Applying The Honor Code to Animal Issues
Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion Article from


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

Applying The Honor Code to Animal Issues

Last essay, I noted that, in applying the insights of Anthony Appiah’s book The Honor Code, perhaps what the animal protection movement needs is: 1) to demonstrate that participating directly or indirectly in the abuse of nonhuman persons is dishonorable and 2) to offer acceptable alternatives to practices that involve abusing nonhuman persons directly or indirectly.
Accomplishing #1 will be difficult, because the vast majority of people in nearly every part of the world regard abuse of nonhuman persons for food, clothing, research, etc. as perfectly legitimate. Indeed, at occasions of honor (family and church gatherings, award ceremonies, etc.) flesh is routinely served. It is much easier to eliminate an immoral practice if it is done by a minority or a relatively weak majority. PETAs campaign to enlist celebrities can help make veganism seem honorable and meat-eating dishonorable, though the fickleness of celebrities (when it comes to diet as well as partners) is a danger.
Perhaps religion can be an effective vehicle for change. If it could be effectively shown that current practices clearly violate the tenets of a religion, then concerns about divine retribution might be a powerful impetus to change. However, Appiah notes that Islam does not endorse “honor killings,” yet the practice remains widespread in many Muslim parts of Africa and southern Asia. So, perhaps noting that abuse of nonhuman persons dishonors God should be one part of a broader campaign for change. Alternatively, perhaps we need to be more forceful in the way we speak. For example, perhaps a better title for the CVA’s DVD “Honoring God’s Creation” would be something like “Modern Animal Agriculture Insults God.”
Regarding the need for alternatives, fortunately they already exist. There are wonderful clothes made from plant and synthetic fabrics, and we should celebrate our good fortune to have plant-based foods that can be more nutritious, healthful, and tasty than animal-based foods. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is among the groups advocating effectively in this direction. 

Go on to: Review Essay: Willful Blindness by Margaret Heffernan, part 1
Return to: Reflection on the Lectionary, Table of Contents 

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