Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Kinship and Killing

Kinship and Killing: The Animal in World Religions

Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 292
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Kinship and Killing
    Book Description:

    Through close readings of Jewish, Christian, Islamic, and Buddhist texts, Katherine Wills Perlo proves that our relationship with animals shapes religious doctrine, particularly through the tension between animal exploitation and the bonds of kinship. She pinpoints four different strategies for coping with this conflict. The first is aggression, in which a divinely conferred superiority or karma justifies animal usage. The second is evasion, which emphasizes benevolent aspects of the human-animal relationship within the exploitative structure, such as the image of Jesus as a "good shepherd." The third is defense, which acknowledges the problematic nature of killing, leading many religions to adopt a propitiation mechanism, such as apologizing for sacrifice. And the fourth is effective-defensive, which recognizes animal abuse as inherently unethical.

    As humans feel more empathy toward animals, Perlo finds that adherents revise their interpretations of religious texts. Preexisting ontologies, such as Christianity's changing God or Buddhism's principle of impermanence, along with advances in farming practices and technology, also encourage changes in treatment. As cultures begin to appreciate the different types of perception and consciousness experienced by nonhumans, definitions of reality become complicated and humans lean more toward unitary accounts of shared existence. These evolving attitudes exert a crucial influence on religious thought, Perlo argues, moving humans ever closer to a nonspeciesist world.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51960-1
    Subjects: Religion, Zoology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-26)

    It is usually assumed that religious doctrines have determined, or at least strongly influenced, their adherents’ attitudes to animals. My purpose here is to argue that the influence runs, to a considerable degree, the other way round. From a secular perspective, Best observes that “animals have been key driving and shaping forces of human thought, psychology, moral and social life, and history overall.”¹ My focus being on religion, I offer evidence from the texts of four major worldviews—Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism (against the background of its neighboring faiths, Jainism and Hinduism)—as well as from their surrounding cultures...

  5. 1. The Hebrew Bible
    (pp. 27-52)

    Here are the west’s and the middle east’s foundational justifications for speciesism, proudly asserting its supernatural sanction. Such claims are what people first think of in connection with the Abrahamic religions’ views on animals. Here, in various ways, God is the great authorizer who gives humans a divine image, holds the power of life and death, permits the eating of meat, and demands obedience even against all moral sentiment.¹ But alongside these doctrines are numerous evasive passages in which people express their sympathy and affection for animals within the constraints of ways of life heavily dependent on animal usage.


  6. 2. Judaism
    (pp. 53-70)

    Rabbis and other jewish scholars have promoted the aggressive Hebrew Bible themes of the image of God, the importance of words, and divine permission to eat meat. Reinforcing these arguments we find an emphasis on the soul, allegedly confined to humans, the authoritarian theory that morality is to be defined by God’s commands, and (in folklore) the occasional association of animals with demons.

    Evasion in the Talmud takes forms overlapping to an extent with those of the Bible, namely, didactic precepts, vegetarian implications, and abandonment of sacrifice, together with stories of famous Jewish leaders and teachers who were kind to...

  7. 3. Christianity
    (pp. 71-94)

    As we move into the greek-influenced era, there is little direct positive support for animals (though Christian ethical precepts can be fruitfully extended beyond humanity) and much that undermines their interests, most prominently the indifference shown by St. Paul, the defeat of vegetarianism and of other early Christian concerns at the Council of Nicaea in 325, and the increase in logocentrism, that is, in the overvaluation of human language and reason, as the most salient feature of a dualism between mind and matter. Humanity created in the image of God is a Christian as well as a Jewish claim to...

  8. 4. Islam
    (pp. 95-114)

    Justification of animal usage comes from the Islamic God’s absolute authority, which overrides kindness where this would interfere with the culture’s prevailing practices. Abraham’s sacrifice (a symbol of divine authority outweighing natural sentiment in the human context) is celebrated by the continued practice of animal sacrifice; and ideas of dominionism and human superiority, held in common with Judaism and Christianity, are given an Islamic coloration by the emphasis on human submission to God. There is also an element of logocentrism, though it is much less significant than in Judaism and Christianity.

    Evasion is necessary because Islam characterizes God as above...

  9. 5. Buddhism
    (pp. 115-132)

    In its valuation of animals buddhism stands midway between Hinduism and Jainism, to both of which it is connected by geography, history, and some of its central ideas. It is closer to Jainism, however, in that the two are considered “heterodox schools of Indian thought” because they “reject the authority of the Vedas,”¹ and neither “allow[s] for a creator god; the cycle of life has been present from beginningless time.”²

    The broader heterodoxy was to a great extent fueled by revulsion against the Vedic practice of animal sacrifice—observed by Joseph Campbell as late as 1954–55³ and even by...

  10. 6. Change and the Effective-Defensive Strategy
    (pp. 133-180)

    The paramount change discussed here is the movement of all the traditions toward support for animal rights. Such support existed in ancient times in pre-Socratic Greece, in vegetarian Jewish groups, and in early Christianity, and has been theoretically present all along in Eastern religion. So the movement being traced is uneven and interrupted, but culminates in a worldwide trend that can be observed today.

    Other aspects of change have contributed to the historical one. The right of reinterpretation of scripture, already present in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, has been freshly invoked on behalf of animals, and Buddhist texts unfavorable to...

  11. 7. Seeing as a Whole: The Animal Perspective
    (pp. 181-201)

    The glorification of human language and reason has been used to justify control of and moral priority over animals, while systems of classification place them low in the hierarchy. For this reason, antiverbal accounts of reality, particularly in mysticism, lend themselves to the arguments of animal supporters, although the original theorists might not recognize that potential. Animals themselves, with their lack of language and—a perhaps exaggerated assumption, as current research suggests—of discriminatory concepts, have often been described, both in myth and in direct commentary, as offering truer visions.

    Yet the obliteration of distinctions can get rid of “right...

  12. 8. The Problem of Oneness
    (pp. 202-214)

    Are we to see the world as in a sense “one” or as many? Both are true. No one can deny the diversity of what we experience or that the totality is by definition “one.” But competing forms of words, such as that this totality with its diverse contents is all common, interchangeable atomic stuff, or that it constitutes a single cosmic consciousness, or is a collection of different things separate from their mutual, unified creator, are simply analyses of the same reality; the choice of words will be influenced by the writer’s or speaker’s attitudes toward humanity, animals, and...

  13. 9. Animal Rights: The Next Step in Human Moral Evolution
    (pp. 215-230)

    Moral conflict has been a recurring feature of human experience, as people have had to choose between exploiting others (whether human or animal) or leaving them alone; between eating animals or going hungry. Even when influenced by real or perceived necessity, choices that resulted in harm to others left a residue of guilt. Religion has expressed the wish to resolve such conflict, and never more profoundly so than in the case of human-animal relations: profoundly, because the doctrines’ conflict-resolving role has largely been unrecognized, with the ideas having been held responsible for the treatment of animals rather than vice versa....

  14. NOTES
    (pp. 231-256)
    (pp. 257-260)
    (pp. 261-270)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 271-280)