A popular way to avoid taking responsibility for one’s actions in relation to animal welfare is to accept the notion that ‘God’ has given humankind dominion over the animals to do with them as ‘He’ pleases (to stick with the old naming practices). But if the god in question is of the omnipotent, benevolent, peace-loving version as described by Christians, why does He allow (‘encourage’ might be a better word) humans to inflict horrendous levels of suffering on sentient creatures (including other humans) when He could easily prevent this from happening? If you accept the endearing qualities and limitless powers of such a god, there is no satisfactory answer to this question despite many religious scholars spending half their lives over the last few hundred years trying to create one.
This is not to suggest that religion cannot play a useful and meaningful role in a person’s life, or that a person of religious faith cannot also be deeply concerned about animal welfare. We all subscribe to many useful myths that lead to the betterment of our lives and our societies. None of them are true, but that doesn’t matter if we believe they are, or even if we don’t believe in them per se, we can accept them because they are useful to us, and our greater society in either a psychological or practical sense. You can be an atheist, in terms of what you see as man-made religions, and still have a sense of an ‘otherness’ or ‘greater power’ in the universe, if you wish. It’s horses for courses, but when it comes to animal abuse the major problem I see with most of today’s religions is that they relieve their adherents of the burden of logical thought and with it a sense of both responsibility and compassion. If a person accepts the line that a divine entity put animals on earth for people to do with them as they please, then that is just what they’ll do, even when it conflicts with the major tenets of their religion, such as treating others as you would have them treat you.
Imagine how different things would be today if the major religions, rather than just Buddhism, attributed rights to animals in the same way we lavish them on ourselves. If this was the case, people of religious faith would have to think long and hard about the consequences of their actions instead of the current situation where they feel they can countenance horrific animal abuse with impunity and go to bed with their stomachs full of animal flesh and their minds at peace.
Thankfully, veganism is not incompatible with a belief in any of the major religions (and probably not any of the minor ones either). One can be a vegan Christian, Muslim or Jew without transgressing any rules. Buddhism, the most animal-friendly of all the major beliefs, is largely based on ‘intent’, rendering absurd the argument I have heard from pseudo-Buddhists that, ‘we don’t kill animals, we just eat them’. If you ‘intend’ to eat animal flesh then you can scarcely be excused the consequences of your intent. In my view, people who call themselves Buddhists but who needlessly contribute to animal suffering in contravention of one of their religion’s most sacred tenets, are not Buddhist at all.
Another stance commonly used to abrogate responsibility for animal cruelty is to claim that the government has put measures in place to ensure that animals are humanely treated right up to the time they are slaughtered, and everybody can therefore relax because there is nothing to be concerned about. If you really think this is the case you must have a look at some of my suggested viewing in part two of this essay (‘Down at the Slaughter house’), or read the chapter entitled Slices of Paradise/Pieces of Shit in the Jonathon Safran Foer’s book, Eating Animals. lxii. There is a great deal we should be very concerned about and don’t forget, government agencies are obliged to see the world through the prism imposed upon them by their political masters, who in turn are slaves to opinion polls and the power of big business. In this environment it ought to be no surprise that animal protection laws are weak and weakly enforced. This is what the animal-abuse industries want so this is what they get in a floundering democratic state, despite what they are doing being wrong on a multitude of levels.