Christianity and Animal Rights, part 2
Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion Article from


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

Christianity and Animal Rights, part 2

Last week, I discussed difficulties in receiving the Bible’s text. Assuming that the Bible was “the unaltered word of God” written without the help of human hand (and scholars have raised serious challenges to this theory), words do not have precise meanings and there are difficulties translating words from one language to another. These difficulties undermine our efforts to use the Bible to understand God’s intensions. Further, we come to every Bible story and teaching, as well as to all other experiences, with a wide range of beliefs, experiences, and pieces of information (some accurate, some not) that color our interpretations. These observations lead me to conclude that we can’t avoid incorporating secular knowledge into our understanding of the Bible, which is relevant to my building a Christian case for the secular position that animal should have rights.
We like to think we are objective and that our views are based on facts and sound logic. However, Freud showed that unconscious hopes and fears profoundly influence our attitudes and beliefs about nearly everything around us. Freud was writing during a time when people struggled to accommodate their sexual desires with a culture that repressed sexuality. Consequently, his conclusion, that sexual desires are the principle unconscious motivators of human behavior, was probably truer in his era than in ours today. Perhaps more relevant for people today was his observations, based on his analyses of dreams and psychoanalysis, that unconscious motivations over which we have little control strongly influence our thinking and behavior. Unconscious motivations help us understand irrational thinking and behavior, which we can easily observe among other people throughout the world. We tend to have more difficulty recognizing when our own thinking or behavior is irrational, because our minds repeatedly come up with “explanations” to account for and justify our intense feelings, desires, and actions. Motivations of which we are often unaware can include a need for self-esteem, a need for social acceptance, and yes, Dr. Freud, a need to satisfy sexual desires.
If unconscious human hopes, fears, and desires influence how we receive experiences, then it seems to me to make little sense to claim that the Bible “speaks for itself.” Reading the Bible, like all activities, is not passive. Our values, often grounded in unconscious motivations, color how we interpret passages and stories.
Another difficulty with the position that the Bible speaks for itself involves the fallacy in logic known as circular reasoning. Circular reasoning involves using the conclusion of an argument as one of the premises of the argument. For example, if I were to claim to be omniscient and the reason I know this is true is that I am omniscient, then my reasoning would be circular. The only way to argue for Bible’s truth and avoid circular reasoning is to find evidence outside the Bible (i.e., secular evidence) that validates the claim. Indeed, secular evidence has led to new interpretations. For example, a literal reading of Joshua 10:13 and Ecclesiastes 1:5 indicates that the sun revolves around the earth. As scientific evidence accumulated, religious authorities have modified their interpretations of these and other passages in which a literal reading of the Bible seems to conflict with the findings of science.
I will discuss how secular values and beliefs invariably influence how we receive the Bible. For reasons I will explore next week, one secular system that should inform our Christian faith is animal rights.

Go on to: Christianity and Animal Rights, part 3
Return to: Reflection on the Lectionary, Table of Contents 

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