Essay: Animal sacrifice

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  • Subject area(s): Religious studies and Theology essays
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  • Published on: November 15, 2018
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  • Animal sacrifice
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The biblical story of the first murder is rather familiar to the masses. When Abel killed his choice lamb, God preferred his sacrifice to Cain’s, a piece of his harvest. But what is not familiar to many is whether or not the sacrifice of the lamb was morally permissible. It seemed pious that Abel would sacrifice for his God, but does it make sense that Abel should murder one of His fellow creations to earn His favor? Ritualistic animal sacrifices still occurs in several modern day religious settings, but I believe the right to religion does not override the right to life of the countless of animals sacrificed in ritual ceremony. I will argue that religious animal sacrifice is not morally permissible, based on Tom Regan’s “right’s view”, Singer’s ideas of , and the 1993 ________ case. I will also examine the foundations of the practice, such as speciesism and the capacity to suffer to determine that ritual sacrifice of animals, however holy, is not morally permissible. Should humanity deem animal sacrifice morally justifiable? In 1985, PETA President Ingrid Newkirk made a bold statement that ignited the animal rights movement: “Animal liberationists do not separate out the human animal, so there is no rational basis for saying that a human being has special rights. A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy. They’re all mammals.” Similarly, in his influential 1986 essay, “All Animals are Equal”, philosopher Peter Singer outlines Newkirk’s philosophical intentions. When we reflect, for example, on human social justice movements, we notice that one thing that underlies and connects these movements is a belief that, in an important and profound sense, all humans are equal. This principle of equality is the key to understanding Newkirk’s statement and Singer’s essay. What does it really mean to say that all humans are equal? What do we define equality, and how to we deem a being deserving of equal moral rights? Given that humans differ from each other so significantly in their physical, moral, emotional, and cognitive abilities and capacities, surely, as a descriptive empirical assertion, claims of human equality in this sense are clearly factually untrue. Thus it seems impossible to pinpoint a concrete definition for the right to equality. This principle of equality, coupled with sentience, and combined with the interests that the possession of sentience provide (e.g., an interest in not being harmed), lead to the central principle driving Singer’s view: the principle of equal consideration of interests, the essence of which is to “give equal weight in our moral deliberations to the like interests of all those affected by our actions” (Singer, 2002, p. 8). This principle requires that we consider the interests of all humans equally when faced with a situation that calls for the evaluation of interests. But since sentience provides the basis for the equality of human beings, and since human beings are not the only sentient beings, it’s only logical to extend this principle to other sentiment beings, not only humans. “Surely every sentient being is capable of leading a life that is happier or less miserable than some alternative life, and hence has a claim to be taken into account.” (Singer, 1986.)Someone/something is sentient when it is able to feel or sense things. Sentience describes things that are alive, able to feel and perceive, and show awareness or responsiveness. The principle of equal consideration of interests that we discussed earlier requires that we weigh interests not based on species or race, but on an individual’s abilities and capacities. Singer entertains this idea when he poses the question: “If possessing a higher degree of intelligence does not entitle one human to use another for his or her own ends, how can it entitle humans to exploit nonhumans for the same purpose?” Prioritizing the interests of humans over animals simply because they are not human is speciesist. Peter Singer popularized the term and focused on the way speciesism, without moral justification, favors the interests of humans. Singer states the absurdity of speciesism and declares it an invalid reason to treat animals with such inferiority. Essentially, speciesism is defined as the privilege of a species solely based on the fact that they are a member of that species. Humans have developed moral systems as well as a wide range of other valuable practices, and by creating these systems, we separate the human from the rest of the animal kingdom, allowing humanity to comfortably and constantly fall into the vice of speciesism. The fur industry, animal product testing, and factory farming are a prime example of speciesism— these inhumane practices have infiltrated our everyday life and we grant them a moral pass. If these same institutions were to be done on humans, it would be considered disturbing and immoral. In accordance to speciesist ideology, humanity is often thought to be superior in comparison to the animal kingdom due to specific traits that humans exhibit exclusively as a species. It is also often thought that because only humans can recognize morals, it is only humans who are morally considerable. The most common way of understanding it is to suggest that there are distinctly human capacities and it is on the basis of these capacities that humans have moral status and other animals do not. But which capacities mark out all and only humans as the kinds of beings that can be wronged? A number of capacities have been proposed—developing family ties, solving social problems, expressing emotions, starting wars, having sex for pleasure, using language, or thinking abstractly, are just a few. As it turns out, none of these activities is uncontroversially unique to human. Both scholarly and popular work on animal behavior suggests that many of the activities that are thought to be distinct to humans occurs in non-humans. For example, many species of non-humans develop long lasting kinship ties—orangutan mothers stay with their young for eight to ten years and while they eventually part company, they continue to maintain their relationships. Less solitary animals, such as chimpanzees, baboons, wolves, and elephants maintain extended family units built upon complex individual relationships, for long periods of time. Meerkats in the Kalahari desert are known to sacrifice their own safety by staying with sick or injured family members so that the fatally ill will not die alone. It appears that most of the capacities that are thought to distinguish humans as morally considerable beings, have been observed, often in less elaborate form, in the non-human world.

Yet, equality for nonhuman animals does not entail equality of treatment, but merely the equal consideration of interests. Adjudicating differences in treatment between competing interests requires what Singer calls the relevance principle. According to the relevance principle, whether a difference between individuals justifies a difference in treatment depends on the kind of treatment in question. Thus, equality for animals does not require, for example, that we grant pigs the right to vote, not because the interests of pigs are of less moral concern, but rather because pigs, unlike humans, have no interest in voting. On the other hand, since pigs, like humans, have an interest in not suffering, livestock production techniques that inflict suffering on pigs solely to satisfy the palates of consumers are impermissible. (Cochrane, 2012). This goes hand in hand with

Given that rats and pigs and boys are sentient, rats and pigs and boys all have robust interests; to avoid speciesism, in considering these interests, we must do so equally. Is there something distinctive about humanity that justifies the idea that humans have moral status while non-humans do not? It is often thought that because only humans can recognize moral claims, it is only humans who are morally considerable.

I oppose the sacrifice of animals for any purpose. Animals are living creatures and they deserve if not our love, at least our respect. As a society we have progressed beyond the days of when we would sacrifice humans on an alter and that progress should extend to animals as well. Imagine you were the poor soul elected to be slaughtered for a religious event, the idea is horrifying. Why should anyone be granted the god like power to choose when anything, even an animal, should die even if under the pretext of appeasing a god. In order to understand how we should be treating animals, it is important to discuss the relationship between humans and animals. It is unethical for human beings to ignore other living things’ pain and continue to participate and support the abuse and killing of animals. A popular animal activist, Peter Singer, argues that we should care for animals because they are breathing, living creatures capable of feeling pain and suffering. “If a being suffers, there can be no moral justification for refusing to take that suffering into consideration. No matter what the nature of the being, the principle of equality requires that its suffering be counted equally with the like suffering – in so far as rough comparisons can be made of any other being.” (Singer, 2009)  

Many modern Pagans and Heathens shy away from — or are downright horrified by — the idea of animal sacrifice. Arguments against the practice generally come from a place of concern for the animals involved. On the other hand, the sacrificial priests say that the practice is rooted in compassion and community, and that criticisms of their work reveal a fundamental disconnect with the food system, and perhaps a smoldering of racism as well. It is clear that the very idea of killing animals in a sacred ritual evokes strong emotions among proponents and opponents alike, which can obscure the arguments and factual details as well as the religious reasons for carrying it out. Trained as a sacrificial priest, Thracian argues that modern standards of sacrifice demand specialists who understand how to end life without suffering. As in the Kosher method of animal slaughter, the throat must be cut with a single stroke that slices through the arteries, veins, esophagus and trachea, but leaves the spinal cord intact. The reason for this precision was explained by another sacrificial priest, Tēlemakhos Night. He said:

“A single cut is made at the neck, severing all vitals instantly, without compromising the central-nervous-system (the spine and neck). By leaving the CNS intact, the animal’s natural and biologically programmed response kicks in, which settles the animal into a state of euphoria and death, rather than agitation or panic.” (Severing the CNS prevents necessary full-body signals, including hormonal release signals, from being delivered.)

The traditions which include sacrifice vary widely, crossing racial, ethnic, and religious lines. While there are sacrificial practices in all of the three major branches of Abrahamic religion, discussing them could distract from understanding the Pagan context. Confining the discussion in this way still results in a huge diversity of sacred practices, but clear similarities are evident. In the United States, the Supreme Court ruled that animal sacrifice is legal in the landmark decision of Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah, in which decision Justice Anthony Kennedy stated that “religious beliefs need not be acceptable, logical, consistent or comprehensible to others in order to merit First Amendment protection.”

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