Harming animals to help humans: when charity isn’t charitable

Pigs in gestation crates: http://www.all-creatures.org/

Kathleen Stachowski    Other Nations

There’s something terribly uncomfortable about commenting on people and groups doing charitable, humanitarian work where animal exploitation figures in–even if only remotely or tangentially. It feels like badmouthing Santa or ripping on Mother T. Because oppression of other animal species is so thoroughly woven into the fabric of our lives, it’s considered normal or merely goes unrecognized. You know from the get-go that your comments will be perceived as criticism. The nuances of the discussion will be lost. The defensive accusation, “You care more about animals than people,” will come blasting your way to shut down further discussion. Some things shouldn’t be questioned. Period.

Whose heart doesn’t go out to the uninsured family who loses everything in a fire? Or the individual dealing with a devastating illness he can’t afford? When the safety net’s gone missing, compassionate people often step up to provide one, and the warm embrace of the human family surrounds us all. We take care of each other.

But when the safety net materializes in the form of, say, a benefit pig roast (as just one example), my heart breaks a little, too. I’m saddened that my immediate family of humans can’t see compassion extending beyond the boundaries of our own species, and that to help our own kind, we’re willing to hurt another kind. The comforting embrace diminishes and a disquieting idea recurs: I don’t really belong. I sit at the edge of the Homo sapiens family gathering, the frowning, odd relation who not only won’t play by the rules, but wants to change them. (Just ignore her–maybe she’ll leave.)

You probably recognize that odd relative if you believe that dignity for one need not come at the expense of dignity for another. If you feel that compassion and justice know no species. If you’re one who sees–actually sees–the foundation of institutional animal cruelty that supports the status quo by which our every-day lives are ordered.

So when I tell you that I was dumbfounded to read that a Habitat for Humanity chapter (an organization I very much admire) raised money by throwing a hotdog eating contest, you’ll understand dumbfounded.

There’s the dissonant idea that an organization serving people in need should sponsor a fundraiser based on gluttonous competition where food is squandered. It felt unsettling and weirdly at odds, but I’ve never been a fan of eating contests, and maybe that’s just my cranky quirk. I’m willing to own it.

When is a hotdog not just a hotdog?

But I’m also one who sees the horror of the factory farm lying in every bun. I so badly want the compassionate people who build homes to recognize that the pig needs compassion–she whose only home will never be anything more than a gestation crate brimming with her body and her despair. Or the chicken, whose “home” is a darkened warehouse where she stands immobile in her own waste–crammed with thousands others–for her miserable 45-day life. Burned raw by ammonia, suffering eye and respiratory ailments–she, too, desperately needs mercy. And the cow? Yes…stunned with a bolt to the brain, shackled and hanging by one leg, awaiting the throat-slitting knife–compassion is called for here, too, in the antithesis of a safe haven. Understanding all this, can a hotdog ever be an agent of charitable kindness?

***

Gandhi said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” According to Volunteering in America, 26.3% of Americans–62.8 million of us–found ourselves through volunteerism in 2010. Another 19 million volunteered informally–simply filling a need where they found one. A good many of us are driven to do good in a myriad of ways: tutoring kids, walking shelter dogs, knitting socks, picking up litter, building trails, visiting nursing homes–acts of giving as varied as the members of our species.

Must service to one species do disservice to another?

But in programs where animals play an involuntary role, the primacy of helping humans usually precludes discussion about what we owe sentient others–even in (and perhaps especially in) the commission of charity. And why shouldn’t it be this way? Who but an animal rights nudnik is going to whine about harming fish–cold-blooded, finned, scaled, water-dwelling fish–to help humans who’ve been through hell?!?

Just like the hotdog eating contest, dissonant vibes rang out in a couple recent news items pertaining to healing retreats for breast cancer patients and war veterans, with fly fishing as their centerpieces. Under the auspices of national charitable groups, both have at their core the compassionate, generous mission to provide physical and mental healing space for those who’ve suffered. Speaking of what fishing means to her, one enthusiast says, “It’s a tremendously healing, peaceful, fulfilling activity.” Hoping to share the well-being she reaps, she plans to volunteer at next year’s cancer retreat.

But research tells us that fish are sentient–that they feel fear and pain. “Indeed, there is a growing body of science demonstrating that fish are far smarter and more cognitively competent than we have previously suspected,” according to the Oxford University Press description of Do Fish Feel Pain? by biologist Victoria Braithwaite. Professor Donald Broom (University of Cambridge) asserts that “…the pain system of fish is very similar to that of birds and mammals.” (For more on fish brain structures, fear, and pain, visit FishCount.org.)

Marc Bekoff, commenting on Braithwaite’s research, says,

“Catch-and-release programs surely need to be curtailed because even if fish survive their encounter with a hook they do suffer and die from the stress of being caught, fighting to get the hook out of their mouth or other body areas, and the wounds they endure…”

Given the violence done to fish with every encounter (whether their terrified, gasping struggle ends in the frying pan or in a return to the water, wounded), I’m struck by the incongruity of finding peace and healing for one’s damaged self through cruelty to another. Yet is it reasonable to expect anything else in a world where the act of hooking “just” a fish isn’t perceived as cruel?

Nonhuman animals are the largest class of exploited beings on Earth, where the animal industrial complex “…naturalizes the human as a consumer of other animals” for food, clothing, experimentation, and entertainment. On the one hand, singling out charities for their blindness to the suffering of other species feels unfair when all of society labors under the same condition–when, in fact, our economies depend upon it.

On the other hand, singling out charities (the ones mentioned here are merely examples that randomly presented themselves and were not chosen intentionally) is, perhaps, the place to start the discussion. What is charity if not benevolence? mercy? generosity? compassion? Are these qualities reserved for one species alone? Albert Schweitzer, one of the world’s great humanitarians, said, “Compassion, in which all ethics must take root, can only attain its full breadth and depth if it embraces all living creatures and does not limit itself to mankind.”

The holiday season approaches. We’ll be bombarded with requests for donated turkeys and hams to help the less fortunate celebrate seasons of generosity, peace, and hope. Houses of worship, among compassionate others, will distribute the bodies of thinking, feeling beings who suffered from birth to death without a moment of relief, kindness, or hope–ever. The animal industrial complex has convinced us that this is necessary, and good-hearted, charitable people will ensure that no member of our own species goes without.

37 Responses

  1. This article is outstanding! I do not contribute to charities that use animals for research and when I tell people that, they look at me like I am strange because I dare to question what these charities do especially since they do what they do for our benefit, or so you would think. It’s nothing more than a money-making scheme to justify their grants and donations at the expense of defenseless animals. There are better ways for research such as in vitro, etc., but why bother when you can torture animals, keep working and not find a cure that way, because if you do, you may be out of a job!

  2. Wonderfully written and it resonates closely to my own life-the odd ball relative and friend who is always defending the rights of animals. As a member of the Bahai Faith, I quote a prominent member who back in 1912 said, “And indeed ye do worse to harm an animal, for man hath a language, he can lodge a complaint, he can cry out and moan; if injured he can have recourse to the authorities and these will protect him from his aggressor. But the hapless beast is mute, able neither to express its hurt nor take its case to the authorities … Therefore it is essential that ye show forth the utmost consideration to the animal, and that ye be even kinder to him than to your fellow man.”–Abdul-Baha And this is just a small section and my favorite part of the larger quote.

  3. This same man, Abdul-Baha, wrote, “What will be the food of the future? Fruit and grains. The time will come when meat will no longer be eaten. Medical science is only in its infancy, yet it has shown that our natural diet is that which will grow out of the ground. The people will gradually develop up to the condition of this natural food.”

    Abdul-Baha was born and raised in Iran, hence the unusual name. He spent his entire life being discriminated against, suffering untold injustices, yet rather than becoming bitter, he became more patient, kind, gentle, caring, generous and above all more compassionate. While living in Israel, somehow he knew war was eminent, so he grew acres of wheat, and it was with this wheat that he prevented thousands from starving to death, because war prevented the ships, which carried food, from coming in. When he died, thousands of every religion, culture and class came to give their respects to the man they nicknamed, “The father of the poor.”

  4. Veronica, when I was an active member of a women’s interfaith group a few years ago, we visited various places of worship, including a Baha’i temple, where we were served a spectacular vegan dinner (I was vegetarian at the time, working my way to vegan) by some of the most gentle, kind men I’ve ever met. It’s an experience I’ll never forget.

    Kathleen, I hear you, and echo your every sentiment.

    Minutes ago I was gazing raptly at 125 pages of close-up photos of beautiful amphibians around the globe. On page 60, I was taken aback when the message suddenly switched from saving frogs to saving human lives by experimenting on those self-same frogs. Talk about a moral paradox and a scientific absurdity!

    Later, on page 106, the viewer is asked to help stop frog dissections in the classroom. I’m all for that! How odd, though, that dissections by amateurs are seen as bad while research by scientists in universities and corporations and government agencies is deemed to be “good” because, as we all know, human life is so much more important than the lives of little frogs. :-(

    Kids must be so confused by such “ill-logic.”

    Here’s the otherwise-wonderful album, if you want to see for yourself: http://savethefrogs.com/teachers/images/Wild-World-of-Frogs-Self-Guided-Tour.pdf

  5. Well done, thanks for writing this post.

    I especially enjoyed: ” I don’t really belong. I sit at the edge of the Homo sapiens family gathering, the frowning, odd relation who not only won’t play by the rules, but wants to change them.” Excellent!

  6. Wow. Excellent post. The whole “you care more about animals than humans” refrain always stings, no matter how many times I hear it and how specious it is. Thanks for putting this into words, I think every animal advocate needs to read this!

  7. One of the best-written posts I’ve read during a year’s subscription to this blog. Thank you.

    I can only add that the same is true in the dog rescue world, that huge contingency of big-hearted people, most of whom eat meat and many of whom raise funds for their orgs with your basic, barbarian bar-b-que.

    Oh yes, one more thing. Be careful who you lionize (“Albert Schweitzer, one of the world’s great humanitarians”). Schweitzer was a notorious anti-Semite, and considered Africans a “sub-race.”

    We are all, truly, “only” human.

  8. Thank you for this article. I’ve been the oddball animal freak sitting on the sideline for most of my life. My very presence often makes people uncomfortable, which I suppose is a good thing. At a recent meat dominated event a womans remark about my vegetarian status was met with ” you just don’t know what you are missing”. I answered “I’m afraid I do”

  9. This post is beautiful. It always infuriates me when I get the “you care more about animals than you do about people.” I try not to retort, because it makes it worse, but I often think of the many valid comments I could respond with, including that the response is just plain wrong. I wouldn’t want to see people living in factory farm conditions. I don’t care MORE about animals, I care about them the SAME, and I believe their advocacy is more direly necessary to counter public attitudes.

    Hot Dog eating contests. The illustration of everything that is wrong with American gluttony.

  10. As a Baha’i, I’m pleased to see references to the Baha’i Faith here.
    However, I would caution against any impressions that the Baha’i religion or any of its central figures would embrace the philosophy or doctrines of animals rights in the contemporary sense.
    Some key ideas of animal rights might be sharply at odds with central tenants of the Baha’i Faith.

    The Baha’i Faith teaches, in no uncertain terms, that the rational human soul is unique in God’s creation, that humans are unique and distinct beings-not a mere species of animal – and that humans have ascendency over animals.

    From what I have ascertained, the Baha’i Faith teaches and encourages the philosophy and practice of enlightened animal welfare and wholistic ecology, and not animal rights.

    For instance, and to clarify some things – while some passages of the Writings encourage vegetarianism, it is not required of Baha’is. The Baha’i Faith has no special dietary restrictions.
    Most Baha’i gatherings I’ve been to, including those hosted by Persian Baha’is, featured omnivorous table fare.
    Some Baha’is chose to be vegetarian or vegan. Others do not. Again, there are no religious dietary restrictions in the Baha’i Faith. It is a strictly personal choice.

    I hunt to get meat for my family, as do some other Baha’is, especially here in the rural Rocky Mountain West, where we live so close to the land. Hunting is allowed in the Baha’i Faith, so long as it is not done “to excess,” and is done in respectful obedience of all relevant laws, rules and regulations.

    I’ve seen or know of nothing in the Baha’i teachings that would forbid the ownership of animals, or conversely, state that they should be given “personhood” or “rights” under laws governing human society.

    Rather, I would argue, the ascendency of human beings over animals brings with it a moral obligation on our part to be respectful and kind to animals, especially those domesticated creatures under our ownership, and therefore utterly dependent upon our care.
    As to the issue at hand, the pitched gobbling of processed food in a public contest could seem to be enough to give one moral pause. Not only in terms of the treatment of animals, but also human dignity.

    But “eating contests” aside, I doubt there’s anything in the Baha’i Faith, or any other sense of practical and logical morality, that would drive one to find fault in a charity event simply because of what was on the menu, or because it involved fishing. Indeed, that strikes me as more of a reaction to one’s ideology being offended than an argument of any real substance.

    To further clarify, I offer this quotation from Abdul-Baha:

    “What a difference between the human world and the world of the animal, between the elevation of man and the abasement of the animal, between the perfections of man and the ignorance of the animal, between the light of man and the darkness of the animal, between the glory of man and the degradation of the animal! An Arab child of ten years can manage two or three hundred camels in the desert, and with his voice can lead them forward or turn them back. A weak Hindu can so control a huge elephant that the elephant becomes the most obedient of servants. All things are subdued by the hand of man; he can resist nature while all other creatures are captives of nature: none can depart from her requirements. Man alone can resist nature.”

    From “Some Answered Questions,” part four – “On the Origin, Powers and Conditions of Man,” chapter 48, “The Difference Existing Between Man and Animal.”

  11. Kathleen please know that when you sit on the sidelines of these gatherings that exclude kindness to some while celebrating it for others… You’re not alone. We may not be there physically – But you’re in great company of mind and heart.

    Who the heck wants to “belong” to gorging contests or events that roast pig babies anyway? Ugh!

    I hope the certainty that there are others who seek justice, follows you everywhere. <3

  12. HAL9000, Animal rights and most (if not all) religions are incompatible, no two ways about it, because almost all religions teach that humans have some sort of divine right, or (as in Buddhism), are able to become enlightened whereas animals are not. It’s very much the doctrine of the Stoics that humans have been rehashing for centuries — that animals are not worthy of moral consideration or justice, except insofar as hurting them or exploiting them degrades *humans*. To the Stoics, and in most religions, that human “specialness” is a gift from god or gods or superior karma or some equivalent.

    Remove religion from the equation and human superiority allegedly rests on the narrow band of cognitive superiority that enables us to be successful (I note on that score that ants can shape entire ecosystems and are at least as successful, biomass wise, as humans, but they ain’t destroying the world) , and dominate other species. I respectfully disagree that intelligence is morally relevant quality, if that were the case then the higher IQ bearers among us would be morally justified in dominating the rest of us.

    Philosopher Gary Steiner has written two books, _Anthropocentrism and its Discontents_ and _Animals and the Moral Community_, which examine the philosophical underpinnings of our lack of regard for animals as worthy of moral status. Worth a read for historical context, including religious context, as well as his conclusions. He posits that it didn’t *have* to wind up this way…(wow), there were always movements towards a more inclusive philosophy, which saw other sentient beings as kin. Food for thought anyway (no pun intended…eek).

    Here’s a poem written by medieval Arab poet Abu ‘L’Ala Ahmad ibn ‘Abdallah al-Ma’arri, known as Al-Ma’arri. He was born in 973 and died in 1057. He was blind.

    I No Longer Steal from Nature

    You are diseased in understanding and religion.
    Come to me, that you may hear something of sound truth.
    Do not unjustly eat fish the water has given up,
    And do not desire as food the flesh of slaughtered animals,
    Or the white milk of mothers who intended its pure draught
    for their young, not noble ladies.
    And do not grieve the unsuspecting birds by taking eggs;
    for injustice is the worst of crimes.
    And spare the honey which the bees get industriously
    from the flowers of fragrant plants;
    For they did not store it that it might belong to others,
    Nor did they gather it for bounty and gifts.
    I washed my hands of all this; and wish that I
    Perceived my way before my hair went gray!

  13. Bravo! I completely agree, which is why I only support ethically-consistent organizations that don’t sell meat or fund animal experimentation. Really, is there anything more absurd and unjust than having a barbecue to raise funds to help dogs and cats? And don’t get me started on Heifer International!

    One of my FB friends stated that “you can’t save one species with the blood of another,” and she’s right. I’m pretty sure it’s karmically impossible!

  14. Brilliant insights, Lorien. And thank you for sharing that beautiful poem.

  15. I’m in complete agreement. (Not surprising, since I’m also one of the administrators of Advocacy for Animals, which borrowed this post, with permission. :)) I wanted to add my distress regarding the charities that, at this time of year, send out their holiday catalogs so that people can choose “animal gifts” to send overseas to developing countries “so the children can have milk” or to “help them become self-reliant.” This is a clear case of using animals to help people, and it’s totally unnecessary. It’s clear that the idea is to start up animal-exploiting agricultural mini-systems and increase the commodification of animals. One catalog even says that if you send a flock of chicks, “A good hen can lay up to 200 eggs a year – plenty to eat, share or sell,” and “families can make money from the birds without spending much.” Oh, goody. Guess who’s going to get slaughtered and eaten as soon as the milk runs dry or the hens don’t lay up to 200 eggs a year? What person living in poverty is going to have enough of these fabled table scraps that are supposed to be so abundant to feed an animal who isn’t producing?

    There are plenty of ways to help hungry people without pressing more animals into slavery.

  16. Lorien,

    I don’t at all disagree with you that the animal rights philosophy is at odds with most, if not all, religion.
    Religion is an immense target for criticism. Much of what is practiced or taught in the supposed name of religion is non-sensinsical, quenches the spirit, dulls the mind, and can even be outright destructive.
    Indeed, I was for years an agnostic/soft atheist, because I was so jaded by what I saw and experienced with religion.
    And I agree that religion can sometimes cause people to have incredibly inaccurate and unhealthy ideas about animals, nature, the earth, themselves and each other.
    Again, part of the reason I so adamantly fled from it.
    My views about the true meaning and potential of religion began to change when I discovered the Baha’i Faith, though it took me nearly a full year of investigation and contemplation to finally decide to embrace it.
    It teaches an approach of independent investigation of the truth and reality. And, I think, holds rational thinking, and a rejection of the blind imitation of tradition, at its very core.
    That being said, I don’t expect anybody else to become Baha’i simply because it worked for me.
    We should all be keen students of reality, our ability to reason demands that of us.
    I have investigated, discussed, debated and pondered many of the core ideas of animal rights at length.
    I’ve learned much in the process, and even found some things I agree with. However, I ultimately find some of its key concepts untenable, and rife with self-contradiction.
    I don’t much care for zero-sum thinking, which I find is almost always couched in false dilemma.
    I can’t abide the notion that either one embraces animal rights, or one has no real regard for animals or their well being.
    I simply do not agree. I think the philosophy and practice of animal welfare can foster a deep respect for animals, and a realization that they are much more than “things.”
    I don’t think animal rights owns the terms, definition or meaning of “kindness” and “compassion” any more than evangelical churches own “salvation.”
    There is a huge spectrum of middle ground between the views that, on one hand, animals are commodity only and not worthy of any moral consideration, and, on the other, that nature is to be left untouched, animals should have full moral “personhood,” and any consumptive use of them is tantamount to slavery or murder.
    There is no “stealing” in nature. Everything takes something from something else. We have to power to overstep our bounds in that regard, but likewise the intelligence to not do so.
    Given the opportunity, any creature will destroy everything in its own self interest. Ants act completely and only in self interest, and haven’t taken over the world only because they lack the power to overcome natural restraints upon their numbers.
    We have that power, and therefore carry a greater weight of responsibility for our actions.
    I also don’t care much for the down-playing of what human beings are, or could be.
    As any parent, mentor or teacher knows, and tries to pass to children – as you see yourself, so shall you be.
    If we see ourselves as mere beasts, no more worthy than ants, then how can we ever expect to meet the challenges now facing humanity?
    Some seem to think religion’s view of humans as unique and ascendent over other created creatures reflects or breeds delusion and hubris.
    Quite the opposite, I think. The realization of the full magnitude of the rational human soul and its ascendency over other creatures brings not arrogance, but an incredible sense of gratitude, humility and responsibility.
    It’s a matter of perspective, I think. And a narrowing of perspective to the point of evangelical absolutes and zero-sum thinking isn’t rational, practical or apt to advance humanity.

  17. Hal9000: Have you seen these quotes from Abdul-Baha? Are they in the same book that you cite above? Do you think that treating “the utmost lovingkindness to every living creature” includes killing and eating some of them? And what do you make of the last quote? I take it to be a reference to Genesis 1:29,30, but clearly you do not. I’m not attempting to debate, but am seeking clarification from a Baha’i. Thanks.

    “It is not only their fellow human beings that the beloved of God must treat with mercy and compassion, rather must they show forth the utmost lovingkindness to every living creature. For in all physical respects, and where the animal spirit is concerned, the selfsame feelings are shared by animal and man. Man hath not grasped this truth, however, and he believeth that physical sensations are confined to human beings, wherefore is he unjust to the animals, and cruel. And yet in truth, what difference is there when it cometh to physical sensations? The feelings are one and the same, whether ye inflict pain on man or on beast. There is no difference here whatever.
    And indeed ye do worse to harm an animal, for man hath a language,
    he can lodge a complaint, he can cry out and moan; if injured he can have recourse to the authorities and these will protect him from his aggressor. But the hapless beast is mute, able neither to express its hurt nor take its case to the authorities.”
    * * *
    “Therefore it is essential that ye show forth the utmost consideration to the animal, and that ye be even kinder to him than to your fellow man. Train your children from their earliest days to be infinitely tender and loving to animals. If an animal be sick, let them try to heal it, if it be hungry, let them feed it, if thirsty, let them quench its thirst, if weary, let them see that it rests.”
    * * *
    “To blessed animals the utmost kindness must be shown, the more the better. Tenderness and loving-kindness are basic principles of God’s heavenly Kingdom. Ye should most carefully bear this matter in mind.”
    * * *
    “Regarding the eating of animal flesh and abstinence therefrom, know thou of a certainty that, in the beginning of creation, God determined the food of every living being, and to eat contrary to that determination is not approved.”
    Abdul-Baha (1844-1921), son of Baha’i founder Baha’u’llah

  18. CQ,

    As I clarified in my first post — while vegetarianism is encouraged in the Baha’i Faith, it is not required. There are no religious dietary restrictions for Baha’is. The vast majority of Baha’is I’ve known, including the Persians, are omnivores.

    Hunting is also specifically allowed. Again, the only caveats are that it’s not done “to excess,” and that all relevant laws of the state, nation, or other jurisdiction in which one is hunting are strictly obeyed.

    Yes, as I’ve said, the Baha’i Faith encourages a respectful practice of animal welfare. Wanton cruelty to animals is forbidden. And that should just be common sense for any decent person, regardless of religious tradition.
    But to imply it requires its followers to embrace animal rights and be vegans would be a misconception — perhaps caused by looking only at quotes such as you’ve cited, and not getting a full picture of the faith’s complete teaching regarding the nature of humans vs. that of animals.

    Also, there are many things left up to the discretion and investigation of the individual. On a personal level, I would indeed have trouble reconciling factory-style agriculture or “canned hunting,” for the mere thrill of killing, with my religious beliefs.

    However, the careful stewardship of a family ranch with free-range cattle, or hunting as I do it — fair chase, truly wild and free animals, close to home and primarily to get food on the table, fall well within the Baha’i moral code.

  19. This is one of the best written posts I’ve ever read. Thank you, Kathleen. You illustrate what we who refuse to satisify our hunger by eating murdered fellow creatures feel. I live in Iowa, home to hundreds of confinement farms for hogs and fowl. The terrible conditions the animals inside endure before going to a horrific death at a slaughterhouse make me heartsick. People here seem to think nothing of it. Many members of my church raise animals in these cruel circumstances. Our local Methodist church just had a hog roast fundraiser. Yes, raise money by feasting on an murdered animal. Does Jesus approve? Would He condone the endless cruelty done to these animals, our God of Love? I think not. Too many people point out the verses in Genesis where God gives man dominion over animals. But, this was done before Adam and Eve fell into sin. Everything changed after that. Animals were not killed and eaten before sin entered this world. Our never-ending appetite for flesh has caused intense suffering, mega-pollution of air, land and water, obesity and health issues. Animals are not ours. They share this world with us, but we can claim no ownership of them. These creatures are God’s and His only.
    And I totally disagree with what Hal wrote. Killing animals is not up to anyone’s discretion. Meat is murder. Trying to justify this with polite, pretty words makes it no less wrong.

  20. Following is the Bahai Faith viewpoint on the treatment of animals:

    “[I]t is not only their fellow human beings that the beloved of God must treat with mercy and compassion, rather must they show forth the utmost loving-kindness to every living creature. For in all physical respects, and where the animal spirit is concerned, the selfsame feelings are shared by animal and man. Man hath not grasped this truth, however, and he believeth that physical sensations are confined to human beings, wherefore is he unjust to the animals, and cruel. And yet in truth, what difference is there when it cometh to physical sensations? The feelings are one and the same, whether ye inflict pain on man or on beast. There is no difference here whatever. And indeed ye do worse to harm an animal, for man hath a language, he can lodge a complaint, he can cry out and moan; if injured he can have recourse to the authorities and these will protect him from his aggressor. But the hapless beast is mute, able neither to express its hurt nor take its case to the authorities … Therefore it is essential that ye show forth the utmost consideration to the animal, and that ye be even kinder to him than to your fellow man. Train your children from their earliest days to be infinitely tender and loving to animals. If an animal be sick, let them try to heal it, if it be hungry, let them feed it, if thirsty, let them quench its thirst, if weary, let them see that it rests.”–Abdul-Baha

    “As humanity progresses, meat will be used less and less, for the teeth of man are not carnivorous … The human teeth, the molars, are formed to grind grain. The front teeth, the incisors, are for fruits, etc. It is therefore quite apparent, according to the implements for eating, man’s food is intended to be grain and not meat. When mankind is more fully developed the eating of meat will gradually cease.”–Abdul-Baha

  21. CQ yes it is true for the time being that Bahais are permitted to eat meat, but in time, when humankind has become more enlightened, not only will members of the Bahai Faith not eat meat, so too will the entire world not eat meat.

    “As humanity progresses, meat will be used less and less, for the teeth of man are not carnivorous … The human teeth, the molars, are formed to grind grain. The front teeth, the incisors, are for fruits, etc. It is therefore quite apparent, according to the implements for eating, man’s food is intended to be grain and not meat. When mankind is more fully developed the eating of meat will gradually cease.”
    ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, from “Star of the West”, Vol.III, No.10, p29.

    “It is certain, however, that if a man can live on a purely vegetarian diet and thus avoid killing animals, it would be much preferable.”
    Shoghi Effendi, quoted in Lights of Guidance: A Baha’i Reference file.

    “Regarding the eating of animal flesh and abstinence therefrom, know thou of a certainty that, in the beginning of creation, God determined the food of every living being, and to eat contrary to that determination is not approved. For instance, beasts of prey, such as the wolf, lion and leopard, are endowed with ferocious, tearing instruments, such as hooked talons and claws. From this it is evidence that the food of such beasts is meat … But now coming to man, we see he hath neither hooked teeth nor sharp nails or claws, nor teeth like iron sickles. From this it becometh evident and manifest that the food of man is cereal and fruit. Some of the teeth of man are like millstones to grind the grain, and some are sharp to cut the fruit. Therefore he is not in need of meat, nor is he obliged to eat it. Even without eating meat he would live with the utmost vigour and energy … Truly, the killing of animals and the eating of their meat is somewhat contrary to pity and compassion, and of one can content oneself with cereals, fruit, oil and nuts, such as pistachios, almonds and so on, it would undoubtedly be better and more pleasing.”
    From a Tablet of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to an individual believer, Selections from the Bahá’í Writings on Some Aspects of Health and Healing, a compilation of the Universal House of Justice, Bahá’í Publishing Trust, New Delhi, 1974, pp. 7-8.

  22. I made a mistake in my posting, my response was meant for Hal, but here is another quote:

    “`Abdu’l-Baha said that treatment of disease and ailments will in the future be through foods and waters and that eventually mankind will become vegetarian; Bahaullah advocated a simple diet and not to mix many foods at one meal I remember a Jain sadhu in India This Jain had just become a Bahai and looking at me with tears in his eyes, he said he really could not eat meat. I said whoever told him he should? It had nothing to do with being a Bahai; he could live and die a vegetarian.”
    Rhyyih Rabbani, “A Manual for Pioneers”, pp. 170-171.

  23. Thank you for all those good quotations, Veronica. I’m grateful to you for finding them.

    I gather the last quote really says: “… and IF one can content oneself…”

    I also appreciate what Suzanne wrote about her understanding of true Christianity: “Animals are not ours. They share this world with us, but we can claim no ownership of them. These creatures are God’s and His only.”

  24. HAL9000, you’ve raised good points, points that I’ve also wrestled with. I’d note, again, that I come from a hunting family and grew up quite carnivorous. So I have, at base, more sympathy with those who hunt their food than with those who mindlessly consume packaged, farmed animals without any regard or knowledge of what their deaths entailed.

    That said, I stand by my comment. I don’t agree that there is a “huge spectrum of middle ground between the views that, on one hand, animals are commodity only and not worthy of any moral consideration, and, on the other, that nature is to be left untouched, animals should have full moral “personhood,” and any consumptive use of them is tantamount to slavery or murder.” First, I’m not sure what you mean by “full moral personhood”. Professor Gary Francione has stated, and I agree, that the only right that should be afforded to animals is the right not to be treated as property. Second, while your middle ground argument *may* have been true way back in our history, when it *may* have been possible to hunt and kill animals for food and still respect them in the morning, (aurochs were pretty formidable critters), I’d argue that it isn’t true now, when (1) by and large animal use is not necessary and (2) animals, ecosystems and the environment have been assaulted and tinkered with and endangered by humans based upon the belief that only humans have moral relevance. As Einstein said, (paraphrased) “you can’t solve a problem with the same kind of thinking that caused the problem in the first place”. I’d also say that if an animal is to be consumed, that is automatically incompatible with moral regard, although not incompatible with compassion. For example, we don’t consume humans in large part because we consider it immoral to do so. That is why animal rights appeals to justice, and not compassion.

    I also agree that there is no stealing in nature. But why argue, as you do, that humans are above nature and then appeal to nature for support for your position?

    Further, any denigration of humans that you read in my comment was in your mind. I think humans *alone* have the ability to meet their needs without using other sentient beings, and that they should have a moral obligation to do so. No religion that I know of teaches that.

    Oh by the way, ants number in the trillions. I don’t think they have any problem keeping their numbers up.

  25. Lorien – I appreciate how you phrased this very important point ” I think humans *alone* have the ability to meet their needs without using other sentient beings, and that they should have a moral obligation to do so. No religion that I know of teaches that.”

    And I was wondering since many here know much more about religion than I… Is there any religion that actually requires the consumption of meat? Or even the sacrifice of animals? Or is it part of ritual but not duty or commandment?

    I often tell people concerned with their traditions that they will not betray their faith if they choose to be compassionate. Just wanted to make sure my advice is true. ~Thanks

  26. I found this but don’t know how accurate or complete it is: http://altreligion.about.com/od/controversymisconception/f/animal_sacrifice.htm

  27. Hi CQ – From my own brief search I also concluded that Santeria, Candomble, and Vodou would be about the only religions (possibly) that “require” animal sacrifice. But even so, according to Wiki and everything else I can find… All these religions also use vegetables, flowers, shells and other earthly materials in their ceremonies. Nothing that I found specifically calls for animal sacrifice “or else”.

    It’s no different than Hebrews requiring chickens for Kaparos – Most progressive leaders within that faith have wisely spoken against the practice in favor of giving money instead.

    I believe I’ll stand by my initial thought… And that is that I think most religions give their followers a “loop hole” if they choose to be kind. At least I think that’s consistent to how anyone should want their beliefs/God to reflect.

  28. I pray that every religion opens wide the choose-to-be-compassionate loophole.

    So wide, in fact, that the doctrine that causes adherents to believe they are superior to creatures and are mandated to “use” them is slammed shut, for good.

  29. CQ what a wonderful place Earth would be if we all just followed your wise advice in your quote and “…slammed shut, for good” our sense of superiority over other creatures and I would add nature! As a Bahai I have much hopefulness in the Bahai Writings that the day will come, but of course not soon enough for me or you!

    Thank you for educating me on how few, if any religions, practice animal sacrfice and those who do give “opt out” options.

  30. Lorien I agree with you, we humans do have the ability to meet our needs without using any sentient beings and modern science has proven our health is better off if we do so.

    I just saw a movie that featured two prominent medical doctors who used a vegan (strict vegetarian diet) to cure diabetes, reverse severe heart disease, lower heart attack risks, and keep a woman with advanced (stage 4) breast cancer alive (she is alive 12 years later, when her physician told her to go home and die, since medicine had no more to offer her) and highly active (won a gold medal in the Iron Man competition), and several people were able to safely go off all their medications! Check out : http://www.ForksOverKinives.com

  31. Here is the official website for the documentary, my apologies for providing the wrong site above, here you can also watch the trailer,
    http://www.forksoverknives.com/

  32. Veronica,

    I’m not taking issue with any of the Baha’i teachings regarding the treatment of animals, or disputing that the religion envisions a vegetarian future.

    I’m simply stating that when one looks at the entirety of the faith’s approach to animal issues, the most logical conclusion would be that it encourages Baha’is to embrace animal welfare, not strive for animal “rights -” at least not in the contemporary sense, and as expressed by such advocacy and activist groups as PETA.

    Baha’u’llah, Abdul Baha and other central figures clearly taught, in no uncertain terms, that humans have ascendency over animals, that are not merely an animal species. I certainly see nothing in the Baha’i teachings that suggests we should “slam the door” on any feeling of superiority to animals. The teachings state, clearly, that we are superior to animals. I’ve provided a direct quote from Abdul Baha, stating as much.

    Indeed, in one passage you cited, Abdul Baha goes on to state:

    “Most human beings are sinners, but the beasts are innocent. Surely those without sin should receive the most kindness and love–all except animals which are harmful, such as bloodthirsty wolves, such as poisonous snakes, and similar pernicious creatures, the reason being that kindness to these is an injustice to human beings and to other animals as well. If, for example, ye be tender-hearted toward a wolf, this is but tyranny to a sheep, for a wolf will destroy a whole flock of sheep. A rabid dog, if given the chance, can kill a thousand animals and men. Therefore, compassion shown to wild and ravening beasts is cruelty to the peaceful ones– and so the harmful must be dealt with.”

    Now, to take that at face value, one might mistakenly think Abdul Baha would be in agreement with some contemporary attitudes toward the wolves that have been reintroduced into my part of the world, the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. Or, in other words, the idea that it is meet and good to hate wolves and wish to see them exterminated.

    Of course, you and I both know, that’s not the case. Clearly, the Baha’i Faith would encouraged an enlightened and wholistic approach to ecology and wilderness conservation, one that would recognize and welcome the vital place wolves and other apex predators hold in a fully-functional wild ecosystem.
    Rattlesnakes too, for that matter.

    What Abdul-Baha was getting at is that our approach to animals, as all other things, should be pragmatic, and not at odds with rationality or legitimate human interests.

    As a Baha’i, and also just as a person and individual, I honestly can’t see the value in berating a charity event simply because of what’s on the dinner menu. That’s neither fair or rational.

    The Baha’i Faith celebrates unity through diversity, and allows ample room for individual discretion and decision making. A cattle rancher or hunter from the American West culture can be Baha’i just as well as a vegetarian from a Jain background can.

    That both cultures will probably fade in time, and morph into something else is a given. But that should not be a springboard for fault-finding against any individual or any person’s way of life.

    Again, I’m not disagreeing with you in over arching principle, It’s just that having been Baha’i myself for well over 25 years, I’m dubious about some of your conclusions. Yes, again, the Baha’i Faith envisions a vegetarian future, and prescribes kindness to animals.

    But I’ve never seen, read or heard anything that would suggest we should all become vegans, quit using animals altogether, or in any way, shape or form regard them as equals to human beings.

    While meat-eating might cease, the keeping of sheep to produce wool, or chickens to lay eggs, for example, are probably things humanity will always do.
    Abdul Baha himself strongly praised agriculture and a pastoral lifestyle.

  33. Lorien,

    We might be talking past one another.
    My understanding is not that humans are “above” nature — at least not in sense as expressed in the Western cultural idea that nature is something to be owned, conquered and exploited for all it’s worth.

    Indeed, my own personal sense of morals and ethics, as well as the teachings of the Baha’i Faith, encourage a respect for nature, and warn against the sort of arrogance that might make people think there are no consequences for destructive, exploitative actions and habits.

    There’s no question about it, the mass production of cattle and mass consumption of beef is destroying both the earth’s ecology, and humanity’s health.
    I’m glad you have a measure of respect for those of us who hunt our own meat. I’ve often pondered to myself, that anybody who chooses to eat meat should be required to hunt, go on a hunting trip, or at least watch first-hand as a cow, chicken or pig is slaughtered, eviscerated and butchered.
    I’ll bet, many more people would become vegetarians.

    Still, I’m dubious about a completely “hands off “ approach to nature and animals. Physically and biologically, we are tied to nature. And I think humanity has suffered greatly because of the estrangement of that bond.
    We’ve reached a point where the vast majority of us live in huge metropolitan areas, and have no connection at all to the land or the wild. And that’s sad, I think.

    As part of nature, there’s no reason we can’t actively participate in it. Every living thing carves out its territory, defends it, and alters its surrounding according to its needs.

    We can participate in nature – and that includes a measure of using, tinkering and taking – without being destructive or wantonly cruel. That’s the “middle ground” of which I speak.

    I don’t know how well I’m expressing myself. I don’t know if you are familiar with the life, works and philosophy of Aldo Leopold, but his view would probably most closely reflect my own.

    I’m compelled by your statement regarding the sole power of humans to do the right thing, as it were.
    I mostly agree. However, instead of “use,” I would substitute “abuse” or “exploit.”
    I think, for example, it’s entirely possible to hunt animals without exploiting them. Or to keep a small band of sheep to get wool for clothing, without abusing them, and instead making sure they have the best life possible, and all their needs are attended to.

    And I think you might have misunderstood my point on ants. I never said there aren’t many of them. I said that given the chance, they would take over the world, with no regard whatsoever as to the suffering of other creatures, or their own eventual demise.

    So, perhaps it’s time humans quit thinking and doing just that, eh?

  34. [...] contribution might purchase meat from factory farmed animals who suffered their entire lives.Doing a good turn for one shouldn’t mean suffering for another. I called the food bank and spoke with a delightful woman who confirmed my suspicion–if we [...]

  35. […] first examined the topic of uncharitable charity in an October 2011 post. In that piece, fly fishing was the vehicle of charitable action benefiting both breast cancer patients and war […]

  36. […] On a daily basis similar episodes from “It’s a Speciesist Life” bombard us in newspapers, in emails, and on computer screens: a proposed sharpshooter deer cull at a “nature preserve” in Bloomington, Indiana (Facebook); beavers killed in underwater body-gripping traps at Lee Metcalf National “Wildlife Refuge” here in Montana–lethally removed for “water level management”; dead trophy animals splattered across Facebook news feeds and newspaper pages–this one picked up by our local paper the other morning; five million piglets killed by porcine epidemic diarrhea virus because BACON! and so much more. Who sees the speciesism in charity hog roasts that help humans with medical expenses? In fly fishing retreats for wounded veterans and breast cancer survivors? Who dares criticize these endeavors to help our own? (Well…I do.) […]

  37. It’s very sad to see such cruelty on these innocent animals.

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