Freethought Today · March 2017

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

Evangelicals inconsistent on animal care - By Brian Bolton

Their official statement doesn't mesh with bible

By Brian Bolton

We share our lives with 150 million dogs and cats, and 10 million birds, fish, reptiles, and small mammals. More than 1 billion farm animals are raised and slaughtered for food in the United States each year. We coexist with untold billions of wild animals. However, we still tolerate the horrific killing of hundreds of millions of sentient creatures for sport, the fashion industry, traditional medicine, and by motor vehicles.

Possibly after considering similar information and sobering facts about animals in America, Barrett Duke of the Southern Baptist Convention, working with several other religious leaders, has drafted an "Evangelical Statement on Responsible Animal Care." Christine Gutleben of the Humane Society praised the statement, saying that it is the result of wise and thoughtful reflection and has the potential to create enormous good. I think that her effusive endorsement is unjustified.

To establish a foundation for principles of compassionate care and responsible rule over animals, the statement's authors outlined three requirements. First, they declared that their thinking must come from scripture, with the goal of identifying key bible passages. Second, they specified that the emergent guidelines must be based not only in scripture, but also in God's unchanging character. Third, they asserted that humans are expected to show the same respect for animals that God does.

Although the authors refer to themselves as evangelicals, they are, in fact, fundamentalists, i.e., they believe the bible to be literally true. The belief that bible stories actually happened-that biblical events really occurred-is the hallmark of fundamentalism. The necessary implication of this theological commitment is that all of scripture is relevant to discussion of any issue, not just carefully selected verses and passages.

Contradictions

After establishing the theological foundation for their principles of animal care, the authors proceed to completely contradict their premise of absolute scriptural truth. They do this by deploying the fundamentalist exegetical strategies of textual selectivity (cherry-picking) and textual omission (disregarding or rejecting). In other words, they identify and cite verses and passages that are supportive of their preconceived perspective, while ignoring unpalatable material that tells a very different story.

The authors assert that "God uniquely created humans in his own image and likeness, in contrast to animals, who are created after their own kind." Because of this unique creation, they say, "Humans have greater worth than every animal and were appointed by God to rule over animals." They declare further that, "Scripture is clear on humanity's greater value, uniqueness, and rule, and sole status as God's image bearers."

These statements express unequivocally the fundamentalist doctrine of special creation of humankind, which is thoroughly contradicted by the overwhelming evidence for evolution. The false claim of human separateness from and superiority over all other animals is the basis for the dogmatic assertion of human exceptionalism and the pernicious doctrine of dominionism.

Credit where due

It is important to give the statement's authors credit where it is warranted. They assert that God commands humans to give animals the respect they deserve, because all animals have inherent God-given value. They declare that cruelty toward animals is sinful and an affront to God. Furthermore, they say that humans are obligated to work for the protection and preservation of all of God's animals.

This highly commendable and appropriate condemnation of animal cruelty and endorsement of humane treatment of animals is weakened considerably by the authors' final phrase: "while prioritizing human needs." Another qualifying condition obliquely cautions that "any attempt to idolize or divinize animals should be rejected." What exactly do these statements mean?

Another series of three declarations that focus on God's character further clarifies the fundamentalist view of the relationships between humans and animals: (a) "All animals ultimately belong to God and exist to bring him praise and reveal his character," (b) "Humans' responsible rule over and compassionate care for animals is rooted in the unchanging character of God," and (c) "After the flood, God caused all animals to fear humankind and gave them to humans for food."

In other words, animals are God's possessions and therefore he can do whatever he chooses to do with them. This includes using animals as innocent sacrificial victims. Is this the same respect for animals that humans are expected to show?

Now we come to the greatest failure of the "Statement on Animal Care." Even though Barrett Duke said that everything in the statement is based in scripture, it is the omission of many of God's edicts and actions concerning animals that stand out. The strong condemnation of animal cruelty is mitigated substantially by God's horrific penchant for animal sacrifice and his many other immoral uses of animals.

Animal sacrifice

Animal sacrifice is a major requirement in God's theology of worship. Twenty chapters of the Hebrew Testament books are dedicated to specifying in precise detail how animals are to be sacrificed. In addition to lengthy discourses on ritual methods, three dozen gory descriptions of sacrificial episodes are reported.

The sacrificial animals are killed and their blood is sprinkled or smeared on the altar. Then the carcasses are burned. While the typical ritual sacrifice involves a few dozen animals, there are some that are especially repugnant for their huge numbers alone. Four horrific episodes entail the slaughter of tens of thousands of oxen, sheep, and goats as worshipful tributes to a bloodthirsty God.

Illustrating how important animal sacrifice is to God, he stopped a plague he started as punishment for his chosen people that had already killed 70,000 men, only after a proper sacrifice was completed. He also threatened to kill Aaron if he entered the Holy Place without proper preparation involving an elaborate animal sacrifice.

Considering God's proclivity for animal sacrifice, an observer would expect the fundamentalists to leap to the defense of Santerian priests who routinely make offerings of domestic animals in their services and Hmong shamans who sometimes kill dogs as part of their healing rituals. Most Americans regard these inhumane practices with disgust and horror. Yet, a federal court struck down a Hialeah, Fla., ordinance banning animal sacrifice, ruling that it was aimed at religion. Likewise, the bible clearly approves of animal sacrifice.

The writers of the statement may have anticipated the introduction of the gruesome subject of animal sacrifice by unfriendly critics, because they invoked a standard fundamentalist exegetical technique for no apparent reason. They state that any ethical norms derived from the Old Testament must be applied today "in light of the New Testament." In other words, Hebrew Testament principles may not be applicable today if an excuse can be located in the Christian Covenant.

This exegetical ploy will not work for three reasons. First, God instigated the blood sacrifice of his only begotten son, who is often referred to as the "Lamb of God." Second, Jesus' parents conducted a sacrifice upon his birth as required by God's law. Third, Jesus himself endorsed animal and human sacrifice.

Innocent animals were routinely killed in the hundreds of massacres and slaughters that dominate Hebrew bible history. Some especially detestable instances of animal cruelty were portrayed in Joshua's intentional crippling of horses, Solomon's abuse of 300 foxes, Balaam's beating of his donkey, and the stoning and burning of Achan's livestock, with him and his family, because he stole some "devoted things" from God.

Americans have a profound appreciation and admiration for our best friend, the dog. Especially praiseworthy are the canine traits of steadfast loyalty and constant companionship. How ironic that none of the bible's 40 references to dogs are positive. Dogs are typically viewed with disgust and are often described as scavengers. For example, Jezebel's corpse was eaten by dogs, with the exception of her skull, feet, and hands. Dog is also a derogatory label for homosexuals. Jesus referred to those he disrespected as dogs, as well as calling them swine and vipers.

Meat industry

The statement's authors present a vigorous defense of the God-given human right to kill animals for food. This carnivorous plea occurs on seven different pages of the 10-page document. Particularly noteworthy are the assertions that eating meat is affirmed in the New Testament, that the bible does not mandate a vegetarian or vegan diet, and that God provided animals as food for humans beginning with Noah and continuing with Jesus and Paul, since it is alleged both ate meat. The writers are diligent lobbyists for the meat industry and they clearly reject any modern doctrine of "animal rights."

The Humane Society Legislative Fund periodically evaluates all 535 U.S. senators and representatives on their support for animal welfare issues, such as animal cruelty, horse slaughter, endangered species, cosmetics testing and wildlife trafficking. Conservative politicians typically receive low scores on a scale of zero to 100. Prominent conservatives with scores of zero are: Ted Cruz, Louie Gohmert, Trey Gowdy, Charles Grassley, Steve King, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, and Jeff Sessions. For these lawmakers, their zero scores are seemingly a badge of honor, reflecting complete disdain for the welfare of animals.

The "Evangelical Statement on Responsible Animal Care" asserts that God commands humans to show respect and compassion for animals, including the praiseworthy condemnation of animal cruelty and the exhortation to work for the protection and preservation of all of God's animals.

Unfortunately, God's extensive and abhorrent abuse of animals for his own selfish purposes is entirely inconsistent with the statement's call for respect and compassion for animals. Specifically, God's horrific obsession with animal sacrifice thoroughly contradicts the statement's condemnation of wanton cruelty to animals. This is most certainly why the authors disregarded this gruesome content.

It is exceedingly difficult for readers to have any confidence in the statement's conclusions because they do not accurately reflect God's character and behavior as recorded in the bible. Much of the content of scripture is unacceptable to most Christians and virtually all Americans. Of course, the vast majority don't know how terrible it really is — for the simple reason that few people read the bible.

Life Member Brian Bolton is a retired psychologist, humanist minister and sponsor of FFRF's graduate essay contest. The executive wing of Freethought Hall bears his name.

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