Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

Bret Lythgoe provided some thoughtful responses to yesterday’s post about animal activism in China:

For me, there is no problem being religious, and for animal rights. The only consistent view, is to be against abortion, euthanasia, and killing and exploiting animals.

Then in another comment:

But you seem to imply that, since these people who exploit and kill dogs for food, are poor, and this gives them employment, it’s justified. Wrong. It’s morally wrong to be involved in the killing of dogs for food. [ . . . ]

Animal rights is about peace. And if stopping animal abuses cannot be done peacefully, it should not be done at all. [ . . . ]

This is what concerns me, about the animal rights movement, which I otherwise support: that some elements use violence to achieve their goals. This, just like antiabortion activists, who use violence, is completely morally reprehensible, and has no place in fighting animal abuses.

Peace and non-violence are certainly laudable goals, and I respect Bret’s disavowal of the means these particular activists chose to attain their goal. But there are fundamental issues with conflating animal rights and human rights that these objections don’t address.

Simply stated, humans must have more moral worth than animals if ethics is to make any sense at all. Certainly an ethics based on the Incarnation must assume the radical distinction between humans and other members of the animal kingdom as a first principle.

I have difficulty accepting the idea that in areas where escaping starvation is still a real and pressing concern, well-fed people have the right to argue about which kinds of animals are acceptable to use for food and which are not. Although it’s easy to focus on the prosperous coastal regions of China, large swaths of the country struggle to survive with whatever food is available, be it horse, cow, dog, or insect. Castigating poor Chinese for eating dogs seems at best to impose a Western sense of culinary normality upon people who may have no option to eat beef, pork, or what-have-you. History has not looked very favorably on the “Let them eat cake” view of poverty.

But even if those for whom the dogs were intended were just as healthy and prosperous as the activists who swarmed the truck, the first principle of the argument strikes me as very strange indeed: that humans have a trans-creedal moral obligation not to use certain animals for food. For Christians that seems difficult to square with the book of Genesis and the book of Acts, and for non-Christians without dietary laws of their own it seems baseless. As for the Chinese tradition, while most branches of Buddhism have laws about monks killing animals for food, that never applied universally. To the best of my knowledge, Confucianism and its schools never spoke against it either. On what grounds are the Chinese supposed to reject their heritage, then? And why?

In any case, I happily concede that these specific dog sellers, and likely much of China’s meat industry, should work harder to be efficient without cruelty in processing their animals. The fact that the sellers were willing to foist animals dying of various diseases onto consumers as food is pretty troubling from any perspective.

I don’t believe animal activism is wicked per se. But the people of China have much more serious problems concerning human rights that would be far better targets for their peaceful activism. Abortion and euthanasia wouldn’t be bad places to start.

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.



Filter First Thoughts Posts

Related Articles