Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Against Dominionism and Cruelty to Animals

"A righteous person regards the life of his animal, but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel." Proverbs 12:10 (NKJV)

"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy." Matthew 5:7 (NIV)

"Incapable of respecting the Being and meaning of the Other, phenomenology and ontology would be philosophies of violence. Through them, the entire philosophical tradition, in its meaning and at bottom, would make common cause with oppression and with the totalitarianism of the Same. The ancient clandestine friendship between light and power, the ancient complicity between theoretical objectivity and technico-political possession." Jacques Derrida, Violence and Metaphysics.

Christianity, and Western metaphysics and culture in general, has been heavily influenced by dominionism, which is a sadistic perversion of the caretaking of the earth and its inhabitants. Although humanity was created in the image of God, the other life forms were here first, according to Genesis. To regard any creature, human or non-human, as inferior and unworthy of ethical treatment, is contrary to the principles of humility, self-denial, and love.

To exercise "dominion" over subjects is, in the pure or utopian sense, a serious, non-trivial obligation to care for, preserve, respect, and be accountable for the treatment of those under this dominion. Reckless, insensitive abandon is clearly not integral to the stewardship entrusted to mankind.

Unfortunately, the reign of kings, CEOs, Presidents and other leaders in society has often been manifested in acts that fall far short of the responsible, benevolent ideal.

According to many scholars and mystics, animals did not originally attack or eat each other, in the paradise of Eden. In the coming Kingdom of Heaven on earth, living creatures, both human and animal, will enjoy each other's company without fear of being considered a delicious meal by the other.

Isaiah 11:6-9 (NIV)

The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,

the calf and the lion and the yearling;

and a little child will lead them.

7 The cow will feed with the bear,

their young will lie down together,

and the lion will eat straw like the ox.

8 The infant will play near the hole of the cobra,

and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest.

9 They will neither harm nor destroy

on all my holy mountain,

for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord

as the waters cover the sea.

Furthermore, the old concept of "dominionism" -- the idea that humans have been granted supreme rulership over creation, so they can do as they please with nature, the environment, and living beings -- has been discredited as not only unspiritual, but also impractical from a global survival standpoint.

Some people have questioned "Will I be re-united with my pets when I go to heaven?" and the answer is generally "No, only humans have eternal souls." This error of this anthropocentric (human-focused) point of view is clearly shown all through the Bible.

As just one example, the sacrifice of innocent animals as figurative, imperfect atonement for human sins, was meant to be disgusting. Levite priests were not to relish this barbaric act, but to commit it as an act of faith in a coming human redeemer who would give up his human life for the redemption of the world.

Toward the end of the Old Testament, from Isaiah through Malachi, God began to dismantle this animal sacrifice system, and even declared that the hypocrisy and insincerity connected with it was a stench in His nostrils.

Isaiah 66:3-4 (NIV)

This is the one I esteem:

he who is humble and contrite in spirit,

and trembles at my word.

3 But whoever sacrifices a bull

is like one who kills a man,

and whoever offers a lamb,

like one who breaks a dog’s neck;

whoever makes a grain offering

is like one who presents pig’s blood,

and whoever burns memorial incense,

like one who worships an idol.

They have chosen their own ways,

and their souls delight in their abominations;

4 so I also will choose harsh treatment for them

and will bring upon them what they dread.

For when I called, no one answered,

when I spoke, no one listened.

They did evil in my sight

and chose what displeases me.”

Humans created in the image of God is often explained, based on the cruel and unscientific teachings of Rene Descartes, that only human beings have self-consciousness, autonomy, will, emotions, and feelings of pain and pleasure. In other words, it's okay to torture, abuse, and harm non-human entities, for they are "just automatic machines", with nothing remotely like fears, dreams, hopes, intentions, plans, self-identity, or a continuous cohesive ego.

The extreme characterization of "unfeeling animals" is that when pain is inflicted, as through live vivisection, the animal is not screaming in agony, but merely "vocalizing". Strict behaviorism states that we cannot know what an animal is thinking, we can only observe the behavior.

But this crass indifference that justifies sadism can also be applied to human subjects, especially if we label them with inferiority stigmas based on political orientation, nationality, race, gender or ethnicity.

This then allows humans who enjoy cruelty to treat others as mere machines of no consequence, because they're black, illegal immigrant, female, poor, deformed, low caste, leper, uneducated, elitist, senile, unborn fetus, religious, atheist, working class, terrorist, savage, liberal, conservative, anarchist, radical, fanatic, or extremist.

Yet when Jesus mentioned a highly ethical man who had mercy on a victim of robbery and beatings, the person was a member of what was considered a "cult", an "unorthodox" outcast who was despised by his fellow Judeans: it was a Good Samaritan.

Mystics of some Eastern spiritual traditions have proclaimed that even one cell creatures have the same emotional range as humans. The inferiority of non-human creatures has been used as justification for inhumane conditions of burden-bearing and edible animal rearing, harvesting, and slaughter techniques.

What the Bible actually teaches is that humans are less than animals in terms of their fallen, sinful condition, since Adam and Eve disobeyed God and got kicked out of Eden. Animals are portrayed as obedient, communicating with God, praising the Lord, even as His "armies" which are used to punish evil humans, as in the plagues of Pharoah and the hornets attacking Israel's unjust enemies.

Why would the Creator would endow, for example, your pet dog "Rex" with a distinct personality and loyal friendship, then callously allow that unique personhood to be extinguished upon the dog's death?

How could it be that while there will be animals, including dogs, in the new heaven and earth, poor old "Rex" was just a temporary reality that cannot greet you there? Such an opinion is absurd, and contrary to both common sense and Biblical exegesis.

The term for such hostility toward animals and the "beastial" is misothery (similar to contempt of humans: misanthropy) based on the Greek "misein" to hate, and "therion" animal.

A quick look at Paul's letter to the Romans indicates that the Creator is going to redeem all of His creation, including animals and other non-human life forms, and not just self-centered human beings.

Romans 8:19 (ESV) For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope

21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.

Thus, the merciful who, in the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3-11), Jesus calls "blessed" (favored by God, not necessarily happy all the time) must show gentle kindness, forgiveness, and compassion to everything in the material world, from sentient beings to non-sentient objects.

It would necessarily include such socially marginalized aspects of tenderness as not stepping on ants on the sidewalk to not slamming doors violently, and would also encompass a noble restraint when describing people who hold views opposed to ones own in realms of politics, faith, and art.

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