Philosophy

Although this is not a religious website, I do think there is a natural tie-in of animal ethics with spiritual ethics for those who follow a faith tradition and those who are spiritual but not necessarily connected to a personal deity. About one third of the world’s population is observing a significant holy event in this first week of spring (Passover, Holy week). It got me to thinking about what those two observances in particular mean to humanity and how the issue of animal ethics is so integral to both. Passover commemorates the final plague against Pharaoh so that he would free the Israelites from horrendous slavery; Holy week remembers the last supper, the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ to atone for the sins of humankind.

Slavery, sins, and atonement seem to be the themes of the week. That we enslave, torture, and kill billions of sentient creatures would seem to be an obvious abomination against anything or any entity that represents goodness and perfection. The span of time over which the events of the Bible take place has been estimated to be about 4,000 years. Many things took place that do not show humans’ best side – murder, incest, adultery, slavery, just to name a few. But the fact that the Bible recounts these events does not, in my view, constitute an endorsement, but rather an honest look at human behavior throughout history.

The relevant question seems to be what do we as a species do now? Now that we have the technology and the ability to grow food without killing animals, to test products without testing them on animals, to manufacture warm clothing without taking the skin of another – seems like a no-brainer. If God does exist and God is by nature goodness and love, a proper homage would seem to be to care for God’s creation with kindness and respect. There are many passages in the Bible which mention God’s love for animals, and there are passages which discuss which kinds of animals to eat. But I doubt even the permission to eat certain animals came with permission to treat them with the vicious cruelty with which many industries treat them today.

I am reminded of my favorite poem by Edgar Guest:

Obligation

They cannot ask for kindness
Or for mercy plead,
Yet cruel is our blindness
Which does not see their need,
World-over, town or city,
God trusts us with this task:
To give our love and pity
To those who cannot ask.

― Edgar A. Guest