Asking how to advocate for the ethical treatment of animals is a good first step to understanding what I am about to say, so thank you for asking.
You seem to feel a concern for pets and animals if you are asking that. You may feel concern for your own pets, and ripples of that feeling may extend to all other pets and animals. Your feelings may build and even last for a while after the speaker leaves the podium – or TV screen.
But feelings are not ethics.
Those who advocate for the ethical treatment of animals must go beyond feelings. They must seek proven facts. They must ignore the bandwagon and look for the parade organizers.
Why do I use the word “bandwagon?” When Americans first used the term in 1849, they were describing a large wagon that carried the band in a circus parade. They used the same wagons in celebrations of successful political campaigns. Theodore Roosevelt’s writings showed that he spoke of people “being on the bandwagon” to represent persons who attached themselves to something just because it appeared likely to succeed.
At any rate, we must be careful not to get caught up with advocating for the ethical treatment of animals simply because we jumped onto that particular bandwagon. We must turn our attention to the heart of the matter, and that is ethics.
DEFINITION OF ETHICAL TREATMENT
We need to begin by defining ethical treatment, and that calls for a definition of ethics itself. What do you mean when you say you want to advocate for the ethical treatment of animals?
ETHICS: This term refers to a system of moral values. We expect physicians, for example, to uphold a system of moral values called “professional ethics.” By that, we mean that we expect physicians to conduct themselves rightly, doing what is good and refraining from doing what is bad. Wise employers seek out employees who bring good “work ethics” to the job. By that, the employer means they will conduct themselves at work in a right manner, embracing good character traits such as punctuality and loyalty, while rejecting bad character traits such as procrastination and wasting time.
Consider issues such as cloning or animal treatment, and you discuss the “rightness” of the issue, i.e., the ethics of cloning; the ethics of animal treatment. The significant part in our discussion must answer the question of what our convictions tell us is right and wrong.
ETHICAL CONVICTIONS VERSUS PREFERENCES
Ethical thinking must form convictions, not personal preferences, on this and every issue. Those who seek to know how to advocate for the ethical treatment of animals must exercise caution when they consider groups who claim such advocacy.
I suggest that you read this quote from the web site of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)
“From the meat industry’s rampant abuse of animals and environmental devastation to the tremendous health benefits of a vegan diet to helping end world hunger and deplorable working conditions in slaughterhouses, there are countless reasons why more and more people are leaving meat off their plates for good and embracing a healthy and humane vegan diet.”
PETA makes clear on its web site its conviction that animals are not ours, and we therefore must not eat them, wear them, etc. Under the guise of ethics (moral rightness), they seek to convince us that we must extend the Golden Rule to all living beings: reptiles, mammals, fish, insects, birds, amphibians, and crustaceans.
Those who truly hold such a conviction ignore an immense fact! The source of the concept we call the Golden Rule is the greatest teacher ever to walk the Earth – Jesus Christ. Jesus stated it twice: in Matthew 7:12 and in Luke 6:31:
“… whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.” and in Luke: “… as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” The Holy Bible, (English Standard Version)
The rule we’ve come to call the Golden Rule tells us simply and powerfully that we must respect our fellow-man and practice the ethical treatment of all other humans, regardless of similarities or differences. This must become a strong conviction in the heart of every person born. Why? Humans possess souls, and only a soul can deal with moral values.
In addition to being dependent on participants having souls, the Golden Rule presents a reciprocal agreement.
Imagine with me, for a moment, that the Golden Rule really does extend to animals – and determine for yourself whether you hold PETA’s conviction.
Imagine that I hike into the forest and see a 500-pound male grizzly bear. I must not kill and eat the 500-pound grizzly bear and, conversely, that grizzly bear must not kill and eat 130-pound me – but it likely will because it has no soul, concept of right and wrong, and no knowledge of the Golden Rule.
Imagine that my husband hikes into the forest and sees a foot in front of him a Diamondback rattlesnake, coiled and ready to strike. He must not make the rattlesnake suffer immensely and, conversely, that deadly rattlesnake must never make him suffer immensely – but it likely will because it lacks a soul and cannot distinguish right from wrong or obey the Golden Rule.
When you seek to advocate for the ethical treatment of animals, you must do so with solid, rational convictions about the connection between you and those animals. You may have a preference about the connection, but you must have a conviction for which you are willing to die if need be.
Perhaps we should ask how we can best advocate for the ethical treatment of animals. What is the moral, ethical way to treat non-humans that have no soul?