ANIMAL TREATMENT RELIGIOUS TENANTS
by Ahowan ICrow
Though all religions and cultures do not have specific tenants which uphold a purely Vegan diet; they do uphold ethical, compassionate treatment of our fellow sentient beings, with full recognition all creatures are part of and created by our One Divine Power. For those religions or cultures which do acknowledge partaking of our fellow creatures, they are specific in the treating them with utmost sacredness and with the least amount of pain and/or suffering. All statements and commentary are direct quotings from where they were referenced. The references for further information and reading is listed on the last page.
Official Statements on Animals
Human “dominion” is a call to serve creation as Christ serves us
Although the Bible states that humans have “dominion” over animals and the earth, this statement is not intended as “a license to dominate and exploit,” according to the ELCA. Instead, dominion is correctly understood as an invitation to imitate Christ’s service to us through our service to creation. When we serve “all members of the community of life”—living “within the covenant God makes with every living thing”— then we have grasped what Genesis means when it says we are “created ‘in the image of God.’”
“Humans, in service to God, have special roles on behalf of the whole of creation. Made in the image of God, we are called to care for the earth as God cares for the earth. God’s command to have dominion and subdue the earth is not a license to dominate and exploit. Human dominion (Gen 1:28; Ps 8), a special responsibility, should reflect God’s way of ruling as a shepherd king who takes the form of a servant (Phil 2:7), wearing a crown of thorns.” —from ELCA: Social Statement: Environment: Caring for Creation: Vision, Hope and Justice, I:B Our Place in Creation.
“According to Gen 2:15, our role within creation is to serve and to keep God’s garden, the earth. ‘To serve,’ often translated ‘to till,’ invites us again to envision ourselves as servants, while ‘to keep’ invites us to take care of the earth as God keeps and cares for us (Num 6:24-26).” —from ELCA: Social Statement: Environment: I:B Our Place in Creation.
“…[T]he ELCA articulates an ethic of universal human obligation to serve the flourishing of the created order.” —from ELCA: Social Statement: Genetics: 4:1 The Imperative.
“We are to live within the covenant God makes with every living thing (Gen 9:12-17; Hos 2:18)….We are to love the earth as God loves us.” —from ELCA: Social Statement: Environment: I:B Our Place in Creation.
“All creation, not just humankind, is viewed as ‘very good’ in God’s eyes”
“When the interests of life forms conflict, Christians must discern….ways that respect all”
Our responsibility to care for all creatures forbids “frivolous or abusive” research on animals
The ELCA’s social statements support care and compassion for all God’s creatures. Although the position does not require a cessation of all use of animals in research projects, and even affirms that some forms of research are beneficial to the “community of life,” it does forbid “frivolous or abusive treatment”
of “experimental subjects.”
Thus while non-human animals are subjected to the needs of humans, the role of humans is not to be an exploiter but a steward. Indeed the Qu’ran states that animals are created for human benefit (“and he has created cattle for you…” Q: 16:5) but also makes clear that all things belong to Allah who has created the earth for all living beings.
“This she-camel of God is a sign to you; so leave her to graze in God’s earth, and let her come to no harm, or you shall be seized with grievous punishment.” (Q 7:73)
Much of this compassion towards animals is seen throughout the haidths reminding Muslims of Muhammad’s interest in non-human animals. The hadiths contain many stories surrounding the care and treatment of animals and the rewards for compassion. One story concerns a man drinking from a well who upon seeing a thirsty dog dips his shoe back into the well and holds it out for the dog to drink. Upon seeing this Muhammads disciples asked if there is a reward for taking care of beasts. To which Muhammad replied: “There are rewards for benefiting every animal having a moist liver”ii [i.e. to all living creatures].
Muhammad enjoined many of his followers to show kindness towards animals and only use them for necessary purposes. In one hadith he is seen reprimanding several of his followers for sitting idly on their camels in the market saying:
“Do not treat the backs of your animals as pulpits, for God Most high has made them subject to you only to convey you to a place which you could not otherwise have reached without much difficulty.”iii
Muhammad forbade hunting for sport and the branding or hitting of animals in the face. However, he did allow the killing of certain animals such as poisonous snakes, mice and scorpions.
The Bahá’í Faith teaches that animals should be treated with kindness, and that this is a matter of great importance. Bahá’u’lláh listed kindness to animals as one of the qualities which must be acquired by anyone searching for God. In other words spiritual development requires that we love and respect all of our fellow creatures human or otherwise.
All of creation is inter-related, and the realisation of the oneness of all life is fundamental to the Bahá’í view. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá the son of Bahá’u’lláh, said:
“Unless ye must, Bruise not the serpent in the dust, How much less wound a man, And if ye can, No ant should ye alarm,
Much less a brother harm.”
The need for mankind to change its attitudes towards animals could hardly be put more strongly than it is in the Bahá’í writings:
“To blessed animals the utmost kindness must be shown, the more the better. Tenderness and lovingkindness are basic principles of God’s heavenly Kingdom. Ye should most carefully bear this matter in mind.”
Measure against this standard the way live animals are transported in inhumane conditions on their way to be killed, or in crates from tropical countries to our pet shops; caught or hunted for pleasure; used in laboratories to test drugs or cosmetics; or bred to be used for status symbol items of clothing.
While animals do not have man’s potential for spiritual development or for conscious destruction, like man they do have senses – sometimes more acute than those of man, as for instance a dog’s sense of hearing or a bird of prey’s sight; they have emotions, such as love, fear, and often highly developed strong social bonds:
“In what concerns the outer senses, such as hearing, sight, taste, smell, touch and even in some interior powers like memory, the animal is more richly endowed than man.”
“It is not only their fellow human beings that the beloved of God must treat with mercy and compassion, rather must they show forth the utmost loving-kindness to every living creature. For in all physical respects, and where the animal spirit is concerned, the selfsame feelings are shared by animal and man … The feelings are one and the same, whether ye inflict pain on man or on beast. There is no difference here whatever. And indeed ye do worse to harm an animal, for man hath a language, he can lodge a complaint, he can cry out and moan; if injured he can have recourse to the authorities and these will protect him from his aggressor. But the hapless beast is mute, able neither to express its hurt nor take its case to the authorities … Therefore it is essential that ye show forth the utmost consideration to the animal, and that ye be even kinder to him than to your fellow man. Train your children from their earliest days to be infinitely tender and loving to animals. If an animal be sick, let them try to heal it, if it be hungry, let them feed it, if thirsty, let them quench its thirst, if weary, let them see that it rests.”
If our children are brought up in this way, there will be an end to cruelty to animals.
The environmental wisdom and spirituality of North American Indians is legendary.
Animals were respected as equal in rights to humans. Of course they were hunted, but only for food, and the hunter first asked permission of the animal’s spirit. Among the hunter-gatherers the land was owned in common: there was no concept of private property in land, and the idea that it could be bought and sold was repugnant. Many Indians had an appreciation of nature’s beauty as intense as any Romantic poet.
Wisdom derives from way of life, and is as fragile as nature. Many Indians shared their animism, their respect for nature and their attitude to the land with other hunter-gatherers.
Perhaps the most famous of all Indian speeches about the environment is the beautiful speech of Chief Seattle of the Squamish tribe of the Pacific Northwest USA. But alas, Seattle’s “environmental” speech was
written by scriptwriter Ted Perry, in the winter of 1971/72, for a Canadian film on ecology, and attributed to Seattle for aesthetic effect. It is still a brilliant piece of work which distills the essence of many scattered Indian speeches. Those who wish to read Perry’s piece can follow the above link. Also read in full Seattle’s original speech, a moving lament on the passing of the Indian, but with only a fraction of the ecological awareness.
Buddhism has the Five Precepts, which are Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not lie, Do not commit sexual misconduct (usually interpreted to mean acts that break a vow, such as a marriage vow, or acts that are coercive, such as rape or sex with a minor) and Do not use alcohol or other drugs that cause heedlessness (except for legitimate medical reasons).
The traditional understanding of the First Precept, Do not kill, is not restricted to its literal meaning. Peter Harvey, a Buddhist scholar and ethicist at the University of Sunderland in the UK, points out that, “Each precept has a positive counterpart.”1 And American Buddhist scholar at the University of Virginia, and former translator for His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Robert Thurman, tell us that “Not merely not killing, but preserving lives is the first of Buddhism’s commandments.”2
This precept has always been understood by all denominations of Buddhism to apply to all sentient beings. Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Zen teacher who is, along with the Dalai Lama, one of the two Buddhist teachers best-known and most-revered in the West, tells us that, “In every country in the world, killing human beings is condemned. The Buddhist precept of non-killing extends even further, to include all living beings.”3 And Nhat Hanh goes on to say, “I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to support any act of killing in the world . . .”
The key teachings of Buddhism about animals are these: 1) Animals and humans share the same essential nature. We are not a separate class of beings to whom a separate class of ethical rules applies. 2) The highest Buddhist virtue is compassion, which we are to show to all sentient beings at all times. 3) We should do all in our power to avoid causing suffering or death for any sentient being.
As the Buddha said in the Dhammapada, perhaps the most widely known and best loved of all Buddhist scriptures: All beings tremble before danger. All fear death. When you consider this, you will not kill or cause someone else to kill. All beings fear before danger. Life is dear to all. When you consider this, you will not kill or cause someone else to kill.
The Five Precepts in Taoism (Chinese: 五戒; pinyin: Wǔ Jiè; Cantonese: Ng Gye), constitute the basic code of ethics undertaken mainly by Taoist lay-cultivators. For Taoist monks and nuns, there are more advanced and stricter precepts. These precepts are the same as the Buddhist Five Precepts, however have minor differences to fit in with the Ancient Chinese society.
According to The Ultra Supreme Elder Lord’s Scripture of Precepts, the five basic precepts are:
The first precept: No Murdering;
The second precept: No Stealing;
The third precept: No Sexual Misconduct;
The fourth precept: No False Speech;
The fifth precept: No Taking of Intoxicants.
Their definitions can be found in an excerpt of The Ultra Supreme Elder Lord’s Scripture of Precepts:
“The Elder Lord said: The precept against killing is: All living beings, including all kinds of animals, and those as small as insects, worms, and so forth, are containers of the uncreated energy, thus one should not kill any of them.”
Many Sikhs believe that humans and the rest of the world of nature have a great deal in common. God created everything. Therefore, animals are important and valuable. Sikhs do not believe that animals should be worshipped but they should be respected as a part of God’s creation.
The world, like all creation, is a manifestation of God. Every creature in this world, every plant, every form is a manifestation of the Creator. Each is part of God and God is within each element of creation. God is the cause of all and He is the primary connection between all existence.
Sikh Faith Statement 2003
There is a divine spark, a part of God, in every person’s and animal’s soul. Bodies are just ‘clothes’ for the soul. This means that a person’s soul may be reincarnated many times as a human or an animal. Eventually, these souls will be released from the cycle of death and reincarnation and will join God.
Humans are guardians of the world
Human beings are considered the most intelligent form of life on the planet but they are also the ones who are damaging the planet. Many Sikhs believe that this human superiority is being misused. The environment and life in the world are being damaged because humans have dominated nature and have not acted responsibly.
For this reason, Sikhs treat animals with care, respect and compassion. It is the duty of human beings to take care of them and to avoid harming them.
The Sikh Faith Statement, Assisi, 1986 states:
Humans should conduct themselves through life with love, compassion, and justice. Becoming one and being in harmony with God implies that humans endeavour to live in harmony with all of God’s creation.
Sikh Faith Statement Assisi 1986
Jains believe that the only way to save one’s own soul is to protect every other soul, and so the most central
Jain teaching, and the heart of Jain ethics, is that of ahimsa (non-violence).
In practical terms the biggest part that ahimsa plays in the lives of lay Jains today is in the regulation of their diet.
Mahavira taught that:
there is no quality of soul more subtle than non-violence and no virtue of spirit greater than reverence for life
Literally translated, Ahimsa means to be without harm; to be utterly harmless, not only to oneself and others, but to all forms of life, from the largest mammals to the smallest bacteria.
Jains believe that life (which equals soul) is sacred regardless of faith, caste, race, or even species.
Do not injure, abuse, oppress, enslave, insult, torment, torture or kill any creature or living being.
In following this discipline Jain monks may be observed treading and sweeping in their temples with the utmost of care so as to avoid accidentally crushing crawling insects, or wearing muslin cloths over their mouths in case they should accidentally swallow a fly.
• Jewish law prohibits causing unnecessary suffering to animals • Animals can be used to satisfy legitimate needs, like food and clothing • Pets are permitted, but cannot be physically altered, and may cause complications • Jewish law is compatible with a vegetarian diet, but involves some use of leather
Tza’ar ba’alei chayim (literally means: “the suffering of living creatures”) is the Jewish principle which bans inflicting unnecessary pain on animals. This concept is not clearly enunciated in the written Torah, but was accepted by the Talmud (Bava Metzia 32b) as being a Biblical mandate. It is linked in the Talmud from the Biblical law requiring people to assist in unloading burdens from animals (Exodus 23:5).
Resting on the Sabbath also meant providing rest for the working animals, and people are instructed to feed their animals before they sit down to eat.
At harvest time, the working animals must not be muzzled, so that they can eat of the harvest as they work.
Sports like bullfighting are forbidden by most authorities. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef has characterized bullfighting as “a culture of sinful and cruel people” which is opposed by Torah values. Most authorities oppose recreational hunting on similar grounds.
All animals must be kept in adequate conditions.
According to the Shulkhan Aruch, “anything that is necessary for medical purposes, or for anything else, is exempt from the prohibition of causing suffering to animals” (Even ha-Ezer 5:14).
Most Jewish authorities allow medical research if it will help people in need, and if the animals do not undergo any unnecessary suffering. Reform Judaism’s Central Conference of American Rabbis, for example, affirms that animal research is permissible if it will save human lives, so long as animals are subjected to little pain and not used in “frivolous” experiments such as cosmetic testing.
It must first be acknowledged that Confucius, the reluctant founder-figure who was forever after regarded as the Sage among Sages, left us very little that is useful in this regard. For him, animals seemed not even to be on the map; they did not register on his moral compass. “One cannot herd with birds and beasts. If I am not to be a man among other men, then what am I to be?” (Analects 18:6, trans. Arthur Waley). However, his influential follower Mencius said that kindness or love (ai) should be extended to all things (Mencius 7A:45). This was based on his principle that the “inability to bear the suffering of others” (including animals) is in fact the distinguishing characteristic of the human species. It was also consistent with the greater awareness of and appreciation for the natural world that we see in Mencius.
The Neo-Confucians of the Sung dynasty developed Mencius’ views in terms of the metaphysics of li (principle or order) and ch’i (the psycho-physical substrate of all existing things), claiming that humans constitute “one body” with all things. Nevertheless, this was rarely expressed as specific recommendations for moral action. Wang Yang-ming, in the Ming dynasty, did take it further in saying that the only true knowledge of our non-dualistic relationship with the natural world would be the active love of all things; true knowledge is action. And the Japanese Confucian scholar Kaibara Ekken, in the Tokugawa period, translated this into explicit recommendations against mistreatment of animals and plants, which he construed as “serving Heaven” (from Mencius 7A:1), thus placing humane treatment of animals in a clearly religious context.
Okada Takehiko, the eminent contemporary Japanese Confucian scholar, who readily sees the applicability of the “one body” doctrine to human relationships with animals and the natural world, but is somewhat surprised by the question. This illustrates a feature of the Confucian tradition that we can identify throughout its history: that even though the environmental-friendly principles are clearly present in the texts, they have always been far overshadowed by the traditional focus on the human sphere, even to this day.
Yet, despite this evident and undeniable anthropocentrism, the task of identifying and selecting for special emphasis those ideas and values in the Confucian tradition that can make a positive contribution to environmental ethics and animal rights is not at all difficult. This is because Confucianism is entirely unencumbered by a dualistic metaphysics. On the one hand, ch’i, the substrate of all that exists, comprehends the Western categories of matter, energy, mind and spirit. On the other hand, the natural order (t’ien-li) is also a moral order (tao-li): li in general, or principle/order, is precisely the sum of these two meanings. Thus in Confucian thought there are fewer philosophical problems connected with the first principle of the Earth Charter draft, which acknowledges the inherent value of non-human animals.
Hinduism’s leading sampradayas (traditions) regard the ethical treatment of animals as fundamental to the core Hindu belief that the Divine exists in all living beings, both human and non-human, and Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, the whole world is one family. Animals and plants are not regarded as mere objects for wanton human use and consumption in the Hindu tradition. Rather, they are equally embodied with the existence of the Divine and are fully deserving of respect and human compassion. Therefore, the concept of ahimsa, or nonviolence, which was popularized by Mahatma Gandhi’s passive resistance movement in India, is central to Hindu thought and applies not only to how humans interact with each other, but also to how they interact with all living beings.
In the Hindu epic Mahabharat, Lord Krishna, who chastises his cousin for carelessly chopping down a tree to release pent up anger, states, “Humans should take from this planet only that which is necessary for our survival.” He continues to explain that when societies begin to violate this principle, all of humanity will be forced to face the repercussions because all life, despite differences in intelligence and ability, is interconnected and serves its unique purpose in the world.
Fundamental to Krishna’s explanation is Hinduism’s law of karma, the basic principle of cause and effect that states that an individual’s every action and thought produces an appropriate outcome for her which may be experienced immediately or extended beyond the individual’s current lifespan and into future births.
“He who does not seek to kill, cause pain or tie up living creatures and desires the good of all attains everlasting joy.” (Manu Smriti 5.46 – Vishnu Dharma Sutra 51.69)
Classical Zoroastrianism (i.e., from the Sasanian period, 224-751 CE), therefore, divides nonhuman animals into “good” and “evil” species. Good species must be protected at all costs by humans, who are subject to extremely harsh penalties if they abuse them. On the other hand, it is the sacred duty of believers to kill “evil” species (collectively called khrafstar) at every opportunity, since by doing so they are reducing the foot soldiers available to Ahriman in his campaign for advancing evil in the world.5 This dualistic attitude toward the ensemble of animal species renders problematic recent arguments that Zoroastrianism is the “original environmentalist religion” (Foltz & Saadi-nejad, 2007).
The Gathas are only a small part of the Avesta (most of which has been lost in its original form), the remainder being in a slightly different dialect and often devoted to a range of deities other than Ahura Mazda (Ohrmazd), who is the focus of Zoroaster’s hymns. Moreover, the section known as the Vidēvdād (“Laws Keeping away the Demons,” often transcribed as Vendidād ), which contains much material pertaining to the treatment of nonhuman animals
Traditionally it was held that every Zoroastrian household should give food to a dog at least once a day, before feeding humans. The same was true for rituals that included food. This portion, called chom-e shwa (“meal for the dog”) in Zoroastrian Persian and kutrā-no būk (“share for the dog”) in Gujarati, is seen as be
ing destined for departed souls. In other words, the dog is an intermediary between this world and the next (Boyce, 1977, pp. 144-5).
The Laws Keeping away the Demons text mentioned above spells out the kind of severe punishment that was to be inflicted upon those who mistreated beneficent animals.
New Thought (Unitarian Universalist)
We are related to every living creature. Humans and animals are family
Unitarian Universalism’s seventh Principle affirms that all life is interconnected. This religious insight is confirmed by science, says the UUA, which reveals that we are composed of the same organic elements as all life forms and thus are “related to every living creature, both plant and animal.” It is time that we stop seeing ourselves as separate from and dominant over nature, according to the UUA, and start recognizing that we must “preserve and sustain” our family members.
Many religious traditions insist that any affirmation of human-animal kinship would give humanity moral permission to wallow in our basest, most violent instincts. Unitarian Universalism, however, views this fear as unfounded. Embracing our kinship with animals, says the UUA, can help us see that our most noble traits are “deeply rooted…in our nature.” For instance, although some species of great apes (our closest animal cousins) exhibit violent tendencies, others display “kindness and sympathy and altruism.” Both traits run deep within us and it is “our job…to choose wisely which impulses to draw on.” In addition, wild animals can help us recognize what it means to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature. This recognition, in turn, can help us become better stewards of our planetary home. Embracing human-animal kinship, in other words, can help us be more authentically, and compassionately, human.
“At the heart of the impulse we call religious is the desire to lessen suffering and to extend justice and compassion. Increasingly, religious faiths and denominations are considering what this means in relation to nonhuman animals… Unitarian Universalists…are striving to articulate and practice interspecies ethics…[in order to] better honor the interdependent web of life of which we are all a part.”