Let me open my first SSA post with this quote from a book that everyone should read. It is Meditations for the Humanist: Ethics for a Secular Age, by A.C. Grayling. I find myself often rereading the book and revisiting his notes on speciesism (pages 83-5). Anyway, on to the quote:
“There is a parallel between our excuses for maltreating apes and those for maltreating fellow humans. We locate a difference that we find threatening, or that we despise; we thereby make the other fully Other, so that we can fully close the door of the moral community against him, leaving him outside where our actions cannot be judged by the same standards as apply within. Racism and speciesism are thus the same thing – they are myths about who belongs and who is alien.”
This idea is, in fact, what caused me to really question my religion for the first time. At a young age, maybe twelve, I asked my family’s Catholic priest what happens to animals when they die. I had heard plenty about heaven and hell, but only in the context of rewarding or punishing humans. I thought of my tabby cat and wondered what would happen to her after she died. The priest responded without hesitation: “Animals go to hell because they have no souls. Only humans who are faithful to God can go to heaven.” He assured me that it was alright, because they’re only animals.
Why would God decide not to give animals souls or the mental capacity to understand scripture, then punish them for not having it? I was afraid to pursue the answer to this question at the time. In high school, a friend of mine came out to me as gay, and the parallels began to show between speciesism and discrimination of all kinds. It had taken me sixteen years to figure out that justifying discrimination had been an integral part of my religious indoctrination. The cause of a lot of historic tragedies, such as the Crusades and the Holocaust, suddenly became more clear.
How would the world be different if we treated others with mutual respect, regardless of how remarkably different they are from us? Without a deity to justify discrimination, I find it natural to consider myself equal in worth to other animals and humans.
If anyone has time, this paper called Religion, Speciesism, and the Past and Future of Ethics Toward Animals is an interesting read.
I’m curious about everyone’s thoughts on this subject. Because I’m constantly thinking about or interacting with animals at work or home, I feel like my intense focus on this issue may be too narrow.
— Christina Thoele