The Golden Rule
Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion Article from


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

The Golden Rule

Last week I suggested that the Golden Rule is a nearly universal ethic. Christianity’s expression can be found in Matthew “whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them” (7:12). For example, we see in Islam, “No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.” Such expressions of the Golden Rule are helpful, but they have the drawback that our desires vary and what we might want might differ from what our brother or sister might want.
I am fond of the formulation by the Jewish rabbinic scholar Hillel, who said in the 1st Century BCE, “That which is hateful to you, do not unto another: This is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary.” We are very similar in what we don’t want – nearly everyone wishes to avoid pain and other forms of suffering. If we use this principle as a guide, we will seldom err.
Should we regard animals among the “others” for whom the Golden Rule applies? I think so, because animals share with humans the core desires to avoid pain and suffering. Those who would disregard animals from consideration must produce a morally relevant reason to do so. Otherwise, their position would be arbitrary and, most likely, based on unsupportable prejudices.
 We don’t regard intelligence, capacity for moral action, or other mental skills as morally relevant when determining whether humans should be considered “others” for whom the Golden Rule demands equal regard, so these criteria should not apply to nonhumans either. Many Christians defend harmful exploitation of animals on biblical grounds, but the CVA has addressed these claims and found them wanting. (See, for example, our booklet Compassionate Eating).

It seems inconceivable that the Prince of Peace would regard the violence of contemporary animal agriculture, characterized by extremes of abuse, and call it good. Indeed, we should question the validity of any religion that endorses the abuse of innocent individuals in order to satisfy nonessential desires of those with power. Such a self-serving ethic appears to have its origins in human desires, and not divine ones.

Go on to: Is Karma Real? part 1
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