Christianity and Animal Rights, part 10
Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion Article from


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

Christianity and Animal Rights, part 10
In recent essays, I have been discussing how avoiding the truth about animal abuse on farms (and elsewhere) is contrary to the teachings of Jesus about truth, compassion, and service to others. I think that those who deny animal rights harm themselves spiritually.
We share a common link with the nonhuman world. I agree with those who hold that there is overwhelming evidence that evolution shows the continuity between ourselves and nonhuman beings. Those who maintain that humans were created by God should still acknowledge the clear connection between humanity and animals. We are very much alike anatomically, physiologically, and behaviorally. Indeed, this similarly is assumed by both evolutionists and Creationists who do physiological or psychological experiments on animals. Given our similarities, it is reasonable to conclude that feelings, including pain and suffering, of humans and nonhumans are also similar. Our good understanding of what animals experience when they are abused is an important foundation for concern about animal rights. When we harm animals, we can see that they are distressed and try to escape, and we do would normally wish to avoid such harm. [Sometimes people choose to suffer, but this always in order to avoid other kinds of suffering (e.g., avoidance eternal damnation), to achieve greater pleasure in the future (e.g., studying for exam rather than partying in anticipation of future rewards), or to assist other individuals. Similarly, nonhuman animals sometimes put themselves in danger to protect other individuals.] In ethical terms, harming animals violates their will and therefore does wrong to them. The same cannot be said, as best we can tell, when we harm plants.
If we treat animals poorly, we are forced to regard them as if they were unrelated to us. Otherwise, we would be unable to regard ourselves as decent, compassionate people. However, denial of the fears and feelings (such as joy, pain, and terror) that we share with animals comes at a steep price. One important cost is that it distorts our view of who we are and where we came from. If we deny that we have similar roots, it becomes easier to distort our understanding of human nature. One common distortion is to regard activities of which we disapprove as inspired by Satan, an external person with evil intentions. Those “possessed” by Satan must be either exorcised of evil spirits or banished from the community. It is easy to see how belief in satanic possession readily lends itself to scapegoating and violence. I think that, if we wish to regard harmful activities as “satanic,” we should keep in mind that they are inspired fully by human hopes, fears, or desires.
Nonhuman beings, like humans, make choices, which are manifestations of their diverse feelings and influenced by their natural behaviors and inclinations. I think almost all of us humans are capable of performing heroic acts of generosity as well as venal acts of violence. History has shown that kind and benevolent people often participate in great destructiveness if the conditions are right. If we are to find ways for people to live together peacefully, including during times of crisis or stress, we need to understand how people feel, think, and act. Recognizing our continuity with nonhumans can help inspire insights. However, I am not saying that subjecting nonhumans to artificial manipulations in artificial environments, which is the standard of experimental psychology, is illuminating. I do think that we can gain useful insights, certainly about animals and possibly about humans, by observing natural animal behavior in natural environments, such as the field work of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Marc Bekoff.
Next week, I will discuss more reasons that denying the continuity between humans and nonhumans is harmful to humans. 

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

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