The following reply (to letter at bottom) was sent to Professor Richard Schwartz, founder of The
Jewish Vegetarian Society. It can also be sent to those in dominion based
religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, who promote the dominion model of
Thank you for posing your thoughtful question:
"...what makes you think that people immersed in other religions are going to suddenly become jains, a religion they know almost nothing about?"
Ahimsa is not an alien concept to many in the animal rights movement, as I would guess that a large number practise it in their daily life. It is the concept of ahimsa that I am trying to present, not the Jain religion. When I argue about the merits of ahimsa I cite numerous examples of how it has resulted in greater benefits to animals in Indian culture where it is a value of the mainstream religious tradition.
You are misinterpreting my intentions, as I do not suddenly expect people who follow other faiths to become Jains.
Introducing the concept of ahimsa to the west in no way implies that anyone has to become a Jain. I have stated this many times in my writing as to avoid confusion. The Jain religion does not proselytize.
I use the Jain model as an example to show that it is possible to attain greater compassion for animals when a model of unconditional compassion is taught by a religion. In fact in India the whole of society has been influenced by the concept of ahimsa without followers of other faiths becoming Jains.
You state: "Perhaps it might be better to argue that people should try to apply the best aspects of their religions, including compassion"
While this sounds lovely and appears to be reasonable, it doesn't work. The worst aspects contradict the best. The net result of this at best is to maintain the current level of abuse, however time has shown that this is not the case and with this model abuse and slaughter go up.
Wouldn't it be better to both speak directly in favor of the best aspects while acknowledging and pointing out the cruelty of the worst aspects?
I have an old dog with diabetes, when I walk her so many people are sympathetic and show a great deal of compassion. I often ask them if they are vegetarian, and despite their innate expression of compassion, they say no. The mainstream religions have found a way to convince these individuals that despite the cruelty of slaughter, it is compassionate to exploit and slaughter animals, if it is done for human need. It is not possible to have it both ways, as dominion implies. One is either compassionate and carefully avoids ab(use) of animals or one conditionally allows for their slaughter and ab(use), while paying lip service to compassion.
If the standards of dominion were applied to humans, they would be soundly condemned as it is understood that allowable slaughter and abuse will not lead to greater compassion. Would it not be better to state unequivocally that animals are worthy of the same respect shown to humans?
The measures of compassion applied to animals destined for slaughter are a thin veneer in view of the horrors of slaughter and result in assuaging guilt, rather than achieving compassion. Often when a small measure of compassion, such as removing veal calves from their crates results in increased sales. People want to believe they are compassionate and their concerns of cruelty are placated by these gestures.
Would it not be better to speak directly to the innate compassion that so many have and give them the whole truth, so they can make an informed and truly compassionate choice?
It is a psychological truism that it is not possible to solve a problem until the underlying root causes are addressed. Half-hearted compassion alongside of benevolent abuse does not deliver a message of compassion, rather it provides loopholes, so that abuse is justified while appearing compassionate...
When you cite examples of compassion in the Bible, yet choose not to criticize the passages which allow for harm, it results in confusion, because the passages allowing for harm negate the gestures of compassion. It is this confusion that has resulted in so much abuse made 'legitimate' by religious approval.
Though I have political opinions about human on human violence as in the examples you cite about democracy, my main focus is on the terrible plight of animals, as I believe that the harm so easily justified to animals is also at the root of much human suffering. Once you sanction the ab(use) of animals it is not a great leap to harm and kill humans.
I am not alone in this belief:
"For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other. Indeed, he who sows the seed of murder and pain cannot reap joy and love." Pythagoras, mathematician
This statement speaks to the spiritual harm that man does to himself while allowing and indulging in the slaughter and abuse of animals. This understanding is at the root of the Jain religion. There is no reason it cannot be expressed by other faiths as well.
If you follow ahimsa in your personal life and lend support to dominion in your public life, than the discrepancy is perplexing. Is there a reason that you do not support unconditional compassion for animals equivalent to that granted to humans in your public statements? Implied legitimacy to the dominion model helps preserve it and therefore the ever increasing abuse of animals is not challenged....
If someone from a country claiming his/her country represented compassion, justice, democracy, harmony and all good things argued that you should come to his/her country because the US massacred Indians, enslaved and brutally treated Blacks, prevented women from voting for many years, backed dictators, unjustly attacked Vietnam and Iraq, and backed several dictators, would you move to that country, or would you feel as an American you should stay here and try to use democracy and other positives in the US to try to make our country better
If the latter, what makes you think that people immersed in other religions are going to suddenly become jains, a religion they know almost nothing about? Perhaps it might be better to argue that people should try to apply the best aspects of their religions, including compassion
All the best,