The Writings of
Vasu Murti


Animal Rights and Vegetarianism
in the Western Religious Traditions

Copyright 1995, 1999


"As long as humanity continues to be the ruthless destroyer of other beings, we will never know health or peace.  For as long as people massacre animals, they will kill each other.  Indeed, he who sows the seed of murder and pain cannot reap joy and love."

"Compassion, in which all ethics must take root, can only attain its full breadth and depth if it embraces all living creatures and does not limit itself to humankind."
---Dr. Albert Schweitzer

I am honored to be writing the preface to Vasu Murti�s They Shall not Hurt or Destroy, a remarkable work of faith and understanding. Biblical scholars as far back as Augustine and Aquinas have insisted that biblical truth must mirror rational thought. A lack of reconciliation between the two represents not a failure of rational thought or of the Bible, but of the adequacy of the interpretation. Murti�s book offers us simultaneously a biblical and a rational view of animals and their rights that is at once cogent, honest, and true.

Using the Bible to advocate vegetarianism and an end to animal slavery is comparable to using the Bible to advocate human rights and the abolition of human slavery. One day, it will be generally recognized that as civil rights activist and feminist novelist Alice Walker stated in her introduction to Marjorie Spiegel�s The Dreaded Comparison (a book that compares human slavery in the 18th and 19th centuries to animal slavery today): "The animals of the world...were not made for humans any more than black people were made for white, or women were created for men." Prejudice may be prejudice on the basis of many biases, including race, gender, nationality, or species. In each case, a line is drawn placing one group above a line, and everyone else below it. Bias on the basis of species is as unjustified as racism, sexism, or religious intolerance. In fact, Nobel Laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer called speciesism the "most extreme" form of racism.

In his book, Murti discusses biblical and religious reasons for including animals within our realm of moral concern and focuses specifically on vegetarianism. The focus on vegetarianism makes perfect sense since the vast majority of suffering in our world is caused by killing animals for food, and the degree of suffering is almost unimaginable.

Slaughterhouses are perhaps the most violent places on the planet. Animals are routinely sent kicking and screaming through the skinning and dismemberment process, every one bleeding and dying just as they would if they were human beings. Farms today treat animals like so many boxes in a warehouse, chopping off beaks and tails and genitals with no painkillers at all, inflicting third-degree burns (branding) and ripping out teeth and hunks of flesh. Animals transported to slaughter routinely die from the heat or the cold or freeze to the sides of the transport trucks or to the bottom in their own excrement. Dairy cows and egg-laying hens endure the same living nightmare as their brethren who are raised for their flesh, except that their time on the "farm" is longer. They, too, are shipped to the slaughterhouse and killed at a fraction of their natural life span.

Every time we sit down to eat, we make a decision about who we are in the world. Do we want to contribute to the level of violence, misery, and bloodshed in the world? Or do we want to be compassionate and merciful? There is much violence, from war-torn regions of Africa and Europe to our own inner cities. Most of this violence is difficult to understand, let alone influence. Vegetarianism is one area where each and every one of us can make a difference�every time we sit down to eat�we can always "pray ceaselessly" (Luke 21:36; I Thessalonians 5:17). I find it empowering that I can promote peace and compassion every time I eat merely by refraining from violence against animals.

Interestingly, the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (abolition) was passed in 1865; the 19th Amendment (suffrage) was passed in 1920. Labor justice, including the 40 hour work week, is very new. The first child abuse case was tried in this country in 1913. Many good and thoughtful people of the 19th century did not believe that women, children, or Native and African-Americans deserved rights. Women and children were considered (with biblical justification) to be the property of their husbands and fathers. Slavery flourished from the 1520s until the end of the 1800s in this country. The Oxford theologian Reverend Andrew Linzey explains in Animal Theology, "[G]o back about two hundred or more years, we will find intelligent, respectable and conscientious Christians supporting almost without question the trade in slaves as inseparable from Christian civilization and human progress" (my emphasis, p. 141). I mention these past atrocities to suggest the ability of an entire society (and an overtly religious one, at that) to be engaged in extreme evil but not recognize it, as well as to point out how much society has changed historically.

The animal rights movement is optimistic. We believe with Jeremy Bentham, "The time will come when society will extend its mantle over every[one] [who] breathes." We agree with the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that the arc of history is long, but that it bends toward justice (the fact that King�s wife and son, Coretta and Dexter Scott King are vegetarians is evidence). We believe that society will look back on human arrogance and cruelty toward other animals with the same horror and disbelief that we presently feel toward (human) slavery and other atrocities.

Vasu Murti�s book is a powerful contribution to an increased understanding of animal rights within the religious community. When societal consciousness finally understands the immorality of speciesism, They Shall not Hurt or Destroy will be considered one of the true pieces of philosophical brilliance of the late 20th century, in a class with the abolitionist religious literature of the early 19th century.

Read it prayerfully, and share it with your religious friends.

Bruce G. Friedrich
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
Norfolk, VA

Go on to Foreword
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THEY SHALL NOT HURT OR DESTROY is available in print copy from Vegetarian Advocates Press, PO Box 201791, Cleveland, OH 44120, at a cost of $15.00 US per book including shipping and handling.

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