Animal rights despite the bible: Morals vs. religious ethics

Yesterday I read a very entertaining anecdotal post on Constant Consciousness titled “Why I Don’t Kill Bugs.” Go ahead and read it. I think many of us can relate to it. I myself constantly go out of my way to do no harm to bugs, even — as did the author of the linked post — catching spiders and releasing them outside instead of swatting them with a shoe. As I was reading it, I started to think about my own morality.

I’m vegan. This post is not about veganism or animal rights. It’s merely to highlight a contrast between Christian (and other religions) “morality” and human morality. For the purpose of this post, I will be highlighting animal rights to make my point (don’t worry; I’m not here to proselytize animal rights).

As I’ve written before, by definition Christianity literally has no morality. Morality is an innate feeling of what is right and wrong. Rather, religions construct ethics, which are similar to morals but based on teaching and social views rather than innate feelings of right and wrong. In other words we learn ethics; we know morals.

I don’t kill bugs because I have an innate feeling that killing bugs is wrong. I’m vegan for the same reason. I was never taught this (my father is a de facto carnivore). I just felt it, and that’s how I live my life, doing the least amount of harm as possible.

In this case I have a higher standard for morality than Christianity (or many other religions). If we look to Christian ethics, my morality is still at a higher standard because Christianity says almost nothing about animal rights.

Animal rights are tenuously mentioned three times in the bible. In Genesis 1:28 Adam and Eve are commanded to have dominion over the animals. What does that even mean? No further instruction is given. It must be stated, however, that in order to conceptualize death to Adam and Eve after “the fall,” god personally slaughtered an animal in Genesis 3:21 to make clothing. This is literally the first death in the bible. The very first death in the Judeo-Christian universe is god killing an animal for its skin. In Genesis 9:1-2 god tells Noah that he is personally responsible for the well being of the animals that were under his care (this comes, paradoxically, immediately after god made all animals afraid of Noah). Finally, in Proverbs 12:10 we are told that righteous people understand animals’ needs. These verses all come from the Old Testament. What does Jesus say about animal rights? Nothing. The closest thing he says about animal rights is when the zombie Jesus commands Simon to feed his lambs to prove his love for Jesus. But that’s not really animal rights; that’s a chore.

Christian doctrine says little-to-nothing about taking care of animals. But many Christians worldwide have an innate compulsion to care for animals. Many live with cats or dogs or parrots or other animals, and those animals are granted family-member status. Some Christians are vegetarian or vegan. Most will stop their car if a mother duck and her ducklings are crossing the street. Indeed, most human beings have an innate moral responsibility to mitigate animal suffering. This is not to say killing animals for food is immoral. Most hunters, for example, strive for clean kills. You will very rarely find a hunter torturing a deer to death. They know prolonging animal suffering for fun is wrong.

In the case of animal rights — from hunters going for quick kills all the way through vegans and non-bug killers — we can see that our morality comes not from religious instruction or Christian ethics; rather, it comes from our innate nature. Christians who care for the emotional and physical happiness of their animals do so not because Jesus told them to, but because they know it is the right thing to do. Morals are ingrained; they don’t come from religious ethics.

About Rayan Zehn

I'm a political scientist.
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3 Responses to Animal rights despite the bible: Morals vs. religious ethics

  1. T.S. says:

    Thanks for the shoutout, man.

    I wish I could say my experience with hunters was as benevolent as yours.

    Growing up in my back woods deep south setting full of gun nuts and overpriveledged rich kids, I often heard the fun of hunting was “blowing animals the shit up.”
    Their argument for hanging on to their high powered rifles was to blast their prey into as many pieces as possible till it was blown into so many bits it was inedible.
    Lovely group of people…

    I’ve read that our morality comes from our higher cognitive function which further develops our empathy- which is why we are (supposedly) more nurturing and kind than lower forms of life.
    Really makes me raise an eyebrow when a religious person asks me what’s stopping me from going out and killing people without god.

    Well aside from threat of jail, I suppose basic human decency…

    • Rayan Zehn says:

      Are they doing that because they like to see exploding animals, or because they get pleasure from animals suffering? Either way, that’s pretty horrible. I grew up in a city, where hunters go on retreat, away from public eyes, to do their killing. So to be honest, I’m not exactly sure what happens during hunting trips.

  2. Animals don’t have rights. Only human beings have rights.

    To say that animal have rights means that animals are equal to human beings.

    That is just plain stupid.

    And “by definition Christianity literally has no morality,” begs the question, by whose definition?

    Only an idiot could not see that morality is what defines Christians, not the other way around.

    And all it takes is basic literacy to read the Bible and see that it is chock full of morality tales.

    Are you people peddling stupid because you are stupid, or because you think your readers are stupid or because you think everyone is stupid so you want to have a stupid convention.

    If our public schools and universities are pumping out people who preach this kind of malignant ignorance and rot gut stupidity our civilization is not long for this world.

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