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Agenda for a New America
The Politics of Vegetarianism
By: Vasu Murti
Chapter 4 - Rights
Patrick Corbett, Professor of Philosophy at Sussex University, captured the spirit of the animal rights movement with these Words:
"...we require now to extent the great principles of liberty, equality and fraternity over the lives of animals. Let animal slavery join human slavery in the graveyard of the past."
Dr. Tom Regan, one of the intellectual leaders of the animal rights movement has often pointed out that the animal rights movement is a part of (rather than apart from) the human rights movement. The campaign for animal rights is secular social and moral progress. The crusade to abolish every kind of animal exploitation and cruelty -- including the use of animals for food -- can in no way be equated with religious "dietary laws," "sacred cows," or various forms of "ritual slaughter."
The animal rights movement is comparable to the abolitionist movement that ended human slavery, the women's rights movement, the labor movement, and the various campaigns against poverty, racism, drunk driving, child abuse, rape and nuclear power. A number of the early American feminists, including Lucy Stone, Amelia Bloomer, Susan B. Anthony, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, were connected with the 19th century animal welfare movement. Together with Horace Greeley, the reforming, anti-slavery editor of The Tribune, they could meet to toast "women's rights and Vegetarianism."
With the power of the religious right and a Republican Controlled Congress, has come concern in liberal circles for the separation of church and state. On the abortion issue, the Catholic Church has been accused of trying to impose its morality upon the rest of society. The animal rights movement, however, is a secular and nonsectarian campaign comparable to women's or civil rights.
Religion has been wrong before. It has often been said that on issues such as women's rights and human slavery, religion impeded social and moral progress. The Church of the past never considered slavery to be a moral evil. The Protestant churches of Virginia, South Carolina, and other southern states, actually passed resolutions in favor of the human slave traffic.
Human slavery was called "by Divine Appointment," "a Divine institution," "a moral relation," "God's institution," "not immoral, " but "founded in right." The slave trade was caller "legal," "licit," "in accordance with humane principles" and "the laws of revealed religion."
New Testament verses calling for obedience and subservience on the part of slaves (Titus 2:9-10, Ephesians 6:5-9, Colossians 3:22-25, I Peter 2:18-25) and respect for the master (I Timothy 6:1-2, Ephesians 6:5-9) were often cited in order to justify human slavery. Many of Jesus' parables refer to human slaves. The Epistle to Philemon concerns a runaway slave returned to his master.
In 1852 Josiah Priest wrote Bible Defense of Slavery. Others claimed blacks were subhuman. Buckner H. Payne, calling himself "Ariel, " wrote in 1867, "the tempter in the Garden of Eden was a beast, a talking beast...the negro." Ariel argued that since the negro was not part of Noah's family, he must have been a beast. Eight souls were saved on the ark, therefore, the negro must be a beast, and "consequently he has no soul to be saved."
The status of animals in contemporary human society is not unlike that of human slaves in centuries past, Quoting Isaiah 61:1, Luke 4:18, II Corinthians 3:17 or any other biblical passages in favor of liberty, equality and an end to human slavery in the 19th century would have been met with the same response animal rights activists receive today if they quote Bible verses in favor of ethical vegetarianism and compassion towards animals.
A growing number of (mostly politically left-liberal) Christian clergy, theologians and activists are beginning to take a stand in favor of animal rights. The teachings of the Reverend Andrew Linzey and Reverend Marc Wessels are especially significant in this regard. A 1988 statement issued by the World Council of Churches called for "The Liberation of all Life. "
Many notable revolutionaries have come from powerful classes, radicalized by acute contradictions between the realities of class exploitation and whatever ideas of justice were harbored within their breasts. We humans, stratified, divided, and warring among ourselves, are nonetheless the indisputable ruling class of planet earth. In fighting for our own intra-human liberation, we have largely ignored or trivialized the oppression and violence perpetrated in our name--often in response to our direct and personal economic demand--against nonhuman animals.
Seventy to one hundred million, including lost and abandoned pets, are quite literally injected, infected, mutilated, driven insane, strapped immobile for years on end, blinded, concussed, burned, mechanically raped, dismembered, disemboweled, mutilated, and otherwise violated--often without adequate anesthesia--in order to test shampoos, oven cleaners, make-up, and scientific hypotheses; to advance medical science or personal careers; to develop and test nuclear, biological, chemical, and conventional weapons; or for general scientific curiosity, and because public funding is available.
Twenty million unwanted pets undergo euthanasia every year and countless others are abused by their owners. Spay-neuter clinics get little or no public funding, while the pet-breeding industry continues to enrich itself by pumping out living, disposable toys.
Seventeen million wild fur-bearing animals (and twice as many "trash" animals) are mangles in steel jaw traps and 17 million more factory farmed, then gassed or electrocuted, that we may wear furs.
170 million animals are hunted down and shot to death in their habitats, mostly for sport, often leaving their offspring to die of exposure or starvation.
Industrial pollution, habitat destruction, and our transportation system kill and maim untold millions, while we kidnap and imprison others for our entertainment in zoos.
Six billion animals are killed in America every year*; 95 percent of them are killed for food. We force-breed, cage, brand, castrate, and over-milk them, cut off their beaks, horns, and tails, pump them full of antibiotics and growth stimulants, steal their eggs, and kill and eat them.
*(Ed. - USDA 2000 figures reported that nearly 10 billion animals were slaughtered for food.)
"I have no doubt that it is part of the destiny of the human race in its gradual development to leave off the eating of animals, as surely as the savage tribes have left off eating each other when they came into contact with the more civilized."
---Henry David Thoreau
Go on to Chapter 5 - Physiology
Return to The Politics of Vegetarianism Table of Contents
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