Taking Life

Beautiful Animals Looking at CameraThis article is part of an occasional series on “Word of Wisdom Reflections.” You can also read Steve Reed’s plant-based conversion story.

By: Steve Reed

I wrote most of this back in 2014 but haven’t published it until now. In fact there was a lot more history before and after this, but I feel like this one experience was a big turning point for me. Few people know about this experience, and even fewer know the details which I’m going to attempt to convey. This event happened about 15 years ago while I was a full-time missionary.

After I share this story, I want to wrap up by exploring what doctrine, principles, and applications relate to this subject.

Winter of 2000

My companion and I were trying to reach out to a less active young man on a small Idaho farm. We got on the conversation of animals and he mentioned that they would be cooking some goat soon for Christmas dinner. My companion, who was Fijian, mentioned that he was an expert at killing pigs and could kill the goat in seconds. The young man and I were impressed with the claim and decided to put my companion to the test.

The day came and we met out at the farm, I was anxious to witness this spectacle of my companion slaying a goat with the skill and finesse that he claimed. I came from Texas where hunting is a big deal and I wanted to see how they did things island-style. We walked out to the goat pen and a large goat was selected. I volunteered to take the rope and lasso the goat, and nailed him perfectly right around the horns. My companion had a habit of calling me “Texas Ranger” and my apparent skill with the lasso caused him to excitedly exclaim, “You ARE the Texas Ranger!”

We pulled the goat out of the pen as it struggled against us. I yanked him around like the dumb animal he was while his fellow-goats cowered away.

We pulled the goat down to the ground and my companion straddled it while I held its head to the ground. A medium-sized knife was handed to my companion. I watched as he took a deep breath, while aiming the instrument and sincerely whispering the words, “Sorry, goat.” With a swift jerk, he thrust the knife into the chest of the animal and it let out a disturbing cry of pain while fiercely fighting against us. The cry was jarring, and although this was just an animal in my mind, I couldn’t help but imagine the exact same sound and physical reaction from a person being stabbed in the same way. I held the goat’s head down firmly and looked into its eyes.

The initial thrust of the knife had missed the heart and hit a lung instead. The goat coughed blood and as I strengthened my grip on its head, the cries of panic and pain were constant. I tried to avoid the eyes while the pain continued to be inflicted. My companion adjusted and stabbed again causing the goat let out a horrific gargling howl which melted away the simple perception that this was ‘just an animal.’

I was a missionary. In my mind I was a person who had grown to value peace, kindness, and goodwill. My hands had blessed, baptized, and served and now this scene was before my eyes – it didn’t fit. I heard frantic breathing and cries now impeded by blood that was quickly seeping into pierced lungs. It wouldn’t be long, but it wasn’t over yet.

“Why were we doing this?” I thought. “What is the purpose? It isn’t like we are starving to death and need food.” Words I had pondered before drifted into my mind, “And surely, blood shall not be shed, only for meatto save your lives; and the blood of every beast will I require at your hands.” (JST Genesis 9:11) D&C 49 also flashed in my mind, “And wo be unto man that sheddeth blood or that wasteth flesh and hath no need.” (D&C 49:21) Is this what these scriptures are talking about, or am I just being over dramatic? Why did they pop in my head?

Again my companion stabbed; he had his other hand up inside the goat’s chest now, searching for the heart and blindly stabbing. The goat’s cries were terrible, and at this point the young man and I encouraged my companion to hurry up and end the suffering. By now the suffering was apparent to all and it didn’t sit right with anyone. My companion didn’t seem to be as skilled with killing as he claimed. Soon, however, the goat was dead and as it lay there, I pondered what we had done.

I imagine that this all sounds over-dramatic to some. Some people grew up on farms or hunt frequently and this sounds like a simple fact of life blown way out of proportion. Before that time I would have said the same thing and would have read this very post and laughed. Blood and gore never bothered me, and I had witnessed animals being killed.

At that precise moment in time and under these circumstances, I felt like I was allowed to see something with new eyes. I wasn’t that kid who sat for hours playing first-person shooter video games anymore, I gave that up and was pursuing a higher path. I had found myself in a paradox where what I was doing clearly did not match where I knew I wanted to go.

It wasn’t my first experience with death, I had seen animals die before but this was different, there was a clarity that I had not experienced before. Never before had I felt the weight of death and the frailty of life until I watched it disappear under my own hands on this particular day. I began to see life differently and realize how little I valued it. There were many thoughts that materialized on that day that would take years to begin to reconcile.

Time goes by…

This event haunted my thoughts from time to time. I didn’t know what it meant or what I should do. Life went on, we were served meat in virtually every meal throughout the rest of my mission. I continued to barbecue when I came home to Texas and as I fell back into the culture, this experience was pushed to the back of my mind, but it never disappeared.

As time went on, I felt compelled to reconcile several verses of scripture and quotes from church leaders left me in a state of confusion with what I should do. I took to doing some deep study and soul-searching with a willingness to accept whatever the results were, even though I feared that I already knew what those answers might be. The results of those 6 months or so I spent digging through information and thoughts resulted in an article that I posted in October of 2011.

Since then, I have continued to learn, and soon I will publish some of those things. I don’t feel like I see it all clearly yet, but I have learned enough to feel mostly at peace with the paradoxes. I’ve had to change quite a bit in my life, and these changes came as I began to see things with new eyes.

The following words, some might say, are not ‘canonized scripture’ and can be set aside, but the truth in them rings clear to me:

George Q. Cannon: 

We should by every means in our power impress upon the rising generation the value of life and how dreadful a sin it is to take life. The lives of animals even should be held far more sacred than they are. Young people should be taught to be very merciful to the brute creation and not to take life wantonly or for sport. The practice of hunting and killing game merely for sport should be frowned upon and not encouraged among us. God has created the fowls and the beasts for man’s convenience and comfort and for his consumption at proper times and under proper circumstances; but he does not justify men in wantonly killing those creatures which He has made and with which He has supplied the earth. (Gospel Truth, Vol. 1, p.30)

Joseph Fielding Smith: 

Why do we feel that we do not have a square meal unless it is based largely on meat. Let the dumb animals live. They enjoy life as well as we do. In the beginning the Lord granted man the use of the flesh of certain animals. See Genesis 9:1-6, but with so many fruits of the soil and from the trees of the earth, why cannot man be content? (In a letter to a member sister in El Paso, Texas, dated 30 Dec. 1966, quoted in “Health Is A Blessing: A Guide to the Scriptural Laws of Good Health,” by Steven H. Horne, advance publication copy [Springville, Utah: Nature’s Field, 1994], p. 34.)

What a thing it must have been to live in the days where the Law of Moses was in effect. To the ancient Israelites, sin and death were closely linked. Imagine watching the life of something pure and innocent become extinguished by your own hand. Not because you were hungry, but because you made a choice that you knew was wrong and an atonement was required.

I suppose many never comprehended the impact of their own selfishness more than at that moment.

Doctrine

For everything God does you can trace it back to a doctrine or a principle. I would suggest that a doctrine associated with this subject is intelligences – that they exist and are the spark of all life. Many might be familiar with this verse:

And the spirit and the body are the soul of man. (D&C 88:15)

However it seems that it isn’t just man that has a soul or a spirit:

And out of the ground I, the Lord God, formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and commanded that they should come unto Adam, to see what he would call them; and they were also living souls; for I, God, breathed into them the breath of life, and commanded that whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that should be the name thereof. (Moses 3:19)

This doctrine is good to ponder as it reflects an important truth about reality. It should cause us to question how we treat all life and how our actions in relation to them either pleases or displeases God. On the one hand, he tells us that they are for our use but then he gives further instruction:

And it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine. (D&C 89:13)

Principles

Understanding some of the doctrine behind life, specifically animal life, we can then study any principles that could be associated with the doctrine. In all that I have studied, it seems that the justified use of animal life comes down to one very simple principle: NEED.

Other principles could be: respect, thanksgiving, order, wisdom, compassion, and temperance. Whenever the question arises, the principle of need is the first to enter my mind, “Is this necessary? Do I need this or is there another way?” Here in the United States where we are surrounded by a sea of options, there is almost always another way.

Here in this nation, we have the greatest opportunity to honor a path pleasing to God, but on the flip side, there is also the greatest opportunity for unjustified abuse.

Applications

Elder Bednar taught that the applications that grow out of principles can vary according to needs or circumstances.

Some might strictly abide to a lifestyle that avoids the destruction or suffering of animal life at all costs. In a prosperous nation with many alternatives, this is certainly a possibility to those who wish to pursue it.

Others might feel the necessity to hunt sparingly to keep their skills sharpened on how to track and extinguish life in the most efficient and humane manner possible. Some may participate in the culling of certain species to keep their populations in control or to avoid the destruction of land or other species.

Some might live in far out areas or lands without the amenities of 1st world nations. They might require hunting or fishing daily and/or seasonally which, if needed, is justified according to D&C 89. These could all constitute legitimate cases of need and I think this highlights the importance of not judging one another as to how we apply principles.

Persuasion and long-suffering are valuable virtues to cultivate in this regard.

I hope that some of the things I’ve shared here can be beneficial in helping to discover and establish peace as we seek wisdom together.

 

This essay was originally posted on Steve Reed’s blog, OneClimbs.com.

See Steve’s bio and personal story  here: “I’ve come to see food and all creation as sacred.”

 

Comments

  1. Most of us have cultural blinders on concerning the animals we share this planet with. I know I did. It can be very difficult for us to take those blinders off and see them in a new way, but I have a testimony that this is important to the Lord, and therefore, it should be important to us. He wants to teach us some precious lessons, ones that will bless not just the animals, but us, His children, as well. I hope we will open our hearts to Steve’s experience so that we can receive the blessing the Lord wants to give us.

  2. I personally was weeping as I read your experience and imagined what you and the goat were experiencing. One of the blessings I’ve found in eating a WFPB diet for the past 4 1/2 years is that my feelings towards animals have become very tender. Although I’ve always loved animals, I now view all of God’s creations with more gratitude, wonder and joy than I ever have before. It is hard to put into words but my heart and sympathies have changed in ways that I didn’t expect when I simply changed my diet. The physical blessings I’m receiving from following the Word of Wisdom in this way have been joined by many spiritual blessings as well. Thank you for sharing your experience and thoughts.

  3. Thank you so much for this interesting and informative essay. Your experience must have been horrific. Like the boy in the book Life of Pi, I would eat flesh if it stood between me and death. I can’t imagine that situation becoming reality. That is how I interpret the Word of Wisdom, which seems to be the same with you. I would never eat a dog, cat, parrot, porpoise, or horse, it’s only a tiny step from these to the cow, pig, goat, chicken, fish, etc.

  4. I’ve been very blessed to have been eating in the full Word of Wisdom Way for going on five years, and I never before those years ever felt as healthy and strong as I do now not even when I was a young teenager. I suffered from Type 2 Diabetes, among a number of other illnesses whose names I actually no longer remember!

    I even see from the looks of others that people recognize that this going on eighty five years of life man s somewhat unique in his appearance. I am five feet nine inches tall. I weigh just about an even one hundred and thirty pounds and despite my being bald on top I feel, because of those looks I see on the faces of those people I come across everywhere I go whom I’ve never met, looks of admiration. That never was the case before my dear daughter, Jane took the time out of her very busy schedule gong on almost five years ago, to drive from her home in Provo, Utah to my dear wife, Melva’s home in Murray, Utah to patiently and very effectively teach me that the Lord really wants each of his children here on Earth to eat in “the Word of Wisdom Way.”

    When I go in to see my doctor for my annual visits now, he actually by his actions not his words, indicates that there is no reason for me to be there! In March of this year when I had my most recent annual visit with him he surprised me by not even actually examining me! He didn’t even have me stand on a scale to see what I know would have indicated to him, I weigh as I indicated above; just about one hundred thirty pounds while being five feet nine inches tall. Thank you Dear Lord for having revealed the entire contents of Section 89 of the Doctrine and Covenants and not just the first part that tells us not to use tobacco and alcohol and other harmful substances!

    • Jane’s dad. Thank you for your reply here knowing that you were 80 when you started eating this way helps me to know that I at 77 can get better too. I am so looking forward to being in excellent health like you. I have been doing the word of wisdom diet for six months and am better I have a ways to go.

      Steve, thank you for sharing your experience with us. I had a similar experience not as horrible as yours but it made me see that animals have feelings too.

      My daughter had me come to their home and watch the children while the man from the meat packing place came out to get the cow to butcher. The cow and calf were in the pasture not far from the house. The man shot and killed the cow right there by the calf. When the cow dropped down dead the calf gave out such a pitiful cry I can still hear it and that happened about 36 years ago. I can’t remember how long the calf cried but it was sad. I have wanted to be vegetarian ever since.

  5. Steve, please forgive me for not mentioning in that which I posted above how interested I was in reading all of that which Jane published which you submitted to her. You are a great example to the rest of us!

    I thought I was holding us up from having our evening family prayer so I sort of rushed through that which I posted just above. It is great to see how so very many more of us are now indicating what verses 10 through 21 of Section 89 of the Doctrine and Covenants mean to us since we began living in accordance with those very sacred and crucially important verses!

  6. First of all, your companion was an idiot. He had no idea how to kill an animal quickly and humanely. I grew up on a farm and helped my father kill animals for our food. It took only seconds. Second of all, the scriptures never say NOT to eat meat at all. Meat should be eaten sparingly as they say. 1 Timothy 4:3 Context

    1Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; 2Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; 3Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. 4For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: 5For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer. 6If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine, whereunto thou hast attained.

    Native Americans would pray to the animals they killed and give them honor. I see nothing wrong with that. People now buy their food in plastic wrapped packages and have no spiritual connection with the animal, having not killed it. Many have no idea where it comes from. The same goes for “plant based” foods. People have no idea how it gets into the store. They are disconnected from the earth.

    I’m sorry you had such a horrific experience. It was unnecessary. But it behooves all of us to seek the truth of the Word of Wisdom.

    • Hi Anita: Thanks for sharing your comment! Certainly animals can be killed more humanely, but would it not be most humane to not kill them at all when there is no need? As you point out, the scriptures do not tell us that meat should never be eaten, but they do indicate it should only be in circumstances of need, as Steve has pointed out. I love 1 Timothy 4:3, but in this context the word Greek word for “meat” means “food,” not the flesh of animals. In the context of the Word of Wisdom, the counsel to eat sparingly is only half of the sentence, the second half says, “And it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine.” This doesn’t sound like a commandment to me, but it is interesting that this is “pleasing” to God. Given the strong emotions even meat-loving Steve was able to feel in the sight of the suffering of one animal, it is not strange to think that God has tender loving care for His animal creatures and prefers we not kill them when we have plenty of other foods to eat.

      I appreciate your reference to the Native American Indians who, as you note, seemed to show more reverence for life, possibly because they (unlike us) had a genuine need for that food and so were not taking life needlessly and felt more genuine thanksgiving for it.

      I hope all of us will do as you suggest and “seek the truth of the Word of Wisdom.”

      • Jane, you certainly know how to write as a peacemaker. What a great example of tenderness toward the feelings of all. Thank you for teaching me once again.

    • Dear Anita, whith all due respect, I must point out, that you have missed the point of this article (story). It is trying to teach us, that we should not kill animals other than out of neccesity! As the article points out, many people kill animals just for fun, as a sport!
      The Lord teaches us:” only in time of cold or famine, but it is pleasing unto me if you don’t eat meat”!
      Animals have souls, they feel love, they possess love, and have families, and love and care for their offspring. We should try our best not inflict pain and suffering on any God’s creature!

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