Interview with Dr. Stephen Webb
(I sent Dr. Stephen Webb a copy of my own 2003 book on the subject of
religion and animal rights, They Shall Not Hurt or Destroy.)
A: "I would say that vegetarianism is the diet of hope, an eschatological diet. It's not morally obligatory, though it's morally commendable."
The Bible supports abortion rights, too (Exodus 21), as it does slavery and the subjugation of women! If killing animals is a "choice," then so is the killing of the unborn!
Nearly all biblical commentators, Jewish and Christian, conservative or liberal, agree that Genesis 9:3 represents a concession, and not God's highest intent for humanity, as spelled out in Genesis 1:29-31 and Isaiah 11:6-9.
One Jewish writer comments, "Only after man proved unfit for the high moral standard set at the beginning was meat made part of the humans' diet."
According to this interpretation, while it would not be a sin to eat meat, it would be morally better to abstain.
The concession to kill animals carries with it the prohibition against consuming animal blood, which is repeated throughout both the Old and New Testaments. (Genesis 9:3; Leviticus 17:10-12, 19:26; Deuteronomy 12:16,23,25, 15:23; Acts 15:19-20,29, 21:25)
The Bible identifies blood with life itself: "...for the blood is the life..." (Deuteronomy 12:23). The blood of a slain animal, which symbolizes the essence of life, must be returned to the Giver of Life.
This commandment against consuming animal blood was first given to Noah, who was not Jewish; it was intended for all mankind. (Acts 21:25)
Rabbi Samuel Dresner makes this observation: "The removal of blood... is one of the most powerful means of making us constantly aware of the concession and compromise which the whole act of eating meat, in reality, is...it teaches us reverence for life."
According to Dresner, "...the eating of meat is itself a sort of compromise...Man ideally should not eat meat, for to eat meat a life must be taken, an animal must be put to death."
The prohibition against consuming animal blood was repeated by James, the brother of Jesus, in Acts 15.
Even James, who according to orthodox sources such as Hegisuppus and Augustine, was a lifelong vegetarian, did not dare to contradict Genesis 9:3; instead, he merely repeated the prohibition against consuming animal blood, indicating that it is applicable to gentiles as well as Jews, and thus that man ideally should not eat meat or kill animals to begin with.
Commenting on Genesis 9:3 in A Vegetarian Sourcebook, Keith Akers writes:
"Some vegetarians have argued that this passage actually supports vegetarianism, since it is impossible to drain the blood entirely from an animal. Others have only quoted the phrase 'But you must not eat the flesh' out of context.
"Both the Ebionites in the first century AD, and the Society of Bible Christians in the nineteenth century, argued that blood could never be entirely drained from the animal.
"In the context of the rest of the Bible this argument is questionable. The prohibition in Genesis 9:3-4 is clearly against eating blood, not against eating flesh; and there is no indication that the draining of blood would be a particularly difficult task.
"Parallel passages in Deuteronomy (12:213-24,27-28) imply that the injunction against eating blood is fulfilled if you pour the blood 'out on the ground like water.'"
I agree with Keith Akers. The Bible teaches compassion towards animals and upholds vegetarianism as a moral ideal.
The Bible was not spoken to the same class of men as was the Bhagavad-gita.
You will not find the same level of morality, metaphysics, or detailed knowledge of a personal God, what God looks like, what are His different incarnations and expansions, or what kind of activities He performs in His spiritual kingdom.
A: "No matter what we eat, we're going to take away food from other animals. Even if we turn all of America into cropland we will inflict suffering on animals because you have to keep animals out of the field."
This argument is foolish. By raising and killing animals for food, we indirectly kill many more plants and animals, than we would if we merely ate the plants directly.
Over 200,000 porpoises are killed every year by fishermen seeking tuna in the Pacific. Sea turtles are similarly killed in Carribean shrimp operations.
Some animals are killed because, as carnivores, they compete with the human predator for the right to kill other animals for food, including wild game and domesticated species reduced by livestock ranchers.
Alaskan hunters are eager to reduce the wolf population in their state because this animal is a predator of moose. Cougars, coyotes and wolves are considered a menace to the cattle and sheep industries, and livestock ranchers have engaged in a large-scale campaign to exterminate them.
Herbivorous animals that inhabit rangeland areas are also killed by the livestock industry because they compete with cattle and sheep for food. Large numbers of kangaroos are being killed in Austalia, while in the U.S., livestock ranchers seek to destroy wild horses, wild burros, deer, elk, antelope and prairie dogs.
John Robbins points out in Diet for a New America that overgrazing of cattle leads to topsoil erosion, turning once-arable land into desert. We lose four million acres of topsoil every year, and 85 percent of this is directly caused by raising livestock.
To repleace lost soil, we're chopping down our forests. Since 1967, the rate of deforestization in the U.S. has been one acre every five seconds.
A vegan diet means less killing overall.
A: "One problem with vegetarianism is that it often gives rise to self-righteousness, a sense of holier-than-thou purity. It can be schismatic, which I think is why the church has seldom embraced it."
I think much of the "self-righteousness" on the part of vegetarians comes from not being taken seriously by the Christians and/or the church, and, in fact, being met with ridicule.
Back in 1990, when some Christians tried to preach to me, I made it clear to them that I distinguish between the teachings of Jesus and those of Paul.
Rather than get into a debate with them about the history of Christianity, I told them that I respected them for their piety, and merely asked them to include the animals in their faith, just as they have learned to do with blacks or with the unborn.
A simple request. They should have appreciated the fact that I wasn't asking them to follow a different set of scriptures, worship a different god, etc.
As I wrote to my friend Greg in 1995, having my ethical system referred to as "so much garbage" everywhere I go is what turned me into a Christian-basher!
Which is unfortunate, because I would rather see the Christians as allies in the campaign to respect the sanctity of ALL life. I wish there were more Christians like Dr. Webb!
Q: "It's a diet of witnessing to your hope that, in the end, God will restore the entire world to God's original intentions. That God will redeem humans and animals alike. Redeem animals from what? Not their own sins?"
A: "You have to rethink heaven. It's not just for people who sin--it's for any creature who has suffered, whose life has been incomplete, who's been a victim. Heaven is about the restoration of all things to their original goodness."
This is John Wesley's theology, the "General Deliverance" of all creatures.
I wouldn't want to go around judging everyone who eats meat, but I do think vegetarianism is an act that witnesses to our faith. In one of the first Christian Vegetarian Association (CVA) pamphlets originally put out several years ago, the CVA claimed to be witnessing to the peace of Christ through a vegetarian diet.
Q: "When you say that the Bible mentions animals in heaven, do you mean a verse like 'the lion shall lie down with the lamb'?"
A: "In the Hebrew prophets, definitely. A lot of people know that Isaiah passage, but there are many more such passages in Amos, Micah, and Ezekiel that portray the Kingdom of God as a restoration of the world to its Edenic state.
"It portrays that world as entailing peace between humans and animals, not just peace between humans.
"I interpret the four "living beings" who surround the throne of the Lamb in Revelation as evidence that heaven will be populated with non-human species.
"Some Bible translations say "creatures," but the Greek is zoon-it clearly should be animals.
Yes, this point is made by Regina Hyland in her 1988 book, The Slaughter of Terrified Beasts, now reprinted for the new century, as God's Covenant with Animals.
A: "One of the early church fathers tried to interpret allegorically the scene in Revelations of animals in heaven by saying these four animals were actually the four gospel writers."
Regina effectively debunked this interpretation in an issue of Humane Religion from the late 1990s, insisting there are animals in heaven.
Q: "So when the kingdom of God comes, animals and humans will be together?"
A: "Yes. There is a Bible passage that says, 'You save humans and animals alike, O Lord.' (Psalm 36:6).
"And Jesus not only drove the animal sellers out of the temple, but he compared God's creation to a hen taking care of her chicks."
Q: "I thought Jesus was driving out the moneychangers?"
A: "Mark says they had turned the temple into a 'den of robbers.' That's where you get the idea that Jesus was angry at the economic transactions.
"But if you read Matthew 21 and Luke 19, it's also very explicit that Jesus drove out the animals from the temple."
Keith Akers points out that when Jesus cleansed the Temple with the words, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves...'
...he was quoting a passage beginning at Jeremiah 7:11 and ending at Jeremiah 7:22-23, which concludes:
"Add whole-offerings and eat the flesh if you will, but when I brought your forefathers out of Egypt, I said nothing about sacrifices. I said not a word about them."
Like Amos 5:25 and other biblical passages, this suggests Mosaic Law never condoned animal sacrifice to begin with.
According to Rabbi Shmuel Golding in A Guide to the Misled, the orthodox Jewish position concerning sacrifices is that it was a concession, just as when God allowed Israel to have a king (I Samuel 8).
A: "We often forget that the temple was a slaughterhouse. The main point of it was to be a place where animals could be sacrificed to mediate humanity's relationship with the divine. The point was to lay your hand on an animal.
A: "Many scholars think that symbolized the transfer of sin or guilt to the animal. Then the priest would sacrifice the animal. There were also complicated regulations about the blood.
A: "So the temple would have been a loud, noisy, and bloody place, full of the sound of animals dying. It would have sickened most people today.
A: "So Jesus goes there to cleanse it and run out the animal sellers. That scene has been interpreted as Jesus not wanting the temple polluted with money. But when you read the text with the eyes of animal compassion, it's clear that Jesus is putting an end to animal sacrifices."
Q: "In one of the gospels it says Jesus drove out the animal sellers and the animals-it's almost like he's freeing the animals. Is this about Christians no longer needing to adhere to Mosaic law?"
A: Jesus quotes from Hosea, "I desire mercy, not sacrifice." He continues the prophetic critique of the temple sacrifices."
I agree with Keith Akers, that Jesus did not come to abolish the Law and the prophets (Matthew 5:17-19; Mark 10:17-22; Luke 16:17), but only the institution of animal sacrifice (Matthew 9:10-13, 12:6-7, 21:12-14; Mark 11:15; John 2:14-15; Hebrews 10:5-10), and that the gentile world, beginning with Paul, mistook this for a rejection of the entire Law of Moses.
Q: "It almost sounds like you're setting up a conflict between the 'rule' books-like Leviticus-and the Hebrew prophetic books in terms of how to treat animals."
A: "I don't want to do that, because so many of the Levitical commandments have to do with animal compassion. The Sabbath regulations applied to domestic animals.
"Why does the text mention the cattle? It could have just said, 'Let everyone take the day off.' It's interesting that the cattle are enumerated.
"There are many such rules: An ox and ass are not to be yoked together since the difference between them would put a strain on the weaker one. Mother cattle are not to be slaughtered on the same day as their young (Lev 22:28) --which would cause anxiety to the mother."
Q: "A lot of people say that's just some obscure law."
A: "Why should God care if the mother and offspring are killed on the same day? Thank goodness we Christians have overcome these superstitious rituals!
"But if you read it with the eyes of animal compassion, you start piecing together a real pattern.
"For example, you're obligated to help your neighbor's donkey if it falls under too heavy a load.
"The rabbis read that text to mean that you should help any animal that looks to be in distress. I think Jesus read the text the same way."
Jesus was a rabbi. Jesus was called "Rabbi," meaning "Master" or "Teacher," 42 times in the gospels.
The ministry of Jesus was rabbinic. Jesus related Scripture and God's laws to everyday life, teaching by personal example.
Jesus engaged in healing and acts of mercy.
Jesus told stories or parables--a rabbinic method of teaching.
Jesus went to the synagogue (Matthew 12:9), taught in the synagogues (Matthew 4:23, 13:54; Mark 1:39), expressed concern for Jairus, "one of the rulers of the synagogue" (Mark 5:36), and it "was his custom" to go to the synagogue on the Sabbath (Luke 4:16).
Jesus justified his healing by referring to biblical passages calling for the humane treatment of animals. (Luke 13:10-16, 14:1-5)
He compared saving sinners who had gone astray from God's kingdom to rescuing lost sheep, recalling a Jewish legend about Moses' compassion as a shepherd for his flock. (Matthew 18:11-13; Luke 15:3-7,10)
It was Paul (I Corinthians 9:9-10), not Jesus, who taught that God doesn't care for oxen.
Frances Arnetta of Christians Helping Animals and People claims that Paul's words were translated incorrectly in the King James Version of the Bible.
But Rose Evans, editor and publisher of publisher of Harmony: Voices for a Just Future, points out that Aquinas and his followers justified animal cruelty by citing Paul's words in I Corinthians 9:9-10, and THEY WEREN'T USING the King James Version!
A: "Another example is the manna in the wilderness, when the Israelites were fleeing Egypt.
"God gave them a diet. God provided them with something white and fluffy that tasted something like coriander seed."
Q: But didn't God also give them meat?
A: "The manna was clearly a non-animal diet, and some people got tired of it. Numbers 11:4 reads, 'if only we had meat to eat..'
A: "They longed for the 'fleshpots of Egypt,' which quite literally means the abattoirs, the places where animals were sacrificed. God gets angry with this and sends them a ton of meat to eat.
A: "When you read it from an animal-compassion perspective, it's almost like God is saying, 'You're sick. That's how I feel about your desire for meat."
A: "Sure enough, it happens. Number 11:34 says that God struck the ungrateful people with the plague and they had to bury 'the people who had the craving."
A: "Some people would read that story naturalistically, saying maybe the quail carried disease. And I would say, yeah.
A: "But look what the story says...
God gave the people a vegetarian diet. The the Bible at least two times when an attempt was made to try the Israelites out on a vegetarian diet. During the period of exodus from Egypt, the Hebrews lived entirely on manna. They had large flocks which they brought with them, but never touched.
The Israelites were told that manna "is the bread which the Lord has given you to eat." (Exodus 16:5) For forty years in the desert, the Israelites lived on manna. (Nehemiah 9:15,21)
The apocryphal Wisdom of Solomon (16:20) calls manna the food of the angels. Manna is described as a vegetable food, like "coriander seed" (Numbers 11:7), tasting like wafers and honey. (Exodus 16:31)
On two separate occasions, however, the men rebelled against Moses because they wanted meat.
The meat-hungry Hebrews lamented, 'Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt when we sat by the flesh pots.' God ended this first "experiment in vegetarianism" through the miracle of the quails.
A second 'experiment in vegetarianism' is suggested in the Book of Numbers, when the Hebrews lament once again, 'Oh, that we had meat to eat.'" (Numbers 11:4)
God repeated the miracle of the meat, but this time with a vengeance:
"And while the flesh was between their teeth, before it was even chewed, the wrath of the Lord was kindled against the people, and He struck them down with a great plague." (Numbers 11:33)
The site where the deaths took place was named "The Graves of Lust." (Numbers 11:34; Deuteronomy 12:20) The meat was called "basar ta'avah," or "meat of lust."
The Talmud (Chulin 84a) comments that: "The Torah teaches a lesson in moral conduct, that man shall not eat meat unless he has a special craving for it, and shall eat it only occasionally and sparingly."
Here, according to scholars, as in the story of the Flood, "meat is given a negative connotation. It is a concession God makes to man's imperfection."
Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook taught that because humans had an insatiable desire to kill animals and eat their flesh, they could not yet be returned to a moral standard which called for vegetarianism.
Kook regarded Deuteronomy 12:15,20 ("Thou mayest slaughter and eat...after all the desire of thy soul,") as poetically misleading. He translated this Torah verse as: "because you lust after eating meat...then you may slaughter and eat."
A: "The image of manna gets picked up in Jesus' teaching. He often talks of himself being the bread of life. When he had an ideal meal with his disciples, it was a frugal dinner of bread and wine."
Q: "But wasn't it likely that they would have eaten lamb at a Passover meal? Wasn't it a traditional part of the meal?
A: "It was, but there's no mention of lamb in the gospel accounts. I think the omission s intentional. To me, it makes sense that they didn't eat lamb at the Last Supper."
A: "Because here was Jesus: he'd just gone temple would be destroyed. He brought disciples together to tell them the secret of his ministry: that he was going to be the last sacrifice.'
A: "That he was going to be killed like an animal, and that the mystery of his death would somehow bring an end to the need for the sacrificial system. People would have a more direct and immediate access to God through his death, and would no longer need to sacrifice animals in order to placate God.
A: "When he said "This is the blood of the new covenant," I think it would have been ridiculous if he'd had lamb, sitting there. Serving lamb would have made a mockery of his own death."
The gospel writers depict events that would not have happened "had the crucifixion of Jesus happened on Friday (Passover)."
Crowds would not have carried weapons; there would have been no Jewish involvement in the Roman legal proceedings against Jesus; nor would the trial and crucifixion of Jesus had occurred.
Simon the Cyrenian would not have journeyed from the country; nor would Joseph of Arimethia have been able to purchase a linen shroud and see to the burial of Jesus' body.
The fact that Jesus was quickly taken down from the cross and buried in his tomb is consistent with the Jews' deisre that he not be left on the cross once the feast had begun.
The Fourth Gospel (John) specically states (13:1-2, 18:28, 19:14) that the crucifixion took place on Thursday, the day of Preparation for Passover.
Jesus prophesized that he would be resurreted on the third day (Sunday) folowing his execution (Matthew 16:21; Mark 10:34; Luke 18:3)
A trial and execution on Thursday, the day of Preparation for Passover, is therefore, more consistent with Scripture.
Q: "In your book, you seem to say that fish are a slightly different case-they're not bloody, for one thing.
Q: "The gospel tells the story of the loaves and fishes, and we see Jesus eating fish after his resurrection, after he's presumably put an end to the sacrificial system, as you say. How does that fit with your theory?"
A: "The only time we see Jesus eating fish is in the post-resurrection accounts. Many scholars argue that those are later additions to the gospels.
Matthew 14:19 only mentions Jesus multiplying loaves and not fishes.
Abbot George Burke writes:
"...there is a very interesting distinction made between the bread and the fish in the Gospels of Saints Mathtew (14:19), Mark (6:41), and John (6:11).
"When writing of the feeding of the five thousand, all three Evangelists are careful to note that Jesus first took the bread, blessed it, divided it and gave it for distribution. But the fish He simply gave for distribution!
"He gave no blessing to the eating of fish because it was not given by God to man for food. Moreover, since it was already dead He did not kill anything--He just made more of it."
The early church father Irenaeus, in his great thesis Against Heresies (180-188 AD) mentions the miracle of Jesus feeding the multitudes, but makes no mention of fish!
"It's possible that early copies of the gospels made no mention of fish being fed to the multitudes, while later copyists added this symbol in order to enhance the miracle.
"The oldest New Testament manuscript we have, the Codex Sinaiticus can be found in the British Museum. It was written in 331 AD. We have no New Testament manuscripts from before this time.
Q: "You'd rather see Jesus not resurrected than eating fish?"
A: "(Laughs) No, I believe in the resurrection. But the point of those stories is to persuade the readers that Jesus was fully resurrected, and what better way than to show him eating fish."
Reverend Andrew Linzey writes in Christianity and the Rights of Animals (1987):
"...killing is a morally significant matter. While justifiable in principle, it can only be practically justified where there is real need for human nourishment.
"Christian vegetarians do not have to claim that it is always and absolutely wrong to kill in order to eat. It could well be that there were, and are, some situations in which meat-eating was and is essential in order to survive.
"Geographical considerations alone make it difficult to envisiage life in Palestine at the time of Christ without some primitive fishing industry.
"But the crucial point is that where we are free to do otherwise the killing of Spirit-filled individuals requires moral justification.
"It may be justifiable, but only when human nourishment clearly requires it, and even then it remains an inevitable consequence of sin."
A: "But I have no problem thinking Jesus ate fish. If he had been a strict vegetarian, he would have sent the wrong message to his followers.
A: "Vegetarianism at the time of Jesus meant Gnostic dualism."
Q: "Meaning the spirit is good and matter is bad."
The gnostics came later. If Jesus was a vegetarian, then, like Pythagoras, the ancient world would have taken notice. Even a vegetarian rabbi would have stood out!
The gospel writers were careful to note John the Baptist's diet of locusts and wild honey, as well as his abstinence from alcohol. If Jesus was a vegetarian, would they not have taken notice as well?
Proverbs 23:20 condemns winebibers and gluttonous eaters of meat. Jesus contrasted his own ministry with John's asceticism, by pointing out that when the multitudes saw John neither eating nor drinking, they assumed, "he has a devil in him," but when the Son of Man came eating and drinking, they said, "behold, a glutton and a winebiber!"
On the other hand: referring to Proverbs 23:20, Jesus condemned one who "eats and drinks with the drunken." (Matthew 24:49; Luke 12:45) Jesus was a rabbi in the Jewish tradition, which teaches compassion for animals and upholds vegetarianism as a moral ideal.
There is nothing in the synoptic gospels of Jesus to suggest a fundamental break with Judaism. Keith Akers writes that if Christians claim Jesus is the messiah, the one meant to bring about God's kingdom of peace, and the Old Testament prophecies are to be taken seriously, it would be hard to imagine Jesus being anything but a vegetarian.
Jesus opposed the buying and selling of animals for sacrifice; teaching God desires mercy and not sacrifice. From church history and apocryphal literature such as the Clementine Homilies, we learn the Jerusalem apostles, Peter, James and John were vegetarian.
James was Jesus' brother. James was raised a vegetarian; wouldn't this mean Jesus' parents were vegetarian and that they raised Jesus as a vegetarian as well? According to Clement of Alexandria, the apostle Matthew was a vegetarian.
From history we learn the earliest Christians were vegetarians as well as pacifists. Clemens Prudentius, the first Christian hymn writer, in one of his hymns, exhorts his fellow Christians not to pollute their hands and their hearts by killing animals, and points to the nourishing foods available without blood-shedding.
The Ebionites, the original (Jewish) faction of the church at Jerusalem were vegetarian, and their Gospel of Matthew (written in Hebrew, not Greek!) depicted both John the Baptist and Jesus as vegetarians, with Jesus saying clearly that he came to abolish animal sacrifice.
I agree with historian Rynn Berry of the North American Vegetarian Society, that the evidence (Scriptural, theological, historical, etc.) that Jesus was a vegetarian is circumstancial at best, but nonetheless, compelling.
Q: "People who were vegetarian at the time of Jesus-and there were a lot-were so based on either superstition or denial of the goodness of the earth. Heretics like the Manicheans tended to be vegetarian.
A: "Their superstitious reasons included a belief in the reincarnation of souls, or that animal souls could be demons, and if you eat an animal you let a demon into your body. That seemed to be a common belief."
Belief in karma and reincarnation is NOT "superstition", but rather part of an enlightened world view.
I gave a similar response to Robert Andrews on the Society of Ethical and Religious Vegetarians (SERV) email list in 2002.
Our main scripture, the Bhagavad-gita (5.18) clearly states:
"The humble sages, by virtue of true knowledge, see with equal vision a learned and gentle brahmin, a cow, an elephant, a dog and a dog-eater (outcaste)."
Social ills such as racism, sexism, nationalism, caste-ism, and specieism rise because souls falsely identify with their temporary bodies. On the spiritual platform, we are all equal.
(Compare this to Colossians 3:11, which says: "In Christ there is no Grek or Jew, slave or free").
Western theology has been unable to resolve the "problem of evil." Why does an omnipotent and merciful God allow suffering? Why are some people born handicapped or in poverty, while others are born into wealth and privilege?
The explanation taught by Hindus, Buddhists and Jains are the twin doctrines of karma and reincarnation: we reap what we sow, life after life.
Rabbi Harold S. Kushner didn't consider karma and reincarnation when he wrote his 1983 bestseller, When Bad Things Happen to Good People.
Kushner's solution to the "problem of evil" is that God is not omnipotent!
According to Kushner, God is just as outraged as we are about injustices, but there is nothing He can do to stop them.
Asking millions of synagogue-church-and-mosque going Americans to take up an Eastern religion, worship a long-haired, flute-playing, cowherd boy, and believe in karma and reincarnation may seem crazy and radical, but millions of Americans are now doing something more radical: they are becoming worshippers of God-the-not-almighty.
Finally, I don't think belief in reincarnation is extreme or absurd. Origen, whose influence on the church was only second to that of Augustine, openly espoused reincarnation.
Although, sadly, when he advocated Christian vegetarianism, he did so on ascetic grounds, rather than out of concern for animals.
In Contra Celsus, Origen contrasted Christian ascetic vegetarianism with that of the Pythagoreans, saying: "when we do abstain (from eating meat), we do so because "we keep under our body and bring it into subjection (I Corinthians 9:27), and desire 'to mortify our members that are upon the earth, fornication uncleanliness, inordinate affectin, evil concupiscence' (Colossians 3:5), and we use every effort to 'mortify the deeds of the flesh." (Romans 8:13)
The Pythagoreans, Neoplatonists, Hindus, Buddhists and Jains have all forbidden animal slaughter at various times in human history because of a belief in transmigration of souls and, consequently, the equality of all living beings.
The doctrine of reincarnation is taught in the Kabbalic or mystical Judaic tradition, and was used to advocate ethical vegetarianism in Sedeh Hermed, a huge, Talmudic encyclopedia authored by Rabbi Hayyim Hezekiah Medini (1837-1904).
In Wheels of a Soul, Rabbi Phillip S. Berg, a renowned contemporary Kabbalist, explains:
"...the concept of reincarnation is by no means exclusive to Judaism. The idea was prevalent among Indians on the American continent; and in the Orient, the teaching of reincarnation is widespread and influential.
"It is the basis of most of the philosophical systems of India where hundreds of millions accept the truth of reincarnation the way we accept the truth of gravity--as a great natural and inevitable law that only a fool would question."
According to Rabbi Jacob Shimmel: "we are reborn until we reach perfection in following the Torah...In Hebrew, reincarnation is called gilgul, and there is a whole section of the Kabbala entitled Sefer HaGilgulim. This deals with details in regard to reincarnation."
Q: "How does that fit into Jesus sending a demon into the pigs?
A: "It doesn't say that Jesus sent the pigs over the cliff."
Q: "So you're saying Satan sent the pigs over the cliff?"
A: : "Yes, clearly. Jesus did not destroy those pigs.
A: "In the ancient world, it was believed you could not send demons into inanimate matter. If Jesus was going to cure the man, the demons had to be sent somewhere.
A: "You could argue that is the lesser of two evils. I don't believe animals are of equal worth to humans. If you have to make a decision between a human life and an animal life, you should value human life higher."
Some animal rights activists would disagree with that. My position is that as far as everyday ethics are concerned, there are no morally relevant differences between humans and animals.
There's the old joke about carrying political correctness too far, e.g.: an advertisement for lamaze classes for "pregnant persons"!
To deny an animal a college education is not discrimination; to deny an animal the right to life and liberty is.
Q: "In your book, you say Adam and Eve ate a vegetarian diet.
A: "Yes, it's clear that they're given fruits and nuts and are not given animals to eat. They're not eaten until after the Fall.
Q: "So the term 'dominion' in Genesis didn't refer to eating the animals.
A: "Right, because the commandment that they were to eat fruit of trees comes after they're given dominion. So the dominion over animals couldn't mean they could eat them. I continue to be amazed that most Christians today refuse to acknowledge that."
Reverend Linzey makes this point in Christianity and the Rights of Animals ("Herb-eating dominion is not despotism"), as does Richard Schwartz in his 1982 edition of Judaism and Vegetarianism, that human dominion in Genesis 1:26-28 does not justify meat-eating, because God immediately proclaims He created the plants for human consumption (Genesis 1:29).
A: "In the ancient world, that was common knowledge. It made sense: there was no fire, no need for animal sacrifice, no spilling of blood. Eden was a paradise; it was a perfect ecosystem."
Q: "As part of this theological idea of dominion, you think it's OK to own pets."
A: "Part of my running battle with some of the extreme animal rights advocates is the idea that animals have the same rights as humans. I do think humans are placed on this planet to be stewards of God's creation; we have moral authority over animals. I don't think it's wrong to own animals. In fact, I think it's the destiny of all animals to end up as pets."
Compassionate stewardship is better than the mentality of most Christian denominations, which is nearly Cartesian in scope. If ANYTHING, the theistic position of "human dominion" DEMANDS that humans show greater love, compassion and mercy towards animals.
A: "Isaiah says in the end time the "lion and lamb will lie down together." They'll obviously be friends--in a sense, domesticated."
Q: "So you think human beings will lead the animal kingdom to a point where animals will be friends?"
A: "Yes, and I think that's already happening. We are to be spiritual leaders towards the animals; we're responsible for them. Obviously we can't change all of their diets, but we can try to minimize suffering in the wild. We save animals when there are hurricanes and floods; we separate animals who might kill each other."
Q: "So you think humans, using their divinely-given dominion over animals, could spiritually guide a deer and a wolf not to be at each other's throats-many centuries down the line?"
A: "I think that that is the destiny of planet Earth. The number of wild areas in the world are decreasing rapidly. The number of places where animals can battle each other are diminishing rapidly."
Q: "By managing animals, we're making the world more holy?"
A: "It's one of the tasks of humans. We can't completely save the world-only God can. But as ambassadors of God, as stewards of his creation, we can begin to do now what God will finish later. And we are doing that now: we're making nature a less violent place by domesticating animals-dogs, cats, birds."
As a practicing Hindu, believing in karma and reincarnation, I really have a hard time accepting this! It's our understanding that carnivorous species exist to facilitate the desires of the living entities.
In conversation with French Roman Catholic Cardinal Jean Danielou in 1973, our spiritual master said: "God is very kind. If you want to eat animals, then He'll give you full facility. God will give you the body of a tiger in your next life so that you can eat flesh very freely. 'Why are you maintaining slaugterhouses? I'll give you fangs and claws. Now eat.' So the meat-eaters are awaiting such punishment. The animal-eaters become tigers, wolves, cats, and dogs in their next life--to get more facility."
The biblical argument that even the animals were meant to be vegetarian (Genesis 1:30; Isaiah 11:6-9) may have been given to prevent people in that part of the world from trying to justify flesh-eating by appealing to nature (i.e., predators are found in the wild, preying on other animals is natural, etc.)
A: "What are zoos but places where animals flourish without having to eat each other?"
Q: So you approve of zoos.
A: "Yes I do. It's not a popular position among many animal rightists. In well-run zoos, they can live longer, healthier lives without having to kill or be killed."
Would it be ethical to put humans on display for the same reasons?
"And the worlds built of age are a stage
"Where we act out our lives
"And the words in the script seem to fit
"'cept we have some surprise
"I just want this to last
"Or my future is past and all gone
"And if this is the case
"Then I'll lose in life's race from now on
"I don't wanna classify you
"Like an animal in the zoo
"But it seems good to me to know
"That you're Homosapien too..."
--Pete Shelley, "Homosapien" (1981)
In a leaflet from the mid-'90s entitled Why Imprison Animals in Zoos?, the Animal Rights Connection (ARC) in San Francisco, CA, reports:
"In 1906, the Bronx Zoo displayed Ota Benga, a Congolese Pygmy, in a cage with an orangutan. Most of us will never see a Congolese Pygmy, or an Eskimo, or an Australian aborigine, or an African nomad. But we respect their feelings and their interests in living free, so we do not kidnap them and display them in cages. We do not have the right to imprison beings different from ourselves simply because we cannot see them otherwise."
According to the ARC:
"Zoos are unnatural, cramped, depriving, monotonous, often filthy and hopelessly depressing to the imprisoned animals, destroying their natural zest for life. This boring, dismal existence causes them to display neurotic behavior...
"The cement floors are painful... The animals are so stressed that they rarely breed or care for their young, who are born in captivity. Their sexual desire and reproduction are often violated...
"Zoos insult and belittle the intelligence and magnificence of our fellow creatures. A sanctuary is a place of refuge and protection. A zoo is not a sanctuary. It is a collection of living animals for exhibition."
An episode of Star Trek, the animated series, from 1973, has the crew of the Enterprise encounter the Aztec god Kukalkan, in reality a space alien who visited Earth millennia ago. Kukalkan takes the crew of the Enterprise on a tour of his spaceship, which includes an area where many life forms from other star systems are on display.
Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott says, "I could never be proud of putting animals in cages. It's a practice we've long since abandoned on Earth."
A Twilight Zone episode entitled "People Are Alike All Over" featured actor Roddy MacDowell as an astronaut imprisoned in a zoo on the planet Mars.
MacDowell went on to star in the acclaimed Planet of the Apes films and television series, which also helped break down the barriers of speciesism.
This trend continues in mainstream secular American society through films like Harry and the Hendersons, Free Willy, and now Blackfish.
Q: "When we die, what will we experience in terms of animals?"
A: "I don't know, but I think the pet relationship gives us a glimpse of that. The intensity and passion that people experience with their companion animals has such depth, that that's a window onto the next life. Many people have written me about their companion animals, and were so disappointed when they did not get any affirmation from their ministers or priests.
A: "My book has a whole chapter about that, a nuanced position. If God saves us, God will save animals. God's salvation is not just about humans, it's about justice. All who have suffered will be restored to God's original intention. That definitely includes animals. Animals in heaven will be a gift to us, a circle of life that will have great harmony and joy. It's what it was before the Fall, and what it will be again someday."
Interview by Laura Sheahen