The Fellowship of Life
a Christian-based vegetarian group founded in 1973


Religion, Science and Animals
by Rajan Hoole

From the Spring 1981 edition of The Vegan

By now it would be plain to many sensitive people that few in our religious and scientific establishments have faced up coherently to the problem of animal pain. And few of them realise that it is shameful on the part of those who aspire to lead us. What they have been able to offer consists of incoherent platitudes with a few notable exceptions. A few sample instances will enable us to see how things stand.

Last year a few hundred whales were trapped by fishermen off the coast of Japan and were intended for slaughter on the grounds that they compete with them for fish stocks. Several wildlife organisations pleaded for their release for reasons including that they, the whales, had brains resembling in development those of human beings. An American cut some nets and freed some whales and was in turn charged in a Japanese court of law. An Australian scientist appeared before the court and stated that the whales had a highly sophisticated nervous system and hence should be treated in the manner of human beings. An indignant Japanese judge replied that he should first go back to his country and stop the slaughter of cattle.

A theologian talking about Zen Buddhism in Oxford was asked by a lady in the audience whether Christianity had anything to say regarding the eating of flesh. The theologian was taken aback. After some hesitation he referred to St. Peter's dream in the Acts of the Apostles (which was intended to convey something very different).

A scientist from Temple University came on Radio 4's "Science Now" programme to put forward a theory that human affections are determined by the presence of morphine-like substances in the brain. The experiments which suggested this to him involved the creation of distress by separating baby animals from their mothers and reuniting them. If animals are so like human beings to provide information about humans, to say that they do not possess similar rights becomes very tenuous.

Recently a Spaniard arrived at Fishguard by ferry from Ireland with a van containing foxhounds. Some of the dogs had died through neglect. The English, ever willing to shed moral indignation on a foreigner, had a special magistrate's court convened to try the Spaniard for cruelty. It hasn't occurred to anyone to have similar proceedings to try those who do worse things in laboratories and get knighthoods and peerages for them.

Anyone regularly attending an Anglican church would have noticed at services of Thanksgiving for God's provision, all references are to "ploughing the fields" or to the "fruits of the earth". No allusion is made to the fruits of the slaughterhouse. Perhaps they really know what to hide from God.

The foregoing gives us a picture of the prevailing confusion. Anyone who wants his moral and intellectual integrity taken seriously must face up to this. The question when does someone have rights elicits a Babel of answers from the possession of an immortal soul (which for some reason animals cannot have) to the size and complexity of the brain or nervous system. And most often an arbitrary answer depending on the purpose at hand. Without going into the problems these various answers arouse, it could be seen that they leave the basis of human dignity and human rights on a very shaky foundation.

I believe that Christianity has the answer - which has become obscured through Christian practice. An individual possesses value not for what it is but only because God loves it despite what it is - despite its fallen state. Because the Church did not stand up to the full consequences of this message, a group of Humanists, about 200 years ago, attempted to take the message of Christianity out of the Church and secularise it. It is hardly surprising that many of them, including Voltaire, Bentham and Paine, though principally social philosophers, had much to say, and passionately, about animal rights. We know that this secularisation has failed. One must hope that it will once more become fashionable to seek answers to the questions of Being in a religious context and that this time we will be honest about it.

Reproduced with Thanks to The Vegan Society

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