Thoughts on Free Will, part 8
Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion Article from


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

Thoughts on Free Will, part 8

Vast numbers of nonhuman beings experience horrific mistreatment for supposed human benefit. Most abused animals are killed to procure inexpensive flesh and other animal products, and millions more suffer and die for their skins, for use in science, and other purposes. We are right to condemn such injustices, but should we condemn those who commit the atrocities?

Doing so presumes free will, the subject of several previous essays. Even if we held that, somehow, humans have a degree of free will, I maintain that this freedom is very limited. As I see it, much of the harm that humans do reflects deep-seated human fears over which we have little control.

Perhaps our greatest fear is of death, or perhaps more specifically the death of our sense of being. Most, if not all, of us find terrifying that the sense of who we are, which seems constant through our lives even as our bodies change over time, might be destroyed forever when our bodies cease to function.

As a salve against this terror, we desperately want to feel special, to feel as if the source of our being wonít allow us to permanently die. Throughout our lives we strive to feel special by being successful in relation to other humans. We have varying success in these endeavors, but all of us can feel superior in relation to nonhumans, who are at our mercy. The act of eating animals is, among many things, a symbolic act that demonstrates human superiority to the nonhuman world.

People in general want to see their existence as fundamentally different from animals, who seem to live and die without heroism or cosmic meaning. People tend to reject or at least ignore the continuity between humans and nonhumans, which was compellingly demonstrated by Charles Darwin and has been reinforced by discoveries of early hominids by paleontologists.

Curiously, many scientists who express contempt for those who reject Darwinism still assert that only humans deserve serious moral consideration. This view might be conducive to their continued eating and experimenting on animals, but I donít see how it derives from their scientific convictions.

Next week, I will reflect further on how the human desire to regard ourselves as fundamentally different from nonhumans impacts humanityís treatment of animals.

Go on to: The Human Need for Self-Esteem and Animal Mistreatment
Return to: Reflection on the Lectionary, Table of Contents

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