a review of
The Spector of Speciesism
Buddhist and Christian Views of Animals
by Paul Waldau
Joshua Duffy RS 221 Nov/11
I ended up choosing this book because I felt like it was something I could engage with passionately. I have always had a heartfelt connection with the animal kingdom, and this review is a form of reflection on this passion. I must admit I had no knowledge of Mr. Waldau before this book, but my immediate interest in traditional Christian and Buddhist thought regarding animals peaked my curiosity enough for me to bypass my ignorance of the author and engage this book, not desiring an acquisition of mere knowledge alone, but a formation of increased conviction and character based on that knowledge. Preface and Introduction Dealing with the relationship religion holds with nonhumans immediately poses some difficulties. Modern scholars have neglected this worthwhile cause, possibly for the fact that generalizing this topic would likely result in a severe reaction from most of the academic community. Despite this, an attempt is sorely needed. Religion, above all other communities, should be at the forefront of a movement that stresses compassion to an unconditional degree. It is with great embarrassment that I admit my inclusion into such a group that has treated a vast portion of created life with such indifference. Suffering of any kind, to any sentient being, is unethical, uncompassionate, and unreligious. I begin by appreciating the fact that Waldau starts off the book stating that Christianity and Buddhism are “extraordinarily internally diverse” (3). This is a view that seems to hold very little conviction outside academic circles. From Cambodians I know who hold to a belief in Jesus being a Buddhist, to Canadians I know who see no difference in the teachings of the Buddha and the Christ, it is refreshing that “scholars of comparative religion” (3) can look at the two and admit the “significant tension” (3) with each other.
Part I: Religion and Speciesism Chp 1. Animals and Religious Traditions This book has little room for personal, subjective faith. Waldau is appealing to a cumulative traditional stance which is more rooted in objective historical fact than doctrinal bias or preference (12). He spends a great deal of time (too much time, in my opinion) alluding to what is coming up in the later parts of the book. I could feel myself losing interest as he repetitiously mentioned points of interest in Parts III or IV, etc. As he lays the foundation for what is to come, he makes the point that Christians have always largely believed that nonhumans have an inferior status compared to humans, and that humans can benefit from this relationship in whatever way they see necessary (17). Waldau has already made the point (6) that early Buddhists held membership in the human species as a very elevated status, therefore allowing the liberty to do with nonhumans as they could benefit. There have been Buddhists and Christians throughout the years who have held to a differing view of nonhumans in respect to their larger institutional allegiances, but generally, both belief systems have held that being included in the human species is a much more privileged, special position than not. He proceeds to end the chapter with a little note on scriptural context. Because the writers were from a different age with a vastly different cultural perspective, one could logically concede that we may be missing some of the picture when it comes to interpreting these scriptures that we have had a tendency to dogmatically assert. Humility is of utmost importance when we are working exegetically in any way; humility, and a good healthy dose of historical and cultural context. Without these two things there is a grave (and all too common) danger of extremism.
Chp 2. Exclusion and the Concept of Speciesism Waldau now tries to define the concept of speciesism and I think he does a pretty good job, considering the vastness this definition demands. There has not been a commonly accepted definition of the word and people seem to be happy with using it in whatever way seems to benefit their cause at the time. I myself, use the words
speciesism and anthropocentric somewhat interchangeably, admitting that they are not exactly the same thing, but because of people‟s lack of knowledge on the subject, I think that if combining the two terms helps to add clarity then I am content to do so. For the sake of clarity in this paper, Waldau eventually sums up speciesism with this definition: “the inclusion of all human animals within, and the exclusion of all other animals from, the moral circle (38). Just what is this “moral circle” speciesists exclude nonhumans from? It concerns three distinguishable things (39): 1) An opportunity for continued life or, an obligation not to kill. 2) Freedom from interruption of that life by captivity, enforced work, or any other form of harmful instrumental use. 3) Freedom from direct, intentional infliction of negative consequences such as harm, pain, or suffering that is unnecessary and not inflicted for the benefit of the biological individual receiving these consequences. These three points will be what Waldau will be using as a canon in comparing the traditional Buddhist and Christian views regarding animals. His focus is not if these religions are good to animals, but good for animals. Things are already very foreboding as we get closer and closer to an analysis of the two religions in regards to animals. The fact that he informs the reader so much about speciesism suggests that this will constitute a substantial part of his critique.
Chp 3. Criticisms of Speciesism Although we are almost a quarter of the way into his book, Waldau has not reached the point where he is ready to get into Christian or Buddhist notions towards animals. He does however show his hand in this chapter in regards to where he stands on the issue of speciesism. In fact, chapter three is a highly thought out critique of different views posed by philosophers Bernard Williams, Mary Midgley, and Cora Diamond. Each one is systematically assaulted in regards to their philosophical positions on the relation between humans and animals.
Defenders of animals have taken to comparing speciesism with racism and sexism, noting various similarities, something which speciesists vehemently deny. A main difference I see in all the banter back and forth is that one side seems to have their own interests in mind, while the other side seems to have another‟s interests in mind. Only the individual faced with the choice can determine which interest will prevail. I believe a decision based on speciesism is largely one based out of bias and ignorance. Of course one will likely favor a species he/she happens to belong to. Also, knowledge of nonhumans has increased much in recent years. For example, many of the “discoveries” of animal behavior was established at a time when contact with and study of those (such as apes, whales, dolphins, etc) were minimal. The sad fact is that we are largely to blame for our own ignorance and prejudices. The information is readily available, but will speciesism unconsciously keep many of us from obtaining it? I truly hope not. Outspoken educators are necessary for a change of societal values in this area.
Part II: Animals and Religion Chp 4. Other Complex Animals: Missed Opportunities? To start off chapter four, Waldau quotes Descartes “There is no prejudice to which all are more accustomed from our earliest years than the belief that dumb animals think” (Descartes: Philosophical Letters) (59). This quote serves as a basis for the whole chapter where Waldau looks at the studies done regarding the “key” animals (such as nonhuman great apes, elephants, and cetaceans, or whales and dolphins). Admittedly, such a narrow glimpse within the animal kingdom has pitfalls, but the point is to attack the mindset so poignantly put by Descartes which is commonplace amongst most of our uneducated society. The fact simply is, that not only can “dumb” animals think, but they are capable of so much more. The point is once again brought up that most opinions about animal lifestyles are without merit because of the lack of serious academic research employed by those who hold such opinions. “At times the absence of empirical evidence is taken as solid evidence of absence” (59). I see this in my own circle of Christian friends who see animals as little more than appetizers or main courses. When a discussion arises on the
topic of “animal rights” or “vegetarianism/veganism” they have no card to play save the one called “dominion”, appealing to Genesis 1:26. In this instance the Hebrew word radah (translated dominion in the KJV or rule in the NASB) is followed three verses later in Genesis 1:29 with the command to be vegans! It is appalling that most Christians could miss something so blatantly obvious, but bias often seems to be short-sighted. Their lack of knowledge on such issues confidently assures them that no other such evidences exist. When confronted with other evidences they shrug it off, obviously not concerned about objective reasoning and the implications acting on that information would involve. Many of us are too comfortable in our own selfish lifestyles to listen to things that would challenge us to change. But I digress. Without getting into all the research that Waldau fills the rest of this chapter with, he states a strong case that great apes, elephants, and cetaceans are so much more intelligent that we have ever thought (or known) before, and that this research is just the tip of the iceberg. Many of the ways of studying these beings are relatively new and only the future will reveal how much deeper we will go into understanding their complex lives. The last heading in chapter four is: Descartes Was Wrong in Several Ways, in which I wholeheartedly agree. Eight short facts about elephants must now be included to substantiate that opinion, as taken from pages 79-80: “Elephants also show other features often associated with intelligence, such as (1) noticeably different mental states or moods; (2) complex cognitive skills, including the ability to use mirrors to locate hidden objects; (3) play; (4) boredom; (5) deception; (6) tool use; (7) knowledge of medicinal plants; and (8) the possibility of self-awareness.” Descartes?...................Descartes?..............
Chp 5. What Is an Animal? An estrangement of sorts happens between Paul Waldau and I during this chapter, simply because I am unable to keep pace with his intelligence. Here he lays out the complex ideas, theories, facts, etc about the classification of animals and how they differ or are similar to human beings. It is an academic chapter with terms I have rarely seen, much less become comfortable with in regards to usage. He presents great
arguments for and against the concept of speciesism but you can always tell he leans toward the end of the spectrum that resists a human bias. I honestly do not think he tries to hide this fact and it does not reflect the challenge of the book thus far. It seems as if he truly believes his thought-out conclusions are empirically valid. I really like his addressing of the story told in Matthew 8:28-34; Mark 5:1-20; and Luke 8:26-39 of Jesus and the swine (89). I have yet to hear animal rights advocates/theologians clearly articulate a well thought out response to this story, which I think surely deserves one. Waldau relates Augustine concluding that since Jesus treated swine in this way, it is acceptable to treat all animals, in all cultures, across all times in this way as well. Andrew Linzey (respected Anglican priest and theologian) and Waldau himself argue against this idea of Augustine using generalizations of animals as a reference point. Generalizations are a big part of the formative structure of chapter five, in defence for and against animals. Although I agree with Linzey and Waldau against this Augustinian position, I do not think the ethical/moral difficulties in the Gospel stories were dealt with to my liking, and I await further scholarly analysis before I become comfortable with it.
Part III: Is There Speciesim in Buddhism? Chp 6. Other Animals in the Pali Canon Finally! We now have mention of traditional Buddhist thought regarding nonhumans! Even though it has taken us over half the book to get here, we now begin laying the necessary foundation to evaluate what is alluded to in the title of this book. The sweeping notion Waldau communicates in this chapter regarding the referencing of animals in Buddhist writings is that they are broad and generalizing (113, 114, 122). He makes use of many sources, such as: the Jatakas, Dhammapada, Vinaya Pi.taka, Disha Nikaya, Majjhima-Nikaya, Sa.myutta-Nikaya, A”nguttara Nikaya, Suttanipata, Udana, Theragatha and Therigatha of Khuddaka-Nikaya. I must confess that I know nothing of these writings except that which I read in this chapter, so a critical opinion regarding them would be more than unfair, but Waldau seems to be in a place to do what I cannot.
Interestingly, he notes that Buddhists would likely have at least some contact with the “key animals” (117, 118), mostly the elephant, and that some of their recorded natural history about them was accurate (125, 128). The bulk of writings about the elephant (which space will limit myself to) consign it to a life of service towards humans that is strictly for our benefit. They are used as tools of war, transportation, work machines, and possessions (118). The Jatakas reveal that elephants felt unease in captivity but this was not a sufficient reason to not capture them (118). Much Buddhist writings communicate the dreadful consequences of taking the life of any animal no matter how ignorant you are of it. This is not exclusive to Buddhism though, as Jainism and Hinduism teach similar things (123). This aspect of Buddhist teaching seems quite accepted in contemporary society, but Waldau stresses (almost too much) that the underlying attitudes of Buddhist thought regarding animals is ultimately one of inferiority and subservience to humans, not to mention a karmic punishment of a previous life lived wrongly (133).
Chp 7. The Buddhist Understanding of Other Animals This chapter deals extensively with the First Precept and whether or not it is foundationally speciesist. Upon reading this rule at face value and before reading Waldau‟s views I would say absolutely not, but have to concede that the answer is not as easily arrived at as I once thought. Buddhists, the SPCA, and Peter Singer all claim that Buddhism is much kinder to animals than Western societies (137), but to be kind is not the same as to be good. That is the goal of this chapter; not to state whether Buddhism is kinder to animals, but good to animals. I find it interesting that Buddhists believe that any animal at any given time could be a mother or father from a previous life (138). This guards against cruelty to them as you, in a sense, could be killing or eating your mother or father. I also found it completely fascinating that there are stories suggesting animals achieving enlightenment apart from human assistance (139)! These stories build a case that the
Buddhist tradition seemingly regards animal life as more sacred than our JudeoChristian tradition. If the stories are to be believed, Buddha also has existed as animals in past lives, seemingly further elevating their status. He is described as “kindly, compassionate towards all creatures (141)” and “ashamed of roughness, and full of mercy … compassionate and kind to all creatures that have life” and “He abstains from accepting elephants, cattle, horses, and mares” (146). A question that comes up repeatedly is, “Why?” Why are Buddhists kinder to animals and have more reverence for their life? Is it on behalf of the animal or the human? It can be strongly argued that it is on behalf of the human, complicating their karmic inheritance in a strange twist of irony. Many of the rules existent in Buddhism prohibiting the killing of animals seem to have the consequences of the action, not the rights of the animal, as the underlying motive. Contrasting what is said of Buddha, and other Buddhist writings on animals, are those such as the belief that even a low standard of human spirituality would be sufficient to ensure a non-animal rebirth (140). Waldau is not saying that Buddhists, in a general sense, have been indifferent to the harming of animals, but that early Buddhists were extremely inconsistent on this point, shoddily laying a foundation for those who would follow them (148). He ends the chapter saying that, according to the moral circle argument (39), Buddhism must be considered speciesist (155). I do not know if I agree from a religious perspective, but from a philosophical or scientific perspective I think I do agree.
Part IV: Is There Speciesism In Christianity? Chp 8: Other Animals in the Christian Tradition To begin, I thought this chapter a superficial waste of time because it can be easily admitted by even the most nominal contemporary Christian that there is indeed a speciesist view pervasive in Christianity today. Humans are without a doubt considered the pinnacle of created beings, made in the very image of God. Yet for the sake of this review, I must go on and tell of some evidence given by Waldau confirming this
embarrassing aspect of the faith I profess. It is not embarrassing in the fact of holding an anthropocentric view of creation, but holding it out of balance, so that all other created things become solely for our pleasure or benefit. I hold to a selfless view on „dominion‟ (Genesis 1:28), not a selfish. Chapter eight is twice as long as any other chapter denoting the massive amount of literature available on the subject. It starts off with an examination of the Old Testament which I will conveniently bypass as I will let the Hebrews answer for the writings of the Hebrews, for this is a comparison between Buddhism and Christianity. Even though the early Christians likely inherited the Hebrew views of animals (173) they had a completely different paradigm from which to interpret them, something which I think they did an incomplete job with. The views of important post-Biblical theologians are taken into account here. Justin Martyr (100-165AD): “God did not make the world aimlessly, but for the sake of the human race” (179). Irenaeus of Lyons (died 202AD): “man was not made for its sake, but creation for the sake of man” (181). God has promised animals will “become peaceful and harmonious among each other, and be in perfect subjection to man” (182). Clement of Alexandria (150-216ADish) had many references to animals in his writings (183), but was guilty of „lumping‟ and speciesism, and of not being particularly informed (184). Origen (184/5-253/4AD): “The Creator...has made everything to serve the rational being” (184). “Even lions and bears, leopards and boars...are...given to us in order to exercise the seeds of courage in us” (188). Basil and Ambrose (4th century) both had some positive and even exuberant animal references in their writings, but from Waldau‟s perspective, they too were second to a speciesist position (190). And finally we shall touch on the mighty Augustine (354-430AD), who was very well studied and observant of nature (191). He interpreted God‟s command to not kill (Exodus 20:13; Dueteronomy 5:17) as only applicable to those with the faculty of reason (191). It was mainly through Augustine that Western Latin-speaking Christianity attained
their views on the irrationality of animals (191). His influence on subsequent generations (200) simply cannot be overstated. Augustine did however hold a position that creation was ultimately good, and that, in turn, all created beings were likewise good (196). He admitted that while he was not sure why some livings beings had been created, he was sure they were useful in their own way and he appreciated the beauty they contributed to life (192-193). These references unfortunately cannot replace the dominant theme of speciesism within the whole of his writing. The most influential post-Biblical theologian in the Christian tradition undeniably held to a speciesist position, and our thinking in the area of animals has been greatly affected by him.
Chp 9. The Christian Understanding of Other Animals Starting with paragraphs 2415-2418 of the Catechism of the Catholic Churchi, Waldau continues to build a case of speciesism against Christianity. Paragraph 2417 basically states that animals are here for the purpose of human beings, and although we should not needlessly subject them to harm, it is permitted if humans can benefit from it. It states at 2416 that we owe animals kindness, and we should think of those like Francis of Assisi or Philip Neri and how they viewed animals when we approach this question. But in 2418 Roman Catholicism somewhat contradicts itself as it states that resources should not be wasted on nonhumans that could otherwise go to benefit ourselves. Francis was known to purchase animals going to slaughter with the meager resources he allowed himself to have. „Dominion‟ once again raises its ugly head. Humans in all times have played this card when the question of animal rights comes up. The unlearned fail to realize that there are various views on the Hebrew word(s) we translate „dominion‟ or „rule‟. There are nearly a dozen Hebrews word we translate as such (205). Like the many different Greek words translated as „love‟ in the New Testament, there are deeper meanings than the superficial ones we‟ve drawn. Andrew Linzey is one Christian of significance who sees this as such. He has complicated the attempt at stating a succinct view of animals within the Christian tradition (206). He sees the role humans have been given as a stewardship or
responsibility. Just as Jesus „ruled‟ over us as out of love, so must we rule over others entrusted into our sphere of influence. I am thankful for the contribution of this man into this subject. On page 207 Waldau makes what I see as a gross exaggeration. He takes major liberties with a portion of Isaiah and twists it into a caricature of what it is supposed to represent. The portion is in Isaiah 11:6-9 and it must be quoted in full for a proper (although limited) analysis: 6 The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. 7 The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. 8 The infant will play near the cobra’s den, and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest. 9 They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.1 (italics not in original) Waldau makes the case that this portion of Scripture is actually about the centrality of creation towards humans, and all „wild‟ animals will co-exist with „domestic‟ animals, and that the goal is toward the benefit for humanity, as evidenced by the little child leading them. In my opinion, from someone who has taken at least a modest interest in Biblical interpretation and understanding as a whole, Waldau conveniently misses the point and magnifies technicalities rather than looking at it contextually. In context the focus is not on a human leading the animals, or on the wild animals becoming domesticated and
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submissive, it is about the restoration to a state of life that existed before sin entered the world and things went awry. As the chapter concludes, Waldau asserts that the Christian tradition must be seen as speciesist (217), however, that is not to say that there is absolutely no room for reform based upon its Scriptures or the ongoing theological work done by those such as Andrew Linzey. The past has biased the present as the Old Testament has influenced the New, but there is room within for change, and it is up to those who believe so, such as I, to take up the work recently begun by those like Linzey and advance it in my own sphere.
In Closing Apart from the obvious exegetical differences between myself and Paul Waldau, I respect his scholarship and what he brings to this conversation. From not knowing the man at all when I started reading The Specter of Speciesism, I now have one more author to put on my ever-increasing reading list. It is a great gift to be able to draw from those sources that you may not necessarily be in total agreement with, and such is my relationship with Waldau. I am glad to have had the opportunity to learn and be challenged by him, as I hope to be once again in the near future. Speciesism “did not even exist thirty-five years ago”2. Like those past movements which endeavoured to liberate the oppressed from the oppressors, the animal rights movement marches on. The struggle is not an easy one however. “Animal Liberation will require greater altruism on the part of mankind than any other liberation movement, since animals are incapable of demanding it for themselves or of protesting against their exploitation by votes, demonstrations, or bombs. Is man capable of such genuine altruism?”3 As a human that is a very tough question to answer, but as a Christian I can afford much more optimism. As Wilberforce was a major contribution to do away with slavery, and as Martin Luther King was a contribution in the defeat of racism against the colored community, so can those who propagate in the name of a God who created all
Singer, Peter. In Defense of Animals: The Second Wave. Malden, MA. Blackwell Publishing, 2006. 3. Print 3 Singer 225
things good, stand up against the systematic torture of created beings who may not be able to think like we do, but can feel like we do. As Andrew Linzey has aptly noted, “There is an ethical test of all religion, and it is this: does it make us live more loving, merciful, compassionate lives?”4 If it does not, it does us little good. It is just one more belief system that does not make the transition from word to deed. The world does not need any more of this, it has had too much of it already. Christians propagate a message that says God did not demand of us to suffer the ultimate consequence of our sins toward Him, neither should we demand of animals to suffer the ultimate consequence of our sins towards them. This, I believe, is the underlying theme in this book, and one that I fully agree with and applaud.
Linzey, Andrew. Creatures of the Same God. Winchester, England. Winchester University Press, 2007. Location 305. Kindle Edition.
Catechism of the Catholic Church
Respect for the integrity of creation 2415 The seventh commandment enjoins respect for the integrity of creation. Animals, like plants and inanimate beings, are by nature destined for the common good of past, present, and future humanity. Use of the mineral, vegetable, and animal resources of the universe cannot be divorced from respect for moral imperatives. Man's dominion over inanimate and other living beings granted by the Creator is not absolute; it is limited by concern for the quality of life of his neighbor, including generations to come; it requires a religious respect for the integrity of creation. 2416 Animals are God's creatures. He surrounds them with his providential care. By their mere existence they bless him and give him glory. Thus men owe them kindness. We should recall the gentleness with which saints like St. Francis of Assisi or St. Philip Neri treated animals. 2417 God entrusted animals to the stewardship of those whom he created in his own image. Hence it is legitimate to use animals for food and clothing. They may be domesticated to help man in his work and leisure. Medical and scientific experimentation on animals is a morally acceptable practice if it remains within reasonable limits and contributes to caring for or saving human lives. 2418 It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly. It is likewise unworthy to spend money on them that should as a priority go to the relief of human misery. One can love animals; one should not direct to them the affection due only to persons.