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Thursday, 21 November 2013

Christianity and Animal Welfare

Milan, Santa Maria delle Grazie: Leonardo, The Last Supper

After Support for Christianity Should Not Alienate People, How Christian Charity Developed Western Ethics, Hospitals, Schools and Slavery, Colonialism and Christianity, I've arrived at the fourth (not the last) instalment of my replies to common contemporary criticisms of Christianity.

The issue of how animals are considered is of particular ethical importance so, if I really believed that Christianity debases the moral status of animals, I would not support it.

About the issue of treatment of animals, my reader Tony says:
I cannot see how you, as a vegan, can support the Bible: the treatment of animals in the Bible is appalling, and I say this even though I am not vegan. Burnt offerings of animals is a fundamental aspect of worship in the Old Testament, God is pleased with the smell of burning animal flesh, cutting animals in half is considered 'good' in the eyes of Yahweh, e.g. Exodus 29:16-18 "16 Slaughter it and take the blood and sprinkle it against the altar on all sides. 17 Cut the ram into pieces and wash the inner parts and the legs, putting them with the head and the other pieces. 18 Then burn the entire ram on the altar. It is a burnt offering to the LORD, a pleasing aroma, an offering made to the LORD by fire." It's wrong and primitive Enza.
Here Tony makes the same mistake I've already briefly discussed before: confusing and conflating the Old Testament into Christian doctrines.

This is especially true regarding the subject on which he dwells, offerings of animals, since these two religions, Judaism and Christianity, are on it entirely different, so much so that we cannot even talk of a Judaeo-Christian tradition. There are two distinct traditions, going in opposite directions. If the proof of the pudding is in the eating, then it is highly significant that the Old Testament and the New on animal sacrifices have led to antithetical practices.

Judaism here presents, alas, similarities with Islam. Modern ritual slaughter to produce kosher meat in the former and halal meat in the latter is closely related to animal sacrifice.

That is why Rabbi David Wolpe felt the need to write an article In Defense of Animal Sacrifice, fortunately rebuked by the people who commented on it. His arguments are falsely against animal cruelty, in that he doesn't take into any consideration that the stunning of animals before slaughter, which Jewish ritual slaughter does not do, is a humane way to spare them at least some of the agony and anguish.

Christianity, on the other hand, is and has always been one of the very few religions and cultures not to standardly practice animal sacrifices.

Here again, Christianity has produced momentous cultural consequences. Christians claimed that, since Jesus had shed his own blood and offered a perfect sacrifice, there was no more need of animal sacrifice, because the door was now open to access God. In ancient times - and still today in many non-Western cultures -, people believed that the death of a sacrificial (in some cases human) animal was necessary in order to approach God or the gods. After Jesus' sacrifice, Christians rejected animal sacrifices, and this has created in the Christian West a culture averse to them.

As with slavery, the fact that the New Testament does not explicitly condemns the practice of animal sacrifice is much less important - in terms of the effects and the way of thinking that it has generated - than the entirety of its message.

It is so strange how Eastern religions are always praised for their consideration, even reverence, for animals, when Hinduism carries out animal sacrifices on a vast scale. What has been dubbed "the world's goriest mass killing of animals" is a Hindu festival involving the sacrifice of 250,000 animals in the village of Bariyapur, in Nepal.

If we - or some of us - don't associate the ending of animal sacrifices with Christianity, in the other parts of the globe they do:
The practice [of ritual slaughter of animals] is now far less universal than it was once, and in Christian countries it is generally looked upon as one of the basest expressions of primitive superstition. There is, for instance, hardly a book written to defend the “civilizing” role of the white man in India, which does not give publicity to that gruesome side of Hindu religion, through some bloodcurdling description of the sacrifices regularly performed in the temple of the goddess Kali, at Kalighat, Calcutta.
This, once more, gives away where these constant attacks on Christianity originate: from the politically correct, the multiculturalists of today, heirs to the communists of yesterday, who only blame whatever is connected with the Western world for the speck in its eye and never dream of noticing, let alone criticising, the log in the eye of the rest of the world.

I wish that our atheist friends realised that, every time they attack Christianity, they attack the West, our culture, our world, our countries.

Going back to Tony's Biblical quotations, the Old Testament (the several canonical editions of which are largely based on the Tanakh, the "Hebrew Bible") is a collection of Jewish texts, and Judaism is a different religion from Christianity.

The Old Testament pre-dates the birth of Jesus Christ. How can what's written in it be attributed to the teachings of a man who was not alive when it was composed?

In addition, what matters is not so much counting the references to not harming animals in the New Testament, even less in the Old Testament, but looking at the meaning of the whole message.

The animal welfare and rights movements were born out of the compassion that Christianity has inspired throughout its vast influence on Western thought.

Does Tony really think it’s a coincidence that the animal rights movement only started and developed in the part of the world which is historically Christian, the West?

In the moral philosopher Peter Singer's theory of the “expanding circle”, which I think is correct, the moral development of a society goes through stages: first people allow into the sphere of moral consideration only close relatives, then clans, then tribes, then populations, then nations, then the same ethnic group, then the whole human species, and then – and this is the phase which we are entering now in the West – all sentient beings.

Expanding the circle to include all humans was done in the deepest sense, in the most effective and lasting way by Jesus Christ, at a time when that was unthinkable for most people.

Still today, the moral equality of all men is not embraced in every part of the world.

Islam, for example, does not consider all the human species as equal. Islam condones racism, against blacks for instance, and slavery, which still exists in the Muslim world. For Mohammedanism non-Muslims do not have equal status with Muslims, the community of believers, called the “Ummah”. Non-Muslims are not treated with equal consideration and respect as Muslims, nor do they have equal political rights in Islamic countries.

Hinduism incorporates the caste system, a form of inequality which is part of the religion.

It's very difficult, if not impossible, for a culture that has not fully accepted human rights and the equality of all men to develop the idea of animals' moral equality and rights.

That's why only the West, thanks to Christianity, has been able to do so.

In short, there is no comparison.

Without our Christian roots animals would have been in much greater trouble, as well as humans.

To be continued.


  1. Very true! I agree 100%. There are those who look to the pagan past of Europe for a renewal of identity and strength of self confidence, in the wake of the failure of the multiculti-utopia. This to me is a grave mistake. Not only will we be locked into a new pridefilled barbarism, we would push all that has made Europe unique away from us. The enlightenment did this in many ways, with many dreadful results (that we still live with), but we should not fall into this trap again.

  2. Kindness to animals is of extreme importance and is a huge part of British and Western culture, and it comes from Christianity.

    Barbaric halal slaughter is excessively barbaric. It is a huge sin against God and a huge crime against the terrified defenseless animals who are unable to escape a slow agonizing death.

    British and European leaders have heavily colonized our countries with many millions of Muslims. Halal meat is now sold in stores and served in hospitals, restaurants and schools, etc. Halal slaughter attacks and weakens the foundation of our MERCIFUL Western civilization and is extremely DESTRUCTIVE to our precious British culture.

  3. This was a very good read. I have never read anything like it. I have long known that the conservation and protection of wildlife was a moral concept stemming from the Bible. Your posts seem to be very "to the point;" you certainly don't attempt to be "politically correct." God bless you for your compassionate boldness.
    Just a couple questions. Besides Hinduism, Buddhism is also considered a religion that reverences animals (thus treating them kindly and appropriately). Are they a more "animal friendly" religion, if you will, than Christianity? You seem well rehearsed. What do you think? Secondly, when Paul was bitten by a venomous snake in the new testament (Acts 28:5) he merely dropped it into the fire indifferently. Was Paul, a man personally trained by Jesus, wrong for his action? Or am I overstating the importance of animal life? Any thoughts?
    There's no denying that the pagan rituals you mentioned are wrong. The question is, exactly how important are animals Biblically?

    1. From what I know about Buddhism, the differences in its precepts about the treaments of animals are not so dramatically different from those of Christianity as many people think. Eating meat is allowed in Buddhism, for example, and many Buddhists, including monks, are not vegetarians.

      Moreover, if you look at today's world, traditionally-Buddhist countries like China, Japan, South and North Korea have some of the worst record of animal abuse.

      You are not overestimating the importance of animal life at all. But, as for Christianity, as I explained in this article, I consider more important the message and the legacy it has left than any individual event.

  4. The Old Testament is NOT our [Christian] book. If you read John 8 44-47 Jesus makes it absolutely clear who the Old Testament God is and in 1850 during the swearing of oaths in the House of Commons a certain Mr Rothschild refused to show obedience to the Christian Nation and instructed the Clerk that he would swear on the Old Testament as it being compatible with his beliefs. If the Old Testament was a Christian Bible the Rothschild's would have refused to swear on it.


    HC Deb 26 July 1850 vol 113 cc297-331 297
    § The Baron Lionel Nathan De Rothschild, returned as one of the Members for the City of London, came to the table to be sworn; and being asked by the Clerk what Oath he wished to take, the Protestant or the Roman Catholic Oath, he replied, "I desire to be sworn upon the Old Testament:"—Whereupon the Clerk having stated the matter to Mr. Speaker, Mr. Speaker directed him to withdraw.

    §SIR R. H. INGLIS Sir, I protest to this House that I heard distinctly the words pronounced, "I desire to be sworn on the Old Testament." ["Oh, oh!" and "Order!"] I was not mistaken in that phrase. Sir, from the time that this nation has been a Christian nation, and from the time that this Legislature has been a Christian Legislature, no man has ever—if I may use the word without offence—no man has ever presumed before to claim his seat here, unless he was prepared to take it under the solemn sanction of an oath in the name of our common Redeemer; if not upon that book which contains His revealed will and word, at least upon some outward symbol of our common redemption. Sir, I do not undervalue—God forbid that I should!—I do not undervalue the Old Testament, If the hon. individual who came to the table had asked to be sworn upon the I Bible, although with my knowledge of what his mind would be, I should, even; then, refuse his request.