Christian Conservatives Tooth & Claw

Christian apologists are renowned for what Stephen Law describes as a “veneer of faux reasonableness.” [1]Stephen Law,Believing Bullshit: How Not to Get Sucked into an Intellectual Black Hole (New York: Prometheus Books, 2011), 11, 19, 193. Fake reasonableness is found in most statements religious apologists make about nonhuman animals—-for example, this from Michael J. Murray:

the duty to safeguard the integrity of nature is only a prima facie duty, one which can be overridden in those cases where violations of that integrity are necessary or prudent for securing greater goods.”[2]Michael J. Murray and Glenn Ross, “Neo-Cartesianism and the Problem of Animal Suffering,” Faith and Philosophy 23:2 (2006), 169-190.

Which is to say, you know, if factory farming is efficient for the “human food supply,” then it might be “morally permissible,” and so on—just more phony Xianspin. Religious pseudo-science, pseudo-profundity, and pseudo-reasonableness are ultimately very damaging and deadly to the lives of nonhuman animals.

Imagine if apologists like William Lane Craig, Wesley J. Smith, and their cohorts were in charge of animal welfare. Would the circumstances of nonhumans become more or less dire, their protections more or less dubious? It is not hard to predict the nightmarish outcome. Smith and company are exponents of “easy speeches that comfort cruel men,” the phrase from C.K. Chesterton that C.S. Lewis uses to condemn the usual arguments from theologians that insist nonhumans are inconsequential.[3]Andrew Linzey, “C. S. Lewis’s Theology of Animals,” in Strangers to Nature: Animal Lives and Human Ethics (Plymouth: Lexington Books, 2012), 91. While Chesterton and Lewis firmly believed in a chasm dividing humans and nonhumans, they would have been appalled at the attitudes of the modern breed of Christian that denies animals any protections.

The modern wingnut equates a righteous religious outlook with animal killing and anti-animal rights views, holding that anyone against this position must have atheistic tendencies, as Stephen Vantassel argues:

there is no fundamental contradiction between responsibly killing animals and following Christ. In fact, the contradiction lies with those who reject our right to kill animals on the grounds that such actions are non-Christian. To put a sharper point on the matter, I argue that for Christians to accept the ideals of animal rights is the logical equivalent of saying that one can be a Christian-atheist.[4]Stephen Vantassel, “Why Christians Cannot Support Animal Rights,” Opposing Views, February 26, 2010, http://www.opposingviews.com/i/why-christians-cannot-support-animal-rights.

An avid animal trapper and recreational serial killer, Vantassel is voicing no more than the loose, ill-formed views quietly held by perhaps the majority of Christians. At the extreme end of Christian delusion where you find loons like Vantassel, not killing animals wherever convenient is an irreligious weakness, an anathema to the muscular Christian standing up to “bourgeois America” and its sentimental indulgences.

After espousing the utility of Dalmatian farming for fur and dog meat, journalist David Plotz, now a Slate editor, evokes the same old lie of dominion.

Disney, by anthropomorphizing its critters, exploits this American mushy-mindedness, and makes us forget that pets are, in the end, just animals. But God gave man dominion over the beasts of the earth: If an animal has economic utility, we should farm it.[5]David Plotz, “Gimme Some Skin,” Slate, December 7, 1996, http://www.slate.com/articles/briefing/articles/1996/12/gimme_some_skin.html.

And religious fairy tales make some humans forget they are just animals too, the ape kind. If it is mushy-mindedness you want, there is no better example than the thinking of religious columnists who take their cues from a fantastical book of anthropomorphic gods, dragons, giants, talking snakes, talking donkeys, and zombies. What a clown.

This typical view of people like Plotz is for Matthew Scully—-author of Dominion and a Christian himself—“an excuse for evading serious argument, for doing what he pleases and getting what he wants, the whims of man in their familiar guise of the will of God.”[6] Matthew Scully, Dominion: the Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2002), 389. For such people, the status of nonhuman animals is every bit a part of the battle against a range of “evils” that would undermine faith. And compassion must be excised lest it undermine the practice of that self-interested faith.

Modern dominion bears every resemblance to dominion practiced centuries ago except for the phoniness in the rhetoric. Behind the thinking of modern religious apologists you will find ulterior motives not dissimilar to those in the theology of Aquinas, who “used the religious moral, and metaphysical ideas of his time to mask the naked self-interest of human dealings with animals.”[7]Peter Singer, Animal Liberation (New York: Ecco, 2002), 186. But try as they might, with their smarmy “faux reasonableness,” apologists of Wesley J. Smith’s ilk fail to hide the same naked self-interest, and it is no coincidence their religious thinking goes hand in hand with a ruthless capitalistic standpoint on exploitation.

The point for Smith, writes philosopher Angus Taylor, is not philosophical reasoning but rather that the “ascription of rights to animals presents an inconvenient barrier to their being exploited for human gain.”[8]Angus Taylor, “Review of Wesley J. Smith’s A Rat is a Pig is a Dog is a Boy: The Human Cost of the Animal Rights Movement,” Between the Species, Issue X (2010), 230. Thus you get two worlds of religious idealism, one that imagines harmony with nature and righteous stewardship and the one that practices a free for all of animal killing for profit—the modern Christian wingnut being an exemplar of the latter.

On those who use dominion as an excuse for nonhuman persecution, Scully remarks, “theirs is a dominion only of power, with them and not God at the center, all Grandeur and no grace.”[9]Matthew Scully, Dominion: the Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2002), 11. As a Christian, he is forced to admit that “Dominion, in religious orthodoxy, has become a quest for subjugation without limits, cruelty to animals a sin without judgement.”[10]Matthew Scully, Dominion: the Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2002), 313. It is an appalling attitude quietly approved by the religious majority, and which goes mostly unchallenged by a secular society and is indistinguishable from rampant capitalist enterprise.

Craig, Smith, and their ilk broadly come under the three Rs, the radical religious right, whose moral perversities are acceptable to the faithful, and even the not so religious, because they blend seamlessly with the moral decay at the heart of capitalism. Worse still, their views are supported either directly or indirectly by the machinations of political and legal processes. Laws enforce the convenient fiction that animals are property. And as animal abolitionist campaigner Gary Francione relentless points out, if animals are regarded as property their interests are disregarded whenever it suits the exploiter:

This is particularly true in countries such as the United States, which regards, property ownership as a natural right—a right that has its origin in religious doctrine and that is considered an absolutely essential cornerstone of social organization.[11]Gary Francione, Introduction to Animal Rights: Your Child or the Dog? (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2000), 75.

More than a natural right, they see it as a supernatural God-given right, immutable and not to be trifled with but to be promoted. Upholding these religiously inspired laws, eager to introduce new ones to safeguard laissez-faire capitalism, and hostile to any deviation from scriptural thinking are religious conservative politicians. These dangerous individuals are frighteningly prone to base their goals and decisions on religious doctrine.

Take John Shimkus, a Republican congressmen in the United States as an example, who in 2009 quoted from Genesis before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Energy and Environment, saying it was the “infallible word of God” and “the Earth will end only when God declares its time to be over; man will not destroy this Earth.” His point being that global warming is of no concern and restrictions based on it do harm to industry.

Apart from the stupidity of ignoring all science in favor of ancient scriptures written in a pre-scientific era, and the embarrassment of citing biblical texts in a serious political forum, what Shimkus illustrates is the incredible threat religious thinking is because of its support for the unrestrained capitalist exploitation of nature.

Another example is Congressman Paul Broun—yes, a Republican yet again—who appears on video speaking at the 2012 Sportsman’s Banquet at the Liberty Baptist Church, asserting that evolution and the big bang theory are “lies straight from the pit of Hell.”

It is a surreal scene: Broun standing before a wall of slaughtered animals preaching that the Bible “teaches us how to run all of public policy and everything in society.” How you profit from nonhuman animals, it naturally follows, is all there on that wall and in that “manufacturer’s handbook,” the Bible. Theocrats with such a perverted worldview turn disregard and irresponsibility towards animals and the environment into virtues, conveniently paving the way for further exploitation and greed without conscience. These people are flat out dangerous lunatics.

In the United States, it is typical for theocrats and fundamentalists in league with corporate entities run by the religious right to campaign against environmental and animal protections. The Iowa Representative Steve King is a prime example, a man who year after year strives to roll back animal protection laws and many other statutes relating to agriculture. As probably the most staunch anti-animal welfare activist in the US Congress, King sees the worst excesses as fair game, whether animal fighting, horse slaughter, puppy mills, shark finning, ignoring pets in disasters, leaving wildlife unprotected, or promoting sports hunting. The kind of world King envisages and fights for is a nightmarish world much crueler than it is today and something as remote from Eden as you could get.

In the private sector there are the Koch brothers, ultra-wealthy Christian libertarians with equally dangerous ideas on minimal regulations for exploitative enterprises affecting nonhuman animals and the environment. They corruptly pour money into the coffers of anti-environmental organizations and bogus studies to promote climate change denial. They fund think tanks and employ corporate shills to spread propaganda and disinformation that sucks in gullible citizens. They use their money to influence media, sometimes appealing to existing prejudices, to create an echo chamber effect in the hope of changing opinion. As well as bankrolling conservative groups and think tanks, they are known for co-opting the wacky Tea Party movement.

Religious right wingnuts tend to organize around a contrived antithesis between environmentalism and Christianity. For theocrats and fundamentalists, calls to establish environmental and animal protections are an insult to a god who loves capitalism and hates any threat to divinely sanctioned liberties. Environmentalists seeking to preserve the planet for future generations are foes—demonized activists, or “terrorists,” whose alleged grand conspiracies, scams, and deceptions threaten to vanquish Christianity. Animal rights laws or welfare improvement—to the rest of us an indicator or moral and civilized behavior—are contrary to a biblically inspired way of life.

At stake is a spiritual world war in which “resisting the green dragon,” confronting and challenging those who express environmental fears and animals rights concerns, is a religious duty. Battling against satanic forces that would undermine religious dominion are people such as E. Calvin Beisner, leader of The Cornwall Alliance, a group “committed to bringing a proper and balanced biblical view of stewardship to the critical issues of environment,” but which, it comes as no surprise, has financial links with big oil.[12]“The ‘Green Dragon’ Slayers: How the Religious Right and the Corporate Right are Joining Forces to Fight Environmental Protection,” People for the American Way, 2011, http://www.pfaw.org/sites/default/files/rww-in-focus-green-dragon-final.pdf. The Cornwall Alliance’s publication Resisting the Green Dragon: Dominion, Not Death and its companion documentary feature a who’s who of religious cranks bearing the message of fear and loathing against environmentalism and all it stands for.

Environmentalism is just a catch-all phrase for these loons for anything pertaining to naturalism, evolution, and science that might contradict religious teachings—anything that redirects minds away from dominion, human exceptionalism, and magical thinking. Environmentalism is any “impostor, with its alternative world view, its substitute doctrines of God, creation, man, sin, and salvation,” writes Beisner, “the most comprehensive substitute in the world today for Christianity so far as world view, theology, ethics, politics, economics, and science are concerned.”[13]E. Calvin Beisner, “The Competing World Views of Environmentalism and Christianity,” Cornwall Alliance, http://www.cornwallalliance.org/about/. What drives radical religious right’s campaign is not just the protection of unrestrained capitalism but a fear of losing numbers to the satanic forces of reason.

Other examples of the “hysterical fear” of religious groups against activists are compiled by John Sorenson in discussing anthropocentric prejudices of individuals and groups “mobilized against animal advocates” to protect their world view and financial interests.[14]John Sorenson, “‘Doctrine of Demons’: Attacks on Animal Advocacy,” Green Theory and Praxis Journal, Volume 2, Issue 1 (2006), 54, http://www.criticalanimalstudies.org/gtp-volume-2-issue-1-2006/. While voices against better treatment for animals are part of “a well-organized, multi-million-dollar propaganda campaign by agribusiness, bio-medical industries and recreational killers (‘sportsmen’) to control moral capital and present their vested interests as representative of ‘normal people’,” they are also driven by a threatened religious self-conception.

Writing on this opposition to animal activism, Sorenson cites opinions from the right wing Christian journal U Turn, which see the free market economy as “God’s economic design” and anything that threatens the division between man and nature as “rebellion against God.”[15]John Sorenson, “‘Doctrine of Demons’: Attacks on Animal Advocacy,” Green Theory and Praxis Journal, Volume 2, Issue 1 (2006), 55, http://www.criticalanimalstudies.org/gtp-volume-2-issue-1-2006/. The animal rights movement itself is a “doctrine of demons.” A Catholic journalist in the Sydney Morning Herald sees animal rights as “not a sign of a more compassionate society” but a threat to respect for humanity, the soul, free will, and life’s meaning. In another Christian journal, First Things (to which Wesley J. Smith also contributes) a number of religious contributors see animal advocacy as anti-humanistic and believe its exponents “enemies of teh human race” seeking to “degrade humans.”[16]John Sorenson, “‘Doctrine of Demons’: Attacks on Animal Advocacy,” Green Theory and Praxis Journal, Volume 2, Issue 1 (2006), 56-57, http://www.criticalanimalstudies.org/gtp-volume-2-issue-1-2006/. These “hysterical fears,” Sorenson notes, are no different to what are found across a range of right wing religious publications. They all reject impositions on animal and environmental exploitation and see animal rights as a dire threat, not just to their own delusional sense of identity but to the entire human race.

At a deeper level, thee deluded pathology of these wingnuts is driven by an existential fear and dread, a fear of being overrun by a sense of insignificance, a fear of being reduced to the status of a mortal animal, a fear of death. In the case of Wesley J. Smith, Angus Taylor sees it as

explained by a pathology of desire for domination over the other, a desire rooted in existential dread… the existential terror induced in those who feel a threat to their privileged place in the grand scheme of things. For Smith, as for Louis XV, it’s “Après moi, le déluge.

Ernst Becker in his seminal work The Denial of Death writes about the connection between accepting one’s animality, the inevitable recognition of an impending animal death, and how people avoid this reality with distancing strategies. Psychologists examining this behavior, who cite Becker in their paper “I Am Not an Animal: Mortality Salience, Disgust and the Denial of Human,” found that being an animal threatens people with the reminder of their own “vulnerability to death,” inducing disgust and a need to create a distance from animals.[17]J. L. Goldenberg et al, “I Am Not an Animal: Mortality Salience, Disgust and the Denial of Human,” in Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, Vol. 130:3 (September, 2001), 427-35.

Most worldviews, the psychologists found, have distinguishing strategies that protect humans from death anxiety. Spiritual beliefs are of course death-denying strategies, often incorporating animal-distancing in their tenets as part of the worldview package, even if it is maladaptive. A psychological imperative compels their anti-environmentalism and support for animal exploitation, which leads to a bizarre and perverted worldview and a reprehensible form of deadly upside-down ethics.

As a matter of life and death, religious human exceptionalism demands that nonhuman animals are rejected from the moral community. There is nothing like the subjugation of others, treating them as if they were your slaves, to keep you in your place. Christian apologists will happily justify this behavior as merely following nature “red in tooth and claw,” but there is something more sinister to it than that. The corollary of unopposed dominion over nature at a nation-state level is indistinguishable from any might-is-right or fascist political movement. The Xianspin tracts of modern Christian theocrats are barely restrained versions of the social Darwinist-foreshadowing theodicy of Catholic philosopher Joseph De Maistre (1753-1821):

Above all these numerous animal species is placed man, whose destructive hand spares nothing that lives. He kills to nourish himself, he kills to clothe himself, he kills to adorn himself, he kills to attack, he kills to defend himself, he kills to instruct himself, he kills to amuse himself, he kills to kill: a superb and terrible king, he needs everything and nothing resists him… Thus, from the maggot up to man, the universal law of the violent destruction of living things is unceasingly fulfilled. The entire earth, perpetually steeped in blood, is nothing but an immense altar on which every living thing must be immolated without end, without restraint, without respite, until the consummation of the world, until the extinction of evil, until the death of death.[18]Joseph de Maistre, St Petersburg Dialogues: Or Conversations on the Temporal Government of Providence, trans. Richard A. Lebrun (McGill-Queen’s Press, 1993), 216-217.

Such is the end game of religious exceptionalism. For Maistre, these are the “consequences of a supernatural nature,” and in a world of divinely manufactured order, war itself is a divine, spiritual affair—just as extremist Muslim lunatics all see it. To oppose this universal law of nature red in tooth and claw is to oppose God. This is the kind of magic thinking that is perfectly amenable to fascist undertakings. The magic thinking behind dominion, history has shown repeatedly, never just stops at speciesism.

Just as logic and reason cannot restrain the limits of their wishful thinking, understanding and empathy cannot limit their egoistic desires for violence and domination. The drive behind human exceptionalism is like the ego of a self-centered child, feeling unbound by mortality and resentful of reality’s rules. This is not a frivolous idea—a childish ego is a good analogy for the stunted immaturity you get in adults after a lifetime of backward and simplistic anthropocentric thinking. To suggest Christian conservatives refrain from the merciless exploitation of nonhumans is to incite a fit of petulance—they simply will not be told what to do! The undeveloped ego resents an imposition upon its desires, and if it occurs, it fears the whole world is against it and is subjecting it to unfair oppressions. Suddenly the whiny wingnuts are the victims.

The religious right are the real ecoterrorists, who perversely equate being asked to apply the golden rule to the nature with the threat of a totalitarian invasion. Green is the new Red! The Green Scare threatens to take away their unearned privileges because “environmentalism is inherently totalitarian, demanding to define and control every aspect of life, it aims to take control of our entire political and legal structure.”[19]E. Calvin Beisner, “The Competing World Views of Environmentalism and Christianity,” Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, http://www.cornwallalliance.org/articles/read/the-competing-world-views-of-environmentalism-and-christianity/. Conservatives everywhere push this totalitarian pap, revealing more about themselves than any validity to what they say.

English philosopher, arch-conservative and hunting advocate Roger Scruton provides insight into their pathology by way of a whining insight into his own paranoid mindset:

it is a totalitarian morality, which inverts the old scheme of values and makes them into crimes. After hunting will come shooting, and fishing, steeplechasing and any other activity that offends the urban conscience. Indeed, anything that smacks of our past will be just disapproved of, and then forbidden by law.[20]Roger Scruton, Sunday Telegraph, July 17, 1999, http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/monitor-foxhunting-ban-1106825.html.

For the libertarian conservative, the concept of a “conscience” based on empathy and compassion for nonhumans animals is a foreign one. Scutton here peddles the same kind of arguments seen from Wesley J. Smith and others the other side of the Atlantic. What they all fear is the loss of a self-congratulatory sense of superiority and their cherished traditions of privilege. What they all fail to see is that they are the oppressors and tyrants and always have been, more totalitarian in their worldview than the rest of us.

This point was labored by Christopher Hitchens, who often marveled at the scale of arrogance it requires to claim to be privy to the universe’s inner workings and what its creator thinks. One of his main grievances was the totalitarian nature of faith-based and anthropocentric worldview—solipsistic was the word Hitchens often used. Totalitarianism is inherent in the religious view and those subject to the harsher side of religious rule, such as animals and the environment, suffer the sharp end of totalitarian injustices and abuse. This totalitarianism is inherent in the worldview of Christian conservatives, who justify abhorrent behavior by acting within an artificially constructed anthropocentric hierarchy. As Roger Ingersoll once warned,

Whenever a man believes that he has the exact truth from God, there is in that man no spirit of compromise. He has not the modesty born of the imperfections of human nature; he has the arrogance of theological certainty and the tyranny born of ignorant assurance. Believing himself to be the slave of God, he imitates his master, and of all tyrants, the worst is a slave in power.[21]Robert G. Ingersoll, The Works of Robert G. Ingersoll. Volume 2. Lectures (New York: The Dresden Publishing Co., 1909), 274.

And with that certainty comes no compromise, especially not for nonhumans if it is believed they exist for subjugation and profitable use under a rule of dominion. When Religious fantasies are externalized and used to claim entitlements that outweigh even the health of the planet, it is a problem for nonhumans and humans alike. So to all those skeptics and secularists, the next time you want to mock an animal advocate or vegan, take pause to work out whose side you are really on.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Stephen Law,Believing Bullshit: How Not to Get Sucked into an Intellectual Black Hole (New York: Prometheus Books, 2011), 11, 19, 193.
2. Michael J. Murray and Glenn Ross, “Neo-Cartesianism and the Problem of Animal Suffering,” Faith and Philosophy 23:2 (2006), 169-190.
3. Andrew Linzey, “C. S. Lewis’s Theology of Animals,” in Strangers to Nature: Animal Lives and Human Ethics (Plymouth: Lexington Books, 2012), 91.
4. Stephen Vantassel, “Why Christians Cannot Support Animal Rights,” Opposing Views, February 26, 2010, http://www.opposingviews.com/i/why-christians-cannot-support-animal-rights.
5. David Plotz, “Gimme Some Skin,” Slate, December 7, 1996, http://www.slate.com/articles/briefing/articles/1996/12/gimme_some_skin.html.
6. Matthew Scully, Dominion: the Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2002), 389.
7. Peter Singer, Animal Liberation (New York: Ecco, 2002), 186.
8. Angus Taylor, “Review of Wesley J. Smith’s A Rat is a Pig is a Dog is a Boy: The Human Cost of the Animal Rights Movement,” Between the Species, Issue X (2010), 230.
9. Matthew Scully, Dominion: the Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2002), 11.
10. Matthew Scully, Dominion: the Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2002), 313.
11. Gary Francione, Introduction to Animal Rights: Your Child or the Dog? (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2000), 75.
12. “The ‘Green Dragon’ Slayers: How the Religious Right and the Corporate Right are Joining Forces to Fight Environmental Protection,” People for the American Way, 2011, http://www.pfaw.org/sites/default/files/rww-in-focus-green-dragon-final.pdf.
13. E. Calvin Beisner, “The Competing World Views of Environmentalism and Christianity,” Cornwall Alliance, http://www.cornwallalliance.org/about/.
14. John Sorenson, “‘Doctrine of Demons’: Attacks on Animal Advocacy,” Green Theory and Praxis Journal, Volume 2, Issue 1 (2006), 54, http://www.criticalanimalstudies.org/gtp-volume-2-issue-1-2006/.
15. John Sorenson, “‘Doctrine of Demons’: Attacks on Animal Advocacy,” Green Theory and Praxis Journal, Volume 2, Issue 1 (2006), 55, http://www.criticalanimalstudies.org/gtp-volume-2-issue-1-2006/.
16. John Sorenson, “‘Doctrine of Demons’: Attacks on Animal Advocacy,” Green Theory and Praxis Journal, Volume 2, Issue 1 (2006), 56-57, http://www.criticalanimalstudies.org/gtp-volume-2-issue-1-2006/.
17. J. L. Goldenberg et al, “I Am Not an Animal: Mortality Salience, Disgust and the Denial of Human,” in Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, Vol. 130:3 (September, 2001), 427-35.
18. Joseph de Maistre, St Petersburg Dialogues: Or Conversations on the Temporal Government of Providence, trans. Richard A. Lebrun (McGill-Queen’s Press, 1993), 216-217.
19. E. Calvin Beisner, “The Competing World Views of Environmentalism and Christianity,” Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, http://www.cornwallalliance.org/articles/read/the-competing-world-views-of-environmentalism-and-christianity/.
20. Roger Scruton, Sunday Telegraph, July 17, 1999, http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/monitor-foxhunting-ban-1106825.html.
21. Robert G. Ingersoll, The Works of Robert G. Ingersoll. Volume 2. Lectures (New York: The Dresden Publishing Co., 1909), 274.

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