Is It a Vice to Throw Feces?
Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion Article from


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

Is It a Vice to Throw Feces?

Rhesus monkeys have been known to throw feces at researchers, an activity that researchers call a “vice.” It’s not a vice when an individual harms another for purposes of survival, for example carnivores killing to eat or prey fighting back trying to avoid becoming a meal. These behaviors are necessary and are not choices. Using the term “vice” suggests moral agency – the ability to make moral choices between doing something harmful and refraining from the action. Should the rhesus monkeys be condemned for throwing feces at researchers?
The monkeys recognize that they are being tormented, and their behavior clearly reflects anger at their tormenters. I don’t think we can say that the researchers and monkeys are both right – either the torment is justified (in which case the monkeys are engaging in a vice, though they may not understand the reasons they are suffering) or the torment is not justified, in which case the moral high ground goes to the monkeys.
As cochair of the Medical Research Modernization Committee, I have argued that animal experimentation is not necessary for medical research or medical progress. Whether it has some value is a more difficult question. If I am correct about the lack of necessity, intentionally harming the rhesus monkeys is incompatible with Christian values of love, compassion, and mercy. As I see it, this would mean that the monkeys would be justified in hurling their feces at those who are tormenting them.
I am reminded of Job 12:7 "But ask the beasts, and they will teach you…” Maybe if humans listened to what the rhesus monkeys are telling us, humans would rethink some of the assumptions about our relationship with God’s nonhuman world. We could become wiser, more righteous, and more inclined “to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). 

Go on to: Commentary on the Lectionary for March 3, Luke 13:1-9; A Parable for Our Time
Return to: Reflection on the Lectionary, Table of Contents

Return to Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion