[Ed. Note: Please visit Animals - Tradition, Philosophy, Religion for many articles about animals and religious beliefs: Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Islam and more.]
By Stephen Kaufman, M.D., Christian Vegetarian Association (CVA)
The last two essays have argued that human hopes, desires, and fears
profoundly influence our interpretation of the Bible. It is easy to recognize
and scoff at the mistakes of the past, but it is harder to recognize
contemporary errors. For example, the Bible was once used as a powerful tool to
defend human slavery in America. Abraham and other honored characters in the
Bible owned slaves, evidently with God’s approval. Paul told slaves to obey
their masters (Colossians 3:12). Actually, I think the biblical case for human
slavery is much stronger than the biblical case for unnecessary harm to nonhuman
beings. Fortunately, just about everyone finds human slavery morally repugnant
today, perhaps more due to secular values than biblical mandates.
Multiple factors led to the rejection of human slavery. Among them was the
rise of secular humanism, an outgrowth of the Enlightenment, which held that all
humans have inherent value and deserve basic human rights. Another was the
cruelty associated with slavery. Defenders of slavery maintained that people of
African descent were inferior creatures who were “naturally” enslaved, did not
have the same depth of feeling as Caucasians, and were treated well by slave
owners, even though obvious facts contradicted these claims.
Today, nonhuman beings are enslaved by humans. People justify contemporary
enslavement of animals much as they justified human slavery 150 years ago. And,
just as was the case 150 years ago, the arguments are hollow. As once happened
with human slavery, many people pick and choose Biblical passages and stories
that, they think, justify animal abuse. However, as with human slavery, their
self-serving interpretations are not ironclad, and there are many passages and
stories that describe God’s concern for nonhuman beings and God’s condemnation
of their mistreatment.
Next week, I will explore how secular knowledge has informed ethics related to animal issues. Like the slave owners of the past, defenders of harmful animal exploitation claim that nonhuman beings are inferior, lack human-like feelings, and are generally treated very well. However, readily available evidence undermines and sometimes baldly contradicts these claims.
Go to Part 4