In the United States, we are intimately familiar with the “melting pot” philosophy. Being mostly a country of immigrants, we began with a blending of cultures. Over the years, we just kept adding to it. Everyone who comes here adds something and we are all better for it. Though there has been tussling along the way, and a lot of angling for control of the melody, overall we do all right…until religion enters the picture.
It doesn’t matter what religion, really. America is certainly primarily a Christian country, but we’ve got some of everything. We even have the Flying Spaghetti Monster. The problem is that no one seems to take a “melting pot” philosophy to religion. The Presbyterians stay in their churches, completely sure that their version of Christianity is the right one, the Jews go to the synagogue and hold tightly to their version of the Truth. The Muslims visit their mosques and hope they aren’t viewed as fanatics by their neighbors, while the Wiccans find secluded fields for their rituals under the moon. I get solicitations in my mail for the “right” church for me, and radio stations point me in the way of the True Church of Jesus on a regular basis. All we are doing with this “One True God” nonsense is holding ourselves, as individuals and a culture, back. You can’t make stone soup with just rocks.
When I was in the tenth grade, I had to do a research paper for my English class. I decided to do mine on animals in laboratory research. I have always identified with animals more than with people (I think it has something to do with having been raised by housecats, with my parents assisting), and I was fairly sure I was opposed to the practice of experimenting on animals…but at the same time my father had died of cancer and I truly would like to see scientific research on diseases such as cancer progress faster, rather than slower. It seemed a good thing for me to investigate, and I vowed to be objective.
I prowled through the literature on both sides of the fence. I read about the advances that have been made, that couldn’t have been made without animal research. I stumbled on enough pictures of factory farms to ensure that I would never eat another bite of non-free-range meat as long as I lived. I read about experiments that should never have been done…and I read about ones that even I had to concede were vital to our advancement as a species. I was doing o.k. in being non-biased, until I met and interviewed the head of animal research at UNC-Chapel Hill. After quite a few other questions, I finally came around to the one that bothered me most: How do you cope with the feeling that you are causing suffering to another living being, even if it is in the quest to ease suffering for others?
His answer was very simple: Oh, I don’t feel bad about it at all. They don’t feel pain like we do.