Are Animals Victims of Scapegoating?
Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion Article from


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

Are Animals Victims of Scapegoating?

Recalling that I have defined scapegoating as the transfer of guilt, does this happen to nonhuman animals (hereafter “animals”)? To be sure, selfish desires for sensory pleasures, such as the taste of flesh and the feel of fur, inspire much animal abuse. However, if those who participate in harming animals are to reconcile animal abuse with a self-image of kindness and decency, they must justify themselves. A common form of rationalization involves attributing to victims those attributes the victimizers would otherwise need to acknowledge about themselves. How could a person have a bad attribute if that person identifies and feels contempt for that attribute in others?
Many of us feel guilty about our socially unacceptable desires. For many of us, a sense that God condemns anyone who has such illicit desires augments these guilty feelings. It seems that many people resolve this concern by projecting their own forbidden sexual, violent, or other desires onto animals.
Regarding sexuality, human sexuality has myriad cultural and biological influences that frequently conflict with each other, and these often lead to inner turmoil and interpersonal difficulties. It can be tempting for humans to deny their own “immoral” sexual desires, and nearly everyone has desires that would violate one or more of our culture’s many taboos related to sexuality. Though animals are generally very selective about their sexual partners, on the surface animals often seem uninhibited about sex, perhaps because many animals, unlike most people, have sexual intercourse in the presence of other members of their species. Consequently, people can deny their unacceptable sexual desires by feeling contempt for animals, who seem to engage in unrestrained sexual behavior.
Regarding violence, people have similarly tried to justify their own violence by distinguishing their violence – which they typically regard as righteousness or justice – from that of animals. This is ironic, because it appears that humans are far more inclined than animals to seek vengeance, and animals rarely kill or seriously injure each other when fighting over food, territory, or sexual mates. Indeed, people often call sexual predators or violent criminals “animals” or “beasts,” which implies that these desires cannot be found within the human soul.
Because we desperately want to deny our own guilt and shame, and because we want to believe that we are good and worthy of God’s favor, there are strong motivations to project our own unwanted desires onto scapegoats. Animals, who cannot protest unfair characterizations, can readily fill this role. If we then feel contempt for animals for supposedly having immoral desires, we might convince ourselves that we do not harbor those desires.

Scapegoating animals has made it much easier to abuse them, and indeed animals are abused to a degree unprecedented in human history. This has been possible because animal abuse is grounded on the fundamental lie that the animals somehow “deserve” what happens to them. If Christians are to take seriously Jesus’ declaration that “the truth will set you free,” they must not base their relationship with the nonhuman world on a lie.

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