Cow, Lovely Cow

We use the idiomatic expression “sacred cow,” and sometimes don’t know what it means. It comes from a literal sacred cow or sacred bull, which is an actual cow or bull that’s treated with unprecedented respect. In certain religions, a cow is considered so holy that it must never be harmed. What this means is that in some instances, people who adhere to this belief will starve to death rather than kill a sacred cow to eat its meat.

Imagine believing in the sanctity of a cow so much, that you’re willing to die for it. Imagine readily allowing your own children to starve to death rather than killing and eating a sacred cow. Photos abound of starving men, women, and children, their bones sticking out of their ribs, their bellies protruding, and behind them, a cow, healthy and well-fed.

It is not my place to ridicule such beliefs, but like many, I am confounded when innocent children who have no choice in these matters are swept along, harmed by these beliefs simply because they had the random luck of being born to parents who will sit down with them, and explain in sincere detail, with genuine belief, why a cow cannot be a meal. Try to imagine that conversation that a loving parent is having with a beloved child, a child who is literally starving to death. “I want to feed you. I wish I could. But a cow is sacred. More sacred than you or I.”

To many, this is unfathomable. And when something is so unthinkable, it becomes vilified or ridiculed. Most human beings who don’t adhere to or comprehend a belief held by other human beings they don’t know, whose life they haven’t lived, feel superior to whatever that belief is, whatever that sacred cow is, and hence superior to the actual people who believe it. Yes, most of us believe we are better, smarter than others who hold a belief we don’t hold.

I wager that right now, there is someone reading this who got to the part where a parent starves their own child rather than kill a cow, and became furious upon reading it. Never, ever do those people contemplate how this came about, and why it is so vital to some that it even transcends death. Never do angry people stop and think: “How did they come by this belief?”

Or even more profound: “Wait a minute—what are my sacred cows?

Your sacred cow, my sacred cow, doesn’t have to be in a real, live cow. It can be any belief we hold with rigid, blind passion, with never one moment of contemplation: “Could I be wrong about this?”

None of us see that we all have sacred cows, a belief that might be harmful to us, to our children, a belief we cling to no matter what. We don’t see that we have a belief such as this, but we become angry, frustrated, even vengeful when we see the sacred cow held by others. Thanks to the internet, to Facebook private pages, we gather in groups that reiterate and reinforce only our beliefs. We feel stronger and more secure in those possibly harmful sacred cows because they are taught and retaught to us over and over again.

With this army of believers around us, it is so much easier to ignore any contradictory facts. Our logical brain gives way to our lizard brain—the one that works by emotion only—and it starts to weed out any fact that doesn’t go along with the support of our personal sacred cow.

Where a brain that operates on logic wants to question and rethink, to analyze and re-examine, to utilize a new thought process to improve life, the lizard brain, now in charge, thanks to the sheer amount of support from our group, quivers in fear of contradiction. It makes us terrified of anyone or anything that threatens our sacred cow, even if, in a small, cowering part of our psyche, there is a whisper of, “What if this is wrong? What if I’m harming myself and others with this unbending, adamant belief?”

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