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Religion and Animal Rights Essay

Speciesism – Discrimination in favour of one species, usually the human species, over another, especially in the exploitation or mistreatment of animals by humans. Sentient – Able to feel pain; conscious through the senses. Shallow ecology – preserving the environment to the extent that it benefits human beings. (This is an anthropocentric view of ecology – human centred). Deep ecology – Giving all life respect and value – caring for all of nature, not just the aspects of nature which benefit human beings. Dominionism – Judeo-Christian idea that human beings have a special place in the natural world; they are given the power to rule over it (as overseers) in behalf of its creator, God. Stewardship – Judeo-Christian idea that human beings have a special responsibility for the natural world (and indeed all other areas of responsibility such as other people, their money and possessions) acting as caretakers on God’s behalf. Autonomy – Free will, able to self-govern.

Deontological – Duty led approach. Emphasis on the act itself in determining moral righteousness. Inaugurated eschatology – The kingdom of God was started/established in the agapeistic life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and continues in the life of the church, but will be fulfilled after bodily death in heaven. Realised eschatology – The kingdom of God is here and now on earth, through agape and the life of the church. Futuristic Eschatology: The Kingdom of God will come in the future – after bodily death, resurrection (bodily or spiritual) in heaven. Vivisection – Experimenting on animals.

Instrumentalist approach – A pragmatic (practical) approach that says an action should be taken in order to achieve an active solution to a problem. Mutate – Change, transform (e.g. as part of the process of evolution). Immutability – Unable to change (e.g. from species to species). Commodification – To turn into and treat as a commodity – an article suitable for trading/buying and selling.


Aristotle – Identified the hierarchy of being placing human beings above animals. Augustine – Human beings are superior to animals as human beings are rational, being made in the image and likeness of God, Genesis 1:26. Aquinas – Influenced by Aritotle – “animals……by divine providence are intended for man’s use in the natural order.”. Charles Darwin – Theory of evolution – ‘Origin of Species’, 1859. The process of natural selection, challenged the Bible, and in particular the Genesis creation story which claims that human beings are created in the image of God, Genesis 1:26. Albert Schweitzer – A pioneer of animal rights with his ‘reverence for life’ ethic.

For Schweitzer ‘all life is sacred’, sentient or non-sentient, animal or vegetable. A deep ecologist. St Francis of Assisi – Often referred to as, ‘The Patron Saint of animals’. God has created the world and so the created order reflects God’s goodness and purpose of design and order, animals are a particularly important aspect of that created order. Peter Singer – If a being has interests then they are morally important and should have rights; sentient, self-conscious beings have interests. What matters is not what species a being belongs to, but to what extent a being is a person – fulfils Personhood criteria. Jeremy Bentham – Believed that unnecessary suffering was morally wrong, irrespective of the species.



* Aristotle (4 BC – a foundation and influence for later Christian thought) – -everything had a telos, an end purpose. The end purpose of nature (and animals) according to Aristotle, is human fulfilment – Hierarchy of Being, Anthropocentric (human centred), Speciesist approach. * Augustine (4th to 5th century AD). Human beings are superior to animals as human beings are rational, being made in the image and likeness of God, Genesis 1:26. , “To refrain from the killing of animals and the destroying of plants is the height of superstition.” (Augustine). Hierarchy of Being. Speciesism. * Thomas Aquinas (13th century AD). Influenced by Aristotle’s ideas – there is no sin in using a thing for the purpose, telos, which it is intended. There is no possibility of sinning against non-human animals or against the natural world which exist for the use and good of humanity. Hierarchy of Being. Anthropocentric. Speciesist.

* St Francis of Assisi (12th to 13th century). Francis of Assisi thought that the natural world, and in particular animal life, was an expression of the creative will of God and was worthy of respect. Patron Saint of animals, emphasised the importance of sentient beings as part of God’s creation. Humanity should behave as responsible stewards to care and look after all of God’s created creatures. Shallow ecology – preserving the natural world, including animals to the extent that human beings benefit. (This is an anthropocentric view of ecology – human centred) where human beings have a caretaker role over nature. * Albert Schwietzer (20th century). Albert Schweitzer was a Christian who pioneered animal rights with his ‘reverence for life’ ethic. He was astonished at the indifference that human beings show to fellow creatures on the planet. Schweitzer was a ‘deep ecologist’ who believed that all life was sacred – sentient or non-sentient; human, animal, plant.


* Human Beings created perfect, imago dei (St. Augustine). Genesis 1:27. * Genesis 1:28 – Dominionism (to rule over, use, control) – “Then God said…Have dominion over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” This was the traditional position of the church towards animals as identified by Peter Singer. * Genesis 2:15 – Stewardship (to look after and care for on God’s behalf) – “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” More recently this is the role taken by the church, replacing dominionism with responsible stewardship.

* Genesis 2 – creation story has focus on creation of man and woman (Adam and Eve). Human beings have a soul (animals do not) “The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed (ruach) into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7) * Human beings, but not animals have free will, autonomous, with the opportunity of choosing a love relationship with God. “Love God, love your neighbour.” (Jesus, Mark 12:30/31). With autonomy comes responsibility, stewardship (see church teachings below). * “A righteous man cares for the needs of his animals, but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel.” Proverbs 12:10. * “The wolf will live with the lamb” Isaiah. An O.T. eschatological vision of harmony between all sentient life. * “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.” Luke 12:6.

Roman Catholic Catechism (1994)

• God willed creation as a gift addressed to humankind. • Animals, like plants and inanimate beings, are by nature destined for the common good of past, present and future humanity. Anthropocentric, arises out of the shallow ecology approach to the natural world that is the usual the way for Christianity to deal with this area of ethics/moral issues. • Animals do not have rights but humans do have duties towards animals. Roman Catholic Papal Encyclicals – Centesimus Annus and Solicitudo Rei Socialis (Pope John Paul II) • Human beings are stewards of God’s creation, not masters of it. • Animals are part of God’s creation and must not be abused. • The Church opposes cruelty / exploitation of animals.

•The earth and all life on it is a gift from God given to us to share and develop, not to dominate and exploit. Church of England documents: Our Responsibility for the Living Environment (GS 718) and Animal Welfare (GS 341) • Animals have been created by God and deserve respect.

• The value of animal life is secondary to human beings. • Humans have a common heritage with, and have an obligation to animals. • Humans are the most efficient predators and therefore must exercise responsible stewardship. • Medical / scientific testing within reasonable limits is acceptable as it promotes the common good of humanity. Quaker Peace Testimony

* show a loving consideration of all the creatures, maintain the beauty and variety of the world and show reverence for life.
* Quakers have long supported vegetarianism.
* Quakers oppose animal experimentation for weapons.
* They also oppose the use of animals for the testing of cosmetics.
* Most Quakers oppose the fur trade.
* Quakers do support the use of animal testing for medical research.

The extent to which animals are different from humans and their relative value.

Humans are animals.

* Charles Darwin 1859 “Origin of the Species” * Evolution, Natural Selection, Survival of the Fittest. Humans have evolved to become the dominant/controlling species. * “With all these exalted powers humanity still bears in its bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin.” (Charles Darwin) * Darwin challenged the idea of a designer God, and the anthropocentric view of the world. “Humanity in their arrogance think themselves a great work, worthy the (inter)position of a God. More humble, and I believe true, to consider them created from animals.” (Charles Darwin). * Many religious believers accept evolutionary theory as a way of explaining the origins of life on this planet, but still see that God’s power was behind the very start-theistic evolution (God the Uncaused Cause brought everything else into existence – based on Thomas Aquinas’s cosmological argument). How can an anthropocentric approach be upheld if humans are descended from animals – all are of equal worth and value – deep ecology. Hierarchy of species.

* See above. God created animals for a purpose to be of value and support to human beings. Human intelligence versus animal instinct. * Rationality, intelligence and autonomy set humans apart from animals. * Capacity for sophisticated methods of communication is a human skill. * Creativity (music, literature, art) and complex/sophisticated (developing/utilising science and technology) societies for a good and worthwhile quality of life rather than for instinctive survival are hallmarks of human existence. * Most humans protect the weak and vulnerable arguably for altruistic motivations rather than for survival of the species. * Humans can choose to behave morally.

* Humans are spiritual beings. However, just because the status of animals is lower than humans many argue for care and respect. * Stewardship. Deep ecology. Animal Rights. * “The question is not can they reason, can they talk, but can they suffer.” Jeremy Bentham (19th century). * Peter Singer thinks that if a being has interests then these things should be satisfied, other things being equal. What matters is not what species a being belongs, but to what extent a being fulfils the criteria of personhood:- rational, sentient (experience pleasure / pain), self-conscious, can establish relationships and can communicate. Religious views on animal rights and the means of protecting those rights. See scholars, biblical and church teachings above.

* Rev Humphrey Primatt (19th century) argued all life was made by God and any sentient creature has the right not to have pain inflicted upon it including animal suffering. “Pain is pain whether inflicted on man or beast” (Primatt). The work of Humphrey Primatt led to the foundation of the RSPCA in 1824. * Organisations such as WWF and RSPCA campaign for animal rights so that they may live according to their own nature and not be harmed, exploited or abused, maintaining a dignified existence. * Such pressure groups oppose factory farming (a method of raising animals intensively for maximum economic gain and to produce food at a lower cost for consumers, resulting in the commodification of animals), animal experimentation (vivisection) and using animals for entertainment;, although opinions vary on all these issues. * Controversy exists about vivisection and the extent of justifiable protest on animals’ behalf – SPEAK campaign sought to end the building of new animal labs for scientific experimentation on animals at Oxford University, often using intimidation and direct action which was judged by the law courts to be illegal.

“If possessing a higher intelligence does not entitle one human to use another for his own ends how can it entitle humans to exploit non-humans for the same purpose?” Professor Peter Singer VERSUS “You can’t go to a doctor without having treatment that has been tested on animals – you can’t pick and choose.” Professor Colin Blakemore, Oxford University. * International Animal Rights Day = December 10th annually. * British law protects animals form cruelty and neglect which are criminal offences. * Revd Professor Andrew Linzey – Department of Theology at Oxford university = world’s first academic post in Ethics, Theology and Animal Welfare. Rejects an instrumentalist view of animals as ‘speciesist’; privileging one species, human beings, giving them a unique moral status. For Linzey, animals are part of God’s creation, and have God-given rights, or ‘theos-rights’, and thus have moral status.

Religious responses to the preservation of species from extinction. * Genesis 1:12 – Species were created immutable (fixed and unchanging). Dominionism means human beings have used species and their environment for the good of humanity which has inevitably led to extinction of some. However, stewardship imposes a duty of care implying preservation and conservation of God’s sacred, creation for future generations upholding biodiversity. * Evolution teaches that species naturally change, mutate, and die out as part of the process of survival of the fittest and natural selection. Some religious people accept evolutionary theory – theistic evolution (God the Uncaused Cause brought everything else into existence – based on Thomas Aquinas’s cosmological argument). * Breeding programmes in zoos have helped to save species from extinction. * Ohito Declaration 1995 – sustaining environmental life is a religious responsibility.

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