Newsletter - Animal Writes sm
10 November 1999

By [email protected]

Since the beginning of "civilized" society, man has pondered the many mysteries of the world. Where did we come from? Why are we here? What is our purpose in being? Religion has helped millions of individuals to answer many of these questions, but at the same time, has encouraged endless arguments and debates. Does God really exist? Is there a heaven? Is there a hell? Do I have a soul? Do animals have souls?

According to most texts and belief systems, a soul is a form of metaphysical essence or life that is immortal and lasts throughout eternity. Most religions agree on the idea that humans possess some form of soul. Whenever animals are introduced into this topic of discussion, there is an immediate separation among most faiths. The departure ranges from those Eastern religions that believe both animals and humans possess souls of equal importance, to systems like Christianity, which entertain the belief that only humans possess eternal souls.

This is an important topic for animal rights because literally millions of people around the globe place an enormous amount of faith in their religions. As a result, such individuals usually live their lives in the manner taught by their relevant scriptures. It is not difficult to envision the implications of a religion that teaches its followers that they are spiritually superior to all other creatures and vice versa.

On the one end, we have religions like Jainism and Hinduism. Hinduism teaches an ethic of non-violence, known as "ahimsa." It is believed that, by practicing a lifestyle that injures no other being, a devout Hindu will achieve harmony with the environment, peace amongst people, and kindness within the self. Hindus acknowledge that, not only do animals have feelings, but they also have souls that reincarnate as different life forms. Consequently, Hindus have advocated vegetarianism for literally thousands of years, as well as a peaceful attitude towards all of Earth's creatures, human and non.

Jains also practice a belief of the non-violent "ahimsa." This is directly related to the Jain belief that animals possess souls with equal status of humans. While Jains constitute less than 1 percent of India's populace, they successfully provide over fifty percent of the country's public welfare. In addition, each and every one of the seven million Jains in India claim to accept a vegetarian lifestyle, demonstrating Jainism's primary doctrine that it is immoral to kill or injure any living being. Jain monks are so serious about this fundamental principle that they sometimes wear masks in order to avoid accidentally inhaling insects. Others brush the footpaths in front of them in order to avoid stepping on any insects.

Other Eastern religions share similar beliefs. For instance, the First Precept of Buddhism says, "Do not kill, but rather preserve and cherish all life." This doctrine has a direct correlation to the Buddhists' belief that all creatures possess an unchanging soul that, when the physical body dies, returns to this Earth in a more progressed body. Therefore, every form of life on Earth possesses an intelligence and value that is to be respected. As a result, most Buddhists seek humane fairness, regard for the Earth, and kindness for animals. Vegetarianism is also a common lifestyle for many Buddhists.

Most Eastern religions promote a respect of all life, human and non. The correlation between these particular religions is that they each believe that at some level, animals do possess a soul or spirit that is directly connected to a higher power that is shared with humans.

On the other end of the spectrum we have Western religions and traditions. While the scriptures of Western faiths possess a small number of references towards animals and their connection with a higher power, most believers of Western religions chose to ignore the minimal and pay homage to those messages that receive the majority of attention; i.e. those scriptures which appear to place man at a superior level above all non-humans. For instance, Judaism believes in different levels of soul. At the one end is "nefesh," the animal soul, which represents a breathing, functioning part of the being that leaves upon death of the physical body. At the other end is "neshuma," the spiritual soul that is eternally connected to God. This level of soul is restricted entirely to human beings.

While Jewish belief directs its followers to prevent cruelty to animals, the Genesis creation story gives man "dominion" over all creatures that are non-human. This scripture, combined with the belief that animals are spiritually insuperior to humans, equips a Jewish follower with the ammunition necessary to defend his or her right to eat meat, to condone the testing of products on animals, and to pardon any other ill-treatment of animals when it is for the higher good of man. This is all despite the fact that many biblical passages promote a higher level of respect for animals. For instance, Proverbs 12:10 says, "A righteous man cares for his beast" and Isaiah 66:3 reads, "He who slaughters an ox is like him who kills a man." However, contemporary doctrine and interpretation of the scriptures have created a belief system that overlooks these particular testaments in order to create a system that accepts that which man has chosen for himself, not which he was directed to do according to his religion.

Christianity has followed much the same path as Judaism; creating their own belief system as a result of individual interpretation of the scriptures of the Bible. However, the distinct difference between Christians and Jews in regard to animals, is that Christianity does not acknowledge a soul in animals what-soever. There were eccentrics, such as St. Francis of Assisi, who believed that animals have immortal souls, but the Creation story has set the tone for the Christian belief that animals do not possess souls. The commonly referred to passage in Genesis, which gives man "dominion" over animals, is used time and time again to defend the Christians' right to use animals to their own gain, whether or not it be to the animal's detriment.

In all actuality, the word dominion is derived from the root Hebrew verb "yorade," which means, "to have communion with." So, here we see that one man's interpretation has corrupted an entire system of belief. Deep within the Bible are passages that promote love and peace for all of God's creations. While the sanctioned Christian passages basically reflect a belief system developed by the gentile Christians, who were less than sympathetic towards animals, the unauthorized scriptures strongly indicate that Jesus was very disturbed by the ill treatment of non-human animals.

The reason that the religion debate is so important to animal rights activists is that so many of those who ignore the pleas or downplay the importance of animal rights use their religious backgrounds to defend their right to use animals for whatever reasons they see fit. Many ethicists will agree that those faiths that place man in a spiritually superior level to animals have deeply influenced the way man has treated the animal kingdom.

Many religions contain clear messages that animals do possess souls and therefore, should be treated with a level of importance equal to humans. With most Eastern religions, the followers must either respect their doctrines or leave themselves open to accusations of hypocrisy. Their word then becomes less reliable. On the other hand, religions like Christianity and Judaism have equipped their followers with the ammunition necessary to continue to allow the sort of destruction and disrespect that has been plagued upon the non-human species for thousands of years.

The fact that most of the world's religious people are Christian or of some other Biblical faith should be a very concerning thought for animal rights activists. Most followers have not only created a thought in their mind that it is morally alright to exploit animals for human gain, but they have what they believe to be irrefutable proof that what they do is alright. However, what we have briefly seen in the writings above is that these faiths have major loopholes. If we wish to have our arguments ready when they tell us that "God has given man dominion over animals" and "The Bible tells us that it is alright to eat animals" and whatever other excuses they come up with to defend their right to exploit animals, we have sources out there that show them otherwise. Our sources are their very own scriptures from which they derive their excuses. If we are to be best equipped to fight this continuous argument when it comes up time and time again, we need to equip ourselves with the evidence that is out there but is all to often overlooked.

For more information visit:

There are also many well-written books in the animal rights arena that attack this issue. One very good text is "The Slaughter of Terrified Beasts ~ A Biblical Basis for the Humane Treatment of Animals" by J.R. Hyland.

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