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On ZooToo and the Right to Stand While Confined

First, I received a response from the folks at regarding the makeover for animal shelters that I wrote about last week.

Dear Mary
Thank you for your email, as of right now we are considering farm sanctuaries if they have a facility or an enclosed barn, open to public even if it is by appointment only.  It must be a 501C3, and be capable to adopt out animals.  Because Wild life refuges do not adopt out animals to the public we are not including them in this one, but are working on programs for rescues and wild life programs.  Thank you for choosing zootoo where every click helps a pet.

Now, call me crazy, but don’t farmed animal sanctuaries often rescue animals from people who had them as pets in the first place? Do they adopt out animals? If they do–if your favorite one does–submit it on ZooToo for a makeover and let everyone know so they can vote for/rate it! Of course, if your favorite no-kill shelter could use a makeover, that seems right up ZooToo’s alley.

Next, Chuck Colson, the former chief counsel for President Nixon who was jailed for Watergate-related charges but more recently works for a Christian prison fellowship, wrote "Speciesism and Rights for Animals" for the Christian Post.

Let’s deconstruct:

  • The article begins: "Five years ago, Florida voters amended their state constitution to guarantee the rights of a previously unprotected class: pregnant pigs. Specifically, the ballot initiative guaranteed pregnant sows ‘enough space within which to turn around.’ Now, treating animals humanely is a moral imperative, especially for Christians; treating them as if they somehow were equivalent to humans is not. And, increasingly, that is what we are doing." This thoroughly confuses me. Does he mean that granting someone the right to turn around while they’re being confined is a right only humans should have? And how important is his moral imperative if it’s so easily trumped?
  • He continues: "At the time of the initiative, bioethicist Wesley J. Smith noted that at, any given time, there are only 300 pregnant sows in the entire state. Of these, only a handful were not being provided the space required by the amendment. So, the initiative was not being sponsored to eliminate animal cruelty. Instead, its goal was to establish a legal and political precedent that would help redefine the relationship between people and animals—and, in this case, bestow constitutional rights on animals." Okay, I have two words for you: Wesley Smith. Here’s just one of his many opinions, called "Pro-Animal or Anti-Human."
  • And now, the California initiative: "There, animal-rights supporters are trying to get an initiative on the September 2008 ballot. This initiative would extend the ‘rights’ granted to Florida sows to the rest of the barnyard. It would, in effect, give animals a right to stand up, lie down, turn around, and fully extend their limbs." And clearly, Colson doesn’t think they should have that right. Extending their limbs is just too much to ask.
  • Meanwhile, he says: "Again, Christians ought to oppose cruelty toward animals and ensure that animals, including those we eat, are treated humanely." So humane doesn’t include standing or lying down or turning around while you’re being confined before you’re sent to slaughter? I’d like to hear his definition of humane.
  • He thinks he’s figured it all out, as he’s heard about speciesism: "But initiatives like this one and in Florida are not really about the humane treatment of animals–€”they are about blurring and eventually erasing the distinction between people and animals. They are about eradicating what animal-rights advocates call ‘speciesism.’" The funny thing is that he’s got it backwards. These initiatives really are about reducing suffering (I won’t get into whether or not that actually happens). How exactly does allowing someone to stand and turn around, whose life you completely control and always will, lead to a blurring of the distinction between man and beast (I’m surprised he didn’t have that in there anywhere).
  • "For [Peter] Singer and company, the offense is not only that we treat animals badly–€”it is that we think that people are human and, thus, different than animals," Colson writes. But that’s not the whole thought. Humans and animals aren’t different in that their both sentient. We’re not saying we’re identical and should have all of the same rights.
  • Colson’s every value is revealed when he writes: "How far will the animal-rights movement go? Can you imagine pigs enjoying the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? Don’€™t laugh. Social changes in postmodern America happen very quickly–especially when couched in the language of rights. How quickly, for example, did abortion go from being a crime to a right? Or the demand by gays for marriage?"
  • And if you’re still not clear about where he’s coming from, he concludes with: "Worldviews matter. If you believe there is no God, then you believe there are no God-given rights. And to you, humans are indeed just one of many living accidents roaming the planet. But we know better. And we know better than to cast human rights before swine." The disdain is palpable, for both non-believers and pigs. If I believed in a god, there’s no way mine would be the type of god to basically tell me I can run roughshod over the planet and everyone on it, and call that "stewardship" or "dominion."

Here’s my problem: How do you communicate with someone who thinks he has the God-given right to his beliefs and behavior? In my own life my strategy is avoidance. Does anybody have a productive, positive way of speaking to religious people that has been met with success? Anybody doing a pamphlet on veganism and religion? I’d pay for that one.

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Hi Mary,

    I just wrote a long comment and somehow it got erased and I couldn't recover it. So this version may be a little roughhewn and not flow so well.

    Here are some thoughts in no particular order.

    FYI I believe in a God but am part of no specific religion, because none – as practiced anyway – closely enough reflect my views.

    Also, I thought your responses to Mr. Colson's arguments were right on the money.

    – Most Christians are not as intransigent as Mr. Colson. They may not be veg*an, but they get that confining pigs in an area so small they cannot even turn around is wrong. That's why referendums to ban the practice pass in states where Christianity is the dominant religion.

    – The Christian Vegetarian Association has a very well-worded, pro-veg brochure called "are we good stewards of God's creation?" It uses references in the Bible and quotes from religious figures to show the wrongness of inflicting suffering or death for pleasure. It also deals with many of the common religion-based defenses of animal exploitation and has a veg starter guide section. You can read the brochure, sans illustrations and pull-quotes, here:

    – When talking to Christians, I try to show how killing and harming others for pleasure violates tenets of their own faith…

    – The Golden Rule says "others," not "other humans" or "other men." "Thou shalt not kill" is unqualified; let us interpret as widely, not as narrowly, as possible.

    – Jesus repeatedly calls for mercy. So do the latter prophets ("God desires mercy, not [animal] sacrifice" – Hosea). Killing or harming others unnecessarily is profoundly unmerciful.

    – "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." We don't have to wait till heaven or the second coming to do good, or to act in God's image, which above all should be a manifestation as much as possible of boundless love. God's ideal vision is a super-vegan world where all sentient beings live in harmony. Although we can't achieve that level of perfection here on Earth, we have the ability and thus the obligation to be as good as possible. This means being humble, not selfish. Compassionate, not cold-hearted. To paraphrase Tom Regan, we can take a step toward Eden by choosing to refrain from killing or harming other creatures as much as practically possible.

    – Jesus today would be a vegan activist. Using direct action, He liberated animals in the Temple and for that he was crucified. Modern Christians have watered down and substantioally altered the interpretation of that crucial incident in Christianity. Adcording to the revised version, Jesus was concerned not with the mass killing and animal suffering but with overcharging. That is ludicrous. Here is a person who compared a hen's love for her chicks to God's love for us, who reminded people that God cares for the sparrow sold for next-to-nothing, and who preached to animals in the field. He must have been incensed that priests took people's money to crudely kill thousands upon thousands of innocent animals in a holy place.

    – Jesus didn't hunt and never said a word in praise of hunting or any other animal abuse. There is no record of him eating meat, other than fish – maybe – and only in a few circumstances. It is inconceivable that he would condone factory farms or, for that matter, the dishonest, deceptive misuse of the word "humane."

    – In the ten commandments, animals are supposed to get a day of rest. With their engineered obesity, human-imnposed mutilations, and unnatural living conditions, they never truly rest. Plus transport and slaughterhouses do not necessarily stop on the sabbath. Thus eating animals almost always violates the ten commandments. Gluttony is a deadly sin. Killing animals against their will because you like the taste of their flesh is gluttony. It's also prideful to a ghastly degree; pride is another deadly sin. So is greed.

    – God never commands anyone to eat meat. Many passages in the bible that may seem pro-meat can be explained in other terms. God never created the animals for our use. He created the animals before us and the animals were declared "very good" on their own terms. (Nothing else in the bible is termed "very good.") God makes covenants with the animals independent from those made with humans. Clearly animals have tremendous intrinisc worth.

    – People are predisposed to interpret things in ways that support the lifestyles in which they're deeply vested. But part of being a good Christian, or a good person, is to have the honesty to see one's own moral shortcomings and try to fix them, in order to be a better person. To be a person of faith and to treat all sentient beings with compassion and respect is to serve God in the truest way.

    – God doesn't need our worship and love to feel good. He is omnipotent. But the sentient beings in His Creation – they suffer, they have interests, they have will to live, they know and seek happiness. We all seek peace of mind, and that can be accomplished through widening our circle of compassion to be as inclusive as possible.

    Love the sinner, hate the sin. The religious and non-religious both come up with no end of rationalizations for their immoral habits. Most of us used to, also. I believe people fear pulling away from their comfort zones, and meat-eating is a comfort zone for many in this society. They don't want to be different, or have an impoverished diet, or earn others' wrath or jeopardize relationships. It's unsurprising that people of faith would want cosmic permission for an activity to which they're deeply emotionally attached. Then they don't have to think about it any more.

    But in most cases, it's not so easy. We're blessed with consciences. We know in our hearts that causing others to suffer and die for us when it's perfectly avoidable is wrong. We know that exploitation violates the very concept of a loving and merciful God. When we have the honesty and moral conviction – and perhaps discipline and support and inspiration – to act in accordance with our deepest moral principles – being humble, being merciful, being unselfish, helping others, loving others – we cannot help but benefit immensely. We all rise and fall together. We are all of the same source, of the same dust, and when we strive to live in harmony even the most ardent atheist may experience something quite spiritual and magnificent.

    November 20, 2007
  2. Other excellent vegan Christian sites:

    November 20, 2007
  3. Lisa #

    I absolutely agree with Gary. I would like to add a thought I had about "The Golden Rule". When I talk about "TGR" with some omni-Christians their rationalization is that "others" only refers to "other people". While I disagree, I had trouble persuading them until I realized that "TGR" is not about who the "others" are, but about the action you are taking. It is intended to remind us that if an action is bad enough that we would not want it to happen to us, then it is an action that when taken damages our own souls.

    November 21, 2007

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