There are a number of philosophical and Biblical points that are rarely used in defence of compassion towards animals.
For example, when God ponders the creation of man in His own image and likeness, most people overlook that Genesis states man was created only in God's image. The degree of likeness (to God) is up to us. The reason likeness is mentioned in His ponder is to reveal the potential to be partly or completely like God. If He had created man in His likeness as well, man would have been something akin to a clone without a mechanism of free will. Few would argue that God's initial offering of vegetable sustenance not just for man but all the creatures in Eden, is expose of His likeness. If God eats, He's a vegetarian.
The tone of voice with which meat eating for humanity is permitted, is clearly concessional and sad. In one respect, these verses can be read as prophecy from God, descriptively marking a moment at which we diverge even further from our created course. It is not as though this is a good or an intentional aspect of creation. Man has caused death and disease right across the diverse stratum of life. So, like in the garden of Eden, when he was given to wear the skins of death, he is now given permission to eat the consequences of his actions - except for the life (Gen.9:4) of the animal which is contained in the blood. Until this time, man was in some form of harmony, albeit deteriorating, with the animals. The 'fear' and 'dread' of man descended upon all the creatures of creation and we became separated until the fulfillment of the yet to come prophecy of Isaiah 11:6-9 (Wolf & Lamb, lion & ox, child & snake etc).
Others who argue against compassion to animals cite the Abel and Cain offering to God in Genesis 4.3. The point usually argued is that God appears satisfied with Abel's animal offering but not Cain's vegetable produce.
There are a number of details that need to be brought to attention in order to allow clearer interpretation of these verses. Firstly, at this stage of human history there is no permission for man to eat meat; this permission is given to Noah generations (about 1,500 Genesis years) later. The flock that Abel appears to have kept was therefore not likely to have been for meat, but for wool, maybe skins and maybe milk. This is not to say that meat was not eaten 'illicitly'; nor does it necessarily follow that the cruelty acquired by human nature when exploiting these animals was a good or God-designed characteristic.
Another and most important factor in this argument is the nature of 'offering': When we give someone something from ourselves, we actually deny ourselves that thing which we give. By giving it, we do not partake of it unless we are invited to do so by the recipient. For Abel to give of his flock was a refusal on his part to partake in his offering - animal. We can reasonably assume that God didn't actually eat what was brought before Him. In other words, it was an object of human self-denial which was brought and laid before Him. In the case of Cain, who offered vegetables or fruit, his self-denial was for those things - he did not forego animal products, and it is reasonable to assume that this was at least in part why God was not pleased with his offering.
God's permission, later in history for Noah's tribe to eat meat can be seen as a concessional offering to humanity - God absorbs the offence - man has smothered his sense of compassion and is in need of a crutch - until he can freely and voluntarily deny himself the right to kill and eat animals. This will be when we aspire beyond "not knowing what we do". Until that time, we are partly biological robots just as we were when we nailed Jesus to the cross. If we are in the process of rebuilding the universe and invoking heaven-on-earth, we must work to remove from this reality those attributes which are inconsistent with harmony and paradise. One of these attributes is clearly the slaughter and eating of creatures. While we retain this characteristic, we remain self-ensnared by hypocrisy and suppress our ability to discover and reveal attributes of our nature which existed before we became broken and were more like God.
We are not likely to find two separate resource centres of compassion, one for humans, and one for animals, within our nature. If we apply a particular code of compassion towards animals, it becomes difficult, if not ultimately impossible to apply a consistently different code towards humans. We need a growing complexity of laws to distinguish the codes for our behaviour once we condition ourselves to live by double standards.
13 February 2000