What I am about to say is offensive to many of our Christian (and Muslim) visitors, but humans are apes and as such, we are animals. Some of us even behave worse than other animals, especially with how we treat each other, the environment, and even ourselves. Other animals sometimes treat the human child far better than humans treat their own species. Even at a very early age, before I comprehended Darwin, we would go to the zoo, and I would see in the chimps and gorillas, “people” much like us, except with fur. Therefore, there was never a doubt in my mind that we have a kinship with other species, including our pets.
My relationship, as a child, with my pets was rather unique, as well as appalling to my religious relatives. My pets, for me, were my ‘adopted’ brothers and sisters. Now let us make something clear. As a human, I am an only-child, but I have always loved my pets as though they were my family. In some respects, they were/are and when I say things like, “I was raised by animals”, it is not too far from the truth, on a scientific level, but this is not based on science, this time. Rather, it is based purely on one person’s view of the world, one that is more pantheistic than theistic.
In previous posts, I expressed my relationship with my childhood beloved pets. This relationship was comforting, consoling, and for me, a form of unconditional love. As I looked into their eyes during times of distress, I would have vivid numinous experiences, which had nothing to do with religion, but a oneness with nature. At times, they were helpful to me and sometimes, surprisingly acceptable to my relatives because they thought it was cute, like when I was four years old, spilt milk on the floor, and knew I had to clean up the mess; I got the cats to help me. Such was my childish reasoning, but it worked, I loved it, and yes, I was four in that picture, not a toddler of two.
However, during the years after my mother’s second born-again experience when I was around ten or eleven until I left religion about six or seven years ago, I suffered from anorexia nervosa (for about 26 years), which took a toll on my health. Sometimes I fasted due to religion and others times due to a preoccupation with my weight. I did the whole gambit of laxatives, diet pills, even ipecac a couple of times. As an adult of 4’ 11”, my weight was far below what it should have been for health and before I left the Episcopal Church, my weight did not go above 90 pounds and I was constantly weighing several times a day. It was truly and obsession, which increased during religious fasts, such as Lent.
Ironically, since I let go of religion six or seven years ago in favour of a naturalistic and non-theistic world view, my health has surprisingly improved, as evidence by a recent physical. While I prefer not to focus on the numbers, I am 4’ 11” and now weigh 105 pounds on the doctor’s scales. At the time, I had no clue about my actual weight because the obsession of weighing several times a day disappeared a few years ago. I woke up one day and thought, “I have not weighed in a very long time.” Curiosity and temptation almost got the best of me as I stared at my scales, but I left it right where it sat, as I told myself that this could be a step in the right direction in my own recovery.
My blood work returned and to my surprise, my electrolytes were no longer abnormal. While I did not force myself to go through the painfulness of throwing up, especially after the couple of times, I used ipecac to throw up and it built up toxins in my body, which almost killed me, I did abuse laxatives on many occasions in the past, thus throwing off my electrolytes. What this does, is not so much rid the body of calories, but rather rids the body of important fluids, thus dehydrates a person. Sure, one loses body weight, but it only water weight and not much more. I would not recommend it to anyone, because it does cause one to feel like, excuse the phrase, sh**, and with enough diet pills one can die too.
Secondly, my cholesterol was in normal ranges for a change. In the past, even though I fasted, my LDL and HDL were reversed and not healthy levels. The results of my recent blood test showed they are now at very healthy levels, including my triglycerides. I suspect that prolong periods of fasting causes one’s body to produce its own cholesterol in order to make up for famine.
Needless to say, with all I did to myself physically prior to leaving religion, I almost did not survive myself, much less what I experienced from others as a child. I almost unintentionally killed myself several times over with laxatives, diet pills, fasting- sometimes in the name of religion and sometimes due to just having an eating disorder. All of this does do a number on one’s own health and even one’s life, not to mention does not help one’s reproductive system, even and especially with a small frame.
My doctor, who shared the same church before I deconverted, as well as followed me for a very long time, was even surprised after she examined me this year, said I looked good, and even asked how I did it. She does not know I left religion, because I have not exactly told her. She only knows I do not attend anymore, but she did not mention not seeing me in church either. However, in response to wanting to know how I did it, I said, “Well, I tell you, it is all in the human condition and the ability to do things for ourselves.” She gave me a strange look, but did not ask any more questions or even say anything more.
I do not know if there is a correlation between health and leaving religion, but I do know it appears to work for me. However, it would be interesting to see research on this subject. I now have a hypothesis, but researchers would need to rule out certain influences or use control factors and I am not sure what they would be. Does the philosophy of humanism need ruling out of the equation or does it need to be a control factor? I have no clue, especially since I attribute some of my recovery to humanism too. I would hate to see it removed as a control, because the philosophy is very important to me and I consider it very much a part of my recovery.
Besides eating and treating myself better, the other thing is, I returned to appreciating nature to the fullest, thus, where pantheism comes into play. I do not pray or meditate, but instead, and I learned this long before I started reading Marlene Winell’s book, I listen to Native American music while I relax. As I listen, for example, Douglas Spotted Eagle’s “Closer to Far Away”, I quite often envision a nature scene in which I relate to animals. In one scenario, I take myself back to my childhood, in which I had a black and white Shetland pony that I rode in a field bareback. This is one of my favourite imageries and even though it is not real, but only in my mind, I feel as one with the earth, much as I did when I was a child. For me, it is almost like a dance with nature as we gallop in a field of wildflowers in time to the music.
As a child, I always felt a transcending oneness with my pony as I rode bareback, because I could feel his every move. Not once did I care to use a saddle because I could not feel and anticipate his movements. Of course, I was much smaller than a jockey, so concerns about his back were not actually an issue. To put all this in perspective, when I was in Kindergarten, people were shocked to discover I was actually five and not two due to my size, as seen in the picture above. Therefore, when I was around ten years old, I probably did not weigh enough to do much damage, if any, to a Shetland’s back and he could run with the wind very well with me practically lying on his back and neck as I held onto the reins and his mane. Of course, all this took a certain physical communication and trust between rider and horse too, as well as an intimate relationship and skill. Not just anyone could ride him as I did and a certain uneasiness occurred when other children tried to ride him as I did.
Thus, this is one of many of my favourite nature relaxation techniques, but it goes far beyond that. I also allow myself a special appreciation for the world around me in the here and now, almost to the point of reverence, thus explains my lifelong vegetarianism, which I acquired long before I was grown. It is not just a dislike for the taste of meat, but imagine eating your pet pig Wilbur or your pet cow named Bossy or any other pet that is like family to you. As outlandish as it may sound to meat-eaters and especially to Christians, one does not eat their “relatives” and yes, I did have a runt pet pig I called Wilbur. On a more mature level, I cannot stand pain and suffering when I see it. It bothers me greatly and sadly, I have too much empathy or “mirror neurons” or something. “Sadly” might not be the right word, for this is not necessarily a bad thing, but I have spent a lifetime “throwing fits” about humans inflicting pain and suffering on others, right down and including the crucifixion. However, like many others, I feed off others who are in a good mood also.
This last, this “sisterhood”, or empathy, with animals was always a contention between my Christian relatives and myself, but even when I was in the thick of Christianity, I could not let go of my bond with animals or nature. I was always overly sensitive to living beings, regardless of what anyone else, including and especially the religious, had to say. It is innate within me, but it can be a disadvantage as well as an advantage. However, like my pets, I eat to survive, but I do it with a conscious and love for living beings, including myself.
There is also a therapeutic aspect to animals and nature, but this therapeutic nature is not exclusive to pets. Even humans can be therapeutic with their actions and even words. A simple hug or even a desire to give someone a hug has a means of helping another person emotionally. Even after the birth of my first-born son, as I held him for the very first time and we studied each other’s face, I experienced much similar numinous feelings as I did with my pets. All these examples are important in my life and my relationship to my environment. Compassion and reason appear to be lacking with many religious people, but those who are not religious, I often see more reason and compassion, even more understanding of the relationship I attempt to communicate about nature. (I will not start ranting about Palin and her love for aerial killing of wolves or killing animals in general, but she is a prime example of lack of compassion and reason, in my opinion and no, I am not a PETA support. More like ASPCA and World Wildlife Fund supporter.)
Finally, I also developed my own values, the first being “Do no intentional harm”, which does not only apply to animals, human or otherwise, but to the earth too. Granted, I am not perfect with this “vow”, but that is my second value. I do not expect perfection from anyone, not even myself. This does not mean I do not point out when others are being dehumanizing and/or inhumane though. I may be a pacifist with my actions, but not always with my words. This does not mean I judge others either. That is something else I strive to avoid, unless I see inhumane behaviours, then I speak out with vehemence. It is only human to get angry, but what one does with their anger is what makes the difference. Emotions are very much part of being human and should not be repressed, but instead expressed appropriately.
I am also very content to die and become plant food. What an ironic ending to the life of a vegetarian and great way to return what I took from the earth. This does not scare me or even bother me, especially if one considers our vast eco-system that perpetually recycles itself, even in the face of humans raping the earth of its natural resources and polluting it just by living on it. The thought that I will become part of the earth after I die seems like poetic justice to me, instead of a morbid thought.
Thus, I strive to better myself and the world in some manner. I strive to love others, the universe, and myself. I strive for compassion and reason too. It is not always easy though and I am still a work in progress. A work that still has a long ways to go and my own spirituality, without religion or supernaturalism, is still developing. It changes and grows as I grow, but the words of Tracy Chapman’s “Heaven’s Here on Earth”, expresses much of what I believe and have always believed. There is no supernatural meaning with the words in the song, even though the religious try to claim many as their own. Instead, the words are placed squarely on the human and nature itself, not something that is out there somewhere in La La Land. Angels are nothing more than compassionate humans giving aide, from the goodness of their hearts, to someone in need and the earth is what humans make it while they are alive.
Even though my mother has a different view on animals, she has often said, “It would not be heaven without our pets” and to that I say, “We have that right here on earth” and we should cherish it in the one and only life we know for sure we have. If we do not appreciate what we have in the here and now, when can we?
Lyrics to Tracy Chapman’s “Heaven’s Here on Earth”