Nonviolence is the Cornerstone
What you're seeing now is the increasing
secularization of human civilization. Contemporary Hindu spiritual master
Ravindra-svarupa dasa (Dr. William Deadwyler) writes:
"My study of religion was far from academic. I had come to view the historic collapse of value and meaning in Western civilization as an immense threat... Religion had been on the retreat for at least five hundred years, and all attempts to construct secular substitutes had failed..."
(though I would argue Beatlemania came close!)
In 1986, my roommate John Anklow, a Reform Jew from New York, going to school in Colorado and visiting California over the summer, commented that humanity is gradually becoming nonviolent. Religious wars, for example, have diminished.
I responded from a Vaishnavaite Hindu perspective: no, it just means our field of vision has gotten lower... shifted from the metaphysical to the mundane.
In previous centuries, humans fought wars over religious differences... now, we go to war over economic differences, e.g. capitalism Vs communism.
A couple of years later, my friend Chris Hull would quote the character of Q from Star Trek: the Next Generation along these lines, saying humans wage wars "...over which economic system is better..."
(And that Star Trek episode aired at a time when Reagan and Gorbachev were trying to resolve their differences!)
Progressives see human history as advancing -- injustices have ended through social progress over the past five hundred years:
...democracy and representative government replacing monarchy and belief in the divine right of kings; the separation of church and state; the abolition of (human) slavery; the emancipation of women; birth control; the sexual revolution; LGBT rights; children's rights; animal rights, etc...
Brother Wayne Teasdale, a Benedictine monk who engaged in a series of interfaith discussions with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, wrote about the incompatibility of religion and war in our modern secular age, when he commented on The Universal Declaration of Nonviolence:
"In the history of humanity there have been countless conflicts... Religion has played either a direct or supporting role in most of these conflicts or wars. Indeed, religious leaders have often been willing partners in warmaking, and this is still true today to some degree...
"Recall the image of Cardinal Spellman blessing the American tanks and men before battle in Vietnam, or the mullahs, the Iranian clerics, brandishing guns in a provocative way during Friday prayers in one of the great mosques of Tehran...
"...religious officials and lay persons have again and again allowed themselves to be used or duped in these situations...
"Nonviolence is the cornerstone of the spiritual civilization. The need for this is eminently a practical one, since the planet and its inhabitants are continually exposed to horrific forms of violence by states, corporations, groups and individuals, through war, terrorism, crime and personal attacks."
Would it hurt to refrain from taking the lives of our fellow creatures? John Robbins, author of the 1987 Pulitzer Prize nominated Diet for a New America, spoke at a Unitarian church here in Oakland, CA in 2001. The church was PACKED.
John Robbins writes in The Food Revolution (2001):
"The revolution sweeping our relationship to our food and our world, I believe, is part of an historical imperative. This is what happens when the human spirit is activated. One hundred and fifty years ago, slavery was legal in the United States. One hundred years ago, women could not vote in most states. Eighty years ago, there were no laws in the United States against any form of child abuse. Fifty years ago, we had no Civil Rights Act, no Clean Air or Clean Water legislation, no Endangered Species Act. Today, millions of people are refusing to buy clothes and shoes made in sweatshops and are seeking to live healthier and more Earth-friendly lifestyles. In the last fifteen years alone, as people in the United States have realized how cruelly veal calves are treated, veal consumption has dropped 62 percent."
Peter Singer concludes in Animal Liberation that "by ceasing to rear and kill animals for food, we can make extra food available for humans that, properly distributed, it would eliminate starvation and malnutrition from this planet. Animal Liberation is Human Liberation, too."
Bruce Friedrich of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), his activism nurtured by years of service in the Catholic Worker community, similarly sees human history in terms of societal evolution, as he writes in the foreword to They Shall Not Hurt or Destroy, my 2003 book on religion and animal rights:
"...Interestingly, the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (abolition) was passed in 1865; the 19th Amendment (suffrage) was passed in 1920. Labor justice, including the 40 hour work week, is very new. The first child abuse case was tried in this country in 1913.
"Many good and thoughtful people of the 19th century did not believe that women, children, or Native and African-Americans deserved rights. Women and children were considered (with biblical justification) to be the property of their husbands and fathers. Slavery flourished from the 1520s until the middle of the 1800s in this country.
"The Oxford theologian Reverend Andrew Linzey explains in Animal Theology, '[G]o back about two hundred or more years, we will find intelligent, respectable and conscientious Christians supporting almost without question the trade in slaves as inseparable from Christian civilization and human progress.'
"I mention these past atrocities to suggest the ability of an entire society (and an overtly religious one, at that) to be engaged in extreme evil but not recognize it, as well as to point out how much society has changed historically.
"The animal rights movement is optimistic. We believe with Jeremy Bentham, 'The time will come when society will extend its mantle over every[one] [who] breathes.' We agree with the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that the arc of history is long, but that it bends toward justice (the fact that King’s wife and son, Coretta and Dexter Scott King are vegans is evidence).
"We believe that society will look back on human arrogance and cruelty toward other animals with the same horror and disbelief that we presently feel toward (human) slavery and other atrocities.
"Vasu Murti’s book is a powerful contribution to an increased understanding of animal rights within the religious community.
"When societal consciousness finally understands the immorality of speciesism, They Shall not Hurt or Destroy will be considered one of the true pieces of philosophical brilliance of the early 21st century, in a class with the abolitionist religious literature of the early 19th century."
The arguments conservatives cite to justify the status quo make no sense from a progressive perspective.
Three hundred years ago, for example, slavery was legal. Asking Bible-believers to free their slaves, to include blacks in their ethical system, etc. in the 18th century would have been met with the kind of response animal activists are given today when courting the religious community for support:
abolition is 'work' because it isn't a moral position clearly spelled out in Scripture; abolition is 'work' because it isn't currently a requirement of the Christian faith, etc.
Before conservative Christians respond to this posting with an anti-semitic yawn, consider:
Does human history indicate moral and societal evolution?
Or, as the ancient Sanskrit prophecies of Kali Yuga (our current age of quarrel and hypocrisy, which began in 3102 BC) given in the Hindu scriptures suggest, humanity is descending into barbarism?
"I have no doubt that it is part of the destiny of the human race in its gradual development to leave off the eating of animals, as surely as the savage tribes have left off eating each other when they came into contact with the more civilized."
--Henry David Thoreau