Reflection on the Lectionary: James 3:13-4:3
Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion Article from


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

Reflection on the Lectionary: James 3:13-4:3
(September 20, 2009)

The Source of Violence

This passage includes the following: For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without uncertainty or insincerity. And the harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
What causes wars, and what causes fightings among you? Is it not your passions that are at war in your members? You desire and do not have; so you kill. And you covet and cannot obtain; so you fight and wage war.
James astutely recognizes that coveting is the source of conflict, fighting, and killing. It is natural for us to desire what other people possess, because it is by observing other people that we come to recognize which objects are “desirable.” However, “desirable” objects invariably become scarce, and indeed their scarcity is an attraction, because ownership of scarce commodities confers communal status and a personal sense of self-esteem.
Competition for scarce commodities (which are not necessarily physical – they can include awards and other forms of cultural recognition) engenders conflict. How are conflicts resolved? As discussed in my book Guided by the Faith of Christ, scapegoating marginal members of the community frequently prevents communities from being torn apart. The scapegoat(s), blamed for rising tensions, are killed or expelled. While scapegoating is often efficient and effective at maintaining the larger community, it is not acceptable because it is unjust. In addition, scapegoats need to be found repeatedly, because scapegoating only reduces the immediate consequences of coveting and does nothing to address the underlying problem.
For several reasons, including the anti-scapegoating message of Christianity, we find less scapegoating of people today. Nonetheless, scapegoating of animals continues unabated. The act of killing or eating animals provides a sense of superiority over nature. This can give a sense of dominance over those “bestial” aspects of human nature of which many people are ashamed, including anger, violence, and illicit sexual desire. Various caricatures of animals as stupid, ugly, sexually promiscuous, etc. misrepresent animals’ true nature while giving excuses for abuse at the hands of humanity.
James recognized that we will only harvest peace when we make peace, and that means peace with all of God’s Creation. Indeed, many of the greatest threats to humanity, including climate change, pollution, and depletion of scarce resources, relate to humanity’s disrespect for God’s earth. James described the nature of “wisdom from above,” and this wisdom should guide us, not the covetous passions that we are otherwise inclined to follow.

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