What Aldous Huxley called “an unfortunate remark in Genesis” is really a few remarks that have justified centuries of disregard and abuses against nonhuman animals. Huxley was referring to how flippant remarks became highly influential through history by sheer chance. A few scrawls by an anonymous scribe, detailing what his desert tribe of ancient Hebrews believed concerning humans and the natural world, happened to pass through history on the back of an increasingly dominant religion. That effectively gave to humankind an animal killing, meat-eating manifesto in Genesis.
And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth (Genesis, 1:26-28)
Explicit and unequivocal, the behavior urged toward the natural world is one of rule and conquer. Too bad all of the world’s animal species throughout Earth’s history have no awareness or comprehension of this claim, other than the one making it. With these few simple lines—the lie of dominion—the natural world was fixed as subordinate and permission was given to subdue it.
And by subdue, that means force other living things into submission, bondage and slavery. Ex-Christian apologist, John Loftus has analyzed the Hebrew word for “subdue” and found it to be a very harsh word indeed, literally meaning “to trample on… tread down,… bring into bondage.”John Loftus, “God and Animals: The Bible and the Treatment of Animals,” The Christian Delusion, https://sites.google.com/site/thechristiandelusion/Home/the-bible-and-animals. Other examples of its use in the Bible refer to the subjugation of enemies and slaves. The same is true of the word “dominion,” which has a similar meaning to subdue, says Loftus, except that it “includes the idea of chastisement” and harshly mastering over the unruly.
Either one of these words urges strict lordship over the earth, but because both words are used together, they are meant to confer upon mankind a truly dictatorial and domineering rule over nature.John Loftus, “God and Animals: The Bible and the Treatment of Animals,” The Christian Delusion, https://sites.google.com/site/thechristiandelusion/Home/the-bible-and-animals. Loftus cites Roderick Nash, history and environmental studies professor, who reaches the same conclusion:
The image is that of a conqueror placing his foot on the neck of a defeated enemy, exerting absolute domination. Both Hebrew words are also used to identify the process of enslavement. It follows that the Christian tradition could understand Genesis 1:28 as a divine commandment to conquer every part of nature and make it humankind’s slave.Roderick Nash, The Rights of Nature: A History of Environmental Ethics (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989), 90, quoted in John Loftus, “God and Animals: The Bible and the Treatment of Animals,” The Christian Delusion, https://sites.google.com/site/thechristiandelusion/Home/the-bible-and-animals.
The Bible not only authorizes Christian bullying of the natural world and its nonhumans, but does so in terms that identifies nature as an enemy to be enslaved. This is nothing like the gentler “stewardship” Christians began claiming for themselves.
The idea of a world bully is made even clearer after the Bible’s tale of the Fall of Man (Genesis 3:1-24), when many references to flesh eating and sacrificing appear. After the flood, God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them to multiply and replenish the earth of humans.
And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, upon all that moveth [upon] the earth, and upon all the fishes of the sea; into your hand are they delivered.
Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things. (Genesis 9:2-3)[/ref]
Here is the moment God commands humans to eat meat. There is no mistaking the tyrannical attitude permitted toward other animals—after all, God has just provided a demonstration of apocalyptic tyranny with a giant global cull of animals that were entirely without sin (Genesis 7:23). They counted for nothing. “The implication is clear,” writes Peter Singer,
to act in a way that causes fear and dread for everything that moves on the earth is not improper; it is, in fact, in accordance with a God-given decree… God gave human beings dominion over the natural world, and God does not care how we treat it. Human beings are the only morally important members of this world. Nature itself is of no intrinsic value.Peter Singer, “Taking Humanism Beyond Speciesism,” Free Inquiry, 24, no. 6 (Oct/Nov 2004), 19-21.
Indeed, a god pleased to wipe out whole human populations can hardly be expected to care what is done to nonhuman animals. This is a god that not only disregarded the humans and animals drowned in the flood, but delivered upon others multiple plagues and sufferings. It is described in Joel (1:17-20) that the land will be ravished and innocent, “perplexed” animals will “groan” and die in agony because caught up in the sins of man.
We should always keep in mind the fiction of dominion, when reading moments of caring for animals in the Bible, as well as their historical contexts. The Pentateuch is a veritable instruction manual whose target audience lived by farming and keeping animals. Exodus’ and Deuteronomy’s passages on kindness to domestic animals—retrieving stray beasts (Exodus 23:4); helping animals that have collapsed (Deuteronomy 22:4); resting animals on the Sabbath (Exodus 23:12; Deuteronomy 5:14); harnessing draft animals appropriately (Deuteronomy 22:10; 25:4)—are community tips, as if from handbook on animal husbandry. But keeping a valuable animal healthy is no more than common sense.
The same is true of Proverbs 12:10, perhaps the most cited biblical passage on animal care: “A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast: but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.” Passages in Psalms about God’s providing food for humans and animals and saving them (104:11-24; 147:9; 148:7-10) say more about omniscient power than providing instruction on animal welfare. And all such minor references are of course outweighed by the slaying of “oxen and fat cattle and sheep in abundance” in sacrifice, for food, or by psychotic tribal warlords.
On animal welfare, if the Old Testament is paltry, the New Testament is bare—“completely lacking in any injunction against cruelty to animals,” writes Peter Singer, “or any recommendation to consider their interests.”Peter Singer, Animal Liberation (New York: Ecco, 2002), 191. The Christian god’s uncaring attitude is reconfirmed, in that classic moment when, in relation to a law of Moses on muzzling animals, Paul asks the question, “Doth God care for oxen?” (1 Corinthians 9:9-10). If any law exists regarding animals, its aim is allegedly to serve man, at the head of all creation, not animals, and that is exactly how Paul sees it too, “For our sakes, no doubt, this is written.”
And Jesus’s agricultural advisories resemble those in the Old Testament, as practical allowances for farmers with a livestock investment. On the Sabbath, you can help your animal out of a pit (Matthew 12:11-12) and give it water as usual (Luke 13:15-16) if you need to. But Jesus only mentions these to make a point about Sabbath law for agrarian listeners, not to instruct on animal welfare. After all, as he says, “Of how much more value is a man than a sheep!” Then there is the classic fable of Jesus and his mass culling of a herd of swine by drowning, after forcing demonic possession upon them (Matthew 8:28-32; Mark 5:12-13; Luke 8:27-33). So much for animal welfare from one whose example everyone is supposed to follow.
After the first divine grant for meat eating and domination (Genesis 9:3), other authorizations follow and elaborate on the basics. Leviticus (11) and Deuteronomy (14) arbitrarily list what can and cannot be eaten, the clean and unclean—dooming some animals and not others. But aside from the whimsical restrictions, the idea is to eat as much as you want without restraint, if the opportunity is there. In Deuteronomy (12:15-16; 20-22), since borders are enlarged and life is good, you can go ahead and kill your livestock or animals in the countryside, the roebuck and hart, for if “thy soul longeth to eat flesh; thou mayest eat flesh, whatsoever thy soul lusteth after.”
The New Testament does nothing to counter the divine warrant on all the flesh eating. Jesus was no strict aesthete, liked his meat (Mark 2:15; Luke 7:36; 11:37; Luke 24:42-43), and participated in Passovers (Matthew 26:17-20; Mark 14:12; Luke 22:7; John 2:13; 7:1-10; 10:22-23). In Acts 10:9-16, an expansion of the meat eating mandate occurs in what is called Peter’s Dream. Peter, one of the Apostles, purportedly falls into a noonday trance on a housetop and has a divine vision of a giant sheet containing
all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air.
Here is a catalog reminiscent of the one in Genesis. A voice from heaven announces “Rise, Peter; kill, and eat,” at which Peter balks because unclean animals are shown. The voice then imparts the intended message, “What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common,” meaning that the Gentile world is now allowed the same gospel privileges accorded the Jews, as Peter says, “God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean” (Acts 10:28).
Thus Peter’s Dream mandates open slather on killing any kind of animal, if not by Jew then by Gentile. This step beyond the Old Testament expands the scope of heaven’s permit to exploit and wreak carnage. Christians are secularists alike have spent millennia doing just that, unthinkingly following a few “remarks” in ill-conceived and ill-informed ancient texts written of a time and for that time.
Notes [ + ]
|1.||⇑||John Loftus, “God and Animals: The Bible and the Treatment of Animals,” The Christian Delusion, https://sites.google.com/site/thechristiandelusion/Home/the-bible-and-animals.|
|2.||⇑||John Loftus, “God and Animals: The Bible and the Treatment of Animals,” The Christian Delusion, https://sites.google.com/site/thechristiandelusion/Home/the-bible-and-animals.|
|3.||⇑||Roderick Nash, The Rights of Nature: A History of Environmental Ethics (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989), 90, quoted in John Loftus, “God and Animals: The Bible and the Treatment of Animals,” The Christian Delusion, https://sites.google.com/site/thechristiandelusion/Home/the-bible-and-animals.|
|4.||⇑||Peter Singer, “Taking Humanism Beyond Speciesism,” Free Inquiry, 24, no. 6 (Oct/Nov 2004), 19-21.|
|5.||⇑||Peter Singer, Animal Liberation (New York: Ecco, 2002), 191.|