Christianity and Animal Rights, Part 3

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Christianity and Animal Rights, Part 3

[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)

Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10

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