Wednesday, September 07, 2005

FOTF, PETA, and God

It's sort of funny to observe what positions groups that defend traditional family values end up finding important. I (sort of) get the opposition to gay marriage, I get the anti-pornography, anti-gambling, anti-divorce, maybe even anti-abortion. All of these things at least seem plausibly related to the stregnth of the family. But I have no idea why Focus on the Family feels the need to be anti-vegetarian. Does refraining from eating meat lead to the break-up of many American families? Here's the latest from their Citizenlink newsletter.
Animal Rights Group Twists Scripture from staff reports Spots on Christian radio may leave many thumbing through their Bibles. An ad campaign by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) quotes Scripture to argue for vegetarianism. A female voice in the spot, which is airing on Christian radio, makes this case: "The Bible says that God knows when every sparrow falls. He knows the horrible conditions that cows, pigs and chickens are raised in." ... The Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) has released a study analyzing PETA's manipulation of Scripture and religious imagery. David Martosko, a spokesman for CCF, told Family News in Focus that PETA freely twists Scripture for its own means. "PETA is a group that has no respect for Christian teaching, but claims to speak for Christians," he said. "We think this is a very dangerous trend."
Is PETA doing anything anti-Biblical here? I mean, as far as I can tell, there might be room for intelligent debate as to whether, according to the Bible, God cares how we treat animals. But the PETA claim about what the Bible says is correct, and I think that it would be absurd for any Christian who takes the Bible seriously to deny that God "knows the horrible conditions that cows, pigs and chickens are raised in." Maybe someone could argue that actually, God doesn't care that his people put animals into such horrible conditions, but that would have to be established -- it's far from obvious, from any passage in the Bible that I know. (And frankly, I find it very difficult to imagine any benevolent being failing to care about such things.) I see no twisting of Scripture here whatsoever.


  1. Really?

    I sort of think that PETA is twisting scripture in that they are implying that this passage supports the claim that God wishes for us to refrain from supporting factory farming. It isn't lying, but it is using implicature to do some work. I can't see much in the Bible that supports concern for animal welfare. Of course, my own view is that God comes off pretty badly in the scriptures so maybe the complaint really is in the very use of scripture?

  2. Well obviously the Bible doesn't address factory farming as such. But I think that the reminder that God is aware of how meat is produced could be perfectly apt, and doesn't carry any false implicatures.

    It's obvious and undeniable that conditions for animals in factory farms are morally repugnant. A reminder that God is watching all of that seems perfectly appropriate, given an acceptance of God, regardless of whether animal cruelty is ever explicitly condemned in the Bible. This is so especially since so many people manage to just ignore the thought of where their meat comes from.

    Imagine this case: Harman's boys are out there on their hill, lighting cats on fire. A pastor finds out about this, and says to one of the boys, "Son, the Bible makes it clear that God is watching you. He sees what you do to those cats." Is the pastor twisting scripture by implying that God wishes the boys to refrain from torturing cats? I don't think so. I think there's an implied understanding that God has at least minimal moral sensibilities. I don't suppose that most Christians would, upon discovering that the Bible never mentions torturing cats, conclude that it's therefore morally unproblematic.

  3. Jonathan,

    I agree with your example, but the bit about basic moral sensibilities is slightly different and God's ever watchful eye doesn't involve citing a passage as if it lent some justification to what PETA is saying.

    Myself, I think if you can't get what PETA is trying to get out of scripture, so much the worse for using scripture. I think PETA trying to find some justification is noble and while it isn't a noble lie exactly, I still think it is a noble use of unwarranted scriptural interpretation.

  4. PETA will use any justification possible to try and convince people that eating meat is bad. Recently PETA had a campaign comparing slavery and the treatment of native americans to that of animals. In reality the only thing PETA achives is minimizing and trivializing the suffering of humans. These people are nuts

  5. Jonathan, I hope I'm not overstepping my bounds but ...


    PETA won't use just any justification. You won't soon see the 'Stop eating chicken or we'll club a baby seal' campaign.

    That being said, is it truly impermissible to compare slavery and factory farming? Doesn't that depend upon the kind of comparative judgment being made? Trivially, I compare them when I say (rightly) that slavery is worse than factory farming and ( more controversially) for that reason, it is offensive to place them side by side in certain contexts in a way that suggests otherwise.

    Setting that aside, I don't see what is wrong with inviting this comparison: like slavery, people tolerate factory farming because they allow completely absurd reasons to stand in the way of condemning what is morally reprehensible behavior and refraining from demanding an end to a terrible institution. This claim is not offensive, could reasonably be taken as the message of certain PETA adds, and heck, it's true. It's obviously true.

    I think that one might grant that there are different ways of taking this ad campaign, some ways are offensive, and for that reason PETA should have exercised more care. But had they taken more care to see to it that they were not implying that slavery and factory farming are alike in all respects, would it still be objectionable?

  6. Of course you can sit down and rationalize almost any action or statement...however because you can rationalize the usage of a statement does not make it true or non-offensive. Why not go so far as starting a cull on the number of humans. Urban sprawl certainly has been the largest bane to the existance of most animals. Maybe we should call for the population of each nation to be reduced to a point where all other animal species could thrive at the levels where human population plays a small role. Maybe we could evolve away from our current biology which structures our digestive system mouth to large colon for the digestion of proteins and simple sugars. Maybe we could teach other preditors to not eat prey...what a wonderful world.

  7. Jen,

    I think Anon was trying to comment on the fallicy inherent in trying to rationalize radical thoughts and actions, or at least that was how I interpreted the arguement. I agree in part. I agree that increasingly an argument is accceptable if people can see any way to rationalize the statement or action. This however fails when the actions of the group are so desperate that they will take almost any action avalible to them in order to demonize the actions of others. Outlandish comparisons and statments may be rationalized in the mind but that does not make them correct or competent. It seems that PETA is not thinking about the group they should try to target. Outlandish comparisons to slavery and other human travisties will never win them sympathy of the large middle of the road group that eats meat but could be convinced to see things in PETA's perspective if they stopped pushing their outlandish views. I agree with Jen that Anon's comparisons seem as outlandish as PETA's.

  8. Ryan

    I think there is a difference between trying to rationalize a radical or unreasonable thought in a hopeless attempt to justify the unjustifiable and in trying to explain why the attribution of such a thought or message is itself unwarranted. It isn't clear that PETA's message in this case is unjustifiable in part because it isn't clear what it is. Of course, since this is itself something that is reasonably clear, PETA might be faulted on instrumental grounds or on grounds of failing to take care to be properly sensitive.

    That being said, there are ways of taking the message that do not involve 'lowering people to the status of animals' and do not appear to in any way diminish the suffering experienced by slaves. It is interesting that when these ways of taking PETA's message are made explicit, this is followed by silence or some odd insistence that this couldn't be what PETA had in mind. Is this an indication that if this is what PETA had in mind or someone else had in mind, they were right?

    What is wrong with saying that what we have in the case of factory farming is another lamentable instance in which a powerful group simply fails to take account of the terrible things they are doing and allow the most trivial of their interests serve as a justification for morally indefensible behavior? Its not as bad as slavery but its not suffiicently different that decent people can act as if there is nothing wrong here.

  9. I personally have not. I've read descriptions of them.

    I'd be very interested to hear your impressions.

  10. Jen,

    I confess that I've only read descriptions and seen photos and videos from those sympathetic enough with the movement to do things like, well, videotape stuff like that.

    Part of the problem with FF, in my opinion, is really that there isn't really much reason to do it in the first place. The reasons for which people consume meat in the amounts that they do really provides no reason whatsoever that could override even the slightest bit of animal suffering because for the most part those reasons are gustatory. My own view (which makes me both a hypocrite and akratic, btw) is that it is a flaw in one's moral character if one lets such trivial reasons override the non-trivial issue about acting in ways that cause pain to innocent creatures. So even if the FF aren't as bad as PETA or others might suggest, I'm still not completely satisfied.

    That's probably why I'm on PETA's team when it comes to FF but not on their team when it comes to the use of animals in some scientific tests.

  11. The problem is that PETA would shut down all animal farming, not limited to just factory farming. Everybody can do their part by supporting local farming. while at a slight monetary cost, I buy dairy, eggs, and meat (that I don't hunt myself) from local growers. I usually pay around 2.50 a half gallon of milk that is certified organic, horomone free, and vegetarian fed. Not too bad... it tastes much better too. Eggs that are free-range and vegitarian fed can be purchased at most grocery stores for a mere dollar more than those that are factory farmed. Meat is quite a bit more expensive but the taste is worth it alone. I don't buy too much meat as I can keep my freezer fairly full of wild game.

  12. I corinthians 10:25-26
    Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for, "The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it."