Commentary on the Lectionary – Colossians 3:11: Child Abuse

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Commentary on the Lectionary – Colossians 3:11: Child Abuse

By Stephen R. Kaufman, M.D., Christian Vegetarian Association

Children are forced to eat animals “or you won’t get your dessert,” forced to hunt or be taunted as a “sissy,” and forced to relinquish to the slaughterhouses animals they have loved and nurtured since infancy. These children are being abused, just as children who are taught to despise children of different ethnicities are being abused.

Humanity’s desires to victimize other individuals is a major reason that we feel anxious, alienated, and disconnected from other beings, particularly animals, and from ourselves. We cannot be at peace with ourselves or with the world as long as we directly or indirectly harm other individuals.

This passage ends with the writer of Colossians stating, “Here there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free man, but Christ is all, and in all.”

I think Christ being “in all” is an important observation. All living things have the spark of life, which I believe comes from God. We all play a part in the universal drama of life, and I believe we all have a purpose. To kill or wound God’s creatures unnecessarily (and almost all harm to God’s creatures in developed countries is unnecessary) undermines their role in God’s mysterious plan.

Why do so many Christians, who should reflect God’s love and compassion, endorse violence, destructiveness, and killing? I think nearly all children have a natural affinity to animals, but our animal-exploiting, violent culture teaches its children early on that they must repress those feelings or risk being alienated from family, friends, and the community-at-large. Children are forced to eat animals “or you won’t get your dessert,” forced to hunt or be taunted as a “sissy,” and forced to relinquish to the slaughterhouses animals they have loved and nurtured since infancy. These children are being abused, just as children who are taught to despise children of different ethnicities are being abused.

In stifling children’s natural empathy with animals, our culture demonstrates that it values the prerogative to abuse animals more than it values the well-being of its children. Parents and others often believe that their actions are in the best interests of the children, but the consequences of the abuse are clear and profound. For the animals, the consequences are disastrous, because each successive generation, taught to be callous, torments untold billions of animals. For people, the abuse has at least two major consequences. First, it severs ties with a large part of the animal world. Most humans are enemies of countless creatures who could and should be our friends. People who directly or indirectly harm animals might act friendly toward animals, but those who harm animals must recognize at some level of consciousness that they are not true friends of animals.

Second, by teaching children to join the larger culture in abusing animals, children develop contempt for animals – otherwise they would have difficulty victimizing the animals. This contempt involves generating caricatures of animals or seeing animals as unfeeling objects. Victimizers want to see themselves as fundamentally different from their victims, but we are animals. To the degree that we consider nonhuman beings as fundamentally different from ourselves, we deny a part of our own natures. The problem is that such repression causes anxiety, because the repressed truth threatens to surface at any time. Repressed knowledge invariably manifests itself, but in perverse ways. We generally despise in others what we aim to repress in ourselves, such as powerful, unwanted sexual or violent desires. As we project those parts of our psyches that we don’t want onto other individuals, we create caricatures that misrepresent who they really are. When a person commits a violent act, people often remark that the offender “acted like an animal.” Yet gratuitous violence is a distinctly human trait, while animals kill to eat, and they generally cease fighting among themselves when one shows submission.

In summary, humanity’s desires to victimize other individuals is a major reason that we feel anxious, alienated, and disconnected from other beings, particularly animals, and from ourselves. We cannot be at peace with ourselves or with the world as long as we directly or indirectly harm other individuals.

If Christ is “in all,” then it seems to follow that our entire being is a reflection of Christ. Just as Jesus was genuinely tempted in the desert, we have choices about which desires we gratify. When we choose not to gratify certain desires that can separate us from God, we should not do so by denying that those desires exist or by blaming other individuals for those desires. Rather, we should acknowledge our potentially harmful desires as part of what it means to be human in a fallen world. We should prayerfully seek the strength to live righteously and offer thanks for the opportunity to serve God both dutifully and joyously.