Thinking in Pictures
by Temple Grandin
Chapter 11:
Stairway to Heaven: Religion and Belief
AS A TOTALLY LOGICAL and scientific person, I continually add data to my library of knowledge and constantly update both my scientific knowledge and my beliefs about God. Since my thought processes use a series of specific examples to form a general principle, it makes logical sense to me that general principles should always be modified when new information becomes available. It is beyond my comprehension to accept anything on faith alone, because of the fact that my thinking is governed by logic instead of emotion. On June 14, 1968, while I was a sophomore in college, I wrote in my diary:
I develop my views from the existing pool of knowledge and I will adapt my views when I learn more. The only permanent view that I have is that there is a God. My views are based on the basic fundamental laws of nature and physics that I am now aware of. As man learns more about his environment I will change my theory to accommodate the new knowledge. Religion should be dynamic and always advancing, not in a state of stagnation.
When I was ten or eleven, it seemed totally illogical to me that a Protestant religion was better than the Jewish or Catholic religion. I had a proper religious upbringing, with prayers every night, church on Sunday, and Sunday school every week. I was raised in the Episcopal church, but our Catholic cook believed that Catholicism was the only way to get to heaven. The psychiatrist that I started seeing in the fourth grade was Jewish. It made no sense to me that my religion was better than theirs. To my mind, all methods and denominations of religious ceremony were equally valid, and I still hold this belief today. Different religious faiths all achieve communication with God and contain guiding moral principles. I've met many autistic people who share my belief that all religions are valid and valuable. Many also believe in reincarnation, because it seems more logical to them than heaven and hell.
There are also autistic people who adopt very rigid fundamentalist beliefs and become obsessed with religion. One girl prayed for hours and went to church every day. In her case, it was an obsession instead of a belief, and she was kicked out of several churches. Low doses of the drug Anafranil allow her to practice her faith in a more moderate and reasonable manner. In another case, a young man had disturbing obsessive thoughts that ran through his head. Intensive prayer helped control them.
People at the Kanner end of the autism continuum may interpret religious symbolism in a very concrete manner. Charles Hart describes his eight-year-old son's reaction to a film in Sunday school about Abraham's being willing to sacrifice his son to God. Ted watched the film and passively said "Cannibals" at the end.
For many people with autism, religion is an intellectual rather than emotional activity. Music is the one exception. Some people feel much more religious when their participation is accompanied with extensive use of music. One autistic design engineer I know said that religious feeling is utterly missing for him, except when he hears Mozart; then he feels an electrifying resonance. I myself am most likely to feel religious in a church when the organist plays beautiful music and the priest chants. Organ music has an effect on me that other music does not have.
Music and rhythm may help open some doors to emotion. Recently I played a tape of Gregorian chants, and the combination of the rhythm and the rising and lowering pitch was soothing and hypnotic. I could get lost in it. There have been no formal studies on the effect of music, but therapists have known for years that some autistic children can learn to sing before they can talk. Ralph Mauer, at the University of Florida, has observed that some autistic savants speak in the rhythm of poetic blank verse. I have strong musical associations, and old songs trigger place-specific memories.
In high school I came to the conclusion that God was an ordering force that was in everything after Mr. Carlock explained the second law of thermodynamics, the law of physics that states that the universe will gradually lose order and have increasing entropy. Entropy is the increase of disorder in a closed thermodynamic system. I found the idea of the universe becoming more and more disordered profoundly disturbing. To visualize how the second law worked, I imagined a model urnverse consisting of two rooms. This represented a closed thermodynamic system. One room was warm and the other was cold. This represented the state of maximum order. If a small window were opened between the rooms, the air would gradually mix until both rooms were lukewarm. The model was now in a state of maximum disorder, or entropy. The scientist James Clark Maxwell proposed that order could be restored if a little man at the window opened and closed it to allow warm atoms to go to the one side and cold atoms to go to the other side. The only problem is that an outside energy source is required to operate the window. When I was a college sophomore, I called this ordering force God.
Many of my heroes, including Einstein, did not believe in a personal God. In 1941, Einstein wrote that the scientist's "religious feeling takes the form of rapturous amazement at the harmony of natural law, which reveals an intelligence of such superiority that compared with it, all systematic thinking and acting of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection." When he was eleven years old, he went through a religious phase and practiced the Jewish dietary laws and adhered to a literal interpretation of Scripture. A year later this came to an abrupt end when he was exposed to science. When he read scientific books, he concluded that the Bible stories were not literally true.
In his later years, Einstein wrote: "Out yonder there was this huge world, which exists independently of us human beings and which stands before us like a great eternal riddle, at least partially accessible to our inspection and thinking. The contemplation of this world beckoned like a liberation." He felt that he was right to switch from fundamentalist beliefs to a broader view of religion. He went on to say in the same paper: "The road to this paradise was not as comfortable and alluring as the road to the religious paradise; but it has proved itself trustworthy, and I have never regretted having chosen it."
But my favorite of Einstein's words on religion is "Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind." I like this because both science and religion are needed to answer life's great questions. Even scientists such as Richard Feynman, who rejected religion and poetry as sources of truth, concede grudgingly that there are questions that science cannot answer.
I am deeply interested in the new chaos theory, because it means that order can arise out of disorder and randomness. I've read many popular articles about it, because I want scientific proof that the universe is orderly. I do not have the mathematical ability to understand chaos theory fully, but it confirms the idea that order can come from disorder and randomness. James Gleick, in the book Chaos, explains that snowflakes are ordered symmetrical patterns that form in random air turbulence. Slight changes in the air turbulence will change the basic shape of each snowflake in random and unexpected ways. It is impossible to predict the shape of a snowflake by studying the initial atmospheric conditions. This is why weather is so hard to predict. Weather patterns have order, but random changes affect the order in random, unpredictable ways.
I hated the second law of thermodynamics because I believed that the universe should be orderly. Over the years I have collected many articles about spontaneous order and pattern formation in nature. Susumu Ohno, a geneticist, has found classical music in slime and mouse genes. He converted the genetic code of four nucleotide bases into a musical scale. He found that the order of the bases in our DNA is not random, and when the order is played, it sounds like something by Bach or a Chopin nocturne. Patterns in flowers and leaf growth in plants develop in mathematical sequence of the Fibonacci numbers and the golden mean of the Greeks.
Patterns spontaneously arise in many purely physical systems. Convection patterns in heated fluids sometimes resemble a pattern of cells. Scientists at the University of California have discovered that silver atoms deposited on a platinum surface spontaneously form ordered patterns. The temperature of the platinum determines the type of pattern, and order can be created from random motion. A small change in temperature totally changes the pattern. At one temperature triangles are formed, and at another temperature hexagons form, and further heating of the surface makes the silver atoms revert to triangles in a different orientation. Another interesting finding is that everything in the universe, ranging from amino acids and bacteria to plants and shells, has handedness. The universe is full of self-ordering systems.
Probably within my lifetime, scientists will determine how to create life from basic chemicals. Even when they have accomplished this task, though, they will not have answered the question that has plagued people for all time: What happens when you die?
Questioning Immortality and Life's Meaning
As a young college student I had never given much thought to what happens after death, but then I started working with cattle in the Arizona feedlots. Did the animals just turn into beef, or did something else happen? This made me uneasy, and my science-based religious beliefs could not provide a satisfactory answer. I thought it must be very comforting to have the kind of blind faith that enables one to believe that one will have an afterlife in heaven.
Prior to going to Arizona State University, I had never seen the outside of a slaughterhouse and I had never seen an animal slaughtered. It wasn't until I first drove past the Swift meatpacking plant that I began to develop a concrete visual system for understanding what would become my life's work. In my diary on March 10, 1971, I wrote about a dream I had: "I walked up to Swift's and put my hands on the outside of the white wall. I had the feeling that I was touching the sacred altar." A month later I drove past Swift's again, and I could see all the cattle out in the pens, waiting for the end to come. It was then I realized that man believes in heaven, hell, or reincarnation because the idea that after the cattle walk into the slaughterhouse it is all over forever is too horrible to conceive. Like the concept of infinity, it is too ego-shattering for people to endure.
A few days later I got up the courage to go to Swift's and ask if I could go on a tour. I was told that they did not give tours. This just heightened my interest in this forbidden place. Being denied entrance made my holy land even holier. This was not a symbolic door, it was reality that had to be faced. I was attempting to answer many of life's big questions. I made many entries in my diary at that time.
April 7, 1971: "It is important that the animals not be defiled at the slaughterhouse. Hopefully they will be allowed to die with some sort of dignity. The animals probably feel more pain when they are put through the cattle chute to be branded or castrated."
May 18, 1971: "What is really significant in life? I used to think being a great scientist would be the most significant thing in the world that I could do. Now I have some second thoughts about it. There are many different paths that I could follow right now and I do not know which one leads to significance."
For me, religion was a means of attaining a certain kind of truth. At that time I had not read any of the popular books on near-death experiences, which were not widely available until around 1975, though I still remember a vivid dream I had on October 25, 1971. Swift was a six-story building. Only the first floor of this building was a slaughterhouse, and when I found a secret elevator, it transported me to the upper floors. These upper levels consisted of beautiful museums and libraries that contained much of the world's culture. As I walked through the vast corridors of knowledge, I realized that life is like the library and the books can be read only one at a time, and each one will reveal something new.
Years later I read interviews with people who have had neardeath experiences. Several people interviewed by Raymond Moody reported in his book Life After Life that during such an experience they saw libraries and places that contained the ultimate knowledge. The concept of a library of knowledge is also a theme in more recent books such as Embraced by the Light, by Betty J. Eadie.
A few days before I had my dream of the Swift plant turning into a vast library, I had visited an Arabian horse farm where great pains were taken to treat each horse as an individual. I petted the beautiful stallions, and I felt that they should never be subjected to the feedlot or the slaughterhouse. The next day I was on a feedlot operating the chute while cattle were being branded and vaccinated. When I looked at each steer, it had the same look of individuality as the stallions. For me the big question was, how could I justify killing them?
When I finally gained entry to Swift's, on April 18, 1973, it was completely anticlimactic, and I was surprised by my lack of a reaction to it. It was no longer the mysterious forbidden place; plus Swift was a very good plant where the cattle did not suffer. Several months later, Lee Bell, the gentle man who maintained the stunners, asked me if I had ever stunned cattle -that is, killing them. After I told him I never had, he suggested that it was now time to do it. The first time I operated the equipment, it was sort of like being in a dream.
After I pulled out of the parking lot, I looked up at the sky, and the clouds were really spectacular. I understood the paradox that unless there is death, we could not appreciate life. Having first faced the paradox of power and responsibility, and coming to terms with my ambivalent feelings of controlling animals with devices such as cattle chutes, I now had to face the paradox of life and death.
The thing that was most upsetting was that there are no definitive answers to the question of what happens when one dies. Philosophers have written about it for centuries. And unanswerable questions have forced people to look to God.
Swift was a major influence on two parallel aspects of my life. It was the place where my design career started, and it was also the real-life stage where I determined religious beliefs in my unique way. Like the physicists who are trying to find the Grand Theory of Everything, I attempted to integrate all aspects of my life by using my visual mode of thinking. The night after I first killed cattle I could not bring myself to say that I had actually killed them myself. Instead, during the next two weeks I made further suggestions for simple improvements that would reduce bruises when I visited the plant.
About a year later I got my first large design project at the Swift plant, building a new cattle ramp and conveyor restrainer system. The construction crew and I named this project the Stairway to Heaven, after the Led Zeppelin song. At first the construction crew thought it was a joke, but as the stairway took shape, the name started to take on a more serious meaning to everybody who worked on it. Friends told me to make sure that Swift didn't cheat on paying me, but I felt almost mercenary in accepting money for what I had done. The changes I initiated at the plant made it more humane for the cattle. Even if I didn't get paid, I was at peace with myself knowing that twelve hundred cattle a day were less frightened.
It was difficult to handle my relations with Swift strictly as a business venture. The emotional involvement was just too great. I would remember the times when I would circle the plant in my car and look upon it as if it were Vatican City. One night when the crew was working late, I stood on the nearly completed structure and looked into what would become the entrance to heaven for cattle. This made me more aware of how precious life is. When your time comes and you are walking up the proverbial stairway, will you be able to look back and be proud of what you did with your life? Did you contribute something worthwhile to society? Did your life have meaning?
The Stairway to Heaven was completed on September 9, 1974. It was a major step in defining my purpose in life. In my diary I wrote, "I greatly matured after the construction of the Stairway to Heaven because it was REAL. It was not just a symbolic door that had private meaning to me, it was a reality that many people refuse to face." I felt I had learned the meaning of life-and not to fear death. It was then that I wrote the following in my diary:
I believe that a person goes on to somewhere else after they die. I do not know where. How a person conducts themselves on Earth during their life will have an effect on the next life. I became convinced that some sort of an afterlife exists after I discovered God at the top of the Stairway to Heaven. The Swift plant was a place where beliefs were tested in reality. It was not just intellectual talk. I watched the cattle die and even killed some of them myself. If a black void truly exists at the top of the Stairway to Heaven, then a person would have no motivation to be virtuous. [September 1977]
For several years I was quite comfortable with my beliefs, especially concerning an afterlife, until I read Ronald Siegal's article about hallucinations in the October 1977 issue of Scientific American. As it turned out, many of the feelings and sights described by people who were resuscitated after they had died could be explained by hallucinations triggered in a brain deprived of oxygen. The vast majority of cases described in popular books about near-death experiences were victims of lack of oxygen. Cardiac arrest and blood loss were the most common causes of death mentioned in both Moody's books and more recent books such as Embraced by the Light and Saved by the Light. But the biggest blow to my beliefs was the discovery of the effects of biochemistry on my own brain.
In the summer of 1978 I swam through the dip vat at the John Wayne Red River feed yard as a stupid publicity stunt. Doing this provided a great boost to my career and got me several speaking engagements. However, coming in contact with the chemical organophosphates had a devastating effect. The feeling of awe that I had when I thought about my beliefs just disappeared. Organophosphates are known to alter levels of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in the brain, and the chemicals also caused me to have vivid and wild dreams. But why they affected my feeling of religious awe is still a mystery to me. It was like taking all the magic away and finding out that the real Wizard of Oz is just a little old man pushing buttons behind a curtain.
This raised great questions in my mind. Were the feelings of being close to God caused by a chemical Wizard of Oz behind the curtain? In my diary I wrote, "To my horrified amazement the chemicals blocked my need for religious feelings." They made me very sick, but gradually the effects wore off and the feeling returned. However, my belief in an afterlife was shattered. I had seen the wizard behind the curtain. Yet there is something in me that really wants to believe that the top of the Stairway to Heaven is not just a black void.
The possibility that a void exists after death has motivated me to work hard so I can make a difference so that my thoughts and ideas will not die. When I was working on my Ph.D., a coworker in our lab told me that the world's libraries contain our extra soma, or out-of-body genes. Ideas are passed on like genes, and I have a great urge to spread my ideas. I read an article in the newspaper about an official at the New York Public Library who said that the only place on earth where immortality is provided is in libraries. This is the collective memory of humanity. I put this on a sign and placed it over my desk. It helped me to persevere and get through my Ph.D. work. When Isaac Asimov died, his obituary contained the statement that death was not much of an issue because all his thoughts would live on in books. This gave him a kind of immortality. The ancient Egyptians and Greeks achieved immortality by leaving behind the pyramids, the Parthenon, and writings by great thinkers. Maybe immortality is the effect one's thoughts and actions can have on other people.
To destroy other people's culture is to rob them of their immortality. When I read that the Olympic stadium and the main library in Sarajevo had been destroyed, I wept. Newspaper pictures of the shattered library were most upsetting. That culture was being eliminated. The Olympic stadium, a symbol of civilization and cooperation, was in ruins. I had a difficult time reading a newspaper article describing how the stadium seats were used to make coffins-the last civilized act in a world that had become hell. I become very upset and emotional when I think about the loss of knowledge and culture, and I am unable to write about this without crying. One nation was deliberately destroying the literature, architecture, and civilization of another. A civilized city where people had cooperated for centuries was now blown to bits. This was emotion gone wild. I don't know what it is like to hate somebody so much that you would want to destroy their culture and civilization.
It was quantum physics that finally helped me believe again, as it provided a plausible scientific basis for belief in a soul and the supernatural. The idea in Eastern religion of karma and the interconnectedness of everything gets support from quantum theory. Subatomic particles that originate from the same source can become entangled, and the vibrations of a subatomic particle that is far away can affect another particle that is nearby. Scientists in the lab study subatomic particles that have become entangled in beams of laser light. In nature, particles are entangled with millions of other particles, all interacting with each other. One could speculate that entanglement of these particles could cause a kind of consciousness for the universe. This is my current concept of God.
In all the years I have worked in slaughter plants, I have intuitively felt that I must never misbehave near the kill chute. Doing something bad, like mistreating an animal, could have dire consequences. An entangled subatomic particle could get me. I would never even know it, but the steering linkage in my car could break if it contained the mate to a particle I disturbed by doing something bad. To many people this belief may be irrational, but to my logical mind it supplies an idea of order and justice to the world.
My belief in quantum theory was reinforced by a series of electrical outages and equipment breakdowns that occurred when I visited slaughter plants where cattle and pigs were being abused. The first time it happened, the main power transformer blew up as I drove up the driveway. Several other times a main power panel burned up and shut down the plant. In another case, the main chain conveyor broke while the plant manager screamed obscenities at me during an equipment startup. He was angry because full production was not attained in the first five minutes. Was it just chance, or did bad karma start a resonance in an entangled pair of subatomic particles within the wiring or steel? These were all weird breakdowns of things that usually never break. It could be just random chance, or it could be some sort of cosmic consciousness of God.
Many neuroscientists scoff at the idea that neurons would obey quantum theory instead of old everyday Newtonian physics. The physicist Roger Penrose, in his book the Shadows of the Mind, and Dr. Stuart Hameroff, a Tucson physician, state that movement of single electrons within the microtubules of the brain can turn off consciousness while allowing the rest of the brain to function. If quantum theory really is involved in controlling consciousness, this would provide a scientific basis for the idea that when a person or animal dies, an energy pattern of vibrating entangled particles would remain. I believe that if souls exist in humans, they also exist in animals, because the basic structure of the brain is the same. It is possible that humans have greater amounts of soul because they have more microtubules where single electrons could dance, according to the rules of quantum theory.
However, there is one thing that completely separates people from animals. It is not language or war or toolmaking; it is long-term altruism. During a famine in Russia, for example, scientists guarded the seed bank of plant genetics so that future generations would have the benefits of genetic diversity in food crops. For the benefit of others, they allowed themselves to starve to death in a lab filled with grain. No animal would do this. Altruism exists in animals, but not to this degree. Every time I park my car near the National USDA Seed Storage Lab at Colorado State University, I think that protecting the contents of this building is what separates us from animals.
I do not believe that my profession is morally wrong. Slaughtering is not wrong, but I do feel very strongly about treating animals humanely and with respect. I've devoted my life to reforming and improving the livestock industry. Still, it is a sobering experience to have designed one of the world's most efficient killing machines. Most people don't realize that the slaughter plant is much gender than nature. Animals in the wild die from starvation, predators, or exposure. If I had a choice, I would rather go through a slaughter system than have my guts ripped out by coyotes or lions while I was still conscious. Unfortunately, most people never observe the natural cycle of birth and death. They do not realize that for one living thing to survive, another living thing must die.
Recently I read an article that had a profound effect on my thinking. It was entitled "The Ancient Contract," by S. Budiasky, and it was published in the March 20, 1989, issue of U.S. News & World Report. It presented a natural historical view of our evolving relationship with animals. This view presents a middle ground between the supporters of animal rights, who believe that animals are equal to humans, and the Cartesian view, which treats animals as machines with no feelings. I added the biological concept of symbiosis to Budiasky's view. A symbiotic relationship is a mutually beneficial relationship between two different species. For example, biologists have learned that ants tend aphids and use them as "dairy cows." The ants feed the aphids, and in return the aphids give a sugar substance to the ants. People feed, shelter, and breed cattle and hogs, and in return the animals provide food and clothing. We must never abuse them, because that would break the ancient contract. We owe it to the animals to give them decent living conditions and a painless death. People are often confused by the paradox of my work, but to my practical, scientific mind it makes sense to provide a painless death for the cattle I love. Many people are afraid of death and can't stand to face it.
Often I get asked if I am a vegetarian. I eat meat, because I believe that a totally vegan diet, in which all animal products are eliminated, is unnatural. Even the Hindus, traditionally vegetarian people, eat dairy products. A completely vegan diet is deficient in vitamin B12, and using dairy products does not eliminate killing animals. A cow has to have a calf every year in order to give milk, and the calves are raised for meat.
But someday in the distant future, when slaughterhouses become obsolete and livestock is replaced with products of gene splicing, the real ethical questions regarding the creation of any kind of animal or plant we desire will seem far more significant than killing cattle at the local slaughter plant. Humans will have the power to control their own evolution. We will have the power of God to create totally new forms of life. However, we will never be able to answer the question of what happens when we die. People will still have a need for religion. Religion survived when we learned that the earth was not the center of the universe. No matter how much we learn, there will always be unanswerable questions. Yet if we stop evolving, we will stagnate as a species.
Bernard Rollin, a philosopher on animal rights issues at Colorado State University, points out, "It is true that free inquiry is integral to our humanity, but so too is morality. So the quest for knowledge must be tempered with moral concern." A total lack of moral concern can lead to atrocities such as the Nazi medical experiments, but medical knowledge was also delayed for a thousand years because of religious taboos about the dissection and study of human bodies. We must avoid intellectual stagnation, which retards the progress of medical knowledge, but we must be moral. Biotechnology can be used for noble, frivolous, or evil purposes. Decisions on the ethical use of this powerful new knowledge should not be made by extremists or people purely motivated by profit. There are no simple answers to ethical questions.
There is a basic human drive to figure out who and what we are. The mega-science projects of the 1990s, such as the Human Genome Project, the Hubble space telescope, and the now defunct supercollider, replace the pyramids and cathedrals of our ancestors. One of the main purposes of the Hubble space telescope was to enable us to see all the way to the beginning of the universe. It has confirmed the existence of black holes in the center of other galaxies, and its observations may radically change our theories about the origin of the universe. Some recent Hubble observations are beginning to establish the existence of other planets circling around in alternate solar systems. Years ago, scientists were burned at the stake for talking and writing about these ideas.
As a person whose disability has provided me with certain abilities, especially with regard to understanding how animals sense the world, I appreciate these difficult questions and the importance of religion as a moral ordering code for empathic, just behavior.
When the combination of organophosphate poisoning and antidepressant drugs dampened my religious emotions, I became a kind of drudge who was capable of turning out mountains of work. Taking the medication had no effect on my ability to design equipment, but the fervor was gone. I just cranked out the drawings as if I were a computer being turned on and off. It was this experience that convinced me that life and work have to be infused with meaning, but it wasn't until three years ago, when I was hired to tear out a shackle hoist system, that my religious feelings were renewed.
It was going to be a hot Memorial Day weekend, and I was not looking forward to going to the new equipment startup. I thought it would be pure drudgery. The kosher restraint chute was not very interesting technically, and the project presented very little intellectual stimulation. It did not provide the engineering challenge of inventing and starting something totally new, like my double-rail conveyor system.
Little did I know that during those few hot days in Alabama, old yearnings would be reawakened. I felt totally at one with the universe as I kept the animals completely calm while the rabbi performed shehita. Operating the equipment there was like being in a Zen meditational state. Time stood still, and I was totally, completely disconnected from reality. Maybe this was nirvana, the final state of being that Zen meditators seek. It was a feeling of total calmness and peace until I was snapped back to reality when the plant manager called me to come to his office. He had spent hours hiding in the steel beams of the
ceiling, secretly watching me hold each animal gently in the restraining chute. I knew he was fascinated, but he never asked me anything about it.
When it was time to leave, I cried as I drove to the airport. The experience had been so strangely hypnotic that I was tempted to turn around and return to the plant. As I turned in the rental car and checked in at the gate, I thought about the similarities between the wonderful trancelike feeling I had had while gently holding the cattle in the chute and the spaced-out feeling I had had as a child when I concentrated on dribbling sand through my fingers at the beach. During both experiences all other sensation was blocked. Maybe the monks who chant and meditate are kind of autistic. I have observed that there is a great similarity between certain chanting and praying rituals and the rocking of an autistic child. I feel there has to be more to this than just getting high on my own endorphins.
On January 11, 1992, I returned to the kosher plant and made the following entry in my diary:
When the animal remained completely calm I felt an overwhelming feeling of peacefulness, as if God had touched me. I did not feel bad about what I was doing. A good restraint chute operator has to not just like the cattle, but love them. Operating the chute has to be done as an act of total kindness. The more gently I was able to hold the animal with the apparatus, the more peaceful I felt. As the life force left the animal, I had deep religious feelings. For the first time in my life logic had been completely overwhelmed with feelings I did not know I had.
It was then that I realized that there can be a conflict between feeling and doing. Zen meditators may be able to achieve the perfect state of oneness with the universe, but they do not bring about reform and change in the world around them. The dreadful shackle hoist system would still exist if I had not been involved in convincing the plant to remodel. I also realized that the religious slaughter ritual was valuable, because it put controls on killing. People who work in high-speed slaughter plants get overdosed with death, and they become numb and desensitized.
It is the religious belief of the rabbis in the kosher plants that helps prevent bad behavior. In most kosher slaughter plants, the rabbis are absolutely sincere and believe that their work is sacred. The rabbi in a kosher plant is a specially trained religious slaughterer called a hochet, who must lead a blameless life and be moral. Leading a blameless life prevents him from being degraded by his work.
Almost all cultures have slaughter rituals. When you read a modern English translation of Deuteronomy and Leviticus, it becomes obvious that the temple was also the town slaughterhouse. American Indians showed respect for the animals they ate, and in Africa the use of rituals limited the number of animals killed. In the book The Golden Bough, J. G. Fraser describes slaughter rituals practiced by the ancient Greeks, Egyptians, Phoenicians, Romans, and Babylonians. Both Judaism and Islam have detailed slaughter rituals. Killing is kept under control because it is done in a special place, according to strict rules and procedures.
I believe that the place where an animal dies is a sacred one. There is a need to bring ritual into the conventional slaughter plants and use it as a means to shape people's behavior. It would help prevent people from becoming numbed, callous, or cruel. The ritual could be something very simple, such as a moment of silence. In addition to developing better designs and making equipment to insure the humane treatment of all animals, that would be my contribution. No words. Just one pure moment of silence. I can picture it perfectly.