Dominion: Comments and Discussion


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Dominion: Comments and Discussion
Comments by Ruth Eisenbud - 16 Jul 2010

In Reference to: Deconstructing Dominion

Dear Vasu Murti,

Thank you for your response to 'dominion deconstructed'. (attached)

You state: 'Instead of beginning with the premise that the Bible and/or the Judeo-Christian tradition is inerrant, let's start with the premise that animal cruelty, like child molestation, is always wrong. If there is a religion that condones it, that religion must be questioned, just as we would question a religion that condones human sacrifice.'

Based on this response, it seems necessary to clarify the intention of the article, Dominion Deconstructed, as it may have been misconstrued as a broad sweeping indictment of the semitic religious tradition. It is not. It focuses only on one element found in each of the three semitic religions of judaism, christianity and Islam: a view of animals often called dominion.

To question which God someone believes in, or for that matter the existence of God, challenges the legitimacy of an entire religion, but is irrelevant to and beyond the scope of a discussion on the roots of animal abuse. It is therefore, not the intention to undermine the spiritual foundation of an an entire religion, just to question whether the model of dominion has the potential to result in meaningful compassion for animals.

As you acknowledge that harmful values must be challenged some questions arise: How do you question? What do you question? Do you use logic and evidence to highlight the problem area or do you try to justify a solution based on unyielding religious doctrine? Does one question the offending behavior or the premise responsible for all such behavior. If the former then you are just 'rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic', as the root cause is not addressed. Inevitably new variations of exploitation will spring up, even as some may be discontinued. Furthermore many of those who work to create a less harmful view of animals in the semitic tradition, do not question at all, instead they condone, make excuses for and seek to justify a system that allows for animal abuse as a suitable basis for achieving compassion. Einstein noted the fallacy of such reasoning: "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them".

The unwillingness to challenge the underlying motivation responsible for cruel customs is troubling. In the case of animal abuse the concept is dominion. Allowable harm and slaughter are so pernicious as to pervert the meaning of compassion. It is not possible to prevent violence to animals based on a system that endorses their ab(use) by man. Reduced to its essence, dominion allows for cruelty:

Proverbs 12:10 states, "The righteous person regards the life of his or her animal." In Judaism, one who is unnecessarily cruel to animals cannot be regarded as a righteous individual." Prof Richard Schwartz

The corollary to this statement is: He who is of necessity cruel to animals can be regarded as a righteous individual.

The Reverend Andrew Linzey has shown more integrity than most by acknowledging that Christianity has indeed failed animals. He alone of those seeking to preserve religious cohesion has had the courage to acknowledge that only Ahimsa has resulted in compassion.

"It is true that many religious traditions contain notions of non-violence. The first Buddhist precept is not to kill. The Hebrew Bible speaks eloquently of how the lion will lie down with the lamb. And in Christianity there is the idea that love will finally triumph over violence. But only Jainism has made ahimsa its central doctrine. It alone has consistently held the vision of a peaceable world, realisable by moral effort and spiritual discipline.

A while ago, I was interviewed about the awful record of Christianity on animals in comparison with Jainism, and I commented that Jainism in its care and respect for creation has more understood the Christian doctrine of love than Christians have themselves.? This may sound a very odd comment coming from a Christian theologian, and it certainly aroused a lot of

criticism. But I still believe that Jains have grasped something that most religionists have missed: to live a life without reverence for life is to lead a spiritually impoverished life."

You suggest that rather than evaluate the underlying factor of the many types of human exploitation, it is possible to deal with each one, case by case. The possibility of this approach has a precedent in the semitic religions, as there is a provision of compassion for humans, at least in theory. The situation for animals is different, as there is no basis for progressive change. Dominion, when applied to the commandment 'Thou Shalt Not Kill' becomes 'Thou Shalt Not Kill...EXCEPT' for animals, as they are excluded from the right to remain free from harm. Therefore, while it may be possible to alleviate violent abuses to humans with biblical doctrine, animal abuse is justified by dominion, which defines animal lives as 'less than' human.

Since many of those working to preserve their religions, while paying lip service to animal compassion, are unwilling to redefine animal lives as equal in worth to human lives, meaningful compassion remains an impossible reality. As long as slaughter is sanctified there will be no overall improved conditions for animals.

Some argue that it is better to alleviate the worst conditions such as those of factory farming, by enacting legislation to deal with the most agregious abuses, while not alluding to a message of unconditional compassion or refusing to grant animals the intrinsic right to their lives? While this approach appears to help on the surface, in fact it encourages and leads to the perpetuation of the status quo and actually results in ever increasing abuses. You cite the following as an indication of successful animal protective legislation:

VM: "According to Marquardt, the "political clout" of the animal rights movement "is surprisingly bipartisan. But most of the leading politicians working with the animal rights movement are liberal Democrats." Marquardt makes mention of Senator Barbara Boxer of California, Nevada Congressman Jim Bilbray, Charlie Rose of North Carolina, Tom Lantos and Gerry Studds......With allies in both political parties and across the ideological spectrum," concludes Marquardt, "the animal rights movement has been able to score some great successes, regardless of which party controls the White House or Capitol Hill."

The problem with all of these apparent successes is that they are based on the dominion model and therefore not geared to improving animal lives, but rather to allowing for more effective and benevolently perceived abuse. In short these laws are passed to increase sales, not to protect animals. The classic example is an improvement to remove veal calves from restrictive crates which resulted in an increase in the sale of veal, now considered compassionate by consumers. This was hailed as a success by PETA.

It is not inconsequential that many of those advocating dominion based animal legislation are from states deriving significant income from cruely derived animal products. There is an incentive to perpetuate these industries. The perception of compassion is good for business.

Law Professor Gary Francione has noted in Animals as Persons, Columbia University Press, that despite ever increasing 'welfare' legislation there is also ever escalating increase in both the quality and volume of abuse. These measures do nothing to alleviate the problem, as they are enacted to benefit man. Compare the difference in animal protective legislation in ahimsa based India and the dominion based USA. Consider that Indian animal law assumes an animal's life has intrinsic worth and the legislation is geared towards protecting them, not creating an illusion of compassion so that exploitation can continue unimpeded. The following is an article comparing animal legislation in dominion and ahimsa based cultures:

Dominion based legislation has not worked since its inception 5000 years ago, does not work now and cannot work in the future :

Dominion based animal welfare measures provide little, if any, significant protection to animal interests.

Dominion based animal welfare measures make the public feel better about animal exploitation and this encourages continued animal use.

Dominion based animal welfare does nothing to eradicate the property status of animals.

Every second of time spent on making exploitation more “humane” is time NOT spent on abolition education.


India has banned the export of its indigenous monkey population to protect them from harm in laboratories abroad. Perhaps this ban envisioned scientists, such as those at the Weizman Institute in Israel, who have no hesitations about inflicting terrible violence on monkeys.

The first picture is a monkey restrained for a neuroscience experiment at the Weizman Institute. The second is a segment from the blog of the work colleague of a friend, who had the opportunity to spend several months in India. With no particular interest in animals rights his blog is filled with numerous incidents of tangible animal compassion.


AHIMSA ON A STREET IN INDIA An hour and a half after leaving Bangalore we arrived in Kuppam and I set out to aimlessly explore the town. The first person to speak to me was a coconut vendor who offered me a drink from a coconut for Rs 10 (about $0.20). It was warm and refreshing. Then he took a second coconut and offered it to a nearby monkey, who quickly drank it. I was delighted. It left me with a smile on my face.

OUTLIERS: You note examples of individuals in western society and even some representatives of the Semitic religions who have arrived at a belief in ahimsa despite the harmful influence of dominion ...Unfortunately they are small in number, often considered outliers and dismissed as such. Though many of these individuals have been prominent, exhibited genius, talent and intellect, their voices has been silenced and suppressed by the 'right to kill' influence of the judeo.christian tradition.

Notably missing in your list of vegetarians was St Francis, the Patron Saint of Animals, an indication of the confusion created by a system that calls for compassion as it sanctions abuse. Isaac Bahsevis Singer, Jewish author and Nobel Laureate was denounced by the Jewish establishment when he spoke the truth about animal lives: "...for animals it is an eternal Treblinka. He understood the need to end ALL sanctified violence, not to endorse a charade designed to protect pious proclamations of allowable harm and slaughter. It will take more than 'notions of non-violence' to shut down Treblinka.

You have indicated that you are in agreement with almost all of the points raised in 'Dominion Deconstructed'. Why than do you work to support the model of dominion as a viable means of relieving animal suffering? Would it not be more effective to prevent, rather than try to curb ever increasing abuse brought about by a system which is incapable of encouraging compassion?

"He who harms the creatures He who causes the creatures to be harmed He who allows the creatures to be harmed Brings the animosity of the world towards himself.", Jain adage

"He who harms the creatures has not understood or renounced deeds of sin" Jain sutra


Ruth Eisenbud