If God is a VerbPosted by Joyce Tischler, ALDF's Founder and General Counsel on February 11th, 2008
Years ago, a very wise woman said to me: God is a noun, but it is also a verb. It took me awhile to understand that way of thinking, but today, I see it as a way of living; it guides the choices that I make on a daily basis. God is whatever I do that brings out the best in me, that draws me closer to growing into the person that I truly want to be. God is active, not passive. God is more about doing than about merely believing. When I choose to be compassionate, patient, ethical, creative, or giving, I grow closer to God. And, sometimes I fail, which helps me to be more humble.
My career, the work that we do at ALDF is a reflection of my understanding of God. We use our legal skills to protect animals from harm and suffering. Sometimes, I’m asked: if you care about protecting others, why don’t you eliminate human suffering first? My answer is that I am working at the roots. I work for animals precisely because most people choose to ignore their suffering.
If God is a verb, then my place in the world is to help human beings open their hearts and their minds to the widespread suffering that my colleagues and I deal with on a daily basis, and to support an end to that unnecessary suffering.
Certain religions teach that human beings are very different from and far superior to all other species. I disagree, and believe that, in the ways that really matter, we share a great deal in common. Humans are not alone in their ability to feel pain and have a sense of their own life force. We know that dogs, cats, pigs, cows, chimpanzees, in fact, all of the more complex life forms have a central nervous system much like our own. They feel pain and pleasure and form close familial relationships with members of their own species. They show that they have emotions and preferences; they communicate their needs and sometimes, even show a sense of humor. I’ve talked with so many people who have close emotional relationships with dogs and cats and what I’ve just written is quite obvious to them. They consider animals to be members of their families specifically because animals give us so much on an emotional level. We don’t form deep emotional ties with our toaster ovens, because they can’t give anything back. A dog can, and does.
I think it’s a miracle that individuals from different species are able to communicate with each other and form a close emotional bond. My veterinarian, Dr. Diane Ritchie calls this: "when two souls connect," a subject that I covered in another blog.
But, we humans have a rather schizophrenic relationship with animals. We love them, spend billions of dollars on pet food, toys, bedding, veterinary care, and yet, too often, we abuse and exploit them. On a daily basis, we at ALDF deal with the very worst things that humans do to animals: the Michael Vick case was an eye-opener for many Americans, but we have dealt with the horror of dog fighting for many years. We have a database that, sadly, lists categories such as: beating, burning, dragging, drowning, shooting and microwaving. We refer to those horrible actions as "intentional cruelty," but much greater long term suffering happens in the area of a more benign, institutional abuse.
Each year, billions of animals are raised for food, and most of these farmed animals live in intensive confinement – they can barely move, or turn around; they can’t socialize with others of their own kind as they normally would, or do anything that is natural to them. They live out their lives in a persistent state of physical pain, suffering, and frustration because their most basic needs are ignored. All of this suffering happens because for most people, those animals don’t matter, they are not important enough for us to be concerned about their pain.
I believe that suffering matters to the individual who experiences it and therefore, it matters to me. Harriet Beecher Stowe once wrote that: "It’s a matter of taking the side of the weak against the strong, something the best people have always done."
If God is a verb, then I grow closer to God when I work to end the suffering of those who cannot speak for themselves.