Religion and Animal Rights
I would like to see organized religion join the struggle for animal
Religion has been wrong before.
It has been said that on issues such as women's rights and human slavery, religion has impeded social and moral progress.
It was a Spanish Catholic priest, Bartolome de las Casas, who first proposed enslaving black Africans in place of the Native Americans who were dying off in great numbers.
The church of the past never considered human slavery to be a moral evil. The Protestant churches of Virginia, South Carolina, and other southern states actually passed resolutions in favor of the human slave traffic.
Human slavery was called "by Divine Appointment," "a Divine institution," "a moral relation," "God's institution," "not immoral," but "founded in right."
The slave trade was called "legal," "licit," "in accordance with humane principles" and "the laws of revealed religion."
New Testament verses calling for obedience and subservience on the part of slaves (Titus 2:9-10; Ephesians 6:5-9; Colossians 3:22-25; I Peter 2:18-25) and respect for the master (I Timothy 6:1-2; Ephesians 6:5-9) were often cited in order to justify human slavery.
Some of Jesus' parables refer to human slaves. Paul's epistle to Philemon concerns a runaway slave returned to his master.
The Quakers were one of the earliest religious denominations to condemn human slavery.
"Paul's outright endorsement of slavery should be an undying embarrassment to Christianity as long as they hold the entire New Testament to be the word of God," wrote Quaker physician Dr. Charles P. Vaclavik in his 1986 book, The Vegetarianism of Jesus Christ. "Without a doubt, the American slaveholders quoted Paul again and again to substantiate their right to hold slaves.
"The moralist movement to abolish slavery had to go to non-biblical sources to demonstrate the immoral nature of slavery. The abolitionists could not turn to Christian sources to condemn slavery, for Christianity had become the bastion of the evil practice through its endorsement by the Apostle Paul.
"Only the Old Testament gave the abolitionist any Biblical support in his efforts to free the slaves. 'You shall not surrender to his master a slave who has taken refuge with you.' (Deuteronomy 23:15) What a pittance of material opposing slavery from a book supposedly representing the word of God."
In 1852, Josiah Priest wrote Bible Defense of Slavery. Others claimed blacks were subhuman. Buckner H. Payne, calling himself "Ariel," wrote in 1867: "the tempter in the Garden of Eden...was a beast, a talking beast...the negro." Ariel argued that since the negro was not part of Noah's family, he must have been a beast.
"Eight souls were saved on the ark, therefore, the negro must be a beast, and "consequently, he has no soul to be saved."
The status of animals in contemporary human society is like that of human slaves in centuries past.
Quoting Luke 4:18, Colossians 3:11, Galatians 3:28 or any other biblical passages merely suggesting liberty, equality and an end to human slavery in the 18th or 19th century would have been met with the kind of response animal rights activists receive today if they quote Bible verses in favor of ethical vegetarianism and compassion towards animals.
Some of the worst crimes in history were committed in the name of religion.
There's a great song along these lines from 1992 by Rage Against the Machine, entitled "Killing in the Name Of".
Someone once pointed out that while Hitler may have claimed to be a Christian, he imprisoned Christian clergy who opposed the Nazi regime, and even Christian churches were subject to the terror of the Nazis. Thinking along these lines, I realize that while I would like to see organized religion support animal liberation (e.g., as was the case with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the American civil rights movement) rather than simply remain an obstacle to social and moral progress (e.g., 19th century southern churches in the U.S. upheld human slavery on biblical grounds), this support must come freely and voluntarily (e.g., "The Liberation of All Life" resolution issued by the World Council of Churches in 1988).
Religious institutions can't be coerced into rewriting their holy books or teaching a convoluted doctrine to suit the whims or the secular political ideology of a particular demagogue. American liberals argue that principle of the separation of church and state gives us freedom FROM religious tyranny and theocracy. Conservatives argue (the other side of the coin!) that one of the reasons America's founding fathers established the separation of church and state was to prevent government intrusion or intrusion by persons of other faiths or other denominations into religious affairs.
I agree with Reverend Marc Wessels, Executive Director of the International Network for Religion and Animals (INRA), who said on Earth Day 1990:
"It is a fact that no significant social reform has yet taken place in this country without the voice of the religious community being heard. The endeavors of the abolition of slavery; the women's suffrage movement; the emergence of the pacifist tradition during World War I; the struggles to support civil rights, labor unions, and migrant farm workers; and the anti-nuclear and peace movements have all succeeded in part because of the power and support of organized religion.
"Such authority and energy is required by individual Christians and the institutional church today if the liberation of animals is to become a reality."
Return to: Articles