Animal Rights and Vegan Advocacy

Religious Objections Section

Reasoned responses, organized as talking points, to common objections, concerns, and questions regarding animal rights and veganism.

Filter on title and article text (title matches will appear emboldened):
“God gave us dominion over animals and put them here for us to eat—and the Bible condones eating them.”“god gave us dominion over animals and put them here for us to eat—and the bible condones eating them.”“god gave us dominion over animals and put them here for us to eat—and the bible condones eating them.”[toc title="talking points"]this piece addresses several related objections to veganism and animal rights that center around religion. these objections seek to justify eating animals based on scripture and theology, enlisting several questionable or misconstrued ideas—that we have dominion over animals, that animals were put here for us to eat, and that scripture condones eating them.another related objection involving the question of souls is addressed separately in “humans have souls—animals don’t.”here we assume the perspective of the christian religion, as christianity is the predominant religion in the countries of most of our readers. see the last talking point for christian, jewish, and muslim initiatives supporting veganism and vegetarianism.

times were different then.

the bible was likely written between 1400 bc and 100 ad, with much of the text centered around people living in the desert or semi-arid lands.((“when was the bible written?” biblica(blog), july 28, 2016. )) the people in those times and places most likely did not have available to them the abundance of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and grains that most of us enjoy today. nor did they have the science we now have that clearly shows we do not need to eat the flesh of animals or products that come out of animals to be healthy.((fuller, greg. “a response to ‘we need animal products to be healthy.’” justice for animals, october 29, 2016. ))it is not our intent to judge harshly the dietary choices of those whose circumstances differ from our own in the availability of foods or knowledge of nutrition. but for people today to use circumstances of a time and place entirely removed from them as a justification for making choices that result in unnecessary suffering seems, at a minimum, uncaring.

because the bible does not require us to eat animal products, we are each free to follow our own conscience.

research reveals that most, if not all, bible scholars who have addressed this issue (e.g., rich deem((deem, rich. “should christians eat meat or should we be vegetarians?” god and science. accessed august 21, 2018. ))) believe that the bible permits us to eat meat but does not require it. you would be hard pressed to find a christian scholar, philosopher, or cleric who believes that god requires us to eat animal products. if such people exist, they are outliers.because the bible does not require us to eat animal products it would seem that each of us is free to follow our conscience on such matters. even the conservative christian group focus on the family,((campaign, human rights. “10 things you should know about focus on the family.” human rights campaign. accessed august 10, 2018. )) which supports a literal interpretation of the bible,((“how do i interpret the bible?” focus on the family, april 27, 2009. )) says that "the new testament makes it abundantly clear that followers of jesus are free to follow the dictates of their conscience when it comes to matters of dietary regimen."((“vegans, vegetarians, and the bible.” focus on the family, august 9, 2012. ))they further state that the idea that "vegetarianism was part of god's original purpose and plan for both man and the animals" is "not an unreasonable assumption."((ibid.))

the bible seems to condone many practices that we no longer deem acceptable.

it's not difficult to find passages in the bible that seem to support slavery, the subjugation of women, death for adulterers, and many other practices we now renounce, but bible scholars have hermeneutically rejected the idea that christianity is compatible with such beliefs. since the bible is contradictory on the subject of eating animals (discussed below), it’s hard to see why the same kind of reasoning does not also apply here.

the word dominion carries the obligations of stewardship and responsibility.

according to genesis 1:26, "god said, let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth."some believe this verse gives us permission to do whatever we wish to animals and the environment. but many bible scholars believe that the word dominion, in the context of this bible verse and in its original hebrew meaning, carries with it the obligations of stewardship and responsibility.((bible dominion stewardship responsibility - google search.” google search. accessed august 21, 2018. ))today's animal agriculture industry, it could be argued, is the opposite of stewardship and responsibility, both in its disregard for the lives and suffering of animals and its environmental destruction. see "an introduction to veganism" for details and citations.((fuller, greg. “an introduction to veganism.” justice for animals, may 29, 2018. ))

the bible does not support the notion that animals were put here for us to eat.

as is discussed below, genesis 1:29 states that god gave man plants to eat for meat, with no mention of eating animals. since the timeline of the bible shows that animals were already created when that assertion was made, it's hard to argue that the bible supports the notion that god put animals here for humankind to use for food.

the bible presents the vegan diet as an ideal.

it could be argued from the bible that god's original plan was for leaving animals off the plate. genesis 1:29, which is of before the fall, states that "god said, behold, i have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat."and perhaps isaiah 11:6–9 foresees a return to a meatless diet in depicting a world where carnivores coexist peacefully with herbivores, saying that "they shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain.” wolfs and lambs, leopards and goats, and calves and lions shall lie down with each other, and “the lion shall eat straw like the ox."

because the bible seems to contradict itself on the topic of eating meat, it's hard to draw conclusions from the bible.

while there are passages in the bible that, at face value, seem to condone eating meat, there are also passages that seem to forbid it. for example, to quote the english standard version of the bible, romans 14:21 declares that "it is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble," while 1 corinthians 10:25 says to "eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience."there are other similar passages in the bible that either seem to be for or against eating animal flesh—so many, in fact, that it's hard to reach any definitive conclusion from them.verses that seem to be mostly against eating meat include leviticus 3:17, leviticus 19:26, isaiah 11:6–9, isaiah 66:3, acts 15:29, and romans 14:21. verses that seem to mostly support eating meat include  genesis 1:29, genesis 9:3, leviticus 11:1–47, deuteronomy 12:20, deuteronomy 14:1–29, deuteronomy 14:21, acts 10:9–15, romans 14:2, and 1 corinthians 10:25.

there are bible scholars who believe the bible directly supports vegetarianism.

although you would be hard pressed to find a bible scholar who believes the bible requires we eat animal products, it's not difficult to find bible scholars who believe that the bible directly supports abstaining from animal products.richard alan young, who teaches the new testament at temple baptist seminary, is one such scholar. in his book is god a vegetarian?: christianity, vegetarianism, and animal rights, he uses biblical ethics to make an argument for vegetarianism.((young, richard alan. is god a vegetarian?: christianity, vegetarianism, and animal rights. open court, 2012 ))

religion-focused vegetarian and vegan associations can help you sort this out.

the following organizations may shed additional light on the topic: [toc label="talking points"]
“Humans have souls—animals don’t.”“humans have souls—animals don’t.”“humans have souls—animals don’t.”[toc label="talking points"]this objection to animal rights and veganism posits the tenuous idea that how we treat animals should be tied to the presence or absence of a soul. the belief that animals do not have souls is used as a justification for their exploitation and mistreatment—or, at a minimum, to assert that animals deserve considerably less moral consideration than humans because of this deficiency.there is not even a consensus across cultures or religions on whether animals have souls or even whether souls exist at all. but because the belief in a soul (and, by implication, an afterlife) is widespread, this objection is worth exploring.

the existence of a soul is not relevant.

there is no logical reason having a soul should be a requirement for moral consideration. having immortality makes a difference about what happens when our bodies die but not about how we should be treated while we are alive.the vileness of slitting the throat of a cow, chicken, goat, or any sentient being is unrelated to whether that being has a soul. if you saw someone mercilessly kicking a dog or beating a pig with a whip, would your first thought be that this is perfectly ok because these animals do not have a soul?

some believe that animals do have souls.

if you believe that both humans and animals have souls, then this objection is defeasible.some believe the christian bible teaches that animals have souls. we are only relating to a christian perspective here, as most of our readers are from predominantly christian countries.elijah d. buckner, in his 1903 book the immortality of animals, concludes, "the bible, without the shadow of a doubt, recognizes that animals have living souls the same as man."((buckner, e. d. the immortality of animals: and the relation of man as guardian, from a biblical and philosophical hypothesis. kessinger publishing, llc, 2006, 38 ))pope john paul ii declared to a public audience in 1990 that "also the animals possess a soul and men must love and feel solidarity with our smaller brethren."((“jpii said animals do have souls…” global catholic network, march 15, 2011. ))job 12:10 teaches that in god’s hand "is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind."many indigenous peoples believe that animals have souls. a number of native american tribes not only believe that humans and animals have souls but also that the spirit, or soul, stays in the same world or journeys to another world after death.((ojibwa. “some american indian beliefs about an afterlife.” native american netroots, june 22, 2016. ))((danchevskaya, oksana y. “concept of soul among north american indians.” accessed september 13, 2017. ))

the absence of a soul could elicit better treatment, not worse.

philosopher tom regan believes that c. s. lewis, one of the most important christian theologians of the 20th century, turns this topic on its head.according to regan, c. s. lewis believed that because animals do not have souls, they deserve higher moral consideration because there is no possibility they will enjoy compensation in an afterlife.((jackson ethics center. animal rights and environmental wrong, 2012. , 25:45 ))