 

  • Christian men should be ‘real men’ (… which means eating lots of meat)

Nowhere in the Bible does it say that Christians must conform to Hollywood stereotypes, or indeed, eat meat. Being a good Christian man means Christ-like selfless love, not machismo (Ephesians 5:25-33).

There are no rules for the Christian – although not all things are beneficial (1 Corinthians 6:12); we are under grace, not law, and this statement comes dangerously close to undermining this Gospel truth.

 

  • We are called to be responsible stewards of the Earth

Absolutely; but let’s go a bit further. Stewardship implies that we are guardians of a resource to be used wisely. However, Biblical language speaks far less of animals as a resource to be used, and far more as living beings made of the same flesh as we are, made for God’s praise.

We are called far beyond mere stewardship, to bring the whole cosmos, including its people and animals, to salvation and resurrection in Christ  – see John 3:16, Romans 8, Colossians 1.

 

  • Animals will not be resurrected

Says who? All the Bible says directly is ‘who knows?’(Ecclesiastes 3:19-21), but ‘living creatures’, probably representing all animals, are present in the vision of heavenly worship in Revelation 4.

 

  • God made us carnivores

God made us not only vegan but fruitarian! (Genesis 1:29)

We are also made with sufficient intelligence to understand our nutritional needs and creative enough to meet those needs fully in more compassionate ways than our mere instincts would permit.

 

  • If I stop eating meat, it won’t make a difference as everyone else will carry on

This is not a Christian attitude – our smallest acts make a difference in God’s kingdom (Matthew 25:40). Mother Theresa was once asked why she did what she did, as her work was only a drop in the ocean. She wisely replied ‘Yes, but the ocean is made of many drops.’

 

  • If I stop eating meat, farm animals will go extinct, so meat eating keeps them alive

We have managed to conserve all kinds of species of non-economic importance, and any visit to a farm park or petting zoo will tell you that we love domestic animals enough to preserve them in the very least as tourist attractions if nothing more. Humanity, made in God’s image, has a unique ability to conserve, and even improve upon, creation in its current state – Genesis 2:15.

 

  • Vegetarians have weak faith; Romans 14:2 says so

Read the rest of Romans 14 too. The context of this advice is that some Christians were avoiding meat altogether as they were worried about accidentally eating something unclean or becoming spiritually unclean by eating meat sacrificed to other gods; they were afraid of accidentally angering God, a sign that their faith in God’s saving grace was weak. Weak faith may be one reason for some people to abstain from certain activities, despite all things being permitted the Christian. However, whatever reason a person has for abstaining, to them, doing that activity would be wrong, and we should not attempt to force them to change their views in case we caused them to act against their conscience.

Many Christians are well aware that there are indeed no food laws to adhere to any more, and are not afraid of accidentally losing their salvation in Christ, but still have ethical reasons for boycotting certain foods for the sake of loving others as ourselves – from meat to non-Fairtrade chocolate.

 

  • We were commanded to eat meat

We were commanded in Eden to eat grains and fruits, and later permitted to eat meat after the fall and after the flood had destroyed much of the land – Genesis 1:29, Genesis 9:3.

 

… and therefore, if Jesus was sinless then meat eating cannot be said to be a sinful act in itself.

However, Jesus modelled deep, border-crossing compassion that gives us an example to work towards where love has no limits.

It is also true that issues like factory farming, climate change and global hunger did not exist in the same way in Jesus’ time; perhaps He would take different ethical stances in today’s globalised world..?

 

I’ll finish there, but if you want to explore more, this is an interesting organisation to check out. Here is a prayer to close, which blew my mind when I first read how ancient it was; its powerful, beautiful insight far pre-dates today’s mass-market mistreatment of animals and is all the more relevant today:

“The Earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.

Oh God, enlarge within us the sense of fellowship with all living things,

Our brethren the animals to whom Thou gavest the earth as their home in common with us.

We remember with shame that in the past we have exercised the high dominion of man with ruthless cruelty

So that the voice of the Earth, which should have gone up to Thee in song, has been a groan of travail.

May we realise that they live not for us alone, but for themselves and for Thee,

And that they love the sweetness of life even as we, and serve Thee in their place better than we in ours.”

– St Basil of Caesarea, 4th century church father

 

*I’m leaving aside questions over whether the Genesis account of creation was literal or figurative here; I do firmly believe it has a lot to teach us about God’s plan and intent and why things are as they are, and that that is not dependent upon it being literal.