The Sentient Sheep Baas for the last timeSaturday, August 27, 2016
It was in 1957 that Brother Edwin Reggio, C.S.C. explained to us, in the Austin, Texas, boarding school St. Ed’s the Roman Catholic view on where man (as a sentient being and of both sexes) stood in the progression of life from simple to complicated, which in the end as Brother Edwin explained it became the opposite, complicated to simple.
In what was obviously an adaptation of Darwin’s Evolution, Brother Edwin told us of atoms, molecules, inorganic molecules, organic molecules and cells that were able to perform mitosis (split and reproduce). From simple organisms he took us to viruses, bacteria, germs, plants and “upwards” in what he described as an ever more complexification. At some point an ape, through the intersession of God became a human being able to think and to be aware of its personal existence and to differentiate between good and evil.
From humans he took us “upwards” to angels (several levels of them) that were no longer that human blend of body and spirit, but pure spirit. And from angels we arrived at the purest of all spirits, God.
We of course questioned Brother Edwin if cats and dogs had souls. We enquired if there was a difference between spirit and soul. His answers were good but never controversial. It satisfied us at the time.
A couple of weeks before Brother Edwin died I wanted to ask him again those questions of so many years before. But I thought it best to keep them to myself as all of us have to ultimately face the question on our own.
The word sentient translates to an ability of an entity to feel and to perceive. In Spanish the word is sensible or to feel with senses.
Since Plata my female cat died five months ago I have given the word sentient much thought. Since my friend Mark Budgen died last year I have thought a lot about not being sentient anymore, about being non-feeling, about being dead.
Last week we visited our daughter Ale in Lillooet. Her neighbour had a female sheep that she kept in a large covered pen (very hot) and attached to a rope. It did a lot of baaing, particularly when we walked to the fence where she was or when we talked in the garden. Ale told us that the sheep at one time had been around children and was used to them. She told us that most people who have sheep have at least three and that sheep are social animals. When the owner of the sheep arrived in the afternoon she would let the sheep out to graze on the rest of her large property. We felt better that the sheep had a bit more freedom. When it baaed during the day we fed it fresh grass through the fence. Its baaing went straight to my soul (Brother Edwin, soul or spirit?). I felt sorry for the sheep particularly as I had seen it and looked into her eyes. Was she sentient? Could she think in some rudimentary way?
Today, August 27th is my Ale’s 48th birthday. We called and she told us that in the morning her cat, Banjo was very upset. He went out into the garden. It was then that Ale realized that the sheep was being slaughtered.
I eat beef, I eat chicken, pork, because I never gaze into the eyes of the cows, chickens and pigs (or know their names) that I happen to consume. How much longer before I become an Argentine vegetarian (an oxymoron if I have ever heard of one)? Perhaps I felt especially sad about the sheep as I don't like mutton or lamb.
I feel grief for the sheep and I miss my cat Plata. I have the pleasure of Casi-Casi at the end of our bed.
Is he sentient?