Monday, October 13, 2008

Animal Rights (And Human Wrongs)

An editor with a Christian periodical recently asked me to write a proposal for an article about animal rights. As a result, I'm researching the topic.

As a Christian thinker with an emphasis in moral philosophy, the topic is of interest to me, and I have given it some thoughtful consideration previously (I considered writing a similar article last year).

Christianity, in my assessment, has -- due to inaction, poor understanding, or both -- failed to adequately address animal rights matters equitably, philosophically, and biblically. The same goes, more or less, for the ecology or conservation movement.

Instead, we have essentially turned these matters over to non-Christian ideologies and movements. There are any number of reasons as to why this is the case, and I certainly acknowledge that some Christians are active in both the animal rights and conservation movements.

Still, there is a marked tendency for these areas to be dominated by those who are more likely to be pantheists (or have pantheistic sympathies), hold to syncretistic philosophies, or even happen to be secular humanists/naturalists.

The article I will propose will touch on a contemporary overview and assessment of the animal rights movement, from a distinctly Christian perspective. Related to this will be a moral assessment of our food sources, whether or not it is right to eat meat from mistreated animals, etc. I may even delve into the ethics of hunting for sport.

While there is a tendency to focus on the "nutty" aspects of the animal rights movement, I'd like to offer a fair presentation, critique, and biblical response, without placing the emphasis on extremists, but on reasonable or apparently reasonable arguments.

What do you think about animal rights? What is the place of animals within a Christian context? Given the contemporary situation, where we get our food, how animals are treated, and so forth, what are the moral implications for Christians?

Thoughts and resource ideas are welcome.


david said...

How strange you should bring this up, because just last night I watched a rather disturbing video clip on the subject (

It has persuaded me to examine the issue in depth, but even prior to any inquiry, there are at least two propositions in tension that come to my mind:

1. Predation in nature results in the largest amounts of animal suffering. Depending on how one extends the effects of original sin, this may or may not be dependent on human action.

2. Most agree that it is wrong to inflict unnecessary pain on an animal.

I think killing an animal for food is ok by the Christian standard, but as thinking creatures humans are subject to scrutiny with regards to the care and use of any resources such as the environment, animals, and other humans of course. Perhaps this ties in with being a good steward with what God has given to us, I'm not sure.

Paul Schmidt said...

Animal Rights.

My comments are limited to the concept of "rights" from a Christian standpoint. The term animal rights concerns laws to administer justice on behalf of animals.

Karl Barth, and the Confessing Church wrote the Theological Declaration of Barmen in 1934 in opposition to Hitler. It has the best definition of how justice is achieved through the State:

"Scripture tells us that, in the as yet unredeemed world in which the Church also exists, the State has by divine appointment the task of providing for justice and peace. [It fulfills this task] by means of the threat and exercise of force, according to the measure of human judgment and human ability."

To talk about animal rights is to talk about how the State should use threats and force to deal with people who mistreat animals. With animal rights, we are saying that the guns of government can be used against those that violate those rights. If the person refuses, we can have the police use appropriate force against that person. If the person still refuses (e.g. pointing a gun at the police) the authorities may use lethal force, if necessary.

In your essay, I would love to see you tackle the tough problem of using threats and the exercise of force to the best of our human abilities and how that is achieved in a Christian way.

Rogue Mind said...

I do believe that animals are below humans. This doesn't change the fact that sometimes humans lower themselves and act like animals. Laws protecting animals do need to be in place because unfortunately we as a whole (the US in particular I would think) don't manage the resources on this earth very well, animals included. It would be very responsible of us to research where our food comes from and how it comes from animal to meal so that we can make educated decisions on who we support in providing us sustenance.

I still have yet to get myself out of this school of thought and into this train of action though.

If you're treating animals poorly it's only that much easier to have higher disregard for other life.

Eric M. said...

I do have a few resource ideas, particularly from a Christian perspective:

1. A book by philosopher Roger Scruton, “Animal Rights and Wrongs.”

2. An article in Human Life Review by philosopher David Oderberg, "The Illusion of Animal Rights."

Robert Velarde said...

Thanks, all, for the comments and resource suggestions. By the way, if I end up writing this article it won't get done until mid-2009 and probably won't be published until late 2009 (yes, writing for print usually takes a lot of time).