We all hear the horror stories of how animals suffer worldwide due to religion. But of course we know in our hearts that no living creature should suffer, in the name of any God you believe in. It’s not all bad news, as there are plenty of ways to use religious faith to help animals.
Visit Animal Interfaith Alliance, an organisation that units people of all religious faiths, to promote better welfare for animals. Its patrons are Cambridge psychologist Dr Richard D Ryder and Catholic theologian Dr Deborah Jones, who writes murder mysteries!
Catholics don’t have the greatest reputation for animal welfare, apart from avoiding meat and fish on certain days. It wasn’t his fault, but when Pope Francis released the doves from The Vatican (a picture on many books), they were immediately attacked by other bird, showing why it’s not good to ‘release doves’ from captive environments to dangerous ones – just leave them in nature, in the first place.
Catholic Concern for Animals does wonderful work and has its own magazine The Ark. If you have Catholics scoff at you about animal welfare, remind them of St Francis of Assisi, who was the patron saint of animal welfare (and ecology and simple living). He no doubt (as are many priests) would be appalled that the Vatican now take $30,000 a month in rent from McDonald’s, which kills 300,000 cattle a year for its burgers, often from ‘God’s rainforests’.
A previous party boy born to a wealthy family, his deep love of nature and teachings of simple universal truths, is an ideal read for people who want to know God, but are put off by the official church.
Anglican Society for Animal Welfare focuses on people who belong to Church of England. Its animal-friendly church campaign lets participating churches display a poster, if they take steps to be more compassionate like only using free-range eggs and building habitats for wildlife. The annual winner receives a hamper of ethical goodies.
Quakers have a long history of campaigning for social justice, environmental awareness and animal welfare. Quaker Concern for Animals offers lots of ways to help.
The late writer Norm Phelps wrote wonderful books on animal welfare and religion. His book The Dominion of Love (extract below) took those in the Christian faith to task over their confusion of ‘dominion’ with ‘abuse’. And his book The Great Compassion boldly went for the Buddhists who kill animals, in the name of their faith.
A Christian preacher is about to be eaten by a bear. He prays to God ‘Please God, make this bear a good Christian’. To his amazement, the bear then puts his giant paws together in prayer, and he begins to pray. ‘Dear Lord, thank you for this meal that I am about to receive…’
Was Jesus a Vegetarian?
We hear this a lot, don’t we? It’s unlikely, He probably ate fish and perhaps meat. But what is important to remember is that He was kind and gentle. Today, he likely would have been ‘plant-based’ or at least only eaten a small amount of free-range animal foods, if any. It’s mind-boggling how bear-hunting Trumpians think they are ‘following the way of Christ’. But in fact religion should help animals.
The Lost Religion of Jesus is a great little read, if you’re interested. Written by a scholar, the book delves into the history of a man whose religion has been often hijacked by those who seek to ‘do bad’ but in Jesus’ name. In the story of Genesis, everyone was vegan until ‘sin’.
And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.’ Genesis 1:30.
One of the Ten Commandments is ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill’. Not ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill humans, but everything else is okay’. The original Bible was written in Aramaic, and many translations have been changed. The word ‘meat’ in the Bible is ‘trophe’ which means’ nourishment’. So on ‘receiving meat’, actually means ‘receiving nourishment’. In the Book of Luke, again the word ‘phago’ is translated as meat, when the word originally means food.
Some even suggest that the ‘feeding of the 5000’ could have been a Greek word for fishweed (a type of seaweed), though this may be stretching it a bit. However, one scholar writes that the Greek word for fish is ‘ixous’ which is used to describe Jesus, and is not necessarily referring to the food.
Finally, many people use Christianity to abuse animals, saving that God gave us dominion over them. If you have a human child, you have dominion over him or her, to care. Dominion is meant to be a good thing.
What About Other Religions?
- After Germany, Israel has the highest number of vegans and vegetarians worldwide. JIFA (Jewish Initiative for Animals) provides new ways for the Jewish community to bring values of compassion for animals into practice.
- Hindus tend to be vegetarian, but often not vegan. No judgements here, but of course factory-farmed dairy can cause as much or more suffering than organic meat. Read Yoga and Veganism, on the principle of ahimsa (do no harm) in the Hindu religion. A series of essays for anyone wanting to find peace through lifestyle.
- Compassion in World Farming has welfare experts, who do want a ban on Halal meat and Kosher meat, when animals are not stunned. But it’s possible for both religions to be vegan or vegetarian. One Arab Vegan (by a Muslim chef) is one of the most popular veggie recipe blogs. Prince Khalad bin Alwaleed bin Talad Al Saud of Saudi Arabia is a passionate vegan who has heavily invested in the popular channel Plant Based News. There is also an animal welfare site Islamic Concern.
- Read about the saints that loved animals
The Bible can be read for passages that appear to justify our impact upon the natural world. Most obviously there is the Biblical passage (Genesis 1:28). To rip this verse out its context is perverse. Read the chapter in full and you see that God had just created the world and pronounced it “good”. He is clearly not exhorting mankind to destroy it, but to look after it. Read on and things get greener still. For a start, there’s the message that the world as God intended it to be was vegetarian — indeed, vegan (“I have given every green herb for food”). The meat-eating that comes later is a symptom of The Fall — i.e. a profound disturbance of the created order that is caused by and bound up with human evil. Peter Franklin
The Little Book of World Religions looks at the world’s five biggest faiths to the lesser-known creeds in this pocket guide to the history, belief and practice. A starting point for anyone seeking deeper understanding of humanity’s spiritual side.
- Anglican Society for the Welfare of Animals has a guide to help you become an animal-friendly church. You can find guidance notes and a free poster. For Roman Catholics, Catholic Concern for Animals has a magazine and lots of help – St Francis of Assisi would approve!) SARX (a Christian charity for animal welfare) has a free 40-days with God’s creatures guide for Lent.
- CreatureKind is a free course for churches offering a gentle introduction to animal welfare.
Concern for how animals are treated, is not a topic most churches spend a lot of time on. But if we sing ‘All creatures of our God and King’, we ought to spend time thinking about the fate of those creatures, and the responsibility as Christians to make their lives better. Ed Brown
We strive to out what Jesus said was most important: loving God fully and loving our neighbours as ourselves. Climate change is already impacting our neighbours and God’s creation around the world. Therefore we commit to living faithfully as good stewards of creation, advocating alongside those who are poor and supporting political leaders when they stand up for climate action. Young Evangelicals for Climate Action