Essay: The Golden Rule, part 2
Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion Article from


Stephen Kaufman, M.D., Christian Vegetarian Association (CVA)
November 2014

Essay: The Golden Rule, part 2
(August 9, 2009)

Last week, I argued that the “golden rule” is a nearly universal moral guide, and Christianity has its own version (Mt 7:12). Should we consider animals among the “others” to which the rule applies?
I think the answer is yes. Sentient animals who can experience pain and pleasure can be wronged, and I find no good reason to exclude them from moral consideration under the golden rule. Some argue that animals lack certain mental capabilities, and this gives them “inferior” status. There are at least two problems with is contention. First, science has shown that the mental abilities of animals are far greater than once suspected, in part because we have used human abilities as the measure of cognition, and in part because animals in their natural environments show far richer mental capacities than animals who have been confined to mentally and socially impoverished, highly stressful, laboratory conditions.
Second, many humans, such as those with mental disabilities, brain damage, or senility, have smaller mental capacities than many animals. Yet we believe that they deserve equal consideration as other humans. Christian defenders of human exceptionalism often point to Genesis 1:27 in which God created humanity in God’s image. However, the Bible itself shows that God cares about all creation. And Jesus taught that we should serve each other, not harm other individuals unnecessarily. Moreover, we should always be suspicious of self-serving believe systems that harm innocent individuals. 

Which animals are “others” in the golden rule and deserve moral consideration? In other words, where do we draw the line? Certainly, vertebrates have the neural structures essential to feel pain, and they demonstrate the capacity for pain behaviorally. As Joan Dunayer has shown, many invertebrates, including insects, show evidence that they can think and feel pain. At the least, we should give all animals the benefit of the doubt and do our best to avoid harming them. 

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