Essay: Why We Must Respect Animal Rights
Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion Article from


Stephen Kaufman, M.D., Christian Vegetarian Association (CVA)

Essay: Why We Must Respect Animal Rights

Many people believe that the animal rights movement is comprised of extreme animal lovers who have misplaced priorities. While people nearly universally agree that we should not be cruel to animals, they generally regard those who consider animal interests as comparable to human interests as bizarre at best, obscene at worst. Nevertheless, as Andrew Linzey has argued persuasively, respect for animal rights is firmly rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition.
The term “animal rights” has a range of meanings, and for these purposes I will regard animal rights to include the right to not be harmed unless absolutely necessary and the right to never be tortured. Just as it is sometimes regrettably necessary to kill fellow humans, such as to defend our own lives, it is occasionally necessary to kill animals, but such situations rarely arise in countries like the United States.
From a Christian perspective, all Creation belongs to God. Mistreating any part of Creation shows disrespect for God. By analogy, the growing ecological crisis, increasing human poverty and the associated rising threats of terrorist violence, and the possibility of global ecological collapse all relate to humans putting desires of the flesh before our obligations to serve God.
Martin Luther King, Jr. said that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Any society that countenances animal abuse has set as moral standard that it is acceptable to abandon moral principles when convenient. Currently those least able to defend themselves – the animals – are the principle victims of this inconsistent and self-serving moral standard, but this “moral standard” is too easily applied toward any group of outsiders, including vulnerable humans such as minorities, women, children, people with disabilities, and people who are “different” (such as homosexuals or people who don’t recognize the “obvious truth” of the state religion).
I think one reason our churches have been so reluctant to talk about animal issues is that popular, contemporary views are so obviously inconsistent, contradictory, and morally bankrupt. While people generally have affection for dogs and cats, most people support exposing dogs and cats to the horrors of vivisection. While people recognize that farmed animals have feelings and should not be abused, most do their best to remain ignorant of the actual experiences of animals on farms while sponsoring cruelty against farmed animals by purchasing the products of factory farming. Despite documentation of vicious training practices, people still flock to see animals perform in circuses.
We can and should enjoy our lives and the bounty that God offers. However, if we fail to exercise moderation and if we refuse to be mindful of how our choices affect God’s Creation, humanity will continue on its self-destructive course. I believe that humanity’s only hope is to focus on serving others rather than on serving our sensory desires. For Christians, serving others is a core teaching because in doing so we serve God (Matthew 25: 40). If we choose to listen to our calling to serve, our world can resemble the Garden of Eden. If we disobey and yield to our rapacious desires, we will experience misery and quite possibly destruction as well.  

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