The Difference It Makes

Have you seen the new Barbie doll? She carries a panda bear, and from her ears dangle tiny giraffe earrings. It's Barbie as an animal-rights crusader. As Christians, we support humane treatment of animals. But I'm troubled by the extremism of the animal-rights movement. Activists want to outlawing zoos and pet shops. They've vandalized laboratories where animal research is conducted. They've kidnapped animals, demolished equipment, torched labs. Why do they resort to such extreme tactics? Some people think animal rights activists are just sensitive people who love animals. But the controversy is about something much deeper than that. It's about a worldview that is radically opposed to Christian truth. The basic assumption in the idea of animal rights is that there is no God--that nature is all there is. The philosophical label for this is naturalism. In naturalism, humans aren't unique, they're just another part of nature, along with bears and birds and pollywogs. As one animal-rights leader put it, "In the scheme of life, we're all equal." Of course, naturalism is nothing new. It's been the reigning orthodoxy in biology ever since Darwin. Animal-rights activists are just saying, Let's be consistent: If humans are not really different from the birds and the beasts, what makes us think we can lord it over them? The movement's slogan is, "A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy." What that means was spelled out graphically in a recent ad by a group called People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. The ad compared the slaughter of cows and chickens for food to the mass murders committed by Jeffrey Dahmer--as if killing animals and killing humans were morally equivalent. Well, what you think is moral depends on your philosophy. The biblical worldview starts out with the existence of God. It says humans are unique, created in the image of God to be stewards over the rest of creation. This basic biblical insight is confirmed daily by common experience. A simple look at modern technology proves that humans are unique: that they have power over nature--for good or for ill--that no other creature has. Our calling, of course, is to use it for good. The earth doesn't belong to us; it belongs to the Lord, Who made it. We are stewards, accountable to God for everything we do. That's why Christians have often crusaded to treat animals humanely. St. Francis of Assisi is the best-known example, living his simple life among the creatures he loved. And in the 1800s, one of my own heroes, William Wilberforce, took a public stand against cruelty to animals. Not in the name of animal rights but in the name of stewardship. The difference in language signals a vast difference in worldview. The animal rights movement is not just about being kind to animals. It's about a radically naturalistic worldview that denies any special status to humans. Animal rights sounds appealing because it promises a naturalistic utopia--a future when we will live in harmony with nature, when the lion will lie down with the lamb. But this is a secular substitute for heaven--a secular Second Coming. It's not when Christ comes down to earth but when humanity comes down to the level of the animals.


Chuck Colson



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