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.