Christianity and the Problem of Human Violence
True Christian living requires us to live according to Kingdom standards which bring Heaven to earth
Christianity and the Problem of Human Violence
By Stephen R. Kaufman, M.D.
Part 150. Animal Issues (part 3 of 3)
Contemporary treatment of animals contrasts sharply with the biblical description of God’s ideal in Genesis 1-2. In Genesis 2, Adam’s naming of the animals showed concern and respect: “So out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field” (2:19-20). Note that Adam did not specifically name the species or the type of animal; he named every living creature, including “every beast of the field” individually.1 We give individual names to those about whom we care,2 while humans nearly always identify those animals whom humans abuse by their species name, such as “cow” or “pig.”3 Similarly, those aiming to abuse individual humans typically describe the victims as objects rather than as feeling, individual persons, and victimizers use impersonal or pejorative terms, such as the Japanese in World War II calling American prisoners “logs” and the genocidal Rwandan Hutus calling their Tutsi victims “cockroaches.”
Callousness toward animals has had tragic consequences for humans as well as animals. Reminiscent of the “law of karma,” many of the greatest threats to our well-being relate directly or indirectly to humankind’s collective hardness of heart with respect to animals. Much disease in the West results from eating animal products.4 Animal agriculture contributes substantially to global warming, pollution, species extinctions and other components of the growing environmental crisis, and it also squanders dwindling resources upon which our society depends.5 Intensive animal agriculture facilitates the transfer of infectious organisms from animals to people, increasing the risk of bird flu or other pandemics.6 Regarding animal experimentation, even if it were true that the practice helps alleviate disease, the implicit “ends justifies the means” mindset contributes to callousness and heartlessness toward other humans. Indeed, Roberta Kalechofsky has thoroughly documented the relationship between animal experimentation and unethical human experimentation. The mindset that places knowledge above morality has led to abuses of humans throughout the world, notably by Nazis and Japanese scientists during World War II.7 Contemporary safeguards have protected human subjects in the West, but disenfranchised people everywhere are at risk as long as our culture endorses activities that countenance abuse of innocent individuals. We know from the experiences of the last century that the cultural disease of violence is now a greater threat to human well-being than medical diseases,8 and a mindset that disregards animal victims can easily come to disregard human victims. Whether the victims are humans or animals, the psychology of abuse seems to be similar in both cases. In general, victimization involves a conviction that one’s actions are righteous and approved by God combined with demonization or objectification of the victims. This allows victimizers to disregard suffering and to not see death at their hands as murder.
I cannot imagine that a God of love approves of humankind’s massive abuse of God’s creatures. As the future of humankind becomes increasingly precarious, will God grant mercy to those who have shown so little mercy toward God’s animals? The Bible relates that God promised never to destroy the earth again with a flood on account of violence, but the Bible does not contain a promise that God would spare humankind from the consequences of its own violence.
1. Some have argued that, in this passage, Adam was performing the necessary task of giving names to species. I do not think this interpretation is reasonable. In addition to the instruction to name “every beast of the field,” there are no instructions for Adam to name all the plants and inanimate objects. Consequently, it does not seem reasonable to assert that this passage is about developing language. Genesis 2:18 reads, “Then the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.’” Since animals were created as Adam’s helpers and companions, it seems most reasonable to conclude that the naming relates to Adam’s relationships with the animals.
2. Youths involved in 4-H or similar programs, in which they care for an animal until the animal is sold for slaughter, often give names that relate to the animals’ destiny, such as Sausage Patty (the title of a nice children’s book by Diane Allevato, published by Animal Place, 1998).
3. Similarly, animal experimenters typically identify individual animals by their species name and assigned number, such as “monkey 212.” They, as other people engaged in activities that harm animals, generally refer to individual animals with the impersonal pronoun “it” rather than “he” or “she.” See Dunayer, Joan, Animal Equality: Language and Liberation. Derwood, MD; Ryce Publishing, 2001; Phillips, Mary T. Constructing Laboratory Animals: An Ethnographic Study in the Sociology of Science (dissertation in the Department of Sociology of New York University). 1991.
4. Mangels, Ann Reed, Messina, Virginia, and Melina, Vesanto. “Position of the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada: Vegetarian Diets” Journal of the American Dietetic Association 2003;103:748-765; Barnard, Neal. Food for Life: How the New Four Food Groups Can Save Your Life. New York: Three Rivers Press, 1993.
5. Worldwatch Institute. “Meat: Now, It’s Not Personal! But like it or not, meat-eating is becoming a problem for everyone on the planet.” World Watch 2004 (July/August) pp. 12-20; Sapp, Amy. “Production and Consumption of Meat: Implications for the Global Environment and Human Health” www.med.harvard.edu/chge/course/papers/sapp.pdf; The University of Chicago News Office. Study: vegan diets healthier for planet, people than meat diets. http://www-news.uchicago.edu/releases/06/060413.diet.shtml; Sierra Club. Clean Water & Factory Farms http://www.sierraclub.org/factoryfarms/.
6. Gregor, Michael. Bird Flu: A Virus of Our Own Hatching. New York, Lantern Books, 2006; Lyman, Howard F. Mad Cowboy. New York: Scribner, 1998.
7. Kalechofsky, Roberta. The PoetPhysician and the Healer-Killer: The Emergence of a Medical Technocracy, in progress.
8. More people die of preventable diseases than direct human violence, but many of these people succumb because human violence has displaced them from food sources, and then malnutrition has predisposed to disease.
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