THEY SHALL NOT
HURT OR DESTROY
Animal Rights and Vegetarianism in the Western
Animals Have Souls
One widespread rationalization in Christian circles, often used
to justify humanityâ€™s mistreatment of animals, is the
erroneous belief that humans alone possess immortal souls, and
only humans, therefore, are worthy of moral consideration. The
19th century German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer, condemned
such a philosophy in his On the Basis of Morality.
"Because Christian morality leaves animals out of account,"
wrote Schopenhauer, "they are at once outlawed in philosophical
morals; they are mere â€˜things,â€™ mere means to any ends
whatsoever. They can therefore be used for vivisection, hunting,
coursing, bullfights, and horse racing, and can be whipped to
death as they struggle along with heavy carts of stone. Shame on
such a morality that is worthy of pariahs, and that fails to
recognize the eternal essence that exists in every living thing,
and shines forth with inscrutable significance from all eyes
that see the sun!"
According to the Bible, animals have souls. Texts such as
Genesis 1:21,24 are often mistranslated to read "living
creatures." The exact Hebrew used in reference to animals
throughout the Bible is "nephesh chayah," or "living soul." This
is how the phrase has been translated in Genesis 2:7 and in four
hundred other places in the Old Testament. Thus, Genesis 1:30
should more accurately read: "And to every beast of the earth,
and to every fowl of the air, and to everything that creepeth
upon the earth, wherein there is a living soul, I have given
every green herb for meat."
God breathed the "breath of life" into man, and caused him to
become a living soul. (Genesis 2:7) Animals have the same
"breath of life" as do humans. (Genesis 7:15, 22) Numbers 16:22
refers to the Lord as "the God of spirits of all flesh." In
Numbers 31:28, God commands Moses to divide up among the people
the cattle, sheep, asses and human prisoners captured in battle
and to give to the Lord "one soul of five hundred" of both
humans and animals alike. Psalm 104 says God provides for
animals and their ensoulment.
"O Lord, how innumerable are Thy works; in wisdom Thou hast made
them all! The earth is full of Thy well-made creations. All
these look to Thee to furnish their timely feed. When Thou
providest for them, they gather it. Thou openest Thy hand, and
they are satisfied with good things. When Thou hidest Thy face,
they are struck with despair. When Thou cuttest off their
breath, in death they return to their dust. Thou sendest Thy
Spirit and more are created, and Thou dost replenish the surface
of the earth."
Similarly, the apocryphal Book of Judith praises God, saying,
"Let every creature serve You, for You spoke and they were made.
You sent forth Your Spirit and they were created." Job 12:10
teaches that in Godâ€™s hand "is the soul of every living thing,
and the breath of all mankind."
Ecclesiastes 3:19-20 says humans have no advantage over animals:
"They all draw the same breath...all came from the dust, and to
dust all return."
The verse that immediately follows asks, "Who knows if the
spirit of man goes upward, and the spirit of the beast goes down
to the earth?" The exact Hebrew word for "spirit," "ruach," is
used in connection with animals as well as humans. Ecclesiastes
12:7 concludes that "the spirit shall return unto God who gave
This position was taken by Paul, who called himself an apostle
to the gentiles. Paul spoke of God as the "giver of life and
breath and all things to everyone." (Acts 17:25) In his epistle
to the Romans 8:18-25, Paul wrote that the entire creation, and
not just mankind, is awaiting redemption.
Revelations 16:3 also refers to the souls of animals: "The
second angel poured out his bowl upon the sea, so that it turned
to blood as of a corpse, and every living soul that was in the
sea died." The exact Greek word for soul, "psyche," was used in
the original texts.
English theologian Joseph Butler (1692-1752), a contemporary of
John Wesleyâ€™s, was born in a Presbyterian family, joined the
Church of England, and eventually became a bishop and dean of
St. Paulâ€™s. In his 1736 work, The Analogy of Religion, Bishop
Butler became one of the first clergymen to teach the
immortality of animal souls. "Neither can we find anything in
the whole analogy of Nature to afford even the slightest
presumption that animals ever lose their living powers, much
less that they lose them by death," he wrote.
The Reverend John George Wood (1827-89) was an eloquent and
prolific writer on the subject of animals. A popular lecturer on
the subject of natural history, he wrote several books as well,
such as My Feathered Friends and Man and Beastâ€”Here and
Hereafter. Wood believed most people were cruel to animals
because they were unaware that the creatures possessed immortal
souls and would enjoy eternal life.
One of the most scholarly studies on the issue of animal souls
was undertaken by Elijah D Buckner in his 1903 book The
Immortality of Animals. He concluded: "...The Bible, without the
shadow of a doubt, recognizes that animals have living souls the
same as man. Most of the quotations given are represented as
having been spoken by the Creator Himself, and he certainly
knows whether or not He gave to man and lower animals alike a
living soul, which of course means an immortal soul."
Influenced by Aristotle, Augustine and Aquinas, the Church of
Rome maintains that animals lack souls or divinity, even though
such a doctrine contradicts many biblical passages. Previously,
during the Synod of Macon (585 AD), the Church had debated
whether or not women have souls! Women in the Western world are
finally being recognized as persons in every sense of the wordâ€”social,
political and spiritual. Animals have yet to be given the same
kind of moral consideration.
Pope Innocent VIII of the Renaissance required that when witches
were burned, their cats be burned with them; Pope Pius IX of the
19th century forbade the formation of an SPCA in Rome, declaring
humans had no duty to animals; Pope Pius XII of World War II
stated that when animals are killed in slaughterhouses or
laboratories, "...their cries should not arouse unreasonable
compassion any more than do red-hot metals undergoing the blows
of the hammer;" and Pope Paul VI in 1972, by blessing a
batallion of Spanish
bullfighters, became the first Pope to bestow his benediction
upon one cruelty even the Church had condemned.
In Christianity and the Rights of Animals, the Reverend Andrew
Linzey responds to the widespread Christian misconception that
animals have no souls by taking it to its logical conclusion:
"But let us suppose for a moment that it could be shown that
animals lack immortal souls, does it follow that their moral
status is correspondingly weakened? It is difficult to see in
what sense it could be. If animals are not to be recompensated
with an eternal life, how much more difficult must it be to
justify their temporal sufferings?
"If, for an animal, this life is all that he can have, the moral
gravity of any premature termination is thereby increased rather
than lessened...In short, if we invoke the traditional argument
against animals based on soullessness, we are not exonerated
from the need for proper moral justification.
"Indeed, if the traditional view is upheld, the question has to
be: How far can any proposed aim justify to the animal concerned
what would seem to be a greater deprivation or injury than if
the same were inflicted on a human being?"
"Mark Twain remarked long ago that human beings have a lot to
learn from the Higher Animals," writes Unitarian minister Gary
Kowalski, in his 1991 book, The Souls of Animals. "Just because
they havenâ€™t invented static cling, ICBMâ€™s, or television
evangelists doesnâ€™t mean they arenâ€™t spiritually evolved."
Kowalskiâ€™s definition of "spiritually evolved" includes "the
development of a moral sense, the appreciation of beauty, the
capacity for creativity, and the awareness of oneâ€™s self
within a larger universe as well as a sense of mystery and
wonder about it all. These are the most precious gifts we
"I am a parish minister by vocation," Kowalski explains. "My
work involves the intangible and perhaps undefinable realm of
spirit. I pray with the dying and counsel the bereaved. I take
part in the joy of parents christening their newborns and
welcoming fresh life into the world.
"I occasionally help people think through moral quandries and
make ethical decisions, and I also share a responsibility for
educating the young, helping them realize their inborn potential
for reverence and compassion. Week after week I stand before my
congregation and try to talk about the greatest riddles of human
existence. In recent years, however, I have become aware that
human beings are not the only animals on this planet that
participate in affairs of the spirit."
Kowalski notes that animals are aware of death. They have a
sense of their own mortality, and grieve at the loss of
companions. Animals possess language, musical abilities, a sense
of the mysterious, creativity and playfulness. Animals possess a
sense of right and wrong; they are capable of fidelity,
altruism, and even self-sacrifice.
"Animals, like us, are microcosms," says Kowalski. "They too
care and have feelings; they too dream and create; they too are
adventuresome and curious about their world. They too reflect
the glory of the whole.
"Can we open our hearts to the animals? Can we greet them as our
soul mates, beings like ourselves who possess dignity and depth?
To do so, we must learn to revere and respect the creatures,
who, like us, are a part of Godâ€™s beloved creation, and to
cherish the amazing planet that sustains our mutual existence.
"Animals," Kowalski concludes, "are living souls. They are not
things. They are not objects. Neither are they human. Yet they
mourn. They love. They dance. They suffer. They know the peaks
and chasms of being."