Religions, Nature and Animals

In Christian mythology, with Adam and Eve's sin, the whole of creation, not just humankind, participated in the fall from perfection, and so nature is far from perfect and is "red in tooth and claw". Noah's Ark is a story of destruction (it is a story - no knowledge at all of pre-human reptiles!). After the flood animals were part of a covenant for the future. When salvation comes (the return of Christ), the world will be redeemed as well as humankind, restoring perfection to the earth and not eating animals. Yet God is said to be in creation. So humankind can become more harmonious with nature and God. St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226) is said to have been Christlike with animals and is a model for others. There are contrary texts. The swine get cast away with the devils. Luke 24:43 describes Jesus eating fish after the Resurrection. Acts 10:13, 11:7 Peter is instructed to "kill and eat" all creatures. Paul wrote to the Romans that "the weak man eats only vegetables" (14:2).

Some Christians reject the idea of a fall, and speak not of original sin but original blessing, as has Matthew Fox, the one time Roman Catholic and now Anglican priest. For them creation spirituality is about harmonious living rather than exploitation. Humankind has dominion over animals, not on the model of power and control but service as with Jesus' leadership.

Judaism uses the same Hebrew Bible stories as Christians but the stress is on each creature having its proper place. Creation's parts are named and that naming helps define their being and place. Humankind must therefore behave towards this named creation with justice and compassion. This means responsibility. There are food rules. Some think that on the Sabbath all animals should roam freely (Rabbi Hirsch).

For Islam, Allah (God) makes creation happen and move. Humans are servants and agents of God. As stewards we are his trustees of creation. Allah is unity which is spread across nature, and this means nature must be in unity through balance and harmony. Muslims have expressed this through the ordered design of the garden and use of water. Allah rewards those who engage in responsible stewardship. Animals are communities and nations of their own. Muslims eat meat killed the Halal way - no pain before death. Yet sheep may have eaten chicken in their feed and dairy cows could consume pork bones in their feed.

Parts of Hinduism infuses the Ultimate (God) and nature together. Many Hindu Gods reflect animal life. Because the divine runs through everything, humankind is continuous with plant life and animals. The Atharva Veda (ancient Hindu scripture) has its Hymn to the Earth, and for many the earth is Universal Mother. Many animals may not be killed. Doing harm to others may mean we are reborn as animals (karma). Animals may be reborn as human. Hindu views of Ahimsa, from the Jain religion, makes great strides to avoid killing even the smallest animal life. Some Jains will starve themselves. Many Hindus and all Jains are vegetarian.

Buddhism sees other animal life as sentient beings suffering as we do. If we harm them, we harm ourselves. We can seek clarity of mind and do not harm them for our spiritual progress. The world and everything is constantly changing and decaying. In that change we might experience what it is to be animal-sentient in a rebirth, and Karma operates. So we are all co-inhabitants of this planet and all have a right to the environment. Most Buddhists are vegetarian and even vegan.

Many Humanists believe that other animals feel pain and have their own level of social skills within their animal worlds. It may be that animals are less than us and there is a food chain but they have dignity of their conscious experience. So they have a right to their behaviours (not confined farm exploitation). Over exploitation harms our future as well as theirs: there is only one life each and one earth to live on. Many become vegetarian because rationally plant growth is less exploitative and more efficient as a food source.

For Sikhs, the world is marvellous in its varieties of forms. The names of animals are endless and part of the dharma set by the Creator. God looks upon his creation with grace: what God wills animals do freely.

Pagans encourage people to do what they will but without harm for others. The divine runs through creation. Some though see the food chain as natural.

Bahai writings include the statement that the food of the future will be fruit and grains and meat will no longer be eaten. Natural food comes out of the ground. Meanwhile following basic principles of God's heavenly kingdom loving-kindness should be shown to all animals.

A. Worsfold



Describe the Islamic view of unity of creation regarding animals and people.
2 Describe alternative Christian views regarding original sin and original blessing as it relates to animals and nature.
3 Create a two by two grid and (in any order) in the top left give at least a reason for experimenting on animals, in the top right give a reason for experimenting on humans, in the bottom left give a reason not to experiment on animals and in the bottom right give a reason not to experiment on humans. You may want to consider which animals and which humans can be experimented on and why.
4 Compare the Buddhist view of animals with those of one other religion.
5 Pick two religions and based on the information given speculate on how they might preach about animals in medical research.
6 "To say that religious people can exist in harmony with nature is meaningless. It is both harmonious and red in tooth and claw." Choosing two religions, do you agree or disagree with this statement, considering the demands made on people faith? State your position, considering different arguments.
7 Describe your view about eating animals. Can humans kill animals in that animals kill each other? Are we entitled to farm them any way we like, and eat them? Should we choose which animals to eat (lesser creatures - eating fish, for example). What do we like to eat and need to eat? Should we not eat any?
Answer either question below:
8a Should animals be stunned before being killed for food?
8b Discuss whether animals can think and feel.