"...with the Christian sense of human dignity and equality permeating us soul and body..."
--Tolstoy, The Kingdom of God is Within You
Peace and Equality
Pacifism is rooted in a sense of equality. To use violence against a person is to deny his/her inherent dignity, and to assert that one person's well-being is less valuable than your own (or another's). Religious people may understand this in a spiritual sense (we are all equal before God), though it has political meaning as well. Gwyn, Hunsinger, Roop, and Yoder state in "A Declaration on Peace" that
"The Dismantling of racist and patriarchal norms and structures subverts one of the traditional foundations of militarism in history."
"The royal servant people is politically engaged and partisan, working with and for movements that embody more just and equitable economic relations, more peaceful resolutions to conflict, and the broader distribution of authority and decision-making in society."
It is thus that for me pacifism and equality are important elements of Christian Humanism. I despair of the history of racism, misogyny, and bigotry in our world, of the institutional and individual bigotry still existing, of the continuing anger and conflict over these issues, of the violence ensconced in it all. And I can come back to Tolstoy's words, that in this complex world, in which we are all complicit in (even if not individually responsible for) inequalities of society, I can still treat all people I encounter with "human dignity and equality." I must, and it may be all I can do.
Since making the choice to become a vegetarian almost two years ago, animal rights has been a major part of my life (a personal note: since going mostly vegan less than five months ago, I've lost 46 pounds). Vegetarianism is a daily action for me, a repeated choice, and issues of animal rights often take up my thoughts.
My view on animal rights does not spring from Christian tradition; it comes from a separate area of knowledge. It may be occasionally informed by Christianity, but I do not use Christianity to center my vegetarianism in the same way Christianity can center my pacifism. I did not become a vegetarian because of my understanding of Christianity. And yet, I don't think I would be a vegetarian if I not for my own religious journey.
It is a background in Christianity that instilled in me the importance of integrity in action and in conscience. It is not so much that religion provided me with a sense of what is right (though I'm sure it did), but more that religion taught me I must seek what is right and act according to conscience. If it had not been for the religious formation of my mind, it might not matter to me that animals would die for my pleasure. Religion did not teach me that it is wrong to eat animals, but it did teach me that if I believe it is wrong to eat animals, then I must not eat animals.
And to some extent, compassion for humanity and compassion for animals are grounded together. My behavior toward humans and animals is grounded in the belief that my actions toward others should be peaceful, compassionate, and good. Christianity taught me that I must treat all people with dignity, even sacrificing myself for others, so in some way my view of animal rights is merely an extension of what Christianity taught me. I must treat humans with compassion, even sacrificing myself, and so I can also treat other living creatures with compassion, even sacrificing myself.
The reasons I'm a vegetarian are not religious (in fact they are based on science and reason). And yet it is a religious sense that permeates my actions, a religious sense that guides me to seek truth and act accordingly, a religious sense that teaches me to follow my conscience. And so I too consider animal rights a part of what I call Christian Humanism.