Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Deer and the Ten Commandments

Old folks have a lot of time to sit staring out their windows, a la Emily Dickinson.  When I do that--provided the slant of light isn't too oppressive--I often find myself watching deer.  There's a little woods behind our house--full of weeds, scrubby trees and, yes, deer.  Our demented neighbors think that these creatures are "cute" and, in consequence, scatter corn and birdseed about (see lower right of photo) in order to entice the varmints into our shared back yard.  Yes, I said "varmints."  In truth, Bambi and his ilk, despite those pleading wet eyes, are voracious predators who, in summer, devour my tomatoes, petunias, hydrangeas and geraniums--and, in winter, munch away mercilessly at my once lovely Japanese ornamental crab tree.  I can't help thinking that they're hateful and villainous enemies of the human race.  They also have neither fear nor shame.  I once tried to frighten off an entire herd by standing on my upper deck banging a two-quart metal pot with a wooden spoon.  I broke the spoon.  The deer didn't budge.

This brings me to the Ten Commandments, and specifically, to number whatever-it-is (depends on whether you're using the Catholic or Protestant version):  "Thou shalt not kill."  Now I realize that when God inscribed that rule on the Sinai Stone, he didn't have deer in mind. In fact, he probably meant only "Thou shalt not kill any pious Jews who haven't broken any of my other rules (enumerated rather thoroughly in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy--for starters)."  But over time, the admonition has come to be applied to a broader swath of Creation.

But just whom or what am I forbidden to kill now in 2010 of the Common Era?  There seems to be some confusion.  I mean, could I borrow my nephew's rifle and shoot that pesky deer in the photo?  Well, the answer to this question, at least, seems obvious:  at the present time in Earth's history, almost all the Authorized Interpreters of God's will--including Pat Robertson, Benedict XVI and the Ayatollah Khamenei--would agree that deerslaying is permitted, though perhaps only seasonally.

But the guidelines for other life-forms are not so clear.  Convicted criminals?  Wartime enemies?  First trimester fetuses?  Carrots (a life-form, after all)?  And PETA would probably like us to extend the Commandment's protection to, at the very least, the "higher" mammals.  (How does PETA stand on rats and mice?)

Still inconclusive.  Here's a final thought.  Maybe "Thou shalt not kill" means merely:  let's protect ourselves by creating a taboo against destroying anything "like us."  So:  is that deer "like me"?  Well, like me, it seems to have a genuine liking for tomatoes, petunias, hydrangeas, geraniums and ornamental Japanese crab trees.  Dang, dang, dang.  Fail again.

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