Sins of Omission versus Sins of Commission, part 2
Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion Article from


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

Sins of Omission versus Sins of Commission, part 2

Last essay I asked whether a sin of omission, such as failure to protect vulnerable individuals from harm, is as blameworthy as sins of commission, such as actually harming vulnerable individuals. A Utilitarian, who would focus on the end result rather than intentions, would likely assert one is responsible only to the degree that one could have prevented the harm, regardless of whether or not one perpetrated the harm.
Jesus taught that intentions are important. For example, Jesus said, “I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment” (Matthew 5:22). And, Jesus said that looking at a woman with lust in the heart is tantamount to adultery (Matthew 5:28). In these examples, sentiments, rather than actual actions, can be the bases of judgment.
From the perspective of the victim, intentions do not matter much. The sow who is immobile, confined for many essays in a gestation crate, does not care whether the farmer is concerned about her welfare, whether the farmer is forced to use such confinement due to economic pressures, why some people want to eat pig flesh, or why those who care about animals aren’t doing more to protect her. She just wants relief from her pain and misery.

In my view, at the end of the day, it is not up to us to ascertain who is blameworthy and who is not. Judgment is the province of God. If we are to be faithful Christians, we don’t need to worry about who is guilty; our role is to serve God. An important part of serving God is serving God’s nonhuman persons, our nonhuman neighbors, who are crucial components of Creation. To the degree that we have the ability to protect nonhuman persons, we are responsible for the harm that befalls them. If we fail to do so, we are blameworthy, and how blameworthy we are, relative to other people, really doesn’t matter. 

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