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August 26, 2009

The Spirituality of Caring for All Creatures

The Humane Society of the United States

Do your views about animals influence your faith? Or has your faith influenced how you view animals or animal protection issues? Contributors to The Francis Files share their stories


by Susan Vogt
Aug. 27, 2009

I'm not a vegan. I'm not even vegetarian, although my husband and I have tried to reduce the amount of meat we eat on a regular basis.

So it was with some trepidation that I agreed to explore the spirituality of animals for this article.

Sure, I loved reading about the talking animals in Narnia, and we've had our share of critter pets around the house over the past 30 years.

Yes, I'm fond of St. Francis and certainly believe in the humane treatment of animals, but that's not a very high bar. But, I had agreed to at least read The Humane Society of the United States' booklet, A Religious Case for Compassion for Animals, and watch their documentary DVD Eating Mercifully. Now I'm ruined. I know too much, and it's hard to go back.

I wasn't even familiar with the term "factory farms" when I started this self education project. Now, I know too much about where some of the food we eat comes from, and I'm disturbed.

If you've read to this point, it means you're brave enough to let your lifestyle be challenged also. Here's a summary of what I learned. See what you think:

    • Most cattle, pigs, and chickens whose meat is sold in the supermarket are raised in crowded, inhumane conditions called factory farms. They are called this because the more livestock an entrepreneur can squeeze into a small space, the lower the production cost.

    • Because of the crowded conditions, the animals are more at risk for disease and, therefore, are usually given antibiotics as a preventive measure to ensure they will make it to market. The problem is that the increased used of antibiotics contributes to the mutation of microorganisms, thus increasing their resistance to antibiotics. This means that infections that humans get are increasingly resistant to antibiotics also.

So does this mean the conscientious animal lover should give up eating meat, milk products, and poultry? Well, some people will go that route, but others won’t, and we have options. Not all animals are raised on factory farms, but it takes a bit of looking to find out where the true “farmers” are. It also costs a bit more to look for labels like “free range” chicken or “cage-free” eggs.

But what's this all got to do with spirituality? The Bible is not a textbook on animal husbandry, but Genesis does talk about right relationships with all of creation. "Be masters of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven, and all the living creatures that move on the earth." (Genesis 1:28) God created all these creatures of the earth and let us have dominion over them—and it was good.

With dominion, however, comes responsibility. Creation will not remain "good" if we abuse it.

So what's a humane person to do?

  • First, don't take my word for it. Do your own research. I think that if you watch Eating Mercifully, your heart will be touched. Check out the facts. Read books like Omnivore's Dilemma and Fast Food Nation.

  • Once you've confirmed the reality of factory farms, consider whether you're ready to go whole hog (cold turkey if you prefer poultry) or if you're more of a baby step-type person. If you're like me, you'll start to make some minor changes in your shopping and eating habits. Our family started with buying only free-range eggs and organic milk.

  • Once your family has become accustomed to these modest eating changes, consider additional dietary adjustments. You might eliminate or greatly reduce your consumption of certain kinds of meat.

  • As you become more knowledgeable about what goes into your body, a temple of the Holy Spirit, you might have the courage to speak out about the inhumane treatment of animals through educating others or working for legislative restrictions on the worst of the factory farm systems of raising our food.

Yes, our pets are usually cute and cuddly. They take responsible ownership. That’s what we teach our children, don’t we? But pets are not the only animals who deserve our respect. If we are to be responsible stewards of creation we need to look at all of creation, not just the ones we play with. The way we treat some creatures reflect the respect for life that we have for all creatures including the human ones.

It took me about one hour to write this article, one week to research it, but one year to start living the changes it prompted me to consider. Perhaps I've saved you some time.

Susan Vogt is a freelance speaker and writer on marriage, parenting, and spirituality. She and her husband live in Covington, KY, and love animals (although they are not fond of mosquitoes, snakes, or wasps, as necessary as they are to the web of life).


Do you have a story to share? Submit your story and we may share it with our readers. The opinions of the authors expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of The Humane Society of the United States.

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