Practical Issues > Actions to Take > Religion for ARAs

Discussion of the word "Dominion" in the Bible

  additonal discussions:
        Effects of Christianity on Animal Rights
        Dominion, A Confusing Contradiction
        Eisenbud Discussion with Richard Schwartz
        More Dialogue on Biblical Dominion Concepts

Slavica Beslic, who works to help animals in her native Serbia and throughout the world, requested that I write to you to try and explain why the judeo.christian.islamic concept of 'Dominion' has not been effective in protecting animals from great harm. Dedicated and kind individuals such as you interpret dominion to mean no harm and compassion to animals and that they should be respected as part of creation. Sadly though that is not the intent in the original definition of dominion and those who adhere to this definition justify animal abuse and exploitation as it is sanctified in the Bible, which it is. The following definition of dominion was taken from the Jewish Vegetarian website and is the actual definition:

"In the Torah, humanity is given dominion over animals (Gen. 1:26), which gives us the right to use animals for legitimate needs. Animal flesh can be consumed for food; animal skins can be used for clothing." Prof Richard Schwartz

While those of us who understand that an animals life is as worthy of respect as that of a human, our deepest hope of unconditional compassion for animals will never be achieved working with the concept of dominion.

I was not aware of how harmful the definition of dominion is until I discovered that there is another model, called ahimsa, which declares that the lives of all animals are sacred and ought to remain free from any harm. Ahimsa is at the foundation of two Indian religions: primarily Jainism and to some extent Hinduism. While dominion allows for the exploitation, harming and killing of animals, by definition, Ahimsa states that: "All beings exist to be mutually beneficial to each other" Jain sutra

It is important to note that in this model of compassion there is no hierarchy: humans and animals have the same importance and one does not have greater rights than the other.

In addition the following is a statement of unconditional compassion for animals: "For there is nothing inaccessible for death. All beings are fond of life, hate pain, like pleasure, shun destruction, like life, long to live. To all life is dear." Jain Acharanga Sutra.

These words reflect the belief that the lives of all beings are sacred and that an animal's life has intrinsic worth, measured by its value to the animal. In this tradition harm to any living being is to be avoided, minimized whenever possible and is viewed as gratuitous, not necessary.

If you compare the benefits to animals in dominion based cultures with those following an Ahimsa based model, the results are strikingly different, with more extensive and broad based protections for animals in cultures adhering to Ahimsa.

The Indian Constitution states that humans have a 'Duty of Compassion to Animals'. Based on this foundation the following animal protection legislation has been enacted in India:

Dissection of animals is banned in every state for ALL high school students. It is illegal to kill a dog for any reason other than extreme trauma or illness. In the Indian state of Gujarat, due to a large Jain population, the use of animals as laboratory subjects has greatly decreased. India banned the export of its indigenous monkey population, which roams freely, as the monkeys would meet with harm in research laboratories. During the Jain religious holidays slaughter houses throughout the entire state of Gujarat are shut down. Though Jains have been vegetarian for thousands of years, their influence is such that the slaughter houses of other groups too are shut down.

All elephants have been freed from zoos and circuses and allowed to live out their lives with dignity in sanctuaries. New Delhi banned the use of carriage horses. A retirement home has been established for elderly police horses. All 'dancing' bears have been liberated and sent to a bear sanctuary in Agra. Based on religious beliefs of compassion there are an estimated 400 million vegetarians in India.

In the United States animals are viewed as property before the law harm done to them is adjudicated according to property law. They are not viewed as living beings with intrinsic rights:

It is virtually impossible for high school students to opt out of dissection in every state. Six to eight million healthy dogs are put to death simply because they are homeless and ironically this is considered an act of compassion. In the USA, Europe and Israel the number of animals used as experimental subjects has remained constant, with numerous reports of excessively cruel experiments. During the religious holidays of Christmas, Easter, Passover and the semi-religious holiday of Thanksgiving the slaughter of every manner of animal increase sharply, as dominion allows for their slaughter as an expression of celebration. A judge ruled in favor of The Ringling Brothers Circus, that striking elephants with bull hooks was an appropriate form of discipline. There was no mention of liberation. No major city in the USA has banned the use of carriage horse, where they are exposed to harsh and dangerous working conditions. In the USA horses and their free roaming brethren are often retired to slaughter houses. Based on the religious concept of dominion 56 billion animals a year are killed in the USA and the number of vegetarians/vegans is 3-4 million.

What a difference!

Once you allow for the harm and slaughter of animals as stated in the definition of dominion, the status of animals is relegated to that of property, not living beings whose life has intrinsic worth. It does not grant them the rights given to humans. With this model the killing of a human is forbidden as it is considered murder, but the killing of an animal is a necessary and justifiable evil.

Slavica, suggested that you read Animals As Persons by Law Professor Gary Francione, an excellent idea. With his background in Law and Philosophy he aptly explains why a dominion based model hinders rather than promotes compassion for animals. I would also suggest that you take a look at Gary's website as it is a good introduction to his well reasoned position:

While the Judeo.Christian.Is lamic tradition provides insights and benefits for humans, it has not done the same for animals. It is my hope that you will re-evaluate the concept of dominion, given its track record and the the results of a model based on unconditional compassion for animals. If we are ever to attain our goals of significantly less suffering for animals, we must begin to disavow a concept which has resulted in their harm and slaughter for many millennia.

Ruth Eisenbud Cambridge, Ma USA

Thank you. That is an excellent explanation of Dominion concepts. The question is how to defeat scriptural dictates that use scripture to justify animal abuse. One way is to counter with scripture that supports animal rights. For example, Genesis 1:29 , 30 shows that God did not put animals here for us to kill for meat, in fact, quite the contrary. And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so. Genesis 2:15 says: The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. That means we are commanded to care for and show compassion for all creatures.

 At least this kind of scripture provides a stalemate. But another way to fight the Dominionites is to point out absurdities in various books of the Old Testament that almost no one today in the Western world could possibly accept, like for instance, Deuteronomy 22; 13-21 which teaches that if a man marries a woman thinking she is a virgin and then discovers she is not, and she cannot prove that she was, then the women should be stoned to death by the men in her city. Or take Judges 20, the whole blood-drenched chapter which claims that God helped kill 25,000 people in one battle plus quite a few more. Nothing like a little Jihad, right? These kind of chapters can be thrown right in the face of people like Dominionite Professor Richard Scwartz with the demand that they avow stoning women to death if they continue to avow dominion theories of the right of humans over animals just because they are a part of the Torah or other scripture.

 We should be telling these people their sympathies are Taliban like because of their obnoxious belief in scriptural absurdities like dominion theories. By the way, an internet search under "violence in the Old Testament" provides plenty of this kind of ammunition to use against "Dominionites."

   -- David Irving

All of this is conjecture. I applaud the idealism here, but we are trying to defeat a fairy tale with metaphor... There is no winning this battle in that fashion. We must stick to fact. The history of all religions must be used as a tool to defeat this line of thought. There is enough historical proof that man, not God wrote every version of every bible/written religious text, For those who will never see this, evolution can not reach or help them.

I consider myself a Christian, born and raised Roman Catholic and celebrate Christian holidays, however I do not subscribe to the belief in the majority of what is written in scripture. I also see Jesus of Nazareth as a great man in history who preached love and peace in a time of brutality... Well, that may be a foolish statement as there has never been a time in human history without brutality. But nonetheless...a great man. The original hippie, if you will. But if there is a God...then we are ALL the sons and daughters of. Jesus was just that...a man. History and truth should be our weapons. Using the metaphor of scripture will solve nothing but to bring about more forms of interpretation and opinion.



Countering the initial premise o f dominion with examples of compassion in other parts of scriptures is problematic, as these gestures of compassion lose all meaning in face of the extreme violence of slaughter. It is not a draw once the animal position is established as 'less than' human . It is not possible to build compassion on a foundation of exploitation and slaughter, as they negate the intrinsic worth of an animal's life. Granting them a few bits of comfort though they are faced with the horror, pain and fear of slaughter, renders subsequent kind words devoid of compassion. The following is one such example taken from the old testament: "It is prohibited to kill an animal with its young on the same day, in order that people should be restrained and prevented from killing the two together in such a manner that the young is slain in the sight of the mother; for the pain of animals under such circumstances is very great.... (Maimonides, Guide for the Perplexed, 3:48)" Commentary on Old Testament.

The countering of dominion must be d one with an initial premise which states that the lives of ALL beings are worthy of respect and equally entitled to remain free from harm. It must disavow dominion, not sugar coat it. It does not matter if the statement is secular of from another religion . I cite the example of Ahimsa as propounded by the Jains because it has had such stellar results and is a reliable model for animal compassion.

I do agree that those who argue that dominion will lead to compassion, simply because of loyalty to their religion, are no better than those who would use a position of 'humane' conditions to endorse slavery. Somehow they seem intent on defending dominion as a model that will work, despite the lack of logic and evidence in their position.

There is a Christian scholar, The Reverend, Andrew Linzey of Professor of Religion at Oxford University who works within the religious frame of reference to bring a more meaningful compassion to animals, but in so doing he first notes that only a model of total compassion will attain meaningful positive results. From the following statement I hope that you will be able to see that trying to neutralize dominion with afterthoughts of compassion is not effective:

In the words of Reverend Andrew Lindzey:

""For there is nothing inaccessible for death. All beings are fond of life, hate pain, like pleasure, shun destruction, like life, long to live. To all life is dear." Jain Acharanga Sutra.

These words of the venerable Mahavir found in the Acharanga Sutra are some of the profoundest ever found in a religious scripture. They are a result of a tremendous but simple spiritual discovery: all life is holy, sacred or God-given. Life, therefore, has intrinsic values - and all that lives has an interest in living.

To almost all Jains this will sound obvious. But to many in the West, this spiritual realisation has been a long time coming. It is true that many religious traditions contain notions of non-violence. The first Buddhist precept is not to kill. The Hebrew Bible speaks eloquently of how the lion will lie down with the lamb. And in Christianity there is the idea that love will finally triumph over violence. But only Jainism has made ahimsa its central doctrine. It alone has consistently held the vision of a peaceable world, realisable by moral effort and spiritual discipline."

In an effort to address the less than compassionate message of dominion, I regularly write to religious leaders of the Semitic tradition to let them know that the lack of compassion in their message is intolerable to many individuals who believe that animals should be treated with respect and compassion equal to that bestowed on humans.

Thank you for considering and responding to my thoughts.

Ruth Eisenbud

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