Sunday, April 01, 2007

A question that needs a better answer

In the current issue of Best Friends magazine, Best Friends Animal Society executive director Paul Berry asks a question I asked in this blog a year and a half ago: "Why don't churches preach compassion for animals?" The answer of course, isn't that obscure: To do so would require church members to oppose factory farming, change their diets, spay and neuter their pets, and take a close look at the use of laboratory animals. That would make them "extremists" or "crazy" as those of us involved in animal liberation are called on a daily basis.

Says Berry, "...the churches continue to treat concern for animals as a non-issue. Worse yet, the world of animal "rights" is often shunned by the evangelical movement as being "liberal"--even atheistic."

Berry also mentions Matthew Scully, George W. Bush's former speechwriters, who wrote Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy. What a pity that this book isn't a vital part of church study groups.


With the exception of the Seventh Day Adventists, of course, who often provide small town America with its only vegetarian products in their shops.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:30 AM  

There's also the problem that including animals in the sphere of moral obligation raises awkward questions about the relationship between humans and animals, and between humans and God.

The strongest argument for animal rights is that animals are moral persons - that they have moral interests that deserve to be recognized within our code of moral behavior, that harming them is not just a misuse of property but a moral transgression against the animal in its own right. This line, or some variation of it, is that taken by Peter Singer (regarded as the philosophical voice of the animal-rights movement) and hard-line animal activist groups such as PETA.

Accepting that claim raises all sorts of problems for conservative Christians: it suggests that humans aren't unique in their relationship to God, but share their moral status (supposedly granted by God) with animals; it implicitly strengthens the evolutionary perspective on human history (since it is physiological capacities that they share with humans - sentience and intelligence - that give animals their moral standing); it implicitly strengthens the liberal case on all the hot-button "ends of life" issues - embryos, abortion, terminal care, euthanasia - by elevating mental capacities over species membership as a criterion of moral personhood. In addition, of course, there are all the practical inconveniences you note.

It is obviously these concerns that lead Scully to formulate his argument in terms of mercy on the part of humans, not moral rights on the part of animals. But mercy is a highly porous sentiment - Christians are well-practiced in overcoming the obligation of mercy in the cases of capital punishment, war, "terrorism", and so forth. Admitting animals to the ranks of those protected by the moral absolutes of ethics generally is probably a more likely means of securing their welfare, but, as noted above, comes at a cost for those who are ideologically committed to seeing humans as unique, and moral status as descending by fiat, not arising from internal capacity.

By Blogger Kevin T. Keith, at 12:49 PM  

You are absolutely right. It still amazes me, though, that groups such as Farm Sanctuary, HSUS and PETA are considered "hard-line." Of course, PETA gets all the mud slung at it, but all three groups, plus DDAL, have the same values.

By Blogger Diane, at 1:44 PM  

Coincidentally, I just spotted this post on a liberal message board:

It's sad when people treat animals as the moral equal to people....

... it points to the existence of a gaping lack in their lives.

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