“Shem, we are Mormons. We do not kill people or animals,” said Geneva (7) to her brother Shem (11) as we passed a creepy gun shop near our new home in Las Vegas which invites all to come and try out machine guns on the shooting range.
We laughed at the super-serious tone which Geneva took. She is prone to lecturing her brothers on a range of issues. However, it warmed my heart to hear her begin to develop a social outlook which emphasizes non-violence.
Now if only she applied this when it came to hitting her brothers when she finds them to be irritating.
My wife recently asked me,”What happened to the pacifist Christopher?” I am trying to rediscover that Chris, if anything, for Geneva, Shem, and Todd.
Do Mormons oppose the killing of people and animals? Well, not in the stark terms with which Geneva said we do.
Of course, we sustain the commandment “Thou shalt not kill.” Murder is bad. This is something which is quite easy to find consensus on, at least at a theoretical level, across a wide variety of philosophical and religious divides.
But how committed are we to not killing people and animals?
Let’s start with animals. While Utilitarians from Jeremy Bentham to Peter Singer have taken animal suffering and death seriously, Western thought has not given serious weight (as a moral consideration) to the killing of animals. Mormons are not different on this matter.
I am not a hunter. This is not because I do not eat meat. Hunting is just an activity that I have never felt the slightest inclination towards doing. In fact, on the day that Geneva chastised her brother about killing animals, our family went to a buffet at a local casino. That buffet included prime rib. Did Geneva make the connection between the eating of that prime rib (by her brother and father) and the killing of animals? Well, yes she did. No fooling my girl!
I vividly remember a Sunday night fireside that I attended as a teenager. The speaker was a daughter of the the famous, and infamous, journalist Jack Anderson. I do not remember her name, but I remember that she specifically emphasized an aspect of the Word of Wisdom which we do not normally give much focus to. We do emphasize aspects of the Word of Wisdom which prohibit tobacco, coffee, tea, and alcohol.
The Word of Wisdom is found in Section 89 of the Doctrine and Covenants. Verse 12 addresses the consumption of meat:
12. Yea, flesh also of beasts and of the fowls of the air, I, the Lord, have ordained for the use of man with thanksgiving; nevertheless they are to be used sparingly;
Eating meat is ordained by God, but what about this “sparingly” stuff? Clearly, they had not realized the wonders of all you can eat prime rib!
The fireside speaker I heard 20 years ago came flat out and said we violated the sciptural admonition to eat meat sparingly. I was unsettled by this. This sounded like hippie talk to me (I was quite conservative as a teen). Yet, she was preaching scripture rather than cultural norms. In some ways, this sister was channelling Hugh Nibley by using Mormon scripture to challenge Mormon culture and practice.
Lyndee, my wife, is a much better example. She is not a vegetarian, but she is not a fan of meat. She was unsure about my low-carb diet because she worried that I would have a diet too heavy in meat. She was pretty grossed out by the prime rib Shem and I consumed at that buffet.
Lyndee is also not a fan of insects, but she does not like the children squashing them. Instead, these living creatures should be humanely removed to the backyard. We are not animal or pet people in anyway, yet we have a strong commitment to humane treatment of animals. Of course, I am rather selective in my application of this humaneness.
What about the killing of humans? Theologically, as Mormons, we are strong in our commitment to the sanctity of life. But we often turn a blind eye to the death and violence plaguing some of our urban communities. As the likes of Hugh Nibley and Joshua Madson have pointed out, we as a culture are sometimes among the most vocal champions of war and empire.
Do Mormons oppose the killing of people and animals? Not in any way that sets them apart from the rest of Western civilization.
However, what has become clear to me is that Geneva strongly opposes the killing of people and animals. In our discussions over the last week, she has restated in strong terms that conviction.
I am proud of my little Mormon Peter Singer.