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Jesus Christ - The First Animal Rights Activist
Jesus Christ - The First Animal Rights Activist
Anyone who studies the Bible knows that Jesus Christ was a champion for the underdog. He hung out with the lowly which in biblical times included tax collectors, sinners, and women. However, historians and most Christians typically overlook the fact that Jesus was also was a champion for animals. By examining scripture we can see that although the ministry of Christ was targeted at humanity, he interacted compassionately with animals though out his lifetime and he may have been somewhat of a vegetarian.
Beginning in Genesis, human beings are commanded by God to be stewards of the animals. Many people look at Chapter one in the book of Genesis and think this means we are entitled to own and use animals, but in the true meaning of the word, stewardship requires us to be guardians for animals. Prior to the birth of Christ, animal use and abuse was rampant and horrific. Many chapters of the Old Testament depict the large number of animals sacrificed (killed) as "sin offerings". Beginning with the birth of Christ we see a new relationship with the animal kingdom. "He was born in a stable of lowly birth." There are many places such as a tavern, a field or a roadside that would have portrayed a lowly birth. Instead Jesus enters the world in physical form amongst the animal kingdom.
Throughout the New Testament, the only animal Jesus seems to eat is fish. We know he attended celebrations and Passover gatherings and most likely there were traditional foods such as lamb, but nothing is recorded of the food he ate at these events. Even when Jesus ate fish or bread, he showed his respect for all life by thanking God and treating food as sacred. According to the Gospel of Mark chapter one, John the Baptist who prepared the way for the birth of Christ and later baptized Jesus, ate only honey and wild locust (insects). This hints at the idea that in some people should refrain from eating meat or that maintaining a vegetarian lifestyle or semi-vegetarian lifestyle is good for us.
In the gospel of Mark, chapter eleven Jesus becomes enraged when he sees caged animals for sale at the temple. "He overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves....My house shall be called a house of prayers ...but you have made it a den of thieves". Jesus is furious because the temple is being used as a market place. I understand the focus of this chapter is about keeping the temple as a holy place of prayer, but I often wonder if his rage came from seeing the misuse of the animals as well. His use of the word "thief" is something to ponder. From a humanist perspective, these were business people selling commodities in an inappropriate place, but they were not thieves. However, from an animal rights perspective the traders in the temple were thieves. The people engaged in the buying and selling of animals in the temple were stealing the life of the animals by selling them to be used as sacrifice for "sin offerings".
The gospel of Luke is extremely significant when examining Christ's treatment of humans and animals. In chapter four Jesus casts demons out of a man and the man is cured. However, later in chapter eight Jesus casts "legions of demons" out of a man. The demons beg to enter the nearby heard of pigs (swine). We know Jesus could have just removed the demons as he had done previously. Instead Jesus agrees and the pigs become "processed". They immediately run down a cliff and drowned themselves in the sea below. Initially, this seems to be a cruel act as far as animal rights goes. Why would Jesus allow innocent animals to experience demonic possession? However, on a larger scale Jesus is using this experience to illuminate critical facts about the animal kingdom--fact that were overlooked then and are still overlooked by most Christians today. First, if the pigs had no soul, they could not be possessed.
So, the first lesson is that animals have souls. Secondly, the nature of the pigs in this act portrays the deep gift and sacrifice the animal kingdom makes on behalf of humanity. Animals are true companions and burden bearers for humans. Then we realize that throughout the New Testament Jesus frees humans from demonic possession, but this is the only instant where an animal experiences demonic possession and the animal's immediate response is to commit suicide. This chapter depicts the incredible connection and wisdom that the pigs had with the divine. The entire herd of pigs realizes it is better to be "dead" and with their creator then suffering demonic possession here on earth. Do the pigs understand that as they end their life their spirits will join with God? If so, then this example from the Gospel of Luke indicates the pigs are smarter and more spiritually enlightened than the man who was formerly possessed.
Anyone who studies the life of Christ realizes his ministry was to humanity and our first priority as a Christian is to take care of each other-human to human. We also know that Jesus freed us from strict rules when it comes to diet. However, it's clear that animals are sacred to the Creator. The Holy Spirit is portrayed as a dove, and Jesus is called the Lion of Judea. To follow in Christ's footsteps means that we must form a right relationship with the animal kingdom. We must be guardians and adopt beliefs similar to Native American's--all life is sacred. We live in a time where horrific atrocities are being inflicted on animals; factory farming, senseless animal experimentation, and rising abuse and neglect of domestic animals. But there is hope. If the life of Christ can radically change the way we treat ourselves and each other, it can also change the way we interact with the animal kingdom.