Christianity and Animal Rights, Part 4

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Christianity and Animal Rights, Part 4

[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 3, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10

The previous essays have argued that secular values invariably inform the way we receive and interpret the Bible. This week I aim to show that the Bible offers conflicting views about humanity’s relationship with animals. Next week, I will assert that animal rights is a secular basis for defending animals against abuse and injustice that also helps us understand and respond to Biblical mandates about the ethical treatment of animals.

There are many videos and books that show unequivocally that nonhuman beings are abused on a massive scale on farms, in laboratories, in the fur industry, and elsewhere. Many justify humanity’s harmful exploitation of nonhumans on the grounds that humans are superior creations. However, humans are not equal in terms of intellect, strength, moral behavior, manifestation of God-like attributes (as a consequent of being created “in the image of God”), or other criteria. Superiority, per se, is not grounds for tyrannical, abusive treatment of vulnerable individuals. Further, I think the claim of human superiority is dubious on both scientific and religious grounds.

Scientifically, evolutionary theory points to humans as being just one branch on a vast tree of animals, each evolved to fill different niches. Humanity’s impressive intelligence has been a very successful adaptation in the short term, but the long term survival of humanity remains very much in doubt as humanity’s technologies have polluted the environment, depleted essential resources, and developed weapons of mass destruction. It may turn out that many creatures with less impressive cognitive skills but with other adaptations will outlast humans, a possibility that challenge the notion of human superiority.

Among those who reject evolutionary theory and look to the Bible to ascertain humanity’s relationship to the rest of Creation, the Bible gives special place to humans as created “in the image of God.” However, the Bible also condemns cruelty to animals and describes God’s care and concern for animals. For example, the Bible describes God declaring all of Creation “very good,” and God prescribing vegan diets for all creatures in the Garden of Eden. (See also, for example, Psalm 145:9, Proverbs 12:10, and Isaiah 11:6-9.) Indeed, the writer of Ecclesiastes articulated continuity between humans and nonhuman beings: “For the fate of the sons of men and the fate of the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts; for all is vanity. All go to one place; all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again. Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down to the earth? (3:19-21)

The Bible does not give humanity free reign to treat animals in any way that humans please, regardless of the pain and suffering that the animals experience. However, there is a conflict between the Bible’s description of God giving Adam “dominion” over creation and the Bible’s description of God’s concern for all Creation. Next week, I will discuss how animal rights can help resolve this conflict.

Part 5 coming soon