On "Inside the Minds of Animals" from TIME 8/16/2010

I have always enjoyed Saturdays.  Saturdays usually mean second sleep, waffles, college football in the fall, less of a schedule, and a long quest for stuff.  Only on a Saturday can you be satisfied with spending half the day looking for a deal on a chair, or a shovel, a rake, or an aquarium.  Saturday is a weekly celebration of doing and buying miscellaneous stuff.  I have only recently added another glimmer of hope to my Saturdays with a subscription to TIME magazine.  TIME magazine assures me that I get some piece of Saturday mail that is not a bill or some stupid ad for a car lot with the winning key attached.  I subscribed to TIME for two reasons.  1)  I need to be more current.  2)  I wanted to know what people who are nothing like me think about.  According to the cover of this week’s TIME magazine, people nothing like me are currently thinking about animal intelligence. 
When I took my Saturday walk of hope to the mailbox, pulled out the current issue of TIME, saw an ugly dog on the cover and read the headline “What Animals Think”, I thought, “You’ve got to be kidding me.”  I even showed it to my neighbor Chuck as we contemplated Saturday stuff like trampoline enclosure nets, and quipped, “With all the stuff happening in the world right now, this is the best we can come up with?”  Some of the other stuff is in there, but at some level the folks at TIME thought that knowing what animals would think would be a bigger draw for the newsstand customer than a rapper running for President in Haiti, corruption on Capital Hill, or the weekly TIME update on life and times of the Clintons.  The Clintons are TIME magazine’s reality show. 
For this series of blogs About TIME, I have chosen to respond to the cover story each week with the exception of one.  When I saw the doggie on the cover this past Saturday, at the moment it was a no brainer.  There was no way I would write about what animals think.  But I have obviously reconsidered.  I engaged in this assignment About TIME to not only help me become a better and more current communicator, but also to help others see that the Bible relates to every issue of life.  For the most part people who believe the Bible are losing their seat at the round table of ideas.  We are being categorically ignored.  I am not sure how well I am helping our camp get an invite back to the table, but I do intend to crash the party, stand in the back of the room and boogie to the music everyone else is listening to.  Maybe if others see that I am having a great time they won’t kick me out and others may even join my awkward dance.
If I could quickly sum up the argument in Jeffrey Kluger’s article it would be that since animals are smarter than we think, we should probably rethink not only the way we treat them but also reconsider their place in life and society.  Kluger calls attention to the 1975 book, Animal Liberation by Peter Singer.  According to Kluger this book launched the modern animal-rights movement (I learned something new here).  “The ability to suffer, he argued, is a great cross-species leveler, and we should not inflict pain on or cause fear in an animal that we wouldn’t want to experience ourselves.”  Kluger documents startling research that shows that animals can not only communicate, but form societal bonds, solve problems, and use tools.  He even asks the controversial questions of, “Can they feel?  Do they experience empathy or compassion?  Can they love or care or hope or grieve?”  Again, the answers to these questions along with the consideration of the research, raises the question, “What does that say about how we treat them?”  Kluger does mention the Bible in his article, “For many people, the Bible offers the most powerful argument of all.  Human beings were granted ‘dominion over the beasts of the field,’ and there the discussion can more or less stop.”
My interpretation of Kluger’s statement on Scripture, coupled with findings of Science, is that the Bible offers an archaic view of animals that leads to uncontested abuse, but science is helping us find our way into a more ethical view of animal life.  The fallacy here is that science is actually saying something new that the Bible does not say.  If the issue is primarily how we treat animals, the Bible answered this long before a monkey invited Kluger over for coffee (see the opening paragraphs of the article).  The idea of human dominion over animal life was never an endorsement of barbarianism toward the beasts of the field.  The idea of Scripture is for humans to subdue the earth.  God brought about creation from chaos.  Without His “images” or “agents” who carry out His will working to subdue created life, creation would descend again into chaos.  Like God, we are to be creative, life giving.  The idea actually implies that if people did what God sent them here to do it would benefit not only human life, but every form of life including plant and animal life.  The Bible teaches that God is aware of and cares for animals (Matt. 6:26, 10:29).  God commands people to care for animals (Prov. 12:10, 27:23).  One should consult the laws concerning livestock in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy to see that God requires compassion for animals and renounces cruelty.  Even the animals get a Sabbath (Exodus 20:10).  The message is very symbiotic, you need them to live and they need you – get along!
As far as animals being marvelous and intelligent, again, science is saying nothing new.  God directs us to marvel at the efficiency of the ant (Prov 6:6-8), and to learn from the fish and fowl (Job 12:7-10).  The eagle and the lion are often used as teaching metaphors for theological truths about God.  Even Jesus is a lion and a lamb.  And lest you thought it was only the monkeys that talk, in Revelation 5:13 some translations read “talk” others read “sing”, but all the living creatures speak praise to the one who sits on the throne.  Kluger shouldn’t have just asked Kanzi the bonobo for coffee, he should have asked him for a song.
Somewhere the message of Creationism has been misconstrued.  By default most people believe that creationists do not care for animals like evolutionists.  Somehow creationists are excluded as legitimate environmentalists.  It appears to me that unless one sells his soul to the animals in such a way that elevates animal life and demonizes human life, that he cannot possibly care anything about the planet.  I would contend that the Biblical position of exercising dominion over the animals and subduing creation in order to better facilitate human life is a greater benefit to the animals than simply allowing chaos to run its course.  The Biblical position is not one of destruction or unbridled consumption, but of management.  I would call attention to the fact that the Christian church does need to have a greater conscience when it comes to animal cruelty, especially when it comes to pets and livestock.  There are practices within both industries that are cruel to animals and hazards to human health.  In observing the strict practices of sacrifice and animal consumption in the Old Testament we would find not only a much more ethical treatment of animals, but also, in time, a more fit and less diseased human population. 
Where I, and most Christians, find disagreement with the prevalent ideas of the animal rights movement as demonstrated in Kluger’s article, is that it is not necessary to equate animal rights with human rights in order to find a more ethical treatment of them.  Let’s be honest.  While Kanzi the Bonobo’s use of 384 words and his invitation to Kluger for coffee is impressive, it is not the same as human intelligence.  If Kluger had stumbled into a remote part of the jungle and found a pack of monkeys sitting at a table, percolating coffee in a machine, making espresso, and debating the ethical treatment of the orangutan, I would have been impressed.  That would be something new!  Yet the fact remains, animals use tools, but have yet to adopt the combustion engine or find ways to harvest energy.  They do not write op-ed pieces about animal rights.  There is no organization amongst the Lions for the Ethical Treatment of Gazelles (LETGo).  Yet there is a PETA – that fact alone, ironically enough, demonstrates we are not animals and animals are not the same as humans.  This is where the Bible is clear.  Human life is infinitely precious.  There is no contest.  Animals are not to be abused, neither are they to be deified, worshipped, or elevated beyond what they were created to be.  In a culture that misses the Biblical ethic of life one can legally abort a human baby, but will go to federal prison for breaking the egg of an eagle.  We should appreciate animal life and conserve it.  We should honor human life and protect it.  We should not forget, monkeys could care less that it is Saturday.  Perhaps the things we do with Saturdays alone are enough evidence that we are very different creatures indeed.    
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Veg said…

Please visit The Vegetarian Mitzvah at www.brook.com/veg as well as the Society of Ethical and Religious Vegetarians at www.serv-online.org
Vasu Murti said…
Christians argue they are no longer under Mosaic Law (with its humane commandments, dietary laws, etc.), because Paul referred to his background as a former Pharisee and previous adherence to Mosaic Law as "so much garbage."

Nothing in the synoptic gospels suggests a break with Judaism. Jesus was called "Rabbi," meaning "Master" or "Teacher," 42 times in the gospels. Jesus' ministry was a rabbinic one. He went to the synagogue (Matthew 12:9), taught in the synagogues (Matthew 4:23, 13:54; Mark 1:39), expressed concern for Jairus, "one of the rulers of the synagogue" (Mark 5:36) and it "was his custom" to go to the synagogue (Luke 4:16).

Jesus himself said, "Do not suppose I have come to abolish the Law and the prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill...till heaven and earth pass away, not one jot or tittle pass from the Law till all is fulfilled. Whoever, therefore, breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven...unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:17-20)

Jesus also upheld the Torah in Luke 16:17: "And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for the smallest portion of the Law to become invalid."

Nor do these words refer merely to the Ten Commandments. Jesus meant the entire Torah: 613 commandments. When a man asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus replied, "You know the commandments." He quoted not just the Ten Commandments, but a commandment from Leviticus 19:13 as well: "Do not defraud." (Mark 10:17-22)

Jesus' disciples were once accused by the scribes and Pharisees of violating rabbinical tradition (Matthew 15:1-2; Mark 7:5), but not biblical law. Jesus never says anywhere in the entire New Testament that the Law is abolished; this was Paul's theology.

Sometimes Christians cite Matthew 7:12, where Jesus says "Do unto others..." and this "covers" the Law and the prophets. But Jesus was merely repeating in the positive what Rabbi Hillel taught a generation earlier. No one took Hillel's words to mean the Law had been abolished--why should we assume this of Jesus?

If Jesus really came to abolish the Law and the prophets, Simon (Peter) would not have resisted a divine command to kill and eat both "clean" and "unclean" animals (Acts 10), nor would there have been a debate in the early church as to what extent the gentiles were to observe Mosaic Law (Acts 15). When Paul visited the church at Jerusalem, James and the elders told him all its members were "zealous for the Law," and they were worried because they heard rumors Paul was preaching against Mosaic Law (Acts 21). None of these events would have happened had Jesus really come to abolish the Law and the prophets.

Paul says if anyone has confidence in the Law, "I am ahead of him."

Would that mean Paul places himself ahead of Jesus, who said he did not come to abolish the Law and the prophets? Would that mean Paul places himself ahead of Jesus, who said whoever sets aside even the least of the Law's demands shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:17-19)?

Would that mean Paul places himself ahead of Jesus, who taught that following the commandments of God is the only way to eternal life (Mark 10:17-22)? Would that mean Paul places himself ahead of Jesus who said that it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for the smallest portion of the Law to become invalid (Luke 16:17)?

Paul may have regarded the Law as "so much garbage," but it should be obvious JESUS DIDN'T THINK THE LAW WAS "GARBAGE"!

Christians believe in Paul, not Jesus. Bertrand Russell called Paul the "inventor" of Christianity.
Brian Branam said…
Vasu, could you please summarize in a sentence or two what you are saying in reference to the article itself? Are you arguing that since Christians are not exempt from the Mosaic law that they should not eat meat? I am just trying to follow what you are saying so that I may respond properly.
Vasu Murti said…

I'm not necessarily saying Christians should all be circumcized and following Mosaic Law. The Reverend Andrew Linzey, an Anglican priest and author of Christianity and the Rights of Animals, rejected such an approach in a 1989 interview with the Animals' Agenda.

I'm merely saying Christian theology for the past 2000 years has been based on a misunderstanding: putting Paul ahead of Jesus!
Vasu Murti said…
My book, They Shall Not Hurt or Destroy, was published in 2003. (I'm grateful to have become a published author before turning 40.) Similar to Steven Rosen's Diet for Transcendence (formerly Food for the Spirit), the book discusses animal rights and vegetarianism in the Western religious traditions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, the Baha'i faith, Pythagoreanism and neo-Platonism. Bruce Friedrich of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) wrote the preface, and the late Reverend Janet Regina Hyland (1933-2007, author, God's Covenant with Animals--it's available through PETA) wrote the foreword.

When I gave a talk on religion and animals at a San Francisco Vegetarian Society potluck in February 2001, I told the audience that I deliberately chose to focus on the Western religious traditions, because for too long, the stereotype of "religious vegetarians" is that they are all followers of Eastern religions, believing you might be reincarnated as a cow in your next life if you're not careful. (This drew a chuckle from the audience.) I wanted to show that the Western religious traditions also support the vegetarian way of life.

The book has been endorsed by Jewish and Christian clergy. The purpose of They Shall Not Hurt or Destroy is two-fold: to bring animal rights and vegetarianism into the mainstream (churches and synagogues) and to provide animal activists with inspiration and support for their own activism.

There are all kinds of fictitious "gospels" floating around, like the Aquarian Gospel, the Gospel of the Holy Twelve, the Essene Gospel of Peace, etc. Some of these "gospels" depict Jesus as a vegetarian, others say he traveled to India, or that he taught reincarnation (I believe reincarnation IS compatible with Christianity--on an abstract, theological level).

Mainline churches aren't about to take these "gospels" seriously. And with good reason. The Gospel of the Holy Twelve, for example, was received by seances and mediums in 19th century England! There's a book by Swedish New Testament scholar, Per Beskow, entitled Strange Tales About Jesus, where he effectively debunks these "gospels."

When I wrote They Shall Not Hurt or Destroy, I made it a point to stick to orthodoxy: Scripture, theology, church history, secular history, the lives of the saints and religious reformers, etc. -- and leave all "strange" elements behind. I sent a copy of my book to Per Beskow, and he acknowledged that I have not written a "strange tale," but he didn't think I provided enough compelling historical evidence to demand that Christians be vegan. He admitted, however, that his area of expertise is historical, not theological. The book has gotten a very positive response from Christian vegetarians and vegans, of whom I have the deepest respect.

Norm Phelps, Spiritual Outreach Director for the Fund For Animals, has endorsed the book, saying the animal rights movement will never succeed until we have religion on our side. Reverend Frank Hoffman, the retired vegan Methodist minister and owner of the www.all-creatures.org Christian vegetarian website, gave the book a glowing review in Veg-News shortly before the book's publication. He wrote to me, "For a non-Jew and a non-Christian, you have a remarkable grasp of Biblical interpretation." Rachael Price, a born again Christian, has endorsed the book.

You can purchase a copy for $15 (this includes shipping and handling) from:

Vegetarian Advocates Press
PO Box 201791
Cleveland, OH 44120

We've deliberately kept the price low to reach a wide audience.

The animal rights movement -- like the civil rights movement before it -- could use the inspiration, blessings, and support of organized religion.

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