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December 11, 2012

World's Major Religions Call for Compassion for Animals

There’s a widely articulated concern among many of the world’s leading religious authorities that human beings have definite and very meaningful responsibilities to animals and that all animals should be protected from cruelty. 

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict the XVI, spoke out against factory farming, stating that when “hens live so packed together...they become just caricatures of birds” and that “this degrading of living creatures to a commodity seems to me in fact to contradict the relationship of mutuality that comes across in the Bible.” The Rev. Billy Graham, the most well-known Christian evangelist and spiritual advisor to several U.S. presidents, wrote: “[L]et me assure you that God is concerned about our care of every part of His creation -- including the animals. After all, He made them, and ultimately they belong to Him.”   

Last week, the New York Times published an article about Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I and his deepening commitment to ecological issues. The patriarch is Archbishop of Constantinople and New Rome and “the first among equals” in the Orthodox Christian community of 300 million. The article quotes an encyclical he wrote in September that calls on Orthodox Christians to reflect on the meaning of human dominion over the earth. He asks his community to repent for their contributions — small or great — to the destruction of creation. Kallistos Ware, an Orthodox theologian, comments, “Traditionally in Christianity, sin was what you did to other humans, but Bartholomew insisted that what you do to the animals, the air, the water, the land can be sinful, not just folly, and that was quite a change.”

Dalai-lama270x240
Santosh Sawant/for The HSUS
His Holiness the Dalai Lama spoke at the launch of
Humane Society International's India office.

His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama, whose influence and reach as a spiritual leader extends all over the world, also recently offered unhedged words about protecting animals at the launch of Humane Society International’s India office, and he too condemns confinement of animals on factory farms. “Animals deserve our compassion,” His Holiness said. “We must know their pain. We should nurture this compassion through education. Showing concern about animal rights is respecting their life.” And in Hinduism and Jainism, “animals, in the Indian tradition, have the same feelings and passions as humans,” according to Indian animal welfare advocate and writer Nanditha Krishna.

The same concern is also manifest within Judaism and Islam. Last month, the President of the Islamic Society of North America, the nation’s largest Muslim organization, joined The HSUS Faith Advisory Council. To commemorate the moment, he affirmed Islam’s tradition of kindness to animals and expressed his concern about factory farming: 

“The Quran calls us to be kind and merciful towards animals, and in it we are taught that, ‘There is not an animal on earth, nor a bird that flies on its wings - but they are communities like you’ (6:38)…. In the modern world, unfortunately, there are broader and more alarming cruelties associated with the raising of animals for food that place an even greater moral burden upon us in our faith. Many farm animals in the United States are routinely locked inside of cramped cages where they can barely move. They are denied the ability to engage in the behaviors God intended for them to exhibit. As Muslims we ought to question these farming practices and do our utmost to ensure that animals raised for food are shown the kind of mercy called for in the Quran and exemplified in the life of the Prophet himself.”

Religious leaders who speak of compassion for animals are not inventing a religious sensibility. Rather, they remind us that a tradition of empathy and concern for animals' well-being has long existed. But, as with all values, these statements must not be treated as platitudes, but as practical codes that help guide the way we live. 

P.S. The HSUS, through its Faith Outreach program, has an online library of official statements on animals issued by governing bodies of religious denominations.

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