A Challenge to the Faithful
Recently, a dear friend of mine spent over £600 on medication for her ageing goldfish. Other friends spent a fortune on treatment for their terminally ill rescue dog and gave him gentle palliative care.
Are these pets the lucky ones? If we could ask any animal, would they rather be a much-loved pet or live their lives in the wild, rather than be an animal in a factory farm, they would surely say ’yes’. Yet, the factory-farmed animals do not have names, only numbers – and these numbers are sky-rocketing.
Every year over 80 billion farmed animals are slaughtered for their meat, as well as trillions of fish. In addition, 192 million animals are used in experiments every year, some to aid medical progress, others for testing cosmetics or household products. Other animals are hunted for “sport”, forced to entertain us in tourist ventures or are trained to fight for horrific spectacles such as bull-fighting.
Taking a stand against cruelty
With over 80% of the global population claiming adherence to a religious faith, it is clear that many people of faith are involved in these cruel activities. Do their faiths not teach compassion for others and respect for all creatures? Do their holy books, founders and current leaders take a stand against cruelty?
I have been awed by some of the beautiful writing about animals contained in the scriptures of many faiths.
For example, in the Qu’ran I discovered that Allah had given cattle to the people not just for food and clothing but so that “you find beauty in them when you bring them home to rest and when you drive them out to pasture”. I found that animals are regarded in the Qu’ran as “communities like you”.
I was heartened by the lovely Buddhist metta (loving-kindness) prayer: “May all beings everywhere be happy. May they be healthy. May they be at peace. May they be free”.
I loved the story in the Hindu scriptures of Yudisthira, who was prepared to give up his place in heaven to that of a faithful dog.
Inspirational wording of scriptures
What of the beautiful words of the seventh century Saint Isaac the Syrian who described a merciful heart as “a heart on fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals … and for all that exists”?
There really is an abundance of inspiration to be found in the sacred scriptures of the faiths.
Yet we need only look at an intensive chicken farm to see the abhorrent ways in which we have come to treat the creatures we rear for our food. The laying hens may be kept in cages so small that they cannot even spread their wings; the chickens reared for meat, the broilers, are not usually caged but kept on the floor, with maybe twenty or thirty thousand in each shed.
They have been bred to grow so fast that a fluffy yellow one-day-old chick will get to around two kgs in weight in just five or six weeks. The “farmer” can then send them for slaughter and start yet another batch. More batches per year equals more profit per year.
Do faith leaders sanction institutional cruelty?
But growing so fast has destroyed the health and strength of these birds. Their skeletons cannot sustain the weight of muscle (meat) and a substantial number go lame before they even reach slaughter-weight.
Could such abhorrent treatment really be sanctioned by faith leaders? Could people of faith actually own such factory farms?
Truth is, there has been a deafening silence from most faith leaders on all these institutional forms of animal cruelty.
Thankfully, there are wonderful exceptions. Theologian David Clough urges Christians “to resist production systems that have no regard for the flourishing of animals”.
A distinguished Jewish leader, Rabbi David Rosen, declares that factory farming is a “flagrant violation” of this principle.
Revolution amongst faith leaders needed
It is wonderful to have these modern voices speaking out against the horrors of factory farming, but sadly they appear to be the exception.
We definitely need a revolution amongst faith leaders. Perhaps we could all take on board what Pope Francis wrote in his 2015 encyclical, Laudato Si’, where he called for a spirit of “loving awareness that we are not disconnected from the rest of creatures but joined in a splendid universal communion”.
In my book “Animal Welfare in World Religion: Teaching and Practice” (Routledge, 2023), I have looked at the inspiring religious texts, the founders and saints of all the major faiths and compared these beautiful teachings with what actually happens on the ground today in places where each faith is predominant.
To explore these themes further, Compassion is hosting a webinar Faith action for better human, animal and planetary health with a fantastic array of speakers: Vandana Shiva, Azmaira Alibhai, Martin Palmer, Dr Marium Husain, Dr David Clough, Dr Thomas Legrand, Rabbi Yonatan Neril and Susie Weldon (Chair).
Participants can hear individual perspectives on the role of faiths in food systems transformation, and have the opportunity to pose questions on the diverse issues discussed.
Date: 18th Jan (2024) Time: 14:00 - 16:30 (GMT).
We do hope you will join us for a lively discussion!