Birds of a feather: religion, vegetarianism, and animal cruelty in religion

I just got my first feedback on my new site design; I was surprised however by the objection. I had to read it a few times to understand the criticism, and now that I have, I feel it is worth discussing in a post. Here’s the comment:

I was very interested in your proposal until I saw the photo of the guy clothed in the feathers of slaughtered, innocent birds. Where are the ethics in killing a flock of birds to mock angels. Yes, the god of Abraham is cruel. So, appoarently are you. You share my last name, and 🙂 species, but not compassion.
Gael Murphy

The image being referred to is on my homepage, I’ve reposted it above; it’s an underwear model with angel wings. I don’t know why I put it there – I thought it looked stylish and played with many of the themes I invoke in my writing. Gael makes an excellent point – especially because, in our creed and beliefs, we argue for conservationism, ethics, non-violence, etc. This is not to say we’re vegetarians. Now that it’s been pointed out, yes it does seem cruel to kill a bunch of birds and wear their feathers to mock angels. Wasteful. Unnecessary. And as long as I’m confessing, I also think vegetarianism or veganism is the most ethical practice, for many reasons, and further is probably good for your health and spiritual awareness. That said, I eat fish, fowl and crustaceans. Sometimes I even yell at or kick (playfully) my cat when he’s being a pain. So while I agree with Gael that the photo is unnecessary, removing it would be a little hypocritical for me. I mean, I have a leather jacket. I eat jello. I like sushi. Am I ready to get rid of all animal products in my life, not just what I eat, but anything I use? My wool blanket?

I’m also willing to bet that people have been using feathers to dress up like birds for tens of thousands of years, and usually for religious or cultic practices. Feathers have often been seen as having magical properties. So the practice of wearing feathers comes from religion. Thousands and thousands of Christian paintings show angels with feathered wings – is it morally reprehensible to actually show the photograph, but not invoke the image in art? (Real birds vs. imaginary ones?) Is it wrong because it was for commercial purposes rather than spiritual ones?

Gael’s point is fair, and I’m glad she pointed out that the image is distasteful/upsetting to some. However since it is a product of humanity’s modern relationship with nature, rather than my own personal war against birds, I don’t think I’ll accept responsibility for its negative implications.

Something else, I feel, is a deeper issue: while I love animals and absolutely hate those stupid kids who antagonize or tease them, I hope I will always choose humans over animals. According to the comment, I seem to be just barely in the human species… I appreciate the compassion for the birds that died for the sake of that photo shoot (which I was not involved in in any way). But should compassion for the birds replace compassion for other human beings? Are humans to be at all privileged or are we on exact equal footing as animals? (An out of control truck is about to smash into a 3 year old girl and a 3 year old dog – you can only save one. Which did you choose? Why?)

As far as agenda, I completely support Gael’s criticism of modern humanity’s dominance over nature; but since it is religiously justified, and since the point of this website is to draw attention exactly to these issues, I think the picture will stay where it is for now.

What do you think? Is the picture offensive? Should we all be vegans? Whose job is it to begin setting the right example?