Last month, I discussed how Christianity cannot impose veganism on its adherents because doing so would violate the freedom we have in Christ as well as our lordship over creation. In other words, humans are superior to animals and thus eating animals is within the bounds of the created order. But I also noted that animal rights is not the only reason employed by anti-meat eaters to support their cause. One of the more emotionally compelling arguments is what can be called the argument from compassion.
The argument from compassion has been around at least since Darwin, but it was popularized by Matthew Scully’s overrated book, Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy published in 2003. In his book that wisely took great advantage of white-middle-class guilt over its success, Scully asked readers if we could begin to walk the path of not hurting animals. As emotionally powerful this subtle argument is, many questions remain unanswered, such as “What is cruelty?” “What does Christ require regarding animal treatment?” “Is there a difference between animals under human control (i.e. cow in a barn) and those that aren’t (i.e. deer in the woods)?” etc.
I suggest that there are plenty of biblical passages that raise serious questions about the claims of Scully and even Matthew C. Halteman, of Calvin College (whose thoughts on the topic you can read here, and a critique of Halteman can be found here).
Of course the Old Testament is full of passages regarding hunting (cf. Prov 6:5), eating of animals (Gen 18:7), and the sacrificial system (Lev 1-7). But I suspect readers, like the heretic Marcion, would say that the Old Testament doesn’t apply to New Testament Christians. Okay, let’s look at the behavior of Jesus Christ in regards to animals and their welfare. The question I want you to consider is whether Jesus’ behavior corresponds with the claims that the animal compassion people want us to hold. If Christ’s behavior does not match that standard then we are confronted with a trilemma: either Jesus was correct in his behavior or He was mistaken (as in an accident of his culture), or simply Christ sinned.
Let’s consider Luke 5:6. Here Peter has had trouble catching fish. Christ tells him to throw the net out again on the other side of the boat and voila, the net is so full that it begins to break. How about Matthew 17:27 where Christ tells Peter to go fishing with a hook and line to catch a fish with a coin in its mouth to pay a tax. Now the question is, why did Jesus cause the fish to undergo such trauma, (i.e. getting hooked) to pay a fee when he could have simply created the coin out of thin air?
Perhaps you are thinking that the pain and suffering of fish doesn’t count or at least isn’t as morally significant as land creatures. Okay, then consider Christ’s treatment of the pigs in Luke 8:32ff. Here Christ exorcised the demons from a demoniac and allowed the demons to enter pigs. The story says that the pigs got so excited that they ran down a hill, fell into the Sea of Galilee and drowned. Note that there is no record that Jesus or his disciples bothered to try to rescue them. The bigger question is why would the compassionate Christ allow innocent pigs to be demon possessed? How humane is that?
I suggest that Christ’s behavior requires Christians to either reevaluate their understanding of “compassion” in regards to animals or reevaluate their understanding of Christ’s sinlessness. Because if the vegan understanding of compassion is correct, then Jesus was cruel. To say that Christ was mistaken due to culture just doesn’t seem to fit the evidence. It’s hard to think that demonizing pigs would be “moral” in any culture if such an act was actually cruel.