The following letter is being sent to religious leaders who
endorse dominion as a model of compassion, in an effort to question the merit of
a belief that allows for the harm/slaughter of animals, allegedly to meet a
THE MEANING OF COMPASSION:
Dear Religious leaders of the Judeo/Christian/Islamic Tradition:
I am writing to you with the hope that you will reconsider the morality of
religious views that sanction the harming/killing of animals to benefit man, as
such a view is inhumane. While the taking of human life is a sin in these
traditions, the harming or killing of an animal is not.
The Judeo/Christian/Islamic traditions value an animal’s life in relation to
human need and grant permission, that is to say, sanctify the harming/killing of
animals in the name of NECESSITY. This is a self-serving, semantic premise based
on archaic perceptions, designed to violate animal lives, while alleging
compassion. Such reasoning has been used to exploit, dominate and abuse animals
for many millennia.
Fortunately for animals this is not the only religious model for teaching
compassion. The following words are from the scriptures of the Jain religion of
"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
-- 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.
It is called ahimsa (no-harm) and is the fundamental principle of the Jain
religion of India. In this tradition harm to any living being is to be avoided,
minimized whenever possible and is viewed as gratuitous, not necessary.
Furthermore Jain scriptures specifically state that it is a serious impropriety
to harm another living being:
"He who harms animals has not understood or renounced deeds of sin"
-- Jain Sutra "
For those of us who, after personally observing, as well as studying the
evidence in research studies, have concluded that animals are capable of
suffering, of experiencing pain the position that animals may be harmed or even
killed for human benefit is untenable. Many possess a full array of emotions
such as joy, pleasure, fear, anger, jealousy and even greed; they teach, nurture
and protect their young; some mate for life and mourn the deaths of relatives,
while innumerable others provide service and companionship to mankind.
Many of us have left our birth religions, because we have found the tolerance
and teaching of acceptable harm to animals intolerable, We view the preaching of
compassion, mercy and forgiveness by our religious leaders as disingenuous,
since it does not include the suffering of all sentient creatures. We observe
that while they recite lovely words, they also sanctify and endorse violence to
animals in the name of ‘Religion’.
Others have arrived at the conclusion that their religion is incompatible with
compassion for animals and therefore no longer feel comfortable attending
religious events. Still others leave all religion and embrace secular humanism,
or seek out religions which offer a more compassionate view of animals, while
some attempt to advocate for change from within.
The model of animal compassion, with human need at its core, is based on
biblical interpretations of a hierarchical scheme which grants dominion over
animals to man and therefore implies that the lives of humans are more valuable.
While dominion ought to imply protection and caring, because of the provision
that animals may indeed be harmed/killed to benefit man, as they are unable to
defend themselves, the result has been untold suffering for untold numbers of
living beings, especially those designated as "food" animals.
Compassion should be measured, not by how we treat our equals, but how we treat
the vulnerable and weak among us. Despite claims of compassion, allowing only
necessary violence to animals has not resulted in less suffering during the 5000
years this model has been used. Instead it has been used to justify every manner
of cruelty imaginable, from ghoulish experiments which torment, maim and kill
them, to terrifying deaths in slaughter houses to the killing of homeless
domestic animals in the name of convenience to humans.
At its very root the argument of allowable harm to animals for human benefit is
inconsistent and unjustifiable as it is not possible to assess "necessity" and
certainly not in terms arrived at thousands of years ago.
Thus, the question not addressed by this premise is how to determine what is
Today, we do accept that it is necessary to slaughter an animal to placate an
angry God; this is of little consolation to all the animals murdered in the name
of pleasing God, when it was deemed "necessary". Even to this day animal
sacrifice continues as custom, in some societies. While it is based on
superstition and fear, it is still justified in the name of necessity.
Necessity is relative: a furrier, for example, would argue that the survival of
his family depends on selling fur. Innumerable cruel industries are justified by
the premise of "necessity". In other words, when you set the bar at permissible
killing when "necessary', the bar can be adjusted to suit those seeking to
benefit from animal misery.
And while the killing of animals has been justified on the grounds that meat
consumption is necessary for survival, we are now learning that it is possible
to be healthy and strong while following a meat-free diet. What was once deemed
"necessary" is not, and in fact, innumerable recent studies have shown that a
meat-based diet is unhealthy as well as one of the primary causes of devastation
to our planet.
Thus, if we do not have sufficient understanding to determine what is
'necessary' killing, then how can we justify it? In hindsight animal sacrifice
and meat consumption are not necessary yet so much suffering has resulted from
these so called 'necessary' practices..
Yet another problem inherent in permission to kill is that taking the life of an
animal is such a violent act that it overshadows any concept or words of
compassion which are reduced to empty rhetoric in the face of such violence.
Permissible harming/ killing of animals cannot be included in a system that
claims to be compassionate and just - it is a contradiction so strong that any
other measures of compassion are negated and neutralized.
The bottom line is that there is no compassionate way to kill an animal. Animals
suffer terribly when they are killed. They are frightened and in pain. No form
of slaughter is compassionate: both ritualistic and secular slaughter are
carried out with total disregard to the suffering inflicted on the victims.
Finally and most significantly, there are human societies which have remained
meat free and do not use leather, fur or silk. The ancient, yet timely Jain
religion of India, is such a tradition. It is based on the belief of
non-violence to all beings. This is not just a noble sentiment, but a life style
that has allowed Jains to live healthy and well-balanced lives for many
If this society has been able to survive and thrive for so long without
consuming animal flesh, how then can the killing of animals to meet human needs
ever be considered necessary?
It is time to rethink the archaic concept of 'necessary' killing endorsed by the
Judeo/Christian/Islamic tradition as it represents a concept which promotes and
results in much UNnecessary misery and suffering.
When such religious views of animals become part of the mainstream culture, the
result is every manner of exploitation and gratuitous violence. An epidemic of
such acts indicates that the youth in such cultures are prone to seeking thrills
from the gratuitous abuse of animals and random acts of violence to humans. In
view of such spiritual poverty one has to wonder what has gone wrong.
"No society that feeds its children on tales of successful violence can expect
them not to believe that violence in the end is rewarded"
-- Margaret Mead.
What then are we teaching our children that allows them to harm and kill animals
for sheer pleasure? The answer lies in religious models which sanctify, endorse,
and facilitate violence to animals, couched in the language of compassion which
does not ring true. What does it say to young people when the number of
slaughtered animals escalates during the religious holidays of these faiths?
Teaching young people that it is permissible to kill animals to meet a human
need, is often mistakenly interpreted as a free license to harm and kill.
The evidence is clear. In the West, the Judeo/Christian/Islamic traditions have
failed to instill a message of compassion for living beings, This failure has
resulted in enormous and extensive abuse all within the realm of what is
considered "necessary" and has led to a proliferation of acts of sadism and
As long as religions continue to perpetuate the argument that violence to
animals is allowable to meet a human need, there will be no peace, just more of
"Nonviolence leads to the highest ethics, which is the goal of all evolution.
Until we stop harming all living beings, we are all savages".
-- Thomas Edison
If the Judeo/Christian/Islamic tradition is not able to extend its circle of
compassion to include animals, it will continue to become more irrelevant. The
conclusion is irrefutable, as compassion for animals begins to take hold in
society, religions which endorse abuse will continue the trend of diminishing
membership and decline in importance.
It is my deepest hope that you will consider the possibility that animal lives
do not have to be sacrificed to improve the lives of humans and that you can
begin to embrace and instruct your followers in a broader definition of
compassion for all of creation.