It is a fact that religion revolves around beliefs and belief systems. Beliefs involve, among others, creation, destiny, life, love, and death. Belief systems in various spheres of human life affect other existing beings, including animals. Religion and animal form an important topic of discussion in religious circles. Different religions have different attitudes towards animals.
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For example, some religions have positive attitudes towards animals, while others regard animals negatively (Watdaul 230). The author of this paper critically analyzes the concept human-animal nexus by examining whether religion is a communion of subjects or a collection of objects.
Ullucci (359) opines that religion takes a complex position with regards to human existence. The complexity is exhibited in the manner in which religion proclaims defense for non-humans, yet defense for animals has tremendously failed. Scientists have highlighted this failure, arguing that most animal species in the world are getting extinct at a very high rate.
The trend has led scholars in the field of theology to critically analyze the relationship between religion and animals. For instance, Watdaul (232) holds the view that the relationship between religion and animals is a communion of subjects. Watdaul makes reference to Thomas Berry, another scholar in this field. As a result, scholars in the field of religion should not view animals as a collection of objects.
Scholars have made arguments touching on religion, animals, and communion of subjects. Such scholars have highlighted how religion is exhibited in myths, rituals, and symbols.
The texts by these writers have been expanded to encompass other multidisciplinary aspects of religion. In the 20th century, religion played an important role in establishing sociopolitical foundations for safeguarding human rights. As such, religion is expected to be actively involved in safeguarding environmental ethics by adopting a “more than human” world perspective in the 21st century (Watdaul 244).
In this essay, the author will critically analyze the religion-animal nexus from the perspective of 6 essays. The essays are drawn from the book A Communion of Subjects. The book is written by Paul Waldau and Kimberly Patton. The author of this paper believes that the relationship between animals and humans can be described as a communion of subjects.
A Critical Analysis of Religion-Animal Nexus
Multiplicity of Intelligence
The relationship between animals and humans is viewed as a communion of subjects and a multiplicity of intelligence. Such a view is based on three major elements. The three are differentiation, subjectivity, and communion. Differentiation is based on the fact that all species are unique in their own way. No pair of a given species exhibits the same characters. Generally, biodiversity is only exhibited in living species through differentiation (Waldau and Kimberly 640).
Multiplicity of intelligence is also exhibited through subjectivity. In this case, Thomas Berry (as cited in Waldau and Kimberly 641) contends that all species have an inner unifying component. It is this element that differentiates the living from the non-living. Every religion has its own definition of subjectivity.
The concept of communion forms the last principle of multiplicity of intelligence. It is based on the link between differentiation and subjectivity. In other words, communion is the continuity of human venture and interaction with other species. Therefore, the three principles depict a complete interaction between humans and non-humans in a given environment.
In pushing for environmental justice, Kim Roberts, in an interlocking oppression essay (cited in Watdaul 234), depicts the violence inflicted on non-humans, especially in contemporary societies. Such acts, also exhibited through domestic violence, child abuse, and mistreatment of non-humans, give rise to an imbalanced multiplicity of intelligence (Watdaul 227).
Whether religion should view animals as a collection of objects or not is the bone of contention in this analysis (Ambros 131). Myth, together with religion, contributes significantly to this issue. Other things like culture, social, political, and economic endeavors also affect this issue. Stories emanating from myth and religion are more or less the same. They depict the kind of reality on which a society is founded.
Science and philosophy disregard religion based on the manner in which it explains the actions taken by adherents. Science bases its reasons and actions on experiments, which are perceived as lacking in religion. However, scholars like Mika (920) and Hume (71) are of the opinion that mythical and religious expressions are interpretations of human experiences. They not only depict actions taken under given circumstances, but also assign a given task to a given person.
However, adherence to religious and mythical ‘aboriginals’ is not assured. For instance, the loyalty exhibited in following religious views with regards to animals does not guarantee animal safety. In the book The Goddess and the Warrior, Marinatos (49) argues that the change in societal norms brought about by technology has an impact on the faithful. As such, Christianity has evolved since the times of Genesis 1 and Genesis 2. The religion has made strides to accommodate new realities.
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Negative Attitudes towards Animals
Some rituals and activities found in Christianity and Judaism lead to prejudice against non-humans. For instance, phrases like ‘animals were put here for use’ portray that animals have no say and no place in human realm. They are just but slaves and commodities for human consumption. Such a justification encourages humans to exploit animals because they are there for them.
However, Hume (80) argues from Aristotle’s point of view that there is nothing wrong in using a thing for the purposes it was intended for. Hume continues to argue that the imperfect are meant for the perfect. According to Hume, it is not wrong if plants are used for the good of animals and the animals for the good of man.
Other shocking revelations made by animal activists include how Judaism and Christianity refer to some animals as unclean. The activists contend that the Bible portends bad news to animals. However, theologians are of the opinion that despite the existence of defined human roles, the Bible testifies that humans and animals exist in a closely knit community. Hume (164) contends that Christianity’s view of animals is not justified anywhere in the Bible.
Hume (167) corrects Descartes (1596-1650), who seemed to degrade animals to mere objects. Descartes recognized humans as the legitimate occupants of the centre of the universe. To sum it up, Hume (168) contends that the Bible is not bad news for the animals. Hume argues that the Bible is better than modernity as far as the welfare of animals is concerned.
Animals are also perceived as sacrificial objects. To this end, it is believed that they lack a soul, a mind, and sentience. Animal sacrifices are found in the Bible, which justifies the argument that Christians make such offerings for their own good. However, theologians affirm that animals used for sacrifice are individually valued. The fact that animals are offered to God as a sacrifice signifies that they belong to Him. In addition, the fact that the animals are sacrificed signifies that they are of great value to man (Mika 235).
Christians hold the argument that Jesus was also sacrificed. He took the place of animals when He was referred to as the Lamb of God. Doctrines have changed in the Bible since the coming of the Messiah (Jesus). As a result, the use of animals as sacrifices has declined significantly (Mika 236).
Christianity and Myths
Christianity was the official religion in Rome. With time, the religion spread to other parts of the world. The myths of early Christianity were retained in Rome, but slightly changed from their aboriginal state to suit different traditions. For instance, there is a popular story in Christianity that revolves around Androcles. The Christian slave saved a lion from distress by removing a thorn from its paw, leading to a great friendship.
Later, the king ordered the slave to fight the same lion in the Roman amphitheatre, but the lion recognized him for his kindness. In other parts of the world, the same story is denoted as St. Jerome and the Lion. In other writings, especially in Eastern Europe, the story is denoted as St. Sergey and the Bear. The underlying moral lesson in this story is that all saints are expected to be compassionate to other species (Watdaul 242).
Treating animals well in myth is not an assurance that these non-humans are safe. In reality, the animals are harmed if the same faithfulness is not adhered to in reality. For instance, a medieval storyteller may relate well with the story of the lion and Androcles, but he may actively participate in cock fighting or bull fighting activities. Such an observation is a contradiction in itself (Buber 41).
The same myth is used to determine how people should behave in the society. For instance, in attempts to impact moral lessons to the people, the storyteller is expected to behave in a certain way. By participating in activities that involve torturing animals, the storyteller is not helping at all (Buber 48).
Cheyenne’s Creation Story
In the Cheyenne creation myth, a universal history of mankind is revealed. It is considered as one of the most ‘aboriginal’ legends in the world. The story reflects the central element of human-animal nexus. In addition, the story has ingredients drawn from other religions, especially elements to do with the origin and existence of mankind. For instance, the Christianity story that denotes the origin of mankind in the Bible has striking similarities with the Cheyenne creation myth (Buber 52).
In the same essay, Cheyenne’s legend on the origins of buffalo hunting is illustrated. The story revolves around the issue of whether humans should continue preying on buffalos or not. According to the legend, humans planned a racing contest in which other animals competed with man. The birds sided with the humans by perching on the buffalo’s tail.
Towards the end of the racetrack, the birds sprung forward and won the race. Humans were far behind and the birds saved them. Based on the story, one can argue that hunting animals for food by humans is not a natural act. It is something that needs justification (Hume 61).
In Genesis 9:4, Jews were commanded not to eat flesh with blood. The same is outlined in the Cheyenne story, where people are advised not to consume flesh with life. The prohibition is an illustration that both humans and animals share a common sparkle of life. The permission to consume flesh is granted under specific conditions by the Creator, and it is not a natural act (Hume 69).
Essays that address animals and humans are highlighted in the Bible. For example, Thomas Young (cited in Spiegel 59) quotes passages from, among others, the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. According to Young, God takes care of the animals and humans are required to do the same (Spiegel 59).
God commands Christians not to mistreat and punish animals. An example is given in Deuteronomy 25:4. Here, God advises against muzzling an ox when it is working in the cornfields. Farmers are instructed to allow the ox to enjoy the fruits of human labor. Saint Paul uses the same phrase verbatim in 1st Timothy 5:8. God is displeased by the way humans offer sacrifices in their own way.
God’s benevolence with what He created is revealed when He asserts that killing an ox is like killing a man. During the flooding period, God instructed Noah to pair all wild animals and get them in the Ark (Hume 89). The Lord said that He will enter into a covenant with all the creatures that find their way into the Ark. Here, God established a new covenant with humans and non-humans. The covenant was to last forever.
Judaism and Islam
Judaism traditions portray some concrete animal ethics. In Talmud, and in accordance with the laws of Tora, it is written that humans should not inflict any kind of pain on animals. The writings contend that when a horse is unable to draw a cart up a hill, humans should help it. In this example, cruelty against animals is denounced. In another instance, plucking of feathers from living geese is strongly condemned (Marinatos 91).
The proclamations made in Talmud indicate that the Creator rewards those who are kind to non-humans. In addition, the book proclaims that one should not own animals if they are not in a position to feed and take care of them.
To condemn cruelty, the book affirms that a good person does not sell his beast to a cruel person (Mika 920). In Quran, the divine scriptures of Islam are proclaimed by Allah to Mohammed. Kindness towards animals is proclaimed in the scriptures. It is proclaimed that a good deed to non-humans is the same as a good deed to humans.
Humans have both positive and negative attitudes towards animals. Depending on one’s perspective, animals should not suffer due to unfounded attitudes. It is clear from this analysis that most religions advocate for friendly relations with animals. Compared to other religions, Christianity has a very large following across the globe.
As such, this religion should portend good news to animals and not to humans only. The reason is that Christianity is made up of many denominations. They include Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox Christians. The religion should grow together with animal friendly policies. Therefore, religion can be said to be a communion of subjects and not a collection of objects.
Ambros, Barbara. Bones of Contention: Animals and Religion in Contemporary Japan, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2012. Print.
Buber, Martin. I and Thou. 2nd ed. 1958. New York: Scribner. Print.
Hume, Charles. The Status of Animals in the Christian Religion. 2nd ed. 2007. London: Universities Federation for Animal Welfare. Print.
Marinatos, Nanno. The Goddess and the Warrior: The Naked Goddess and Mistress of Animals in Early Greek Religion. London: Routledge, 2000. Print.
Mika, Marie. “Framing the Issue: Religion, Secular Ethics and the Case of Animal Rights Mobilization.” Social Forces 85.2 (2006): 915-941. Print.
Spiegel, Marjorie. The Dreaded Comparison: Human and Animal Slavery. New York: Mirror Books, 1996. Print.
Ullucci, Daniel. “Before Animal Sacrifice, a Myth of Innocence.” Religion and Theology 15.3 (2008): 357-374. Print.
Waldau, Paul, and P. Kimberly. A Communion of Subjects: Animals in Religion, Science, and Ethics. New York: Columbia University Press, 2006. Print.
Watdaul, Paul. “Religion and other Animals: Ancient Themes, Contemporary Challenges.” Society and Animals 8.1 (2000): 227-244. Print.