While many in the animal liberation movement view animal abusers as demonic enemies, the general tone of activists seems to be less damning. This is especially true in the case of the average meat-eating, leather-wearing, animal tested-products using individual. Though it is easy to picture the slaughterhouse owner or vivisectionist as cruel and uncaring, the typical person can usually be seen as the unwitting victim of the deeply entrenched animal industries. Assuming the main thrust of activists will continue to be for the hearts and minds of such individuals, it is of great importance to recognize how religion shapes the average person's attitude towards animals. Research confirms what most activists would assume: a strong correlation exists between degrees of religious involvement and negative attitudes towards animals. One study showed that the more often a person went to church, the more likely they were to hold negative, utilitarian views about animals. Those who were not members of an organised religion or who attended services only rarely, scored higher in areas of interest, compassion, and concern for animals7.
Obviously, the majority of these people are not animal abusers in the direct sense, but the influence of religion does allows them to participate in society's accepted areas of animal abuse. Religionists clearly fit the profile of those that activists would like to reach and inform. Appealing to them with arguments in line with their religion will prove the most successful approach. As their ideas about animals are often a result of what they hear from their religious leaders, effort should be made to temper these leader's views, and thus the entire denomination's views, with an animal-friendly tone. Activists would then be spreading their message through the religious hierarchy -- a better use of time than engaging religionists individually. Appealing to believers as a group should not, however, be the end goal. Rather, animal liberationists should then work with supportive religious groups and organisations to change society's attitudes towards animals.
Every other major liberation movement has had strong religious backing, whether the cause was the abolition of slavery, suffrage, civil rights. The power of religion needs to be reclaimed and redirected by animal liberationists, to be employed for the animals rather than against them. The potential power of religious groups unified in protest and boycott of animal abusing industries and institutions is immense.
The use and abuse of animals occurs in many, variegated forms. Though this abuse is horrible in all of its manifestations, nowhere does it approach the scale and magnitude of meat production. Today's methods of flesh production mean the deaths of billions of animals each year. Concerns arise not only from the horror of extinguishing so many lives, but also from the inhumane conditions food animals are subjected to from the moment they are born. This can relate to the current concern in UK with the problem of the foot and mouth epidemic. Foot-and-mouth disease is an acute infectious viral disease causing fever, followed by the development of vesicles (blisters) chiefly in the mouth and on the feet. It is probably more infectious than any other disease affecting animals and spreads rapidly if uncontrolled. It affects cattle, sheep, pigs, and goats. In Britain almost all livestock (mainly in the north) are being herded slaughtered (most of which don't follow the set guide lines given for animal slaughter) and burned in mass. This would be acceptable if they were sure all the animals were contaminated, but they are not, and healthy animals are being brutally slaughtered.
The shift of animal agriculture to animal agribusiness over the past fifty years has meant a radical change in the lives of food animals. The nostalgically remembered family farms, where small groups of animals have access to sunshine, fresh air, and exercise are, for the most part, long gone. In their stead we find huge, windowless buildings, filled with rows and rows of crated or caged animals. Climate and light are artificially manipulated, more for increasing productivity or reducing losses than for any benefit to the animals. Nearly the whole process of raising these animals is automated; in some cases the amount of human attention given to the animals is about five minutes a day. The details of factory farming have been elaborated by others; it is enough for our purpose to recognise that food animal production today is an exercise in cruelty from the rearing of the animals to their deaths in the slaughterhouse. It is not just the animals who suffer through factory farming. We are beginning to see more and more clearly the environmental damage that results from animal agriculture. Modern factory practices consume tremendous amounts of energy and resources, pollute the air and water, and destroy and degrade soil and plant life.
Human life suffers too. Today's animal rich diet is responsible for a host of easily preventable, but thoroughly debilitating diseases. These diseases not only plague each individual sufferer, but they also burden society through increased health costs and lost productivity. This human suffering also becomes manifest in those who work in the slaughterhouses and meat-production plants. These people, often minorities, women, and migrant workers, participate in one of the nation's five most dangerous jobs, for some of the lowest pay in the food industry. It seems meat production costs the lives of both its animal victims and those that eat their flesh.
The animal suffering, environmental degradation, and health consequences of a meat diet are undeniable. Two obvious examples are both 'foot-and-mouth' and BSE 'mad-cow' disease. The enormous costs of such a lifestyle illustrate why vegetarianism/veganism should be at the forefront of the animal rights movement. The variety of deleterious points found in factory farming also make it the most susceptible issue to confront on religious grounds. As we will see, the three monotheistic faiths all contain teachings and traditions which advocate kindness to animals, respect for the planet, concern for one's health, and concern for the well-being of others. Whereas many animal apologists in these traditions have written almost exclusively on ethical concerns for vegetarianism.
I have purposely limited this examination to the monotheistic religion Christianity. I take this faith as a block for several reasons. Most importantly, this faith holds one of the largest numbers of believers throughout the world. Not only does this religious movements have one of the greatest number of adherents, but are also those most traditionally opposed to animal rights and most permissive of meat eating. In other words, it is within these traditions that the greatest amount of work needs to be done, and where the greatest results may be reaped.
This faith is also the most represented and encountered where vegetarianism and the movement for animal rights are flowering in America and Europe. If an activist runs into a religious argument against animals, it will likely originate within one of these traditions. That the Jewish and Christian legacies are strong in the West is well-known, but Islam is also emerging as strong, vital force in the West.
Activists should also bear in mind the variety of emphasis and issues of importance found in these different faiths. It is not entirely accurate to speak of a Judaism, or a Christianity, or an Islam. Instead, the general religious designations of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism each encompass a range of disparate movements. Sometimes the differences between groups are slight; often, however, there are major points of contention among them.
When trying to relate Christianity to animal rights/welfare one immediately thinks of Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals. He believed animals should be respected as they are one of God's creations, and therefore a gift to us from God. Francis of Assisi had a prayer for animals which followed, "God Our Heavenly Father, You created the world to serve humanity's needs and to lead them to You. By our ownfault we have lost the beautiful relationship which we once had with all your creation. Help us to see that by restoring our relationship with You we will also restore it with all Your creation. Give us the grace to see all animals as gifts from You and to treat them with respect for they are Your creation. We pray for all animals who are suffering as a result of our neglect. May the order You originally established be once again restored to the whole world through the intercession of the Glorious Virgin Mary, the prayers of St. Francis and the merits of Your Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ Who lives and reigns with You now and forever. Amen."8-- Saint Francis of Assisi.
Since Christianity has its roots in Judaism and the writings of the Torah, activists can employ some of the Jewish arguments for vegetarianism in the discussion of Christianity. For instance, Christians might also be led to see Genesis 1:29 as a signpost of God's wish for humans to be vegetarians, or more properly, vegans. Both religions also envision the peaceable kingdom of Isaiah 11:6-9, though the details may differ in each case. While these points of congruence are important, there are some substantial differences that require activists to approach Christianity differently than they approach Judaism. Foremost among these considerations is the figure of Jesus Christ. The teachings and deeds of Jesus are the essence of Christianity and will play a central role in determining Christian attitudes towards animals.
Animal rights thinkers have addressed this issue in the past. Most often they make the case that Jesus was a vegetarian, implying all Christians should be also. While the vegetarian movement would certainly reap great benefits were it to be proven Jesus was a vegetarian, resting the entire impetus for vegetarianism on Jesus' actions could prove disastrous. This is especially true because, contrary to the claims of some, the historical evidence of a vegetarian Jesus is very slim. Some of those who push for a vegetarian Jesus point to the New Testament for support. They claim the Bible records no incidents of Jesus eating meat or flesh of any kind, aside from possibly eating fish on two occasions (John 21:13, Luke 24:43) after his resurrection and maybe during the Last Supper (Mark 14:12). Others argue that Jesus' original teaching of kindness to animals were excised at the Council of Nicaea, where Constantine and his bishops dropped the ideas to appeal to pagan converts and to satisfy their own taste for flesh. Another line of thinking places Jesus as a member of one of the Jewish ascetic sects, usually the Essenes, who were strict vegetarians. But the New Testament gives no clues about Jesus' diet one way or another. The issue of eating meat, outside of that sacrificed to idols, was probably relatively unimportant to the New Testament authors. Meat composed only a minor portion of the diet of a first-century Judean, and was produced in a manner free from most of the ethical implications of today's factory farming system. Because the issue of meat eating was so different then, meat consumption was not addressed as an ethical issue (For the Jews the issue of eating meat was legal and not ethical, Leviticus 11:1-47).
More important than the ingredients of Jesus' diet are the elements of his message. Jesus was constantly teaching an ethical system which expounded mercy, compassion, and concern, especially for the weak and disenfranchised9. Animals, especially under current conditions, are clearly the weakest and most disenfranchised of any group. Feeling, sentient beings, they are without a voice we can understand and few will speak for them. The intelligent, sensitive animals, possessors of souls, if we put any stock in the Old Testament, that humans consume for food lead a more cruel and miserable existence than any other group could ever conceive. Were Jesus among us today, he surely would condemn the treatment of food animals as vehemently as he did the treatment of oppressed human animals. Linzey calls this emphasis of Jesus the "Generosity Paradigm." Jesus' teachings always stressed the emphasis of those in a higher position to help those worse off. The rich, the strong, and the powerful are to give to the weak and the poor. Again, we can see how animals occupy the position of greatest vulnerability, especially with regards to our absolute power over them10. Christians should see that they also have a special obligation of kindness and generosity to animals, like they do to children or other weaker groups of humans11. The strength of humans should be extended to the weak, animals in our case, as Jesus taught. In contrast, using the power humans have to exploit animals should appear no less wicked as the exploitation of the (human) weak by the strong that Jesus so stringently condemned. As vegetarian activists we must inform Christians as to the extent of animal exploitation and ask them if this abuse can be reconciled with the generous, loving message of Christ. If not, Christians should change their dietary habits drastically. Minimally, they should greatly reduce their meat intake. More desirable would be a shift to a vegetarian diet.
Another important element of Christianity that may be useful to activists is the concept of the "new creation." In this view Christ has inaugurated a new community where the communal ethic is stressed, all stands in reconciliation with the Creator and love is the highest spiritual gift. This is the idea advanced by Paul and his letter to the Romans might provide a vegetarian approach in this vein. "If your brother or sister is being injured by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. Do not let what you eat cause the ruin of one for whom Christ died." "Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for you to make others fall by what you eat. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that makes your brother or sister stumble." (Rom. 14: 15, 20-21, NSRV)
Examining the vegetarian cause in light of the above passages offers the activist several areas to explore. The emphasis on the well-being of the community is at odds with the results of factory farming. Not only is the community negatively impacted by factory farmed food (consider the health and environmental effects, as well as the treatment of the meat industry's labourers), but a case might be made for the non-human animals who become the food. Does the reconciliation of creation and Creator include consideration for the animals? How does the new ethic of the supremacy of love reconcile with the brutality of the factory farm? Christianity's communal emphasis in the new creation certainly agrees with a range of pro-vegetarian arguments, whether or not any concern is granted to the animals themselves. Being a member of this new creation calls on humans to behave in those Christ-like ways of love, mercy, and compassion mentioned earlier. Both approaches conflict profoundly with current methods of meat production.
Perhaps the other most important issue for Christian consideration of vegetarianism is that of dominion. The idea that humans occupy a position of dominion and thus, have complete discretion with regards to animal use is somewhat of a given in most Christian thought12. In fact, it is this thought that probably lies beneath those words familiar to many an animal activist: "Animals are put here for our use."
There are several avenues of approach by which to address the question of dominion. In my view, those approaches that will be most valuable, especially in dealing with traditional Christians, will challenge the standard conception of dominion, without denying that some sort of dominion still exists. Through a careful reading of Genesis 1, Andrew Linzey has uncovered what may be the strongest challenge to the traditional notion of dominion as a justification for killing animals. The idea of humanity's dominion over the earth and its creatures is first conceived in Gen. 1:26 and 28. God then lays down the vegetarian diet of humanity in Gen. 1:29, after the granting of dominion. Therefore, if God had intended dominion as the justification for killing animals, especially for food, why does it precede the command to eat a vegetarian diet?13 We should recall the instructions God gave for obtaining meat, once it was permitted.
Still, there does seem to be some sort of dominion granted to humans by God. Accepting this in no way invalidates a Christian argument for vegetarianism. Rather, it calls for a re-examination of the meaning, bounds, and intent of dominion. There are two main points to consider with regard to the meaning of dominion. The first is to be found in the example of Christ, as we have seen earlier. Christ's lordship and dominion becomes manifest through his service14. So our greater power and dominion should be manifest in a caring stewardship, a looking after of the earth and its inhabitants15. While this view remains hierarchical and may contrast with animal rights notions of animal equality, it seems to be the most practical tack to take within a traditional Christian framework. Dismantling and deconstructing the Christian tradition is beyond the scope of this paper and of most animal activists. For the time being, working within the bounds of Christianity will best serve the animals.
This notion of stewardship leads us to our second consideration of dominion, the idea of God's rights. This concept calls on Christians to step back from the absolute power they have assumed over creation and to consider its origin. This anthropocentric emphasis should be more appropriately replaced with a theocentric focus. While Linzey makes a complete and thorough argument there is really only one important point for activists to grasp. That point is this: it is God who has created creation and who maintains it. Creation then has value to God, value over and above any instrumental worth it may give humans16. Understanding this, humanity's dominion and uniqueness can be seen as special responsibilities requiring people to honour and protect God's creation, rather than as a green light to indiscriminate animal and environmental use17. Following this line of thought, it becomes clear that current treatment of food animals violates God's will. As meat is not necessary for our survival, and as it is procured in an exceedingly cruel manner, it becomes an act of wantonness and an infringement on God's will18.
Many activists are bound to find their sensibilities offended by even these less gratuitous interpretations of dominion and stewardship. These ideas are clearly rooted in a transcendent notion of God, and may be distasteful to some. I understand that, but I have focused on them because they are the attitudes most subscribed to by Christians and will probably bring the greatest shift in the reduction of pain and death for animals without requiring Christians to accept changes that might appear too radical. Ecological concerns should play a central role in pointing Christians towards vegetarianism. We have already seen how modern agribusiness practices exact a devastating toll on the earth. Christians should find concern in this as such wanton practices infringe on God's rights and violate the human position of earthly caretaker. Not all Christians will readily adopt this concern for nature however. Activists will find the environmental argument a particularly hard sell for Fundamentalist Christians. Their attitude towards nature had perhaps its "best" example in the Reagan-era Secretary of the Interior, James Watt. Watt's fundamentalist beliefs told him the end was near, the Lord was soon to return, so why worry about nature? Watt was eventually removed from his office.
Thankfully, many other denominations are coming around to a pro-environment sensibility. It is through this channel that faiths which are very unconcerned with animals may be brought around to vegetarianism. Catholicism, for example, has long stood against granting concern for animals. In the 1850's Pope Pius IX refused to allow the construction of an anti-cruelty animal society in Rome because it was a theological error to assume humans had any obligations to animals19. Catholicism has also been reluctant to adopt the notion of benevolent stewardship, not on the basis of its illegitimacy, but because focusing on it is trivial and will detract from more pressing matters, like caring for other humans. Activists can easily counter this argument by pointing out that it really takes little, if any, extra effort to avoid in practices that are cruel to animals or which are environmentally harmful. And if we really only have a fixed reservoir of concern, how do we apply it even in regard to humans? Catholics clearly look after various groups of humans without worrying that concern for one group will preclude concern for another.
Thankfully, many Catholics are changing their minds on these issues. Most notably, Pope John Paul II has spoken out in concern for the environment. While his message has remained very anthropocentric, the Pope has recognised the extent of environmental crisis and has called for significant changes in the ways humans use the Earth20. This growing concern for the environment will allow animal rights activists to side-step more difficult, animal-centered calls for a Catholic vegetarianism, by focusing on the environmental consequences of a diet that includes meat.
Many Protestant denominations have also shared in the growing awareness of environmental issues. In the 1970's the National Council of Churches, a group of liberal Protestant churches, and The Interfaith Coalition on Energy, a coalition of Baptists, Methodists, Jews, Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and others, critiqued pollution, energy waste, and other forms of environmental damage. Since that time Protestants have cultivated a growing interest in halting and reversing environmental destruction, perhaps reaching its high point in the 1988 report issued by the World Council of Churches. This report, presented by a ecumenical panel of thinkers, blasted current ecologically damaging practices, including factory farming, and called for a comprehensive plan to address and correct such practices21. These Protestant concerns over environmental issues provide vegetarian advocates with another powerful religious argument in favour of vegetarianism. As with the Catholics, advocates can worry less about becoming embroiled with Protestants in a theological debate over the animals themselves, and focus on factory farming's effect on nature.
While Judaism offered the activist many religious and legal means to promote vegetarianism's positive effect on an individual's health, Christianity is less concerned with the issue. However, Jesus did tell the disciples to preach the gospel and to heal the sick. It is in his second command that activists might be able to promote the health benefits of a vegetarian diet. As we saw earlier, meat has a great many ill effects on human health. By avoiding or severely reducing meat consumption, Christians will first help to prevent themselves from requiring healing. They may then "heal" the sick (by preventing illness and disease) by spreading the message of vegetarianism to others. Finally, some doctors are actually healing the sick through diets that are very low in meat or even completely free of animal products. These doctors and Christians that endorse and disseminate their teachings are healing the sick in a very tangible way. This all relates to the concept that your body is a temple of the holy spirit.
Christianity has always been concerned with the poor and weak. Where better to focus attention than on the slaughterhouse workers and meat packers, who, as we have seen previously, are often oppressed and under paid, subjected to boring yet dangerous work. Residents in less developed nations also suffer as agribusiness clear cuts forest to graze cattle, sprays and dumps pesticides into the environment, and so on. To support a system that perpetuates such suffering, and for so little gain, is surely in contrast to Christian values. Activists must make Christians aware of the unchristian treatment of the workers and other people who are affected by a meat-including diet.
As with Jewish considerations for vegetarianism, activists have an assortment of approaches to guide Christians towards a vegetarian diet. Vegetarianism allows Christians to live a more Christ-like life of concern and service for animals, the environment, and other people. It also realigns Christians with what may be their more proper role as stewards of creation, rather than its absolute master.
By now activists should have realised several key points about religiously based arguments for vegetarianism or animal rights. Most importantly, I hope I have shown the existence of the valuable traditions of animal kindness to be found in these faiths. An assortment of different approaches have been given, to encompass ethical, environmental, and health issues. This diversity of approach should provide activists with enough religious arguments to engage a religionist on at least a few fronts. Coverage of the significant and unique aspects of each faith should also give activists more confidence when dealing with an unfamiliar faith.
I also hope to have provided enough essential information about these faith's views of animals that activists might extrapolate them further. How would Christ's message of compassion and generosity view vivisection and cosmetics testing? Is the emphasis on health accorded by each religion really best served by vivisection and animal experimentation? Activists should now be able to merge their knowledge of animal rights issues with the fundamental tenets of religious concern for animals and create further pro-animal arguments for these other issues.
Vegetarian advocates should also see some areas where an ecumenical vegetarian movement could best help the animals. Ritual slaughter is one major area. Since both Jews and Muslims have special concerns to address in the production of their meat, they could work together to bring about these changes. At the very least they should be encouraged to campaign jointly to make "humane" slaughter a reality. Economic pressure and outcry among believers would be a potent force in spurring kosher and halal meat providers to install ASPCA or similar slaughter pens. They might also work together to increase the general religious acceptability of the entire food animal production scheme. Perhaps they could obtain guarantees that their food animals where raised humanely, without mutilation, undue stress, and unnatural feed. This is bound to be a difficult and expensive goal to achieve; activists should continue to promote the simple, positive ways that a vegetarian or vegan diet would allow these believers to scrupulously follow their religious teachings.
And it seems all three faiths share enough common ground on issues of the environment and concern for the oppressed that united pressure could be directed at the abolition or drastic reworking of agribusiness and the factory farm. Likewise, common concerns for human health could prompt interfaith exploration of health-promoting, life-sustaining dietary choices. Religious arguments for vegetarianism or animal rights will not be successful all of the time. Activists should not suddenly expect to convert every Muslim, Christian, or Jew they meet to vegetarianism. But as activists increase their knowledge of religious views on animal kindness and as believers become exposed to these traditions, more modest goals should be seen. Even the seemingly minor step of cutting down one's flesh consumption or buying non-factory farmed meat will realise great cumulative results in the numbers of animals spared death or a miserable existence. In the effort to save the animals, it is imperative for activists take every step and reach out to every ally that becomes available. With so much at stake and so far to go, even the small victories are essential.
The Garden of Eden, God's perfect world, was vegetarian (Gen. 1:29-30). Immediately, God calls this ideal and non-exploitative relationship "good" (Gen. 1:31). There follow many years of fallen humanity, when people held slaves, waged war, ate animals and committed various other violent acts. But the prophets tell us that the peaceable kingdom will be nonviolent and vegetarian; even the lion will lie down with the lamb (Isaiah 11). Jesus is the Prince of Peace, who ushers in this new age of nonviolence. WhenChristians pray, "Your will be done, on Earth as it is in heaven," the one prayer given to us by Jesus, this obligates us to change our lives, to make choices that are as merciful and loving as possible. There will be no factory farms and slaughterhouses in heaven.
* Pope John Paul II, "The ecological Crisis: A common responsibility," This sacred Earth: Religion, Nature, Environment, ed. Roger S. Gottlieb (Routledge, 1996).
* Stephen Kellert, Knowledge, Affection, and basic attitude towards animals in American society (Washington D.C.: U.S department of the inferior, Fish, and Wildlife Service, 1980)
* Peter Singer, Animal Liberation (New York: Avon books, 1990)
* Andrew Linzey, Animal Theology (Uebana: University of Illinois Press, 1995)
* Lawrence Finsen and Susan Finsen, The Animal Rights movement in America: From compassion to Respect (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1994)
* Andrew Linzey, Christianity and the rights of animals (New York: Crossroad, 1991)
* Roberta Kalechofsky, Jewish Law and Tradition on Animal Rights: A Usable Paradigm for the Animal Rights Movement, Judaism and Animal Rights.
* Ruth Hurmence Green, The born again sceptics guide to the bible, (Freedom from religion foundation, 1979).
* John Lawrence Hill, A case for a vegitarian, (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc, 1996)
* Dave Robinson and Judy Groves, Philosophy for beginners, (Icon books Ltd., 1998)
* Peter Vardy and Paul Grosch, The puzzle of ethics, (An Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 1995)
* Class notes.
* Advice from Teachers and Friends.
Andrew Linzey, Christianity and the rights of animals (New York: Crossroad, 1991), 5.
2 Lawrence Finsen and Susan Finsen, The Animal Rights movement in America: From compassion to Respect (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1994) 42-43.
3 Finsen and Finsen, 25.
4 Andrew Linzey, Animal Theology (Uebana: University of Illinois Press, 1995) vii.
5 Peter Singer, Animal Liberation (New York: Avon books, 1990) chapter five "Man's dominion..."
6 Andrew Linzey, Christianity and the rights of animals, 24.
7 Stephen Kellert, Knowledge, Affection, and basic attitude towards animals in American society (Washington D.C.: U.S department of the inferior, Fish, and Wildlife Service, 1980)
8 Saint Francis of Assisi. At: http://www.catholic-pages.com/dir/link.asp?ref=10369
9 Andrew Linzey, Animal Theology, 133
0 Andrew Linzey, Animal Theology, 32-33
1 Andrew Linzey, Animal Theology, 36-37
2 Andrew Linzey, Christianity and the rights of animals 1-2
3 Andrew Linzey, Animal Theology, 126
4 Andrew Linzey, Animal Theology, ix
5 Andrew Linzey, Animal Theology, 126
6 Andrew Linzey, Animal Theology, 24-25
7 Andrew Linzey, Christianity and the rights of animals, 98
8 Andrew Linzey, Christianity and the rights of animals, 108
9 Peter Singer, Animal Liberation, 243-246
20 Pope John Paul II, "The ecological Crisis: A common responsibility,"
21 Pope John Paul II, "The ecological Crisis: A common responsibility, "This sacred Earth: Religion, Nature, Environment, ed. Roger S. Gottlieb (Routledge, 1996) 230-237.
Analysis of the contributions of Christian (or another religion) teachings to the ethical debate about animal rights.
Guy de Bedin 12D
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