Religious monkey business

The LA Times had an interesting story (second story down) concerning the denial of the right of a woman to smuggle endangered monkey meat out of her country (Liberia) for even religious reasons. I applaud this decision, even though it was based on the technicality of needing a permit. But the story highlights, in my view, some of the dangers of superstitious religious belief.

The New York Sun goes into more detail. From their report:

Manneh took the stand for the first time this month, where she testified that she was baptized as a Christian, but that she eats the monkey meat at religious ceremonies like Easter “because monkey from the wildlife is a very smart animal,” according to a court transcript. Her testimony suggests that she practices a hybridized religion that borrows both from Christian concepts and indigenous African religious beliefs.

Seventeen congregants of Manneh’s church in Staten Island, the First Christian Church at 54 Thompson St., filed an affidavit in July testifying to the importance of bushmeat for their religious beliefs.

“This is something our forefathers did, it is something we learned as children, and it is a part of our treasured relationship with God as African Christians,” the congregants wrote.

“We eat bushmeat for our souls,” they said.

So, this goes back to old superstitions about acquiring the characteristics of whatever animal you eat, also shared among many other cultures of the world and contributing in part to the endangerment of tiger populations among others. From the above article, it looked like Manneh’s case came close to succeeding because it was based on religious grounds.

Apparently, this was involving meat from green monkey. I haven’t found specific information on the status of this species, but the paper indicated that it was endangered. Not to mention the fact that eating monkey meat has an increased risk for HIV, SARS, Ebola, Monkeypox, and Lassa Fever, according to the afore-mentioned link. So this means we have again an example of religious beliefs giving rise to practices which collide with reality.

The collision in this case means the likely extermination of an entire species. I understand that human development will result in the extinction of various species no matter our good intentions in trying to slow or stop this tendency to whatever extent possible. But to further endanger a species based on the irrationality of superstition is simply unnecessary. We see here also a case where irrational religious beliefs lead to behavior which increases the risk for disease. There is no reason to respect or coddle irrational beliefs that lead to unnecessarily destructive behavior and endanger human life. This story highlights the need to focus on increasing the awareness for the need in critical thinking on a global scale.

I do understand there is a cultural element as well. In one of the stories I read on this, the comment was made that eating monkey meat was the cultural equivalent of our American tradition of turkey on Thanksgiving. I do enjoy turkey on Thanksgiving, I must admit. However, there is no religion sanction for it, and if turkey was endangered, I would stop eating it.


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