Catholic Culture Liturgical Living
Catholic Culture Liturgical Living

Animal Rights: A Primer

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | May 11, 2010

In its April issue, Catholic World Report published a fascinating interview with Wesley J. Smith, a Senior Fellow in Human Rights and Bioethics at the Discovery Institute. The subject was animal rights, and how the animal rights movement constitutes a sort of pseudo-religion and an assault on Christian principles. Smith is the author of a new book entitled A Rat Is a Pig Is a Dog Is a Boy: The Human Cost of the Animal Rights Movement. The title comes from an actual statement from Ingrid Newkirk of PETA in which she affirmed the moral equivalence of persons and animals.

The interview is replete with great quotes, so I thought I’d pass a few along:

On the belief that the ability to feel pain is the only moral measure:

This view is very destructive, because if you destroy human exceptionalism—which is what the animal rights movement intends to do, it disdains human exceptionalism—if you say that we are not the highest life form on the planet, if our lives do not have greater value than those of animals, then you have completely changed how we perceive ourselves. Animal rights people may think they are raising animals to the level of people, but what they are really doing is reducing people to the level of animals.

On the dangerous susceptibility of young people when taught about animal rights:

It’s kind of ironic [but] I think kids are hungry today for some absolute values. They are raised in so much relativism. Animal rights offer a clear right and wrong.

On the consequences of the animal rights philosophy:

Let me give you an example. There was a woman who was jogging in Los Angeles and she was brought down by a cougar. And they went out and shot the cougar because of human safety concerns. And a lot of money was raised for the offspring—of the cougar! More money was raised for the cubs of the dead cougar than for the children of the dead woman.

On the irrationality of rejecting human exceptionalism:

There’s an irrationality in the whole idea of animal rights, because they are basically saying that substantial benefits to our species should be sacrificed for the higher moral purpose of not injuring, abusing and interfering with the natural lives of animals. But that is an act of human exceptionalism. It’s engaging in moral and ethical thinking, which only humans are capable of.

On the bottom line:

The animal rights movement is irrational because if animals had rights, the only species that would be required to honor those rights would be people. Animals would not have an obligation to honor each other’s rights because they don’t understand the concept. Nor do they have the obligation to honor our rights, because they don’t have the capacity to understand the concept. Animals cannot be rights-bearing beings because they are not duties-bearing beings. They’re amoral.

Christians tempted by this particular brand of irrationality need to learn the profound difference between rights theory and good stewardship.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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  • Posted by: GenevieveDeMarie - May. 13, 2010 1:44 PM ET USA

    The last comment seems a bit blithe when you consider the profound place a rights mentality has had in our culture, from feminism, to civil rights, to the very foundation of the United States. In the 1930s Hillaire Belloc was able to complain that the definition of Christian Charity had devolved into a vague concept of kindness toward animals. This is no longer the reality and our Christian duties of both charity and stewardship need to be substantially revived.

  • Posted by: alencon - May. 12, 2010 10:04 AM ET USA

    If you haven’t – you should read Matthew Scully’s “Dominion”. In which the issue isn’t “animal rights” but human compassion and mercy. If you really take in Sacred Scripture with your heart, and not just your brain – you would see that Jesus always pointed back to the beginning, to Eden. We need to be good stewards of God’s creation, and “animal rights” is an overreaction to what the world, including most CINO’s, have misappropriated. This is not an either/or issue, compassion should be for all.

  • Posted by: wojo425627 - May. 12, 2010 9:58 AM ET USA

    How do I explain to a lion that it is a violation of my rights for it to eat me and that it is a violation of the lions rights for me to shoot it? Is there going to be a million cat march in Washington some day?

  • Posted by: - May. 11, 2010 7:56 PM ET USA

    All animals are equal; some are just more equal than others. Especially if the others are humans.

  • Posted by: wolfdavef3415 - May. 11, 2010 7:02 PM ET USA A telling answer to the question, "Why do birds eggs have more protection than unborn babies?" "Because bird eggs doesn't take, 2 parents, consensual sex, thousands of dollars, a stable environment, loving family, eighteen years, and maturity to raise."