I want to thank Stephanie Mills for her sensitive and enlightening response [Correspondence, November 2002] to my angry letter. Her reply proves that she is a class act, whereas my own working-class struggles and lack of formal education make me reactionary and rough around the edges. The bottom-line is: I truly admire people who work to make this world a better place, and I resent that the circumstances of my own life have made it impossible for me to contribute to such worthy endeavors.
Please tell Mills that if she thought my response to her essay was bad, my response to the conduct of corporate crooks, corrupt politicians, and hypocritical religious leaders would be unprintable.
I read with great interest Derrick Jensen’s interview with Carolyn Raffensperger on the precautionary principle [“Before We Leap,” November 2002]. Although I’d never put a name to it, this principle lies at the heart of my work for an organization dedicated to ending vivisection, or experimentation on animals.
When I tell people what I do, their first response is often “But shouldn’t we try to find cures for diseases?” As Raffensperger points out, the assumption that we need to choose between two terrible options — in this case, torturing animals or halting medical progress — is specious. If we have the ingenuity and resources to walk on the moon and fertilize human eggs in petri dishes, then we can surely find an alternative to animal research.
The truth is that, despite billions of taxpayer dollars spent, animal experimentation has not — and cannot — cure or prevent human diseases. But personal responsibility can. Heart disease, AIDS, and most types of cancer are preventable through environmental clean-up and healthy lifestyle choices. Unfortunately, we would rather continue our destructive habits — polluting our air and water, smoking, eating a diet filled with saturated fat and cholesterol, and not getting any exercise — while we wait for science to deliver a cure.
The scientific mindset that allows us to inflict suffering and pain on those who are most vulnerable and shrug it off as a “medical necessity” is as dangerous as it is unethical. As Raffensperger makes clear, we cannot wait passively for scientists to decide what is good for us. The time has come to rethink medicine and ground our science in ethics.
I found Carolyn Raffensperger’s discussion of the benefits of eating local foods edifying and insightful, but I have one bone of contention with her.
Raffensperger mentions that she and her husband “ate our own beef.” Ethical issues aside, there is a heavy ecological price to pay for the practice of eating meat, beef in particular. Cattle eat fifteen pounds of grain for each pound of beef produced. It takes an average of 2,500 gallons of water to produce a single pound of meat. Cattle also give off methane gas, contributing to the greenhouse effect, and require vast forest lands to be cleared for grazing. This is in addition to the pollution that beef cattle cause to adjacent waterways, and the general warfare between ranchers and predators who prey on cattle. To quote Raffensperger, “This is not a good system; it’s not sustainable on any level.”
Carolyn Raffensperger’s precautionary principle is so simple, yet so difficult to implement. The main cause of difficulty is our intense desire to avoid death. Indigenous people view death as an integral part of life, while we try to put death off as long as we can, no matter what the consequences.
To fully implement the precautionary principle, we will need to embrace disease and death just as we do birth and living. Rather than finding a cure for the next disease that we happen to discover, we need to value the process of renewal and deepen our compassion for the elderly and the dying. Is death so painful that we must shun it and remove ourselves and others from its presence? Why not experience it as we do a wedding — with our whole heart and presence?
Regarding Carolyn Raffensperger’s concern about having fresh leafy greens during winter in the north: There’s nothing wrong with wanting fresh leafy greens in wintertime, but you can get along fine without them. Native Americans survived northern winters for centuries without leafy greens. Freezing and canning are OK, but are dependent on electricity or gas or wood fuel. You could use a solar greenhouse.
With help, leeks will grow well into late fall, and some greens, like bok choy, will grow very late into the fall all by themselves. There are varieties of cabbage that will keep all winter in a cold cellar. Should you happen to live in town and not have a cold-storage cellar, you can probably find a cool place in an apartment or townhouse to keep a box of cabbages, carrots, and potatoes.
Our goal should be to live on food that can be grown locally and in season. “Seasonable rather than reasonable,” as Newt Tolman used to say.
I was touched by Huston Smith’s keen observations about the Christian cross [“Water from a Deeper Well,” interview by April Thompson, October 2002]. He describes the horizontal arm of the cross as the social arm, extending to include community, and the vertical arm as a representation of our relationship with God, running from earth to heaven. “The trouble with contemporary Christianity,” he says, “is that it’s as if the cross has been turned on its side.”
As I read those words, I thought of Jesus carrying the cross turned on its side up the streets of Jerusalem on his way to the crucifixion. Perhaps, as he suffered under the weight of the cross, he was demonstrating the biggest challenge facing Christianity. Even in his time, the social arm was longer than the vertical. And those long social arms had grown bent by the manipulations of a self-serving government and a dogmatic religion. Corruption in religion and government, the two main social arms of humanity, is caused by lack of vision and inspiration — qualities that are inherent in the mystic.
The vertical line does more than just point in the direction of God; it acts as a channel through which direct contact with the divine is experienced. Jesus was a true mystic. He lived the life of one who was directly connected to the source.
Though it resulted in torture and death for him, Jesus still felt compelled to follow the dictates of his conscience. Was it his intention to create a new religion, or was he merely trying to plant within the soil of Judaism a new seed that would sprout into a tree with roots deep in the earth and branches pointing to heaven? We’ll never know, but making him into a god was a cowardly act on our part. It put him in a category beyond the rest of us, absolving humanity from ever having to follow in his footsteps.
How can it be that the religion that evolved from Jesus’ noble life ignores his greatest message? Through his life, Jesus showed us that direct contact with God is not only possible but the divine right of every person. He demonstrated to us that mysticism is alive and well and accessible to anyone who has the courage to live a passionate life.
I am a fifteen-year-old folk musician who grew up with the security of Christianity, and I sometimes still find it difficult not to go back to that assured faith, that ready-made spirituality. My spiritual search has taken me far from organized religion, but I still yearn for it with the kind of nostalgia I have for the old records my mother used to play.
I now attend many “churches” regularly — the farmer’s market, my chiropractor, the forest near our house — and The Sun is one of them. It does, in fact, have a great deal in common with a church: It brings together people from all walks of life, most of whom feel like close friends after just a couple of visits. It holds fundraisers and talks about issues important to the community. It has disagreements among its members and admits its mistakes openly, though somewhat sheepishly. It is small and humble and believes in the Word — or perhaps words in general. And it welcomes you with its arms wide open.
In the summer of my twenty-first year, I fell in love and subsequently had my heart broken. A part of me blames The Sun. It’s the only way I can make sense of how I came apart that summer and how, at twenty-seven, I am barely put back together.
The man I fell in love with was an avid Sun reader. He pored over each issue as if it were the only thing worth reading. It was clear to me that, if he were ever to fall in love with me, I, too, would have to devour The Sun.
At first I read your magazine because he read it. But then something else happened: I fell in love with The Sun. Finally, here were stories about people like me: people who struggled; people who hadn’t figured it all out, and maybe never would; people who loved so much and so hard that their teeth itched and their bones ached. For the first time, I felt connected to something greater than my own pain. Combine this with a sexy, experienced older man, and you get one of those summers that change your life.
We read old issues of The Sun in bed. We were in a play together and read The Sun backstage while waiting to go on. (He was Oberon, King of the Fairies, and I was — you guessed it — one of his fairy followers.) We sat in small cafes drinking chai tea and talking about The Sun. Once, when he lost an issue he hadn’t finished reading, we dug through the garbage of the local pizza parlor, thinking he might have left it there at lunch. Elbow deep in red sauce and onionskins, I felt alive and sexy and, most important, connected.
As the summer wound down, I came to see that this man wasn’t in love with me — not the way that I was with him, anyway, and definitely not the way he was with The Sun. I wasn’t engaging enough. I wasn’t profound enough. If he lost me, he wouldn’t go digging through dumpsters in the middle of the night to find me again.
As fall approached, we went back to our respective hometowns. The first thing I did when I got back was order my own subscription to The Sun. I pretended that, as long as I was reading the magazine, I was still a part of his life. We spoke off and on for a time, but then he met another woman and was gone. And I was left with piles and piles of The Sun.