Morality or Nature

And it harm none or nature’s balance?

By Reverend Steven Stone

Each day as I tend to the injured hawks eagles and owls I have to make decisions of morality and survival.  The moral decisions are not always the ones you would expect.  Simply feeding the animal is the hardest and most consistent moral decision.  Animals like these can only eat one thing, entire small animals.  They cannot survive on anything else.  You cannot alter store bought meat to feed the animal, it will cause them health problem.  In most cases the birds of prey need the flesh bones, organs, and even the hair of the animal they eat to stay healthy.  So, is it moral to kill several small animals so that one larger on may live?  It is a question that truly should be considered.  With the 2 to 3 dozen birds that are generally in the refuge for care, over 100 small animals each day must be fed to the predators.  Is it right to harm over 100 lives each day to keep 20-30 others alive?  Is it moral to decide how valuable small lives are compared to large lives?

Once released, a bird of prey eats between 3 and 10 mice or similar animals daily.  That averages to 1200-3600 animals per year.  Of course; these animals breed like wildfire, so the birds keep their numbers down and balance their effect on nature.  In isolated locations where birds of prey were destroyed for various reasons, the rodents and vermin consistently overwhelmed the areas until new birds were brought in.  So, even though the birds harm individual animals and even the quantities of the population, they also keep the balance of nature enforced.

I was a vegetarian for 7 years before I became main caretaker of these animals.  I had to change my diet when I began caring for the birds.  Like all nature, they respond differently to different animals.  As a vegetarian, they treated me like prey.  I was constantly attacked and injured when working with the birds.  Once I started eating meat, they recognized me as another predator, and they treated me differently.  I was no longer attacked as an inferior; I was feared as a predator.  Again, I had a moral decision.  I decided to alter my life decision from the more ecologically gentle vegetarian diet in favor of a wasteful meat eater in order to control and work with these animals.

As another moral question, there is always a question as to whether the animals should be euthanized to end its suffering. The decision to euthanize is generally needed for about half of the animals that enter any rehab organization.  This decision is one of the hardest ones any person that truly cares can make.  Will the animal be able to survive in the wild after treatment?  If it cannot survive in the wild, can we find a safe and comfortable place for it to live out its life?  Additionally, there is the question as to whether it is right for an animal that is designed to soar free to be kept alive when it will be caged the rest of its life.   Many rehab organizations will euthanize a bird if there is even a chance that it will not be releasable.  Their moral decision is that the birds should only live if they can live as nature initially intended them. Often other organizations will put down an animal for broken bones or any injury that can only be corrected by expensive surgery.  Their moral decision is that the $300 - $1200 that it costs to heal the bird can instead be used to help several other birds with minor injuries.  Running out of money is a very real possibility with wildlife care.  Very few people donate to wildlife rehab organizations, and their own volunteers support most of them.  We currently owe thousands of dollars to our vet.  Fortunately he is a very caring person, and worries more about the animals than the bills.    

So the question of the morality remains.  The rede states “An It Harm None, Do What You Will.”  It is very explicit.  It is also impossible.  Just by eating and breathing we harm something.  Even vegetarians kill the foods they eat.  The rationale that vegetables feel no pain and no fear was disproven in Australia in a research project in the 1980s.  Any effort on our part to continue to live causes something else to die or be harmed.  If we do nothing to harm anything, then we die, also violating the rede.  It is an impossible standard to follow.

Does the balance of nature help us?   If we were to rewrite the moral code to reflect the ideals of nature, we would have “survive at all costs, no matter what it takes.”  Aliester Crowley decided it meant the rede should be changed to “Do what you will shall be the whole of the law.”  If we followed that, we would be back to nature, but we would be mindless predators and victims in a society of chaos.  


Maybe somewhere in the middle is the morality that we as imperfect humans can follow.  We have to admit to ourselves that we are part animal and part spiritual.  Our spiritual part needs the strength and surety of a rule like the rede.   Our animal part needs the flexibility to follow our own balance of nature and its ideals.  Our complexity of spirit creates a complexity of morality.  What can we do to define our morality? Can there be any hard and fast rule like the rede?  

It is said that enlightenment is the understanding of the truth.  Truth is not something that you tell someone.  Truth is something that each person feels. Perhaps we should each have our own version of the rede that is specifically balanced for our individual existence.  Perhaps we should all realize that there is no easy answer to the any question where emotions and morals are involved.  For those that need structure, maybe something like “Do only what you would like to be remembered for. Harm as few as possible, and help others find their balance.”  It is not the rede, nor is it natures edict, but it is still hard to follow.

© Virtual Reflections 2016