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Chernynkaya On December - 17 - 2010

During the holiday season, the Christmas manger scene is an important symbol for those who believe that the birth of Jesus was the birth of their Savior. It also has importance for those who are only culturally Christian but view the nativity scene as another symbol that takes its place along with mistletoe, holly, and Santa Claus.

I find it significant that Jesus was born in a manger, aside from the point of his being of such humble beginnings. Jesus, we are told, came to redeem all creation, and most seem to think that “all creation” means only human beings. (And oh boy, do we need redemption!)  I think part of our redemption will come when we can cease our chauvinistic belief that humans are the stars of creation.

I have read that the birth of Jesus is a restatement of the creation story. In the original Genesis account, animals were created first and human beings were set in their midst and given responsibility for their well-being. But after the Fall in Eden, people began to abuse one another and all other creatures. The entire earth was in need of redemption and the birth of Jesus heralded a new beginning.

Jesus was born in a stable. Like the first humans, he, too, was born into a setting that already sheltered, and gave sustenance to, animals. And the Gospel account continues this theme of human and animal relatedness when it tells how an angel announced the birth of Jesus to men who were out in the fields, caring for their animals.

“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the lord appeared to them. ‘Do not be afraid…I bring you good news…This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger'”(Luke 2: 8-10,12).

So it was that those chosen to be the first to hear the good news of the coming of Christ were men who cared for other creatures. The shepherds were the nurturing caregivers who, in their time, were living in a way that most closely approximated the peaceful accord between animals and men that God had ordained at the creation.

The work of the shepherds who attended Jesus at his birth was the antithesis of those whose work centered around the slaughter of animals on the altars at Jerusalem. And Jesus, who was welcomed into the world by men who protected and cared for animals, never participated in the sacrificial rites of the Temple. Neither did his disciples. Just as the beginning of Judaism was marked by the rejection of human sacrifice in the time of Abraham, so the beginning of Christianity was marked by the rejection of animal sacrifice in the time of Jesus. This was the fulfillment of the call for religious reform that had been given hundreds of years before, by the prophets of Israel.

A moment here for me, as a Jew, to mention that Judaism is very strict in its teaching of kindness to animals. I believe that Jesus understood those commandments. Jews are forbidden from eating milk and meat at the same meal. That comes from God telling us that it would be a sin to cook a kid in its own mother’s milk—as was common practice among desert-dwellers with scarce water. Another sin—and a very big one—is taking eggs from a nest if the mother bird is in sight. Too heartbreaking for the mother bird. Other prohibitions are yoking an ox and a donkey together—unfair to both; whipping a beast of burden; eating before one has fed one’s animals; and hunting is considered cruel. In fact, many scholars claim that vegetarianism is actually a biblical commandment. See Genesis about that.

My great-grandmother (on my mother’s side) was a staunch vegetarian, and something of a character. She was well-known for going to the fish market and buying live fish. My mother told me that she would then keep them alive in the bathtub, until she could get to the river or sea and release them. She used to tell us all: “There will never be peace in the world until we stop killing animals.”

(On the other hand, my paternal grandfather was a Kosher butcher—and I grew up in that butcher shop. Meat is only considered Kosher if it has been slaughtered in one, painless and quick continuous stroke. It requires prayers and a ritual slaughterer. When I was five,  my father had a break with my grandfather and went to work for a non-kosher butcher. At that butcher shop, he lost his arm in an accident, and my grandparents believed it was a punishment for the cruel practices of a non-Kosher butcher. [I know—yikes!]  But I mention this dark story only to emphasize how  important is the consideration of animals in the Old Testament and the New.)

The Christmas story has powerful symbols of infant and manger, animals and shepherds, and peace on earth between all creatures. For those who care about animals and also believe in a God who created life as we know it, the continued telling of this story can be seen as a leaven that is gradually changing the hearts and minds of humans who, in increasing numbers, understand that God’s care and concern extends to all beings, not just to the human race.

And those who care about animals but do not believe in a Creator God–or in any other deity–can take heart from the fact that the powerful symbols of human and animal relatedness, incorporated in the Christmas story, continue to influence our culture. Like all powerful symbols, they are a force affecting minds at the unconscious level. And as the latent power of these symbols erupts into consciousness, they can become a force for good.

So at this holiday season, let us each renew our hope. There are forces, seen and unseen, that are working with us to bring about a world in which no creature will suffer and die because of the greed and rapacity of the human race. There are forces, seen and unseen, supporting those who have been called to be part of the spiritual evolution that is manifesting itself among those who understand that care and compassion must be the hallmark of our relationship with all God’s creatures.

There are forces, seen and unseen, working to make the Peaceable Kingdom a reality. My wish for all of us this season is that in our time, it finally becomes a reality.

Written by Chernynkaya

I am an artist and have lived in Los Angeles all of my life, except for a brief hippie period when I lived in SF. I am currently (semi-unwillingly) retired, but have had several careers.

39 Responses so far.

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    • Chernynkaya says:

      Hey, Haruko-- that was wonderful! I played it twice already. I laughed out loud at the Husky and at the slow-entrance doggy-- and that ferret! Thanks!!

  1. Questinia says:

    Re Animal Liberation. I’ve read where this includes animals not even being owned. They should not be considered “property”. I suppose I disagree with that so long as the animal is not abused. What does “owning” mean, that animals have free will? How many of them, in that case, would get annual check-ups at the vet’s? Many animals have been bred to co-exist with humans. I wonder what the AL’ers do with animals who rely upon us for a modicum of protection. For instance, what about chickens? (not the sweat shop ones, they need to be liberated) Can you imagine chickens having to go it alone? What would cows do in the woods?

    I never considered “owning” a pet much like I wouldn’t consider “owning” a child. We are stewards of each other. I know my dog, Questinia, felt like I was as much her “property” as she was mine.

    • Kalima says:

      People own land, property, cars or other material things they have payed for, but the word “owner” is as wrong and insulting for animals as it is when used for people. I certainly don’t own my brood, I’m their care giver, and am responsible for their well being from the minute they enter my home and become a part of our family. The only thing I do own is if the outside guys cause mischief in the neighbourhood, like a month ago when “Rusa” helped himself to the neighbour’s grandson’s goldfish. 😯

      My cats are family and companions, I care for them as I would care for other family members, but do I own them…..never.

      • Questinia says:

        Your nekkos are lucky, K!

        I concur. Owning something alive is an unpleasant idea. I’ve been not wanting to own anything lately. The only exception to that is I like owning land. The more land the better. I think it’s more out of a protective spirit.

    • Khirad says:

      One of my favorite movie scenes of all time is in Fast Food Nation the film where Avril Lavigne and gang release the cows: “you’re free now, run!”

      Oh, and no kidding. Dogs are like that. Whether it’s being let out or going on a walk or being fed, sometimes you wonder what the owner, pet dynamic is.

      In any case, I would say “this is my dog” but I never recall saying, this is the dog I own. Doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue -- no matter how incorrect it is morally, I can’t imagine anyone saying that in regular conversation.

      • Questinia says:

        Yet one of the ways the external world portrays those of us with dogs is “pet owner” or “dog owner”. I think it’s particularly true when they want us to buy a certain service or product. In some ways I liken it to other places where even people are “owned”, e.g. when the “health care provider” confers with the insurance company as to what treatments, etc… may be used on the “pet” or “health care consumer”.

    • Chernynkaya says:

      Q-- Singer is radical, if that’s what you call a philosopher. Maybe an ideologue? His religion is Utilitarianism= whatever produces the greatest good for the most is right, in his view. Taken to the logical, ultimate place, that philosophy gets you to any number of extremes-- like euthanasia, and, as you mentioned, the prohibition on owning animals. Actually, of the many ideas he argues, those are mild.

      But here’s the thing: Maybe we have to stretch our minds along his ideas to get to a middle ground re: animal rights. He certainly challanges many assumptions. I don’t know if that’s how things change, or if, once we see the extreme of a logical conclusion, we shut down and decide the slippery slope is too steep, and thus, retreat from the idea altogether.

      • Questinia says:

        In that case, Cher, sign me up to jump through Overton’s Window to get to that middle ground! It would be interesting to see if we evolved into a world where animals were able to share all space equally with humans. As far as I’m concerned, that would be after they’ve learned to clean up after themselves :)

        I got into an argument with a vegan once at a dog park. Need I say more? It’s all because I said I liked yogurt! Then came the methane-cow-climate-cruelty-hormone-stealing-milk spiel. She obviously had taken the course on how to argue for veganism. I left the argument by saying if she wanted to convert people, she may wish to consider an approach which takes into account where people are instead of where people “should be”.

        As an intellectual concept, Singer’s ideology has changed my consciousness about this topic just through the radical aspect of it.

        Hicks always portrayed my favorite state of affairs for this earth. Maybe if we can’t do it yet with people we can give it a go with animals.

        • Chernynkaya says:

          “Maybe if we can’t do it yet with people we can give it a go with animals.”

          I believe that the treatment of animals and the treatment of humans is interrelated-- as I’m sure you do too. It’s not a smooth correlation though. Societies that have no regard for animals other than as “things” are usually not terribly evolved on the concept of human rights. But then I think about Maslow’s Hierarchy--so there’s that too (No bread, no justice.)

          Conversely, in many industrialized societies, where we do value human rights, we are schizophrenic about the treatment of animals. We adore our pets, but treat other domestic animals terribly--as plants. Further, we really don’t treat humans all that great either.

          There was a famous study years ago, asking people if they saw a child and a dog drowning in a river, which would they save, and most people said the dog. I don’t know exactly how I feel about that. Singer would say that to save the child was bigoted speciesism, but I have a problem with that. (Although, I agree it would be a heartbreaking choice, but not quite a “Sophie’s Choice.”)

          I feel we have made a ton of progress in our awareness of animals rights from just 100 years ago, but we certainly have a long way further to go!

          Example of our incongruity about the treatment of animals--I often watch the TV show “How Its Made,” and saw this disturbing (but not gruesome)scene of chicks on a conveyor belt: (fast forward to 2:16)


          • Questinia says:

            Most people said they would rescue the dog?! The only thing I can say about dogs versus people is I wish dogs lived as long as some Republicans and vice versa 😉

            What a video. I admit I had visions of being on the conveyor belt along with them and having little chicks rain upon me. It reminded be, obliquely, of an Annie Dillard story, Tinker at Pilgrim Creek. Her view is a rather stark one of dog eat dog with no sentimentality whatsoever. Makes one wonder to what extent humans project.

            As an aside Cher, I just wanted to say I’m so glad you’ve returned! I think your sabbatical was well spent. Your writing at HP (definitely one of the best, if not the best there) seems to have been a good exercise. Your perspectives are always novel, well thought out, articulate and very interesting. I hope you are sharing your talents broadly!

            • Chernynkaya says:

              Oh, Q, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is one of my FAVORITE books!

              The opening passage, about her cat jumping on her “covered with paw prints in blood; I looked as though I’d been painted with roses.” WOW.

              Nature is beautiful and cruel. We accept that about nature, but then must put ourselves outside of it. To put us where we are-- in nature--presents a dilemma, because we cannot merely accept social Darwinism. God, I haven’t thought of that wonderful book in ages and must read it again. Thanks for that reference.

              And thank you, too, for your kind words. I struggle with writing every day. Specifically, with sharing my “talents” more broadly. So here I am, doing just that. I appreciate your encouragement immensely.

              And you, Q, always stretch me to go in directions I never would have otherwise.

  2. whatsthatsound says:

    Fantastic story, Cher! Both me, and my ferret Rosie, give it ten stars!
    One of the great human evolutionary experiences will be our reintegration with the animal kingdom. First, by seeing our own selves as part of Gaia, and then by somehow atoning for our arrogance and cruelty toward our fellow species. It is unimaginable at this point, but it will come about, I believe. It was John the apostle who had a revelation that the lion and lamb would lie down together, and I believe he was seeing something not only because he yearned for it, but because it exists as a possible future for Gaia.

    • Khirad says:

      I’ve always sorta considered Isaiah 11:6; Isaiah 65:25 to be in the same league as Joshua 10:13 (sun stood still in the sky).

      Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a literal type (whether the believer or non-believer type). I do see the poetry in it.

      I’m not sure I see evolution going that way.

      Then again, http://www.naturescornermagazine.com/lion_lamb.html

    • Chernynkaya says:

      I completely agree, Whats-- about our evolution, I mean. I have a lot to say about that, but that’s for another time. But, have you read anything by the philosopher Peter Singer?

      • whatsthatsound says:

        I haven’t. I’m familiar with the name only. What do you recommend by him?

        (…”another time”….hee hee, another Cher article, oh goodie!)

        • Chernynkaya says:

          Here’s his website.
          http://www.princeton.edu/~psinger/

          His classic work is “Animal Liberation.” Controversial, but extremely well argued, morally and philosophically.

          • whatsthatsound says:

            Yeah, that’s where I’m familiar with him, in association with animal rights. One of the stupidest arguments I’ve ever heard in my life is that “animals don’t have rights, because with rights come responsibilities and animals don’t have responsibilities, therefore no rights.” I know, just a dumb little bit of sophistry and tautology, right? But apparently, this is what a lot of people cling to. I think it’s actually being passed around by the people who argue that God gave humans the right to do whatever they want to animals (that “dominion over the earth” defense).
            Animals don’t have responsibilities? WTF? A parent has a responsibility to look after its children and provide for them whether he or she is a human or a snake. A lion has a responsibility to protect his pride no less so than a political leader has a responsibility to defend his constituents against corruption and exploitation (and I’ll leave it to the reader to decide who is doing the better job!). It’s just a silly argument, created BY humans to defend the actions OF humans. But the lady I read making it wrote as if she was saying something really smart and un-challengeable.

    • Chernynkaya says:

      HARUKO! That’s brilliant. I love how the voices and mood match each “singer.” That’s a keeper for sure.

      • Haruko Haruhara says:

        That white Jupiter cat is actually pretty famous on the Internet. He’s a really chatty cat and these guys have made dozens of videos with him. They’re really funny.

        • kesmarn says:

          HH, have you seen the series in which “Jupey” is strictly enjoined NOT to eat the fish in the aquarium while “the master” is at work? Jupey: “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Byyyyyyyyyye!” And, of course we all know what’s gonna happen.

          To Cher: a wonderful, gentle holiday season post. And-- you know — I never made the connection on the abandonment of human sacrifice at the time of Abraham, and the abandonment of animal sacrifice at the time of Christ! It’s one of those things that, when pointed out to you, causes you to say: “Duh! How come I never noticed that before?” Thanks!

  3. Questinia says:

    Such a great way to think of this time, Cher. Unlike people, animals don’t lie.

    Although it occurs in early October, here is the blessing of the animals at the cathedral of St. John the Divine in Manhattan:


    • whatsthatsound says:

      I just happened to go to St. J the D that day, as was living nearby. My girlfriend and I had no idea what we were going to see, we just lucked out! There was even an elephant that time, and the camel. Maybe from the Central Park zoo? It’s more than just the animals, there is an incredible show of dancers and singers. The best Mass I’ve ever been to in my life, gracias adios!
      Thanks Q, for jogging a really special memory.

    • Chernynkaya says:

      I love the blessing of the animals--thanks for the video! I sometimes take Zorro (my dog, who is pretty much a disgrace at the event) to Olvera Street here in LA for the blessing. One of the things I found when shallowly researching this piece was a biblical proof that the NT sees that animals have souls.

      There is a story that demons were possessing the souls of some people and he drove the demons into pigs, who promptly ran and drowned themselves rather than be possessed. Since demons are supposed to only possess souls, it wouldn’t have worked if the pigs didn’t have souls.

      Matthew 8:32 and Mark 5:12

      • Mightywoof says:

        biblical proof that the NT sees that animals have souls.

        This is such a silly thing for a non believer to say but I find that strangely comforting

        May I add my voice to the chorus of “I’ve missed you -- welcome back”?

        • Chernynkaya says:

          I know-- kinda insane in a good way. And thanks, MW!!

          EDIT: You have to just go with the flow on most of these stories. This one was new to me and struck me dumb. 😉

  4. bito says:

    Wonderful post, Cher, not just a thought for the holidays, but for every day. Can’t express how uplifting it was to me. I’m watching the debate on the START, and it is quite startling to find some seem prone to enrich the MIC rather than compromise on reducing the planets annihilation. This during a season with so much thought on our existence and our obligations to each of our fellow beings.

  5. Khirad says:

    What is that called, when the stories in the Bible purposefully (or by Providence) echo, compliment and fulfill earlier ones? I’m totally blanking and it’s a huge part of Biblical exegesis. In the Qur’an the concordance is that Jesus (عيسى, `Īsā) was created by God’s Will just as Adam had been. Not quite as complicated. But, no animals, so it really doesn’t help add to the message of your piece.

    Nevertheless, I like the vision of Mary (مريم, Maryam) giving birth to Jesus under a palm tree, all alone, poor, and quite possibly facing being an outcast (she doesn’t have the Joseph cover). Applicable to single mothers and the homeless this holiday season.

    From Surah ‘Maryam’:

    23 And the pains of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a palm-tree: She cried (in her anguish): “Ah! would that I had died before this! would that I had been a thing forgotten and out of sight!”
    24 But (a voice) cried to her from beneath the (palm-tree): “Grieve not! for thy Lord hath provided a rivulet beneath thee;
    25 “And shake towards thyself the trunk of the palm-tree: It will let fall fresh ripe dates upon thee.
    26 “So eat and drink and cool (thine) eye. And if thou dost see any man, say, ‘I have vowed a fast to (Allah) Most Gracious, and this day will I enter into not talk with any human being'”
    27 At length she brought the (babe) to her people, carrying him (in her arms). They said: “O Mary! truly an amazing thing hast thou brought!

    • Chernynkaya says:

      Gee-- I call it “comparative religion.” But if that’s too pedestrian for you, and not exactly what you are talking about--How about hermeneutics?

  6. boomer1949 says:

    This homeless dog was found sleeping in Jesus’ manger. The Nativity set was located at the central square of Criciuma, a small town in Santa Catarina state, south of Brazil.

    http://www.thedailytail.com/pictures/dog-stays-warm-in-jesus-manger/

    **EDIT** Sorry everyone. When I first put this up, the photos appeared, but as bito said later, “they must not want them reposted elsewhere.” You’ll have to go through the link. :sad:

    • Mightywoof says:

      As an atheist I have to say that this personifies everything that any religion should be about!!

      *echoing Khirad* …. perfect.

      • choicelady says:

        Hi Mighty- Indeed! What the essence of faith ought to be is kindness to all beings. No exceptions. What the essence of non belief ought to be is kindness to all beings. No exceptions. Khirad goes to the deepest part of our shared heritage, and you to the universality of the values regardless of their origin. I think there are precisely no substantive differences among people of good will. Some day the world will realize that and be much happier.

        • whatsthatsound says:

          Well said! Harmlessness should be the core principal of humanity, regardless of whether or not one needs to find that in, or place it in, religion.

    • Chernynkaya says:

      I can barely stand it, Boomer. If creches mean anything, they should mean shelter. Or better, that no animal or person needed to find shelter.


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