Thu | Apr 27, 2017

Doth God care for Stinky and Co?

Published:Sunday | April 19, 2015 | 4:00 AM

Stinky is my adorable feline friend. He acquired his name because of the olfactory assault on my nostrils when he was found abandoned in deplorable conditions (so much for animal rights). He has since become one of the family.

The Rev Ian Boyne's piece, 'Debating God at Easter', on Sunday , April 5, has compelled me to submit this piece in defence of Stinky and his forebears. We cannot remain silent on animal-rights abuse.

Reverend Boyne writes:

"Atheists (like Dr Patrick White) have no basis for privileging human rights over animal rights. If you don't believe in God or some supernatural deity, you have no basis for protesting human-rights abuses against genocide and slavery, while remaining silent on the slaughter of millions of chickens, cows and sheep."

The good reverend is implying that atheists cannot be vocal on human-rights abuses while remaining silent on animal-rights abuses. He is right. By his very nature and beliefs, no well-thinking atheists, Darwinian atheists I mean (including Dr White), will strive to right the wrongs of one while neglecting the importance of the other.

Atheists smug in their beliefs in developing from non-human precursors feel morally obligated, by virtue of their close ties, based on genetic relatedness, cognitive abilities and a shared capacity to feel pain and suffering with their non-human precursors. There are hundreds of reported cases of empathy and moral behaviour in chimps and other animals. Though the research is inconclusive, the available evidence suggests that atheists may be relatively anti-authoritative, more open to experience, and more inclined to a universal form of altruism. Unlike atheists, theists arguably tend to focus more on moral claims - original sin, hell, karma, what we eat, how we dress or whatever, rather than practical world problems, like gay rights, women's rights and, yep, animal rights. They believe their morality is a unique human gift from the Almighty, sublime, even spiritual - a combination of hubris, ignorance of the world, and more than a small dose of Christian exclusiveness.

Has Christianity been kind to animals?

Every day, countless animals are enslaved, beaten, killed for entertainment (cock fighting), skinned alive so that divas can strut around in their fur coats to impress their fellow socialites. We should be concerned, no outraged. But Christianity has no unique morality over animal rights.

Religion not only did not lead the revolution for animal welfare, but often hindered it, starting with Genesis. Humans are the crown jewels of creation. We are to subdue and dominate the fish of the sea and the birds of the air." (Genesis 1:28) Why didn't he tell his believers in his book that non-human animals are sentient beings and deserve to be treated with respect and dignity?

You would have thought that a benevolent and omniscient God would at least reveal the publication of Darwin's magisterial 'Origin of the Species' in the 19th century to gain a more rational insight into our non-human ancestors: "Hey, guys, we evolved from other animals and the chimpanzee is our nearest relative."

The Bible is truly anthropomorphic at best and, at worse cruel to animals: in the Old Testament - the drowning of animals in the flood, and in the New Testament, demons sent into pigs. Want to know about the abuses of humans and animals? There is no better book than the Good Book. (Good?). Hopefully, Jesus' death on the cross is the final sacrifice, and Christians would no longer have a reason to sacrifice animals to their God in worship.

As animals, we eat other animals. We have to eat to survive but we don't have to own slaves to survive. We can outlaw slavery, but try outlaw eating. We kill animals in order to eat them but consider the moral injunction against killing, 'Thou shall not kill." Does this mean avoid ALL killing or merely murder? Killing animals only for food for survival, for sport, or simply to titillate the palate on some exotic meat.

While the rights of animals should be a prime concern, that clearly has limits. With the enlightenment and Darwinism, there has been moral progress (ever so slight), and our treatment of animals has improved. Should sentient non-humans legally be regarded as humans? This is a moral choice, albeit remote. But isn't this how moral progress is made?

I offered to send a picture of Stinky (who considers himself quite a celebrity) to the editor, but he politely declined.

- Ethon Lowe is a medical doctor. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and ethonlowe@gmail.com.