Biocentric Knight Takes On Anthropocentric Bishop

Commentary by Captain Paul Watson
Founder and President of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

I love debates.

I especially love debating politicians and I love to debate the scum that rape the oceans, the seal clubbers, the harpooners, and the poachers, and I do love to debate other conservationists who don't like Sea Shepherd or myself and I get plenty of them.

Of course it's difficult to get a politician into a debate. They usually weasel out of it. Recently I challenged Newfoundland Premier Danny Williams and Canadian Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn to a debate but they have refused to respond. They probably have some sort of "I won't lend dignity to debating him" excuse to cover up their fear of being publicly humiliated. I mean when the best you can come up with is "money sucking manipulator" than I can see why Hearn has shot from the bushes and then ducked behind them again. Most politicians are simply bushwhackers anyhow.

I once debated former Newfoundland Premier Brian Peckford and found him a decent opponent. My on air debate with Canadian Senator Céline Hervieux-Payette was hilarious as was a debate a few years ago with former Canadian Fisheries Minister Brian Tobin.

I thrive on debate and view it as one of the greatest of mental exercises but there is one group that I love to debate more than any other and that is the self appointed messengers of God. Lord oh Lord, how I adore debating members of the clergy. And the sad thing about it is that I don't often get the chance to debate the clergy. I think the last time I had the opportunity was way back in 1987 during the Theology Ecology Conference in Seattle.

But this week, none other than his Excellency Fred Henry, the Catholic Bishop of Calgary, Alberta decided to lash out at me and I welcome his assault with open arms.

Below is the text of Bishop Henry's essay in the Canadian Western Catholic Reporter, Canada's largest Religious weekly.

I've decided to rebut him paragraph by paragraph and of course he has the option of rebutting back if he so wishes.

Although I was raised as a Catholic, I no longer adhere to the beliefs of the church because it runs counter to my perceptions of the world from an ecological and biocentric point of view. This debate is not meant to be anti-Catholic or disrespectful of Catholics and I welcome discussion from any Catholics challenging any of the points that I have raised.

Week of April 28, 2008

Animals are God's creatures and merit our stewardship

Seal slaughter furor prompts an examination of human/animal roles

A Shepherd Speaks

Captain Paul Watson: "Very cute Bishop Henry, I guess it's one Shepherd against another."


Bishop Fred Henry: Paul Watson, chief of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, reacting to the March 29 maritime death of four seal hunters, declared the death of seals a "greater tragedy." Watson, I quickly learned, had not been misquoted but is famous or infamous for comments, such as advocating a population-decimating cap of one billion people in our world, and calling human beings "the AIDS of the earth."

Captain Paul Watson: I love the fact that the first two words of his divine epistle are my first and last name. I'm flattered. The good Bishop then omits the fact that I did say that the death of the four sealers was a tragedy but it is true that I said that the death of 320,000 seals is a greater tragedy. Gee, people get riled up when you question their self-proclaimed superiority. Yes I said that the carrying capacity of the planet was a billion people although that is actually a billion vegetarian people. I would make that about a quarter of a billion flesh eaters. The fact is that our growing populations are driving other species into extinction. Thank you very much Holy Mother Church for contributing to this growth which is the primary cause of the largest species extinction event in the last sixty-five million years.

I'm not advocating Nazi death camps as some of my more ignorant critics have suggested. I am advocating a volunteer negative population growth over time. The alternative to voluntary measures is a backlash from the consequences of ignoring the three basic laws of ecology (1) the law of diversity, that the strength of an eco-system is dependent upon diversity of species within it. (2) The law of interdependence, that all species are interdependent and (3) the law of finite resources, that there is a limit to carrying capacity and this a limit to growth.

Presently massive species extinction leading to diminishment of bio-diversity is being caused by humanity literally stealing the carrying capacity of other species.

I did indeed refer to humanity as the AIDS of the Earth because our impact on the biosphere is akin to the influence of a virus. We are eroding the immune systems of entire eco-systems and making it difficult for the planet to heal itself. I have no apologies for this comparison and if it offends people then start behaving like responsible mammals and stop acting like a virus.

Bishop Fred Henry: Federal and provincial politicians have entered the fray suggesting that the protest against Canada's annual seal hunt would be less effective if hunters were banned from clubbing animals to death. Apparently most animals are shot but some are killed by blows from large spiked hak-a-pik clubs.

Captain Paul Watson: The hak-a-pik is still very much in use by sealers and they prefer it to the gun because bullets are expensive. I wonder if there were debates during the inquisition as to weather the stake was preferable to the rack?

Bishop Fred Henry: Animal rights groups often use graphic pictures of the clubbing as part of their campaign to ban the hunt altogether as an inhumane exercise.

Captain Paul Watson: Well Mr. Bishop sir, a picture is worth a thousand words and a video of a seal being skinned alive and screaming as some laughing Neanderthal slices it from throat to crotch is worth a book on the subject. Perhaps if there was a video of Christ performing a few miracles, the church would be in better shape today. I mean why pick such a backward place in ancient times to come down to Earth to strut your stuff when the entire world could watch the video of it today? - it sure would have saved the Churches a great deal of cash sending all those missionaries all over the world forcing people to believe. I'm like those people in Missouri - show me please.

Bishop Fred Henry: Sealers argue that the hak-a-pik is a device they use for maneuvering on the ice and dispatching seals where necessary by "crushing the hemisphere of the skull" to bleed them out.

Captain Paul Watson: Aaah the compassion of the hak-a-pik. It ranks up there with the compassionate aspect of the inquisition or the burning of witches. Why do defenders of the slaughter of seals use words like dispatch or harvest or cull - call it what it is, a massacre, a slaughter or just plain killing.

Bishop Fred Henry: Humane society representatives argue that removing the hak-a-pik would increase the suffering of seals because seals shot are often only wounded and the sealers will have to cut open live conscious animals.

Captain Paul Watson: They do that already so not much will change. We need to stop the slaughter and stop trying to find ways to make it appear more humane.

Cosmetic argument

Bishop Fred Henry: The politicians' argument is largely cosmetic and economic in nature as a ban might persuade the European Union to ignore the pressure to ban the import of seal products. The seals are hunted for their fur, meat and oil, which is rich in omega 3 fatty acids.

Captain Paul Watson: It's also rich in mercury, PCP's and other heavy metals but hey we need a few carcinogenic elements in our health food. The European ban will pass and this despicable barbaric industry will be abolished - it has no place in the 21st Century but then the church was always much more comfortable with medieval times anyhow when the ignorant and the anthropocentrically arrogant ruled the world with fear, torture, crusades and witch-hunts.

Bishop Fred Henry: Regrettably, most of the parties seem to be on parallel tracks and there isn't much chance of finding common ground until all the parties begin to address the social movement which parades under the heading of "animal rights."

Captain Paul Watson: What the Bishop is saying is that the animal rights movement is a threat to the doctrines and beliefs of the Catholic church. It challenges the superiority of humanity. It questions our morality and it demands that we address injustices to animals. The church believes that humans possess a soul and other animals do not and this is a position that cannot be morally or rationally justified. The church once taught that women did not have souls until it became politically incorrect to deny them a ticket into heaven. Heaven was once like Golf - Gentlemen Only and Ladies Forbidden. And if there are no animals in heaven then why would any compassionate caring person want to go there in the first place? I would rather go where the dogs go and if they go nowhere than that's alright by me. I want whales and seals in my heaven or I don't want any heaven at all.

I have no idea about what he means when he says common ground. There can be no compromise on cruelty and death. You are either against it or you are not.  We can't accept some cruelty and some death, so I'm at a loss as to what kind of common ground there can be between seal killers and seal defenders.

Animal rights

Bishop Fred Henry: In his book Animal Liberation, Peter Singer states that the basic principle of equality does not require equal or identical treatment; it requires equal consideration. This is an important distinction when talking about animal rights. Should animals have rights? Singer simply answers, "Yes!" Animals surely deserve to live their lives free from suffering and exploitation.

Captain Paul Watson: That seems like a pretty reasonable request. Animals should have the right to live lives free from suffering and exploitation.

Bishop Fred Henry: Jeremy Bentham, the utilitarian moral philosopher, stated that when deciding on a being's rights, "The question is not 'Can they reason?' nor 'Can they talk?' but 'Can they suffer?'"

Captain Paul Watson: The Bishop dismisses Bentham as a "utilitarian" because his ethics are based on utilitarianism and not faith. Utilitarianism is an ethical doctrine that views virtue as being based on conduct that promotes the greatest happiness to the greatest number of persons and as Bentham added, to the greatest number of sentient beings. I prefer this to a faith based set of virtues dictated by the Pope.

Bishop Fred Henry: Bentham points to the capacity for suffering as the vital characteristic that gives a being the right to equal consideration. All animals have the ability to suffer in the same way and to the same degree that humans do. They feel pain, pleasure, fear, frustration, loneliness and motherly love. Whenever we consider doing something that would interfere with their needs, we are morally obligated to take them into account.

Captain Paul Watson: Absolutely - go Jeremy. In my humble opinion the man was a utilitarian saint.

Bishop Fred Henry: As PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk has said, "When it comes to pain, love, joy, loneliness and fear, a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy. Each one values his or her life and fights the knife."

Captain Paul Watson. The Bishop seems to be considering the merits of Newkirk and Bentham's arguments then throws up his hands and says "but".

Bishop Fred Henry: Nevertheless, it turns out that some animals are more equal than others. One would expect that consistency would demand the condemnation of poisoning babies in the womb with a saline solution or cutting them up with surgical tools but Newkirk and Singer don't believe that human beings have the right to life.

Captain Paul Watson: Ecologically speaking of course some species are more important than others. For example many species of bacteria, worms and insects are more important than humans because we can't exist on this planet without them (see - the law of interdependence) but they can live on the planet without us.

I would venture to say that Ingrid Newkirk supports human rights but a fetus is not a human being and this is a position also supported by the Catholic church. The church does not give late rites to an unborn baby and the church does not recognize the fetus as having a soul nor does the church grant funeral rights to the unborn.

When does a human being come into existence? At the moment of birth or at the moment of conception? Is every sperm sacred, as Monty Python once pointed out? Are human eggs of more value than the eggs of a chicken? Why is it that when it's a human it's an abortion but when it's a chicken it's an omelet?

Abortion may not be virtuous in the Catholic doctrine but it is virtuous under the laws of ecology specifically the law of finite resources. Voluntarily reducing the number of people will liberate the carrying capacity from human tyranny and will benefit both diversity and interdependence and thus will benefit humanity.

Most so called right to lifers in America are also pro-capital punishment and who ends up on death row - usually unwanted, unloved, uneducated and under-nourished children. These are the walking abortions, the post natal abortions and unless a mother and/or a father are prepared to provide love, nurturing and education to their children they should not be allowed to bring a child into existence - to do so is a crime against nature and humanity.

It is human reproductive irresponsibility that is strangling the earth, creating crime waves and causing social instability. People should not have the inherent right to be parents, they first need to demonstrate that they are responsible enough to be parents and that means that crack-heads, alcoholics, child molesters, those convicted of domestic violence, and anyone not capable of providing basic needs should not be allowed to bring children into the world for society and nature to support and pay the consequences for.

Bishop Fred Henry: For Newkirk, that's a supremacist perversion. Singer argues that since a pig may be more intelligent than a retarded child, it is all right to have an abortion but not to eat bacon.

Captain Paul Watson: There is a big difference between a fetus and a retarded child. Retarded children have feelings and they think, and can make choices. They have a right to life. But that pig has a right to life also and certainly has the right to not have torture and confinement forced upon it. And it is not bacon, it's the putrid fatty tissue or flesh of a pig. Calling meat beef, pork, mutton and venison is just masking the reality that it is dead flesh from sentient animals.

Bishop Fred Henry: Philosophically, we should raise the question: Why should sentience or interest be the basis for a natural right? Why should a being's desires or interests entail a right to have them satisfied? Why should a being's capacity to experience pleasure or pain entail a right to have pain alleviated?

Captain Paul Watson: No one is arguing that all desires should be satisfied. The serial killer's desire to kill should not be tolerated and sealers and butchers are serial killers.

The last sentence is appalling. The Bishop is saying that a sentient being has no right to be free of pain.

My own personal experience of the Catholic church is that it was big on pain and intolerant of pleasure. The church lost me when they immersed me in a tub of ice water as punishment for not attending mass - that was when I was 15 and a ward of a Catholic youth home.

Honour our obligations

Bishop Fred Henry: The only plausible criterion for acknowledging natural rights is that the being in question has obligations. If I have an obligation to do something, this entails a right that no one prevent me from fulfilling that obligation and a right to what I need to fulfill it.

Captain Paul Watson: This is very confusing Mr. Bishop sir. What entails an obligation? Hitler's SS felt they had an obligation to exterminate the Jews. Should we have not interfered with their obligation? I notice that Pope Pius XII was inclined to not interfere with the obligations of the Nazi's. He said he was silent on the grounds of neutrality. Are you advocating silence with regard to animals on the same grounds?

What is an obligation other than the fulfillment of a desire? Does desire justify our behaviour? Does our desire to clothe ourselves in the skins of animals and to eat the flesh of animals justify the slaughter? There is need and then there is a desire. The Inuit living in the high Arctic may have a need to kill and eat a seal but the Newfoundland sealer subsidized by the Canadian tax-payer has no such need and according to one sealer quoted recently, "it's not for the money it's because we loves it."
No one should have the right to kill for pleasure or "because we loves it."

If one desires to kill something for the joy of it, is that an obligation and do they have a right to do so. You say yes and I say no.

Bishop Fred Henry: Obligations, in turn, imply free choices and the corresponding ability to deliberate. Animals lack that ability. Humans possess it. Human infants and mental defectives possess these abilities potentially; they are essentially rational. Animals are not.

Captain Paul Watson: There is no evidence that animals lack free choice. I've seen plenty of examples in my life where animals have made choices including the time in June 1975 when a dying Sperm whale decided to spare my life. Anyone who owns a dog or cat can bear witness to the power of choice in these animals.  This idea that only humans have the power to deliberate or to choose is rooted in a willful assertion of human supremacy and has no scientific basis. Observation has demonstrated that animals feel, they suffer, they think, they make decisions, they are capable of rationality.

I don't believe that a new born human baby is more rational than an adult lion. The baby cannot possibly make a decision other than to instinctively suckle the nipple and cry for attention. Adult lions must make life and death decisions every day. New-born babies are incapable of rational thought - adult lions are fully capable.

Place a baby and a pigeon on the street and approach the baby at high speed with a car. The baby will not move and will in fact be unaware of the approaching car. The pigeon will be aware of the approaching car and will make the rational decision to move out of the way of approaching danger. Thus a pigeon demonstrates more rational sense than a baby human.

Bishop Fred Henry: We do have indirect obligations to animals arising from our obligation to act rationally, for example, not cruelly, to respect how our actions affect other human beings and our obligation to respect all the cosmos.

Theologically, the arguments are much more telling and are based on the integrity of creation and responsible stewardship. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

"Animals are God's creatures. He surrounds them with his providential care. By their mere existence they bless him and give him glory. Thus men owe them kindness. . . .

Captain Paul Watson: Animals are their own masters and do not belong to us or to any mythical fabrication that we have created. Providential care does not include factory farming, raping the oceans and fur farms and certainly not whaling, the slaughter of dolphins or sealing. I have seen little evidence of this so called responsible stewardship.

Bishop Fred Henry: "God entrusted animals to the stewardship of those whom he created in his own image. Hence it is legitimate to use animals for food and clothing. They may be domesticated to help man in his work and leisure.

Captain Paul Watson: Of course this is anthropocentric claptrap to justify our exploitation of animals. Why would we be created in God's image? The universe has been around for well, infinity, and we have only been around for a mere million years or so. Why would God have a primate's body?  What need does God have for a mouth, for hands, for a heart, for an anus or a penis?  Just where is this body located? When I was a child these were the questions the priests could never answer and I got responses like "dinosaur bones were created by Satan to confuse mankind." Gee father, wow, is that the best you could come up with?

Bishop Fred Henry: "Medical and scientific experimentation on animals is a morally acceptable practice if it remains within reasonable limits and contributes to caring for or saving human lives.

Captain Paul Watson: I suppose blinding rabbits to test cosmetics falls into this category of reasonable limits. What vivisectors do to animals would have made St. Francis of Assisi upset and there is little difference between torturing animals and torturing the animal known as a human being.  I see that the Bishop separates medical and scientific. What "scientific" justification could there possibly be for torturing an animal that is not covered under the medical justification?

Bishop Fred Henry: It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly. It is likewise unworthy to spend money on them that should as a priority go to the relief of human misery.

Captain Paul Watson: Of every dollar given to charity, 99% goes to human causes. Why do anthropocentrics continue to whine about the 1% that goes to animal cause? People should have the freedom to donate their money to causes they believe in. Perhaps the Catholic church should not be spending money on real estate acquisition or all those buildings, chalices, marble statues, fancy costumes and instead give that money to alleviating human misery. The Pope just spent a few thousand dollars on specially designed red shoes from Prada demonstrating that the devil indeed does wear Prada.

Bishop Fred Henry: "One can love animals; one should not direct to them the affection due only to persons."

Captain Paul Watson: So says the vicar of Christ. I disagree. We have the choice of where we direct our love and if we choose to love an animal more than a human then that is our right and our legitimate choice. Many people have learned that people can not be trusted but animals can be trusted. The love of a dog or a cat is unconditional unlike most humans. This declaration is arrogant in the extreme.

Bishop Fred Henry: While we are called to respect all creation and must use it wisely, the key is "we can use it." Following the principle of stewardship, nothing is intrinsically wrong with using animals wisely for labour, transportation, clothing, food or other needs.

Captain Paul Watson: The church said exactly the same thing centuries ago to justify slavery. St. Paul wrote In Ephesians 6:5, Servant, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling,  in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ; 6:6, Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants  of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart;  6:7 With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to  men:  6:8 Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free.

In other words slaves should know and accept their place without complaint.  What is wrong is the crating and crippling of hundreds of millions of animals in factory farms, the transportation of millions of live sheep to the Middle east in cramped conditions where a large percentage die from broken limbs or have their eyeballs poked out by horns. The anal electrocution of foxes so some bitch can strut her vanity on the street, the cramming of food down the throat of a goose to produce a luxury gourmet treat, and of course the bashing in of the skulls of baby seals. The animal trade represents the deadly sins of gluttony, greed, and vanity.

Perhaps the good Bishop should go to the ice floes himself to witness the slaughter of seals or perhaps he should visit a factory farm or a fur farm. Perhaps if he had witnessed the atrocities that we have witnessed he would have a different perspective other than to pontificate from the pulpit about things he has no experience of.

Finally, the thoughts of Bishop Fred Henry seem to contradict His Holiness the Pope. When a German journalist put the issue of vivisection to the then Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict) in 2002, he received a surprising answer. The Pontiff-to-be called the issue "very serious," detailing his theological belief that animals are God's creatures, deserving of merciful treatment by man.

Pope John Paul II had a similar view. "Animals possess a soul and men must love and feel solidarity with our smaller brethren...the fruit of the creative action of the Holy Spirit and merit near to God as men are." He reminded people that all living beings came into being because of the "breath" of God. He spoke of St. Francis's love for animals declaring, "We, too, are called to a similar attitude."

So Bishop Fred Henry Sir, Is Pope Paul II wrong in saying that animals have souls. If so then you should be debating the Vatican and not me.