Kill God and Spare the Chickens: An Atheist Argument for Animal Rights
If you do not believe in god, you have to confront the idea that there is no easy and fundamental difference between us and the other animals.
I was raised to love God and eat animals, both of which I did for most of my life (I even once wanted to be a missionary). Today, I do neither. Growing up, whenever the subject of vegetarianism was raised, the religious people around me would often say things like “God made people above animals” or “God made the animals for us to eat” as a way to quickly discount the notion of animal rights. They contended that humans were made in God’s image, complete with eternal souls, and that animals are soulless, walking pieces of meat placed here solely for our use. I have heard many people express this belief throughout my life, and it is an excuse that has been used to justify the killing of animals since the beginning of time.
As a youngster, whenever I had a problem or was upset for any reason, my mother’s answer was always the same: go read your Bible. This Holy book that dominated my childhood is replete with instances of animal sacrifice. It seems in the Old and New Testament there is almost always a bull, goat, or lamb having its throat slit and being burned on an altar, all to bring pleasure to the Lord. The Christian God appears to love blood, and lots of it.
What would you think if your neighbor absolutely delighted in the sight of animals being slaughtered, and just couldn’t resist the smell of their burning corpses? If they asked you for gifts of goat blood to bring them joy? Would you ask them to babysit your children or invite them over for dinner? In the Bible, animals’ lives are nothing but fodder at the mercy of the caprice and blood-lust of God.
This heartlessness towards animal life does not arise from misreading of the Bible, or a misunderstanding of religion. It necessarily follows from the precepts of Christianity. If we are divine beings with eternal souls, and they are simply lowly, spiritless creatures, then why do we need to give them any ethical consideration at all? This is one of the most evil ideas ever put forth by organized religion.
Whenever people use the God excuse as an argument against animal rights, I find it impossible to take them seriously. This is mainly because their argument is nothing more than an unsubstantiated statement based solely on a gigantic assumption: that there is a God. There is not enough evidence to say that such a thing exists, and certainly not enough evidence for a reasonable person to base their answers to questions of morality on it. But, let us for a moment assume that it has been proven that a God exists. Even if you prove this beyond a shadow of a doubt (good luck), you still have not proven that A: We were created by Him in his image, or B: He created the other animals for us to exploit and eat. In fact, you have not even proven that God created us at all. We may simply be an unintended consequence of the universe He made. He may not care about us in the slightest or even know we exist. For the God-excuse argument against vegetarianism to be taken seriously, you must definitively prove propositions A and B.
If you do not believe in god, you have to confront the idea that there is no easy and fundamental difference between us and the other animals. Yes, we may be smarter in some ways and be able to contemplate our existence, but like them we do not have eternal souls and are not going to heaven. We evolved the same way they did. In addition, the more scientists learn about other animals, the more intelligent they are revealed to be. It is even likely that some species like cetaceans and primates are able to contemplate their own existence. The godless cannot use the god excuse to justify the exploitation of non-human animals. Without God, is there any justification for killing animals for food?
The obvious answer to this question would be survival. Certainly, if we have to eat animals in order to keep living, most people would agree that is sufficient justification to kill them. And, I will concede that in certain situations one would be morally justified in killing and eating an animal. If I was stuck in the wilderness without any food and with no edible plants around (or no knowledge of which plants were edible and which were not), I would do what I had to in order to survive. The same goes for any other situation in which the only food available was meat. For example, indigenous people living in a hostile environment such as the arctic, where they are unable to grow crops, have good reason for hunting animals. For most of us, however, this is not the case. Most of us do not live in hunter-gatherer societies, as the majority of humans did in our ancient past. Nowadays, the vast majority of people do not eat meat for survival. They eat it because they enjoy the taste, and in order to view that as sufficient reason to inflict pain and death on sentient beings, you have to disregard ethics altogether.
Eating meat is entirely unnecessary for our survival, and as time goes by it is only becoming easier to live without consuming animals. Almost every grocery store has a plethora of vegetarian and vegan options, and it is difficult to find a restaurant that doesn’t offer meat-free dishes. For those who ‘cannot live’ without the taste of meat, it seems that every year vegan “meats” become more and more convincing and delicious. Companies such as Gardein and Beyond Meat are only getting better at mimicking the texture of animal flesh. However, outside of these “fake” vegetarian foods, it is extremely easy (and healthy) to get all the protein you need from legumes (lentils, beans, peas), nuts, tempeh, tofu, seitan, and just plain-ol’ vegetables.
At this point, I could argue that eating meat has been linked to heart disease and cancer, and that it is one of the biggest contributors to climate change. I could write about how studies have shown that vegetarians and vegans live longer than meat-eaters. However, doing that would be redundant (all the aforementioned points have been written about extensively, a quick google search will prove this), and it would be superfluous to the point I am making: that we do not need to eat meat, and therefore all the suffering and death that necessarily accompanies meat consumption is needless. Aside from extreme survival situations, and aside from a God who created us with souls and made animals specifically for our consumption, the killing of animals for food simply cannot be morally justified. Animals experience pain and joy just as we do, and there is no good reason why we should disregard their suffering. We are animals just like them, and the fact that our brains are more highly evolved (according to us, at least) is not a reason to exploit and abuse them, but to show them compassion. Being a moral atheist requires vegetarianism.
But let’s assume we were created by God and have souls, and that He made the other animals for our consumption and use. Even in that situation, is it right to eat animals? If you say yes, you assuming that the God who created us is an ethical being and that his pronouncements should be followed. Is He though? And should they?
Penn Jillette, the famous magician and outspoken atheist, has argued that the phrase “God is good” implies that there is a morality outside of god. What he means by this is simply that God, if he exists, does not have a monopoly on goodness. When you say “God is good,” you yourself are making a moral judgement about God, which means that deep-down you believe morality is separate from God. Have you ever heard a believer say “Good is God”? If that phrase were true, it would render personal morality, ethical debate, and for that matter, independent thought, utterly pointless (Or it would render the word “God” meaningless).
But what if God is not good? To decide this, let us look at his actions. First of all, God, all-powerful as He is, could just as easily have given us only sources of food that are not sentient and cannot experience pain. He could have made it so meat grows on trees, for instance. In fact, here in the real world, scientists are now able to do something similar. Instead of growing meat on trees, they grow it in laboratories, all without killing or inflicting pain upon any animals. You would think if us lowly humans have figured out how to do this, then an all-knowing and all-powerful God would have as well. But, in this scenario, he chose to make our food source able to experience pain. And he knew that because of this, billions upon billions of sentient creatures would go through unimaginable suffering and abuse. What kind of a being would do that? It doesn’t sound like one I would want to have ruling the universe.
And so, assuming there is a God, and assuming He said to us, “Look! I gave you all these animals to kill and eat! So eat them!” should we do it? Should we listen to this being who happens to rule the universe? Fortunately, it isn’t likely that He does.
I remember my father, an avid hunter and meat-eater, once said to me that all the crazy animal-rights wackos and “PETA people” are “like that” because they have abandoned God, and have upset His natural order. I completely agree with him. Once you remove God from the equation, you have eliminated the biggest excuse for exploiting animals. Because when you banish God, being an ethical person is completely on you, not on some all-powerful overlord who dictates morality. You have to make moral decisions for yourself, rather than simply referring to God’s word. So instead of trying to mollify the psychotic supreme ruler in the sky who probably doesn’t exist, maybe we should have mercy on the animals, the very real, very conscious creatures who suffer every day at our soul-less hands.