Animal Rights: What does faith say?

DOES God want you to care about animal welfare?

The creation narrative in Genesis says that God gave humans “dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” Dominion has been interpreted variously, ranging from free license to do what we will to a sacred obligation to care for and protect animals.

A cow grazes in Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, Kentucky. Photograph taken by Paul Hile.

An animal grazes in Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, Kentucky. Photograph taken by Paul Hile.

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has a very clear interpretation. Through its Faith Outreach program, this 60-year-old organization—the largest and most effective animal protection organization—calls upon people of faith to embrace animal rights. This program “seeks to engage people and institutions of faith with animal protection issues, on the premise that religious values call upon us all to act in a kind and merciful way towards all creatures.”

The Faith Outreach program provides many resources, including a video series, religious statements on animal welfare, and more.

What does “dominion” mean to you?

Do religious values call on us to treat animals humanely?

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  1. Debra Darvick says

    Dominion does not mean domination. Torah is explicit in its commandments over the treatment of animals.
    The law “do not boil a kid in its mother’s milk” in its very basic understanding forbids cruelty to animals. It
    invokes in us an understanding that an animal can have feelings and what a cruel thing to take a mother goat’s child and to boil it in her own milk that she produced to feed it.

    In Deuteronomy there is the rule that if a mother bird is sitting on a nest of eggs we are to chase her away before
    taking the eggs so that isn’t witness to us taking her eggs. Again there is a caution for us to be aware that a mother bird has feelings and would be distraught at being present when her eggs are removed from her nest. (Of course in these two instances the subject is a mother bird. I don’t know of any mention of father birds/goats etc in reference to behaving compassionately.)

    Many scholars have said about the Kashrut (kosher laws) that they are complicated/restrictive precisely to make us think about eating animals. That by having to think about it, and live within the strictures, we will eat meat less or, as many Jews have done, just give up meat altogether.

    If on assumes there is a Divine spark in every living thing, it behooves us to be thoughtful before acting in such a way as to harm something living for our benefit. We have to eat; we were told in Torah what living things we can eat and what we can’t, thereby establishing that eating animal and bird flesh are part of the human diet. And by restricting what is to be eaten, boundaries are set up whether for kindness or cleanliness.