A Work in Progress

Posted on the 25 February 2014 by Agholdier @agholdier

What follows is my working introduction for a paper I will be delivering at the 2014 Society of Christian Philosophers Mountain-Pacific Regional Conference titled “All Animals are Equal: Dominion and De Facto Vegetarianism”.  I welcome feedback:

“The [great teachers] of the past, present, and future, all say thus, speak thus, declare thus, explain thus: all breathing, existing, living, sentient creatures should not be slain, nor treated with violence, nor abused, nor tormented, nor driven away. This is the pure, unchangeable, eternal law…”

- Jaina Prophet Mahavira, Akaranga Sutra, Bk. 1, Lecture 4, Lesson 1

Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast, but the mercy of the wicked is cruel.”

- Proverbs 12:10, ESV

At first glance, a reader might be tempted to conclude that Mahavira and Solomon had the same idea in mind when they each penned their separate teachings; in both cases, concern for the well-being of animals is a virtue that the ethical person will uphold. However, both a bull and its rider eagerly anticipate the eight-second mark away from the rodeo gate, but few would argue that they share the same reason; in a similar way, despite resulting in a similar end, the motivations for preserving animal well-being differ greatly from India to Israel. Whereas the first case recognizes that animals should be treated well because, thanks to the cycle of karma and rebirth, they are essentially no different than human beings, the second view turns this on its head and affirms a hard, divinely-defined distinction between humanity and the animal kingdom that carries certain ethical responsibilities. Consequently, though the moral principles seem similar, their metaphysical foundations are as far as the bull’s concerns are from the cowboy’s.

Much closer to the Jain position, in fact, is that of the famous ethicist and animal rights activist Peter Singer, who coined the term “speciesism” in his landmark 1975 book Animal Liberation to describe the unjust favoring of the pleasure or well-being of one’s own species over any other (akin to the sins of racism or sexism). In Singer’s often-repeated words, “all animals are equal,” therefore human animals should treat all other animals with the same respect with which we treat each other. Much like the Jain holy men who wear face masks and sweep the pathway ahead of their steps to avoid accidentally swallowing or crushing an insect, Singer’s position entails abstaining from murdering and eating animals – human or otherwise.

Interestingly, from a biblical perspective, Singer’s catchphrase is undeniably true. All animals are indeed equally valuable as members of God’s creation and should be treated as such, but, contrary to Singer and most other atheistic vegetarians, humans are not mere animals and have been charged by our Creator to play a unique, managerial role within the world as its caretakers. For this reason, by disagreeing with Singer’s motivations and preconceptions, Christians can ironically build a far stronger case for one of his vegetarian conclusions: the mistreatment of both animals and humans in American factory farms necessitates the ethical, principled rejection of the industry’s products.

Indeed, a proper theology of stewardship reveals that our place at the pinnacle of Creation is not a license to brutally control everything beneath us; it is a charge to shepherd and care for everything under our responsibility – humans are not animals, but animals are not worthless. The biblical mandate of dominion, properly understood, is not the oppressive excuse for abuse that Singer paints it to be, but is rather what provides Christians the strong foundation from which to criticize our diet; a task that, given the violence towards both animals and humans endemic to the present landscape of standard food production methods, is significantly needed.

After which I’ll lay out that proper theology of dominion (and touch on the Image of God), describe the current state of the U.S. meat processing industry, and assess whether the latter meets the expectations of the former (don’t hold your breath). Key references (in addition to Singer) will include Norman Wirzba and Andrew Linzey (with, as is usual for me, a dash of C.S. Lewis thrown in).


Tags: Christian philosophy, Dominion, Ethics, Jainism, Peter Singer, Philosophy, Vegetarianism

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog