Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Unbroken Chain of Inherent Worth and Dignity

Today's Guest Author:  Rev. LoraKim Joyner, DVM
Unitarian Universalist Minister in Multispecies Ministry and Compassionate Communication
Main blog: Lafeber Conservation
Main website:  One Earth Conservation and Ministry

There are many pathways into living a life faithful to this world's reality, and the concepts and tools of religion are just one of many.  In many religious traditions, science too guides us in knowing how we and others belong to earth. For instance, as a Unitarian Universalist minister I am also a scientist. Working as I do with evolutionary principles and evidence ever before me there is no escaping the reality of the long line of ancestors that brought Homo sapiens to where we are now.  I combine this knowledge with my Unitarian Universalist ministry mode of telling stories to share with you my sense of how all beings have inherent worth and dignity.

Imagine that along one side of a dirt road in Africa there is a family of humans walking.  The youngest daughter is walking in front, and she is holding the hand of her mother who follows behind. In one arm is an infant, and the other hand grasps and supports her mother.  On the other side of the road, another family similar in makeup is also traveling.  The young chimpanzee daughter walks in front holding her mother's hand, and her mother in turn reaches behind her with her other hand to grasp that of her mother.  So similar, and yet an apparent wide gulf divides the two families.

Now imagine that on each side of the road the grandmother reaches behind her to grab the hand of her mother, the great grandmother, who links up with the great-great grandmother.  Imagine this line of primate hands extending back, back into time, to all the mothers who came before until at one point human hands begin to grasp that of Homo neanderthalis who grabs the hands of earlier hominids.  On the other side of the road the chimpanzees are holding hands with ever more slightly different species. Then a peculiar thing happens. The road seems to  narrow as the two lines converge, until at one point, the human line is holding the hand of the same individual who is also holding the hand of the last of the chimpanzee ancestor line. At some point in our history, we share the same mother. 

Now going forward along both lines, at what juncture where two hands grasp, do we begin to say that one species belongs to the earth, and not the other?  That what owns more of the earth than the other?  That one has inherent worth and dignity, and not the other?  It cannot be done, for we all are sons and daughters of this one earth.


  1. LoraKim,
    This is beautiful and true. I agree with the physicist Neils Bohr that the opposite of a great truth may be another truth, not a falsehood. So here is an image I ask you to hold alongside yours: looking forward from the same ancestor, these groups end up traveling different roads that gradually diverge. One climbs up a ridge from which it is possible to see many things that are invisible on the valley road. It becomes possible to see resources and how to use them that are invisible from the valley. It becomes possible to see how to reshape the landscape on a scale visible from outer space, and how to travel into space, and how to communicate around the entire globe in fractions of a second and how to store memories and knowledge and how to preserve lives that would previously have been lost to disease and how to kill large masses of living things in an instant. It becomes possible to see how to eliminate or save the valley beings. Who is more responsible for the earth? Does that responsibility imply something new and different in terms of dignity and inherent worth? Can those who are more responsible muster enough belief in the necessity of caring for the earth to save it without also believing that that they are somehow set apart in terms of inherent worth and dignity? I don't know the answer to these questions.

  2. What you wrote is also beautiful and true. I love the image you describe and the questions you raise. How do
    we hold inherent worth and dignity for all, or can we? And then how do we change our sense of belonging so we can welcome all on this planet earth? And what does welcoming look like?

    1. I'm vegan and UU and have this discussion often with my boyfriend, who is a UU seminarian and not vegan. What is come down to for me is that if one is going to eat another sentient creature you owe it to them to know how they lived and died and if you are OK with debeaking and gestation crates, then you have to be OK with the suffering you are causing. Would we do it to our companion dog? Of course not! Then why a pig, chicken, etc. I will say that he deflects this conversation into how "primitive" we still are as a species. I accept that but that doesn't mean we have to foster the suffering of other animals.

    2. I do agree that we owe it to ourselves and to others to embrace reality as hard as we can, so we can be held in belonging and beauty back. So for me this means knowing how food comes to me and how others live.


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