Thoughts on The Better Angels of Our Nature, part 2
Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion Article from


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

Thoughts on The Better Angels of Our Nature, part 2 

In his recent book The Better Angels of Our Nature, Stephen Pinker notes that there has been a growth of respect for the rights of individuals who historically have suffered grievous oppression and victimization, including women, ethnic minorities, homosexuals, and animals. Animal advocates might dispute the last category, since the number of animals abused, and the severity of their abuse, is unequalled in human history.
In my view, Pinker is partly correct in his assessment. There has been an increase in concern for animal well-being, manifested by animal protection laws, public outrage when animal abuse comes to light, and the growth of the animal protection movement. Why has animal abuse nevertheless increased dramatically?
Industrialized agriculture has made the growth of factory farms possible. The cost of feeding animals has dropped substantially, mechanized feeding and waste removal systems have reduced labor costs, and antibiotics have made it much easier to crowd animals intensively. Meanwhile, greater societal wealth has permitted larger investments in activities that involve animal abuse, including vivisection, wearing animal skins, and animals in entertainment.
Many activities that involve animal exploitation would not necessarily result in great abuse, but people generally choose less inexpensive products of all kinds, particularly when consumers are far removed from and largely blind to the sources of those products. This blindness is partly a choice – for example people who want to eat flesh and other animal products don’t want to know whether the source of those products involves unethical practices. Similarly, consumers generally don’t want to know whether their clothing and other products came from sweat shops. Nonhumans are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and abuse because nearly everyone believes they benefit from animal exploitation, and because nonhumans are neither able to articulate their suffering nor able to fight their oppressors.
When animal advocates expose the abuses of factory farms, this discomforts those who want to consume flesh, dairy, and eggs. When animal advocates connect the dots and encourage a plant-based diet, this is generally an unwelcomed message. What is most disappointing to me is that our churches generally don’t take to heart Jesus’ words “the truth will set you free”, but instead they discourage or even oppose efforts to bring animal issues onto their “radar screens.” Presumably, church leaders fear that discomforted churchgoers will take their tithes elsewhere.
This brings us to a practical issue. Should we attend churches that refuse to address animal issues? I’ll reflect on that next essay. 

Go on to: Should We Attend Meat-Eating Churches?
Return to: Reflection on the Lectionary, Table of Contents 

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