Humane Religion Magazine
July - August 2008 Issue
Churches are Ignoring the Plight of Animals
An editorial by Betsy Wasko published in the West Linn Tidings (OR)
While churches today do well in helping people who are poor, they are ignoring the plight of the most disadvantaged: animals.
We are far more powerful than animals. Yet our treatment of them is unconscionable: we eat them, skin them, hunt them, and use them for "sport", entertainment, and experimentation. Morally and ethically blinded by habit, denial, and tradition, our religious leaders have not even asked serious questions about our relationship with our nonhuman brethren. If churches are really serious about promoting compassion in accordance with the Gospel and other sacred texts, they must first start thinking critically about our treatment of animals.
Our culture is more callous, violent, and arrogant than compassionate. Sure, we love our families and companion animals. But many people eat the flesh of cows, chickens, turkeys, pigs, fish, and other animals. Many drink the breast milk of cows who are continually impregnated to keep lactating and whose babies are ripped away from them shortly after birth. Some wear the skins of animals who often die by anal electrocution so their fur is not bloodied. Some stalk, terrorize, and murder birds, deer, elk, and other animals with guns and arrows. Some frighten and harm bulls and other animals in rodeos. Some imprison elephants and others to a life of restriction, loneliness, and misery in circuses. Some deceive, impale, and asphyxiate fish. Given this practice of violence, it is unsurprising that, inter alia, some hate people that have a different color skin, or practice a different religion; that women and children are too often abused; that we have wars; that we have a crime level that exceeds what one might expect to occur naturally; that addiction is common; that the divorce rate is over 50%; and that we have poisoned our natural environment.
Where are the voices of churches, our moral stewards? One thing is certain: so long as we practice exploitation and violence against animals, particularly on our dinner plates, churches will be guaranteed their flocks of people thirsty for meaning, wondering "why do I feel disconnected?" I suggest the lack of connection is because we regularly practice violence against, instead of showing mercy for, the most disadvantaged: animals. Practicing violence, or complicity in violence, leaves us necessarily calloused or in a state of denial. Didn’t Jesus call Himself, “the Way, the Truth, and the Life?” Is it fair to say that eating a chicken sandwich without feeling any moral misgivings is callousness toward that particular life; and is it also fair to characterize the lack of reflection about how that bird lived, suffered and died, denial? And what of Christ, as the Life? Is eating a chicken sandwich a celebration of life, or of death? Using Christianity as an example, then, I ask, is a person closer to Christ, or further from Christ, if one is callous, in a state of denial, and celebratory of death and suffering? These are the kinds of questions churches should be asking; but they are silent.
I interpret the lack of serious dialogue on animal rights issues by most major religious institutions as suggestive of churches' interests in retarding spiritual advancement: if no one is sick, doctors would have nothing to do. A more generous view would be that churches are doing the best they can, and don’t realize they are only applying band-aids. In any event, churches’ intentions are irrelevant. What is relevant is that we have considerable violence against animals, people, and the environment, and churches are failing us by not asking questions about the source of the disconnection and by not encouraging conduct consistent with Truth and Compassion.
Eating and recreation should be a celebration of life - not a celebration of death, violence, and suffering. Practice compassion - honor God, however conceived - by adopting a vegan diet and making other ethical consumer choices. Challenge your church’s silence about how animals are treated. Help your church find its voice to start asking questions about our relationship with the poorest among us. Help your church return to the fundamentals of living with compassion.