These conservation and humane precepts of the Scriptures were well understood by the early leaders of Judaism and the Christian Church. For the first thousand years or so, the Christian saints are depicted as having close and friendly relationships with wild and domestic creatures. There are thousands of stories and legends concerning such revered saints as Giles, Jerome, Benedict, Meinrad, Columba, Cuthbert, Patrick, and hundreds of others; the best known, of course, is the patron saint of animals, Francis of Assisi.
Similarly, Judaism has a long tradition of reverence for animals and nature based on Biblical teachings. According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, “Moral and legal rules concerning the treatment of animals are based on the principle that animals are part of God's creation toward which man bears responsibility. Laws and other indications in the … Bible make it clear not only that cruelty to animals is forbidden but also that compassion and mercy to them are demanded of man by God.... In later rabbinic literature ... great prominence is also given to demonstrating God's mercy to animals, and to the importance of not causing them pain.”
One of the greatest Christian theologians of all times, the medical missionary and Nobel prize winner Dr. Albert Schweitzer, wrote that humans were "compelled by the commandment of love ... proclaimed by Jesus" to respect all forms of life. He taught that one should avoid “carelessly cutting off the head of a single flower growing on the edge of the road, for in doing so (would be to) injure life without being forced to do so by necessity." Schweitzer wrote eloquently of the need to show reverence for all forms of life: “A man's religion is of little value unless even seemingly insignificant creatures benefit from it. A truly religious man does not ask how far this or that deserves sympathy ... to him, life as such is sacred.”
Another leading Christian theologian, Reverend Norman Vincent Peale, has written, "I do not believe a person can be a true Christian and at the same time deliberately engage in cruel or inconsiderate treatment of animals."
The Reverend Dr. Billy Graham has written, "The Bible teaches that we are not to abuse or punish animals in a cruel way. God has created them, and while mankind is given dominion over the animals, we are not to treat them cruelly.”
Reverend Lloyd Putman has warned against practicing "religious myopia," saying that "we have a small religion if it has no room for the rest of God's creatures." The famous English theologian Cardinal John Henry Newman (1801- 1890) once wrote that "cruelty to animals is as if a man did not love God."
Pope John Paul II has stated that Christians have a moral obligation to protect the environment, saying in a homily that "respect for natural resources of our planet" must be a part of everyone's conscience. He has also said that "To repair ... and to prevent ... damage inflicted on nature" is a "grave moral obligation. "
In the final analysis, perhaps the strongest argument for kindness to animals can be made on the grounds of equity. How, some have asked, can a truly religious person ask for mercy from what is above him unless he is merciful to what is below him?
Go on to: Part 13: The Devastation Caused by Factory Farming
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Return to: Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion