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Vasu Murti

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Nonviolent Towards All Life

In his 1975 book, Animal Liberation, Australian philosopher Peter Singer writes that the "tyranny of human over nonhuman animals" is "causing an amount of pain and suffering that can only be compared with that which resulted from the centuries of tyranny by white humans over black humans."

Singer favorably compares animal liberation with women's liberation, black liberation, gay liberation, and movements on behalf of Native Americans and Hispanics. He optimistically observes: "the environmental movement...has led people to think about our relations with other animals in a way that seemed impossible only a decade ago.

"To date, environmentalists have been more concerned with wildlife and endangered species than with animals in general, but it is not too big a jump from the thought that it is wrong to treat whales as giant vessels filled with oil and blubber to the thought that it is wrong to treat (animals) as machines for converting grains to flesh."

Although prophetic voices have been raised throughout history in defense of animals and the environment, organized religion is just beginning to understand that the "sanctity of life" includes other species. According to Benedictine monk, Brother David Steindl-Rast, all life on earth is interconnected:

"...the survival of our planet depends on our sense of belonging to all other humans, to dolphins caught in dragnets, to pigs and chickens and calves raised in animal concentration camps, to redwoods and rainforests, to kelp beds in our oceans, and to the ozone layer."

English metaphysician John Locke attacked cruelty to animals in his "Thoughts on Education," which dealt with the issue of raising children to be virtuous and humane. "This tendency to cruelty should be watched in them," wrote Locke, "and if they incline to any such cruelty, they should be taught the contrary usage. For the custom of tormenting and killing of beasts will, by degrees, harden their hearts even towards men. And, they who delight in the suffering and destruction of inferior creatures, will not be apt to be very compassionate or benign to those of their own kind. Children should from the beginning be brought up in an abhorrence of killing or tormenting any living creature."

Count Leo Tolstoy became a vegetarian in 1885. Giving up "sport" hunting, he advocated "vegetarian pacifism" and was opposed to killing all living creatures, including the ants. He believed there was a natural progression of violence, a slippery slope, that led inevitably to war among human beings.

In his essay "The First Step," Tolstoy wrote that flesh-eating is "simply immoral, as it involves the performance of an act which is contrary to moral feeling; killing." By killing, Tolstoy argued, "man suppresses in himself, unnecessarily, the highest spiritual capacity, that of sympathy and pity towards living creatures like himself and by violating his own feelings becomes cruel. And how deeply seated in the human heart is the injunction not to take life!"

Leading Protestant theologian, Dr. Albert Schweitzer, taught: "We need a boundless ethics which will include the animals also." Schweitzer opposed the use of animals in entertainment. "I never go to a menagerie," he once wrote, "because I cannot endure the sight of the misery of the captive animals. The exhibiting of trained animals I abhor. What an amount of suffering and cruel punishment the poor creatures have to endure to give a few minutes of pleasure to men devoid of all thought and feeling for them."

Reverend Marc Wessels of the International Network for Religion and Animals (INRA) admits: "...many animal rights activists and ecologists are highly critical of Christians because of our relative failure thus far adequately to defend animals and to preserve the natural environment.

Yet there are positive signs of a growing movement of Christian activists and theologians who are committed to the process of ecological stewardship and animal liberation."

According to Reverend Wessels: "The most important teaching which Jesus shared was the need for people to love God with their whole self and to love their neighbor as they loved themselves. Jesus expanded the concept of neighbor to include those who were normally excluded, and it is therefore not too farfetched for us to consider the animals as our neighbors.

"To think about animals as our brothers and sisters is not a new or radical idea. By extending the idea of neighbor, the love of neighbor includes love of, compassion for, and advocacy of animals."

Rachel Carson wrote: "Until we have the courage to recognize cruelty for what it is whether its victim is human or animal we cannot expect things to be much better in this world. We cannot have peace among men whose hearts delight in killing any living creature. By every act that glorifies or even tolerates such moronic delight in killing we set back the progress of humanity."

In a 1990 letter, vegetarian labor leader Cesar Chavez similarly observed: "Kindness and compassion towards all living things is a mark of a civilized society. Conversely, cruelty, whether it is directed against human beings or against animals, is not the exclusive province of any one culture or community of people. Racism, economic deprival, dog fighting and cockfighting, bullfighting and rodeos are cut from the same fabric: violence. Only when we have become nonviolent towards all life will we have learned to live well ourselves."

Peter Singer concludes in Animal Liberation, that "by ceasing to rear and kill animals for food, we can make extra food available for humans that, properly distributed, would eliminate starvation and malnutrition from this planet. Animal Liberation is Human Liberation, too."

The animal rights movement should be supported by all caring Americans.

Go on to: Nonviolent Femmes
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