The mission of the Mid-Hudson Vegetarian Society, Inc. is to promote the vegetarian ethic in the Mid-Hudson (New York) region, educate the community and aid anyone in the pursuit of a totally vegetarian (vegan) cruelty-free and healthful lifestyle.
Newsletters - Summer 2005 Issue
Does ‘dominion’ mean meat?
by Jim Van Alstine
Animals are common in the Bible. The Jews, early Christians and indeed all the people of the ancient world were familiar with animals and experienced them routinely in their lives. It is therefore not surprising that animals occur often, both literally and metaphorically, throughout the Bible. Volumes have been written on animals and how a Christian faith informs human relations with them, including a growing library of titles by Rev. Andrew Linzey (several titles), Norm Phelps, (“Dominion of Love”) and Matthew Scully (“Dominion”) to name just a few.
There are numerous moments from Genesis to Revelations that illuminate the human animal relationship. In Genesis, we are offered a vision of paradise. Eden meets all human needs and we are seen, at first, in perfect peace with God and all creation. In Eden at peace, God prescribes a vegan world: “See, I give you every seed-bearing plant all over the earth and every tree that has seedbearing fruit on it to be your food, and to all the animals of the land, all the birds of the air, and all the living creatures that crawl on the ground, I give all the green plants for food.” (Genesis 1: 29-31)
Just a moment before this, God gives humans “dominion” over creation (Genesis 1:28). The granting of dominion is often sited as a defense of the practice of eating flesh. Since the vegan diet prescription immediately follows the granting of dominion, clearly God did not intend that the right of dominion should include consumption of his animals, blessed with the same “breath of life” we generally translate to mean “soul.”
Dominion is often taken to include a sort of superiority. The dominion of Genesis is considered by many as the cornerstone of a deeply entrenched sense of hierarchy that places God at the top of creation, humans below God and all other creatures beneath humans. In light of the peace that comes with the creation of the Edenic order and the sorrow and toil that follow the Fall, it seems unlikely that dominion was intended to convey superiority. After all, employers hold dominion over employees yet who today would believe that a CEO is superior to a worker in the order of God’s creation?
It is a unique and unsupportable conclusion that biblical dominion should include the right to eat animals. Heads of state have dominion over citizens yet few would suggest that gives a leader the right to kill citizens at will. Leaders who do are considered tyrants, not merely exercising their right of dominion. Parents clearly hold dominion over children, but society frowns on infanticide. Strangely, in this one use of dominion found in Genesis the word’s meaning is extended to permit the enslavement, intensive confinement, manipulation, mutilation and murder of animals. Despite the lack of any ethical or practical parallel, most people still cling to the unsupportable belief that human dominion over creation excuses the killing of animals for flesh.
If the dominion granted in Genesis is fairly examined in the context of the Jewish and Christian faith traditions of love and compassion, then enslavement and slaughter of animals must be an anathema. Rather than excusing meat consumption, a belief in dominion should more rightly be read as a call to compassion and responsible stewardship of creation.
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