A friend of mine emailed me recently and asked me a question I hadn’t fully considered when I set out on this little project. He’s currently living in South Korea teaching English, but has carried an interest in Buddhism and Eastern religion for quite some time now. Here’s his question:
You talk predominately about nonviolence towards other people, but what stance do you (or Christianity) have against violence towards things, like, say nature or animals? Other religions, such as Buddhism, have strict views that killing any animal will bring negative karma as it’s ending a life, so a vegetarian diet is required. And I think its Hinduism (don’t quote me) that said everything (rock, tree, human, dog, tapeworm) has the exact same amount of divine essence but is only manifested more completely as you get into more complex life (IE, humans).
Honestly, I had never, ever thought about this before from this perspective, though others definitely have. I’m going to attempt to answer this question best I can, though I could have researched this a whole lot better, for sure.
The view put forth in the above quote (framed as “violence toward animal or nature”) doesn’t really show up in Scripture, at least not with such language. Buddhists and Christians tend to speak of the same matters with different language, though the language they use is shaped by their worldviews. For example, Buddhism is a very worldly centered faith (Buddhists have no god, at least most branches don’t), which brings their focus to this earth solely, and seeking to find enlightenment leads them to find it within the world around them. This is why Zen Buddhism lacks a central set of writings, because to cement teaching into such a concrete form distracts burgeoning pupils from seeking enlightenment their own way. This is not a relativistic faith either; there is merely a flexibility in attaining satori (enlightenment). Their earth-centered view is what inspires them to a “violence-towards-nothing” view.
For Christians, this is a little different. Christianity begins its own set of laws and understandings of the world not based on its own original thoughts, but on what Christ called the fulfillment of Moses’ Law. If we wanted to find what Christianity would say about violence towards animals and nature, we’d have to look there. Frankly, the Old Testament is a very human-oriented set of writings; lots of laws and writings about caring for the poor, about what to plant in different fields, what to sacrifice at proper times, etc. Nowhere in Scripture does explicit command exist that points toward animal welfare (or rights) or environmentalism (these terms used as blanket words to cover care for animals and nature).
What we DO see throughout the Bible, however, is the command to be a good steward. Let’s take a look at Genesis here:
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so. – Genesis 1:28-30
Let me show you the WRONG way to look at this verse:
The ethic of conservation is the explicit abnegation of man’s dominion over the Earth. The lower species are here for our use. God said so: Go forth, be fruitful, multiply, and rape the planet – it’s yours. That’s our job: drilling, mining, and stripping. Sweaters are the anti-biblical view. Big gas-guzzling cars with phones and CD players and wet bars – that’s the biblical view.”
– Ann Coulter
This is why I don’t let Ann Coulter teach me how to interpret Scripture. Let’s look at what the text actually says.
OK, so God has just created man and set him on the Earth. Here He is giving commands to as to what is permissible for man to eat and what He must do with the inhabitants of the Earth: man is told to rule over every living thing. They may make resources useful for mankind, but this is NOT a command to exploit. Whenever God placed a ruler over anything, he did not want the ruler to exploit their subjects, but to care for them. Hebrew Kings were rulers that were supposed to lay their lives down for their subjects, love them, work for their well-being, and we are supposed to do the same thing with the Earth. We are to be good stewards of the gift we are given. We are to work the world and keep it. We are its caretaker and guardian.
From this vantage point, we see how it is our purpose to care for the Earth as a gift given us by God Himself. Though I personally find no reason to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle from this view, some do. The creatures of this Earth are as blessed by God, and our care for them matters as much as we care for one another. I am a supporter of an animal welfare point of view; though I am fine eating meat, I am not OK with mistreatment of the cow, pig, or chicken. Frankly, some of the best eggs I’ve ever had were free range. I believe that every creature was put here for a reason (not just for human consumption; some creatures are quite inedible), and they should be allowed to exercise that purpose freely, even if they don’t even understand the concept.
Caring for the Earth as a whole is an equally important task we’ve neglected awfully. We pollute, we strip bare, we destroy. We don’t seek to renew other than for our own benefit, and not even to the entire human race’s benefit. We’ll destroy a clean water supply for natural gas. We’ll displace millions of people for strip mining rights. Long and short, we don’t even do a good job taking care of each other we’re so greedy for resources!
This destructive cycle needs to end, and Christians are far behind the game. There is hope though. Movements exist today that are pushing for a more green view of Christianity, even to the point of publishing a green Bible. We must learn how to be the Earth’s caretaker again, and stop doing such violence to it and to its inhabitants.
So, thanks to my friend Mike for asking me this question. If you ask me a question, I will answer it the best I can! And feel free to ask! It gives me ideas on what to write about!
And just so everyone has some motivation to start being more green… :)
(Off topic: Josh Dies has an interesting discussion going on on his blog about being nonviolent and going to see the new Captain America movie. Check it out here!)