Harming Animals Harms Humans: Undermining Any Universal Ethic
Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion Article from All-Creatures.org


Stephen Kaufman, M.D., Christian Vegetarian Association (CVA)

Harming Animals Harms Humans: Undermining Any Universal Ethic

I have been arguing that, if humanity is to address the threats to human civilization, such as war, depletion of resources, and the growing environmental crisis, there must be a universal ethic to inspire cooperation and sacrifices in standards of living. Such an ethic must make sense to people of all faiths as well as people who reject religious belief. Otherwise, large segments of society will refuse to assist in saving civilization, and, dispirited, most of the rest will likely take an “every man for himself” approach that seems to doom humanity.
The problem is that, as long as humans abuse animals for relatively trivial human benefits, this dream of human cooperation and salvation appears impossible. Whatever the value or values we might propose to unite humanity – such as the Golden Rule (do to others as we would like done to us), opposition to oppression and cruelty, and defense of the weak – are fundamentally undermined by the unjust, massive mistreatment of nonhuman beings, for at least two reasons. First, tolerating (or even financially supporting) animal abuse fundamentally contradicts those principles. Second, it is easy to shift the arbitrary boundary between human and animal to human and "lower" human and then abuse those "lower" humans.
The problem is that we know that nonhumans can suffer. If we thought otherwise, then damaging animals’ bodies would seem ethically irrelevant, much as we don’t regard breaking stones morally repugnant. But, animals can obviously suffer and be wronged, and the decision to harm them requires abandoning any values that might otherwise form a foundation for human peace, harmony, and sustenance.
I don’t believe in the notion of karma that asserts that individual sinners will someday get their comeuppance, either in this life or a future life. However, there is a kind of karma in what I think the future holds for humanity. We have chosen to abuse animals on a massive scale, and my previous essays have shown how this directly harms humans in terms of health, hunger, and environmental damage. More fundamentally, animal abuse seems to place humanity on a self-destructive course, much as so many authoritarian regimes in the past collapsed because the violence and injustice that maintained their power were poisons that led to internal fighting, poor management, and economic and military disasters.

 I’ve painted a dismal picture (from the perspective of humans – innumerable nonhumans would benefit greatly from the collapse of human civilization.) How should we as Christians respond to this situation? I’ll offer some thoughts next essay.

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