Practical Issues > Things to do > Religion and Animals

Do Animals Deserve Rights?

[opinion from Calvin College - Chimes]

The Lord is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made." Psalm 145:9

How should Christians think about animal rights? The Genesis narrative places humans in a position of dominion over the creation—what does this imply?

To equate "dominion" with "domination" would misinterpret the true intent of the word. While this equivocation has been committed with unfortunate frequency, discerning Christians should be able to recognize that humans were placed as stewards over creation, cultivating and caring for it, not exploiting it for their own selfish desires.
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Sadly, current practices often do not reflect this compassion toward many types of animals in any sense of the word. When pets are mistreated, the wrong is generally self-evidently clear to us. If someone kept 20 dogs in a small apartment under cramped and filthy conditions, mutilated them with a hot blade, sterilized without anesthetics, and when they turned on each other in psychological duress to try to establish some kind of pack order, pulled out their teeth (also without anesthetic), there would more than likely be public outcry. However, too few people realize or care that we subject creatures of equal capacities for feeling physical and psychological pain to all of this and far worse. Furthermore, the greater implications of these practices result in human suffering and destruction of the environment. Animal rights, then, are powerfully interconnected with human rights and environmental issues.

For example, Father John Dear reports, "Slaughterhouses have the highest rate of injury, the highest turnover rate, the highest repeat injury rate, and the highest rate of accidental death of any industry in the country." Also, workers on factory farms are constantly exposed to dangerous chemicals and diseases. The ammonia content from fowl waste concentrated in battery sheds (for egg hens) or broiler chicken sheds far exceed toxic levels.
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The number one source of water pollution in the United States is the result of waste from land animals raised in irresponsible ways for food production. Due to the poor conditions in which they are raised, wastes contain bacteria, hormones, antibiotics, and pesticides. Eighty-five percent of topsoil erosion in the United States results from practices which fuel mass production of livestock.

God mandated humans to practice dominion, not exploitation, over the creation. Following Christ's example, we are called to compassionate living.

Because animals are able to feel physical and psychological pain and suffering, we must live in ways that minimize what they are forced to endure.

Compassionate living toward animals is vitally compatible with compassionate living toward the rest of the creation, both social and environmental.