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WITH NEW EYES: THE ANIMAL RIGHTS MOVEMENT AND RELIGION JAMES PARKER* The contemporary animal rights movement has taken a religious turn. One of its most vocal leaders, Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), has expressed her goal by evoking the biblical image of a world where the lamb will lie down with the lion. Another, philosopher Tom Regan, has distributed a videotape called Noah's Ark that makes the connection between animal rights and belief and attempts to recruit religious groups to the cause. Twohundred -fifty pastors and a handful of theologians have declared in the Glauberg Confession that they now ". . . read the statements in the Bible about Creation and regard for our fellow-creatures with new eyes and new interest . . . [I]." The editors of a recent issue of Animals' Voice magazine have published what amounts to a handbook explaining how readers can make their voice heard in the churches. "Progress with the churches," it declares, "should now become one of the major concerns of the [animal rights] movement" [2]. This use of religious language is not new. Several Victorian antivivisectionists based their arguments on religious texts, especially the Bible [3]. This is understandable, for as Proudhon observed, all debates about social policy ultimately became theological—debates, that is, about the purposes of life and the nature of God. What is new in the contemporary movement are the arguments some of its adherents use. Seeking to reorder the relationship between humans and animals, they come to new understandings of God and the world. Claiming that animals have rights, and placing animals alongside rather than beneath humanity, they are helping fashion a theology of creation in which animals have value because of their making by God rather than because of any usefulness to humans. *Information Officer, Oregon Regional Primate Research Center, 505 NW 185th Avenue , Beaverton, Oregon 97006.© 1993 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved. 0031-5982/93/3603-0829$01.00 338 fames Parker ¦ Animal Rights and Religion The notion that animals have rights constitutes an obvious challenge to biomedical researchers. When they see the animal rights movement taking this religious turn, they can become bewildered and irritated. They are used to thinking of their work as an ethical and laudable contribution to human knowledge and advances in human and animal health. They are convinced that their treatment of animals is humane. Why, they may ask, are some theologiansjoining the ranks of the animal rights movement? The approaches of contemporary theologians interested in the animal issue fall into three categories. The first, staying well within traditional orthodoxy, calls attention to the biblical and Judeo-Christian doctrine of kindness toward animals. The second operates with traditional notions of God, but argues for a theology of creation in which animals have rights. The third and most radical type takes up the questions about God raised by the animal rights movement and answers them with notions taken from contemporary "process" theologians. All three approaches call into question the use of animals in biomedical research. I The most comprehensive and coherent spokesman for the first approach is Lewis Regenstein. He has addressed church audiences with Replenish the Earth, "a history of organized religion's treatment of animals and nature" [4]. Regenstein strings together all the texts from the Bible and from church and synagogue leaders through the centuries that inculcate kindness toward animals. This approach, used also by pamphleteers for animal welfare organizations, provides a useful resource , a beginning point for the person who has never noticed the Bible's references to animals. In addition it highlights prescriptions that are central to the tradition of animal welfare. Even if that tradition hasn't always been honored, it has prevailed in Jewish and Christian history. Standing by themselves, however, the texts on kindness give no answer to someone asking if the Bible has anything to say about animal rights. If we want to apply those texts to present-day concerns without the mistake of reading our own interests into them, we must determine what they meant to the people who first spoke and heard them. Only if we investigate their historical settings and their changes over time...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-8795
Print ISSN
0031-5982
Pages
pp. 338-346
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-07
Open Access
No
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