I have long suspected that there are few things more predictive of a tendency to view animals as objects for human consumption than identifying as a Christian. Jains and Seventh-day Adventists aside, believing that The Bible is the word of the Judeo-Christian god is the only moral license one needs to avoid considering the interests of animals, and for good reason: The Bible pretty clearly states in Genesis 1:28 that “God blessed them; and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.'”
This is one reason that I believe religion to be harmful. Religious texts were written by people who, like ourselves, had certain inclinations and instincts and are motivated to justify them. Similarly, the people who wrote The Bible included murderous denunciations of homosexuality; their reflexive disgust at the thought of gay sex motivated them to do so. The problem is that today people point to those same verses to justify their own disgust. In this way, religion often prevents people from critically examining their moral reflexes.
On the other hand, some people try to re-contextualize religious doctrine to adapt to the times. These are people like Maajid Nawaz, a Muslim reformer, who adapt religious texts like the Koran to modern, secular societies. And then there’s Gary Yourofsky, who argues that the god of The Bible wants us all to be vegan.
The problem with this laudable task is that someone can always go back to the text, as founders of revivalist sects have done throughout history, and refuse to stray from the precise wording, which is usually quite clear.
And then there’s Jordan Peterson, who is openly hostile to veganism, referring to it as a “clueless religion.” It’s hard to imagine that he doesn’t view veganism as a philosophy competing with his own religion — Christianity, of course — for higher moral ground. It’s also hard to imagine that Peterson’s half-baked claim that animals have no rights doesn’t have some basis in Genesis 1:28.
Of all the atrocities enabled and abetted by religious belief — wars, genocides, etc. — perhaps the worst, objectively, is what we’ve done to animals. No horror perpetrated against humans by humans compares to the more than 52 billion deaths we impose on animals each year for food.
It’s a shame that a religion like Christianity, with its professed support for the downtrodden, doesn’t only not come to the defense of animals, but indeed justifies our brutality against them. And it’s also a shame that urgent warnings about climate change go unheeded in part because, well, why would an all-powerful god allow the Earth — the center of the universe — to be destroyed?
I think there’s a good chance that the rise of vegetarianism we’re seeing right now has something to do with the movement away from religiosity in the United States. After all, if you believe that all species are just different branches on the same evolutionary tree, it’s hard not to see how arbitrary our circle of moral concern really is.