Happy Cows, Unhappy People

In case you haven't noticed, animal rights militants have become increasingly active. For instance, last year the California Milk Advisory Board ran what has become known as the "happy cows" television ad. They featured singing, wise-cracking dairy cows contentedly munching grass in bucolic bliss. Viewers loved them, but the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) sued, claiming the ads violated consumer protection laws. Why? Because they deceive consumers about the way cows actually live. (Note to PETA: Cows don't really sing, either.) PETA members also got upset over the "Chicken Challenge" at an Illinois casino, where customers were invited to play tic-tac-toe against chickens. PETA said the game "disrespected chickens." In Phoenix, a teacher threatened to sic her classroom of six-year-olds on a seafood restaurant. She wanted the owner to stop its "cruel" practice of putting live beta fish on display in fish bowls. The fish were ultimately put up for adoption. You have to laugh at stories like these. But the influence of animal rights advocates has been growing, their agenda is dangerous, and that's no laughing matter. Americans and Europeans alike are passing laws that do more than just protect animals. In Germany, for example, last year a law was passed declaring that animals have the same rights as humans. Now, some changes in how animals are treated on farms and in labs may be needed. But more than just humane concerns drive the modern animal rights movement. They have a serious agenda -- one that challenges Christianity's most fundamental doctrines. The real reason they are opposed, for example, to killing animals or using them in medical research is that they don't believe that there is any fundamental difference between animals and humans. The idea that humans are special in any way is called "speciesism," defined as a prejudice akin to racism and sexism. PETA's Ingrid Newkirk even compares eating meat to the Nazi Holocaust and says that the animal rights movement is "at great odds" with Christian teachings -- indeed. Ominously some animal rights activists carry their logic to extremes: that if it's "murder" to kill chicken, for instance, it's morally acceptable to stop the "murderer." In National Review Online, Wesley Smith writes about animal rights terrorists who employ "death threats, fire bombings, and violent assaults against those they accuse of abusing animals." For example, writes Smith, one such group, Animal Liberation Front, "posted a how-to-commit-arson manual on its website." These people are serious -- and dangerous in more ways than one. Charles Oliver of Reason magazine puts it well: "By placing chickens and Jews on the same ethical plane" -- as Newkirk does, "animal rights activists may inadvertently make it easier for a future Hitler to herd millions of humans into gas chambers." Oliver is right. The philosophy behind the animal rights agenda is an assault on human dignity. As Christians, we have a moral duty to respect the animal world as God's handiwork, treating animals with "the mercy of our Maker," as Christian writer Matthew Scully writes in his new book, Dominion. But mercy and respect for animals are completely different from rights for animals -- and we should never confuse the two. For further reading and information: Matthew Scully, Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy (St. Martin's Press, 2002). Wesley J. Smith, "Man and Beast," The Weekly Standard, 28 October 2002. Wesley J. Smith, "Terrorists, Too: Exposing animal-rights terrorism," National Review Online, 2 October 2002. Charles Oliver, "Liberation Zoology," Reason, June 1990. BreakPoint Commentary No. 021120, "Are Pigs People Too?: Animal Stewardship versus Animal Rights." Charles Colson, "A Beast of a Theory," Boundless, 19 April 2001. Anne Morse, "Murder Most Fowl," Boundless, 15 December 1999. Elizabeth Weise, "PETA: 'Happy Cows' ad is a lie," USA Today, 12 December 2002. Read PETA's lawsuit against the California Milk Board, filed December 11, 2002. Phillip E. Johnson, The Right Questions: Truth, Meaning, and Public Debate (InterVarsity, 2002).


Chuck Colson


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