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7 May 2000 Issue
Love for All Creatures: Frequently Asked Questions About the Bible and Animal Rights

by nphelps@fund.org 

According to Genesis 2:18-19 God created nonhuman animals to be companions for human beings. At first glance, these verses appear to describe a process of trial and error, but a god who works by trial and error is not really consistent with the Judeo-Christian tradition. More likely, Genesis is describing the creation of a network of interlocking relationships, a web of life, in which every participant has a unique and valuable role to play. In the case of some animals, this may mean an individual relationship with human beings in which both the human and the nonhuman participant find love, joy, and comfort. In the case of others, it may mean playing a role in the global ecosystem that sustains the quality of life for all beings. This kind of interdependence is very difference from the notion that sentient beings are resources to be exploited for the benefit of one species only.

The idea that we are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) places upon us an obligation to reflect the love and compassion of God in all aspects of our lives. If our lives are a reflection of God's love, we will not bring terror, agony, and premature death upon defenseless creatures whom God has created with the ability to experience these feelings.

Dominion (See Genesis 1:28), in Hebrew as in English, simply means "authority." Parents have authority over their children, and governments have authority over their citizens, but we expect parents to exercise their authority for the benefit of their children, and governments for the benefit of their citizens, and we judge them harshly when they do not. There is no reason why we should judge humanity's exercise of dominion over nonhuman animals by any different standard.

The idea that animals are resources to whom we owe no direct moral duties did not originate in either Judaism or Christianity. It is an ancient Greek idea most baldly stated by Aristotle, who believed that there is a natural hierarchy of beings based on intelligence (reason, rationality), and that beings lower in the hierarchy exist to serve those who are higher. At the top, he placed Greek men, and below them he ranged non-Greeks, women, slaves, and animals. His ideas were picked up by Saint Paul, who grew up in a Greek city (Tarsus in Asia Minor, modern Turkey), and was as comfortable in the Greek language and culture as he was in the Jewish. Thus, in several passages, such as I Corinthians 9:9, Paul makes it clear that he has no ethical problem with meat eating, and that he believes we have no ethical duties to animals.

Paul's view, however, cannot be traced to Jesus, whom the Bible never quotes as saying anything even vaguely similar, and never describes as eating meat (except for fish on one occasion after the resurrection). In fact, on two occasions, Jesus is quoted as condemning animal sacrifice in very harsh terms. (Matthew 9:13; 12:7)

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