Keep a Balanced View of Animal Life
“MOTORIST Dies Trying to Aid Injured Dog,” reported the New York Daily News of August 29, 1975. A Long Island man stopped his car and got out to help a dog lying injured on the road. But accidentally another car struck and killed him. The dog was taken to an animal shelter. So the dog lived and the man died.
His actions illustrate the compassionate concern for animals that many individuals have—perhaps you too. He risked his life because of high regard for animal life. Was that the right course?
“No,” some persons would emphatically say. For instance, at a meeting in an English town a member of the Road Safety Committee spoke of the danger when motorists swerve to avoid dogs, saying:
“If people could be persuaded to drive straight over the dog if necessary, a lot of injury to humans could be avoided. . . . We have become so sentimental about animals that a motorist will instinctively swerve to miss one—and probably fail to appreciate that a bus queue is on the pavement. . . . Five of 42 accidents in the district in one month were due to dogs. It made my blood boil.”
But his was not the only blood that was boiling. Many in the audience were incensed at his view of animal life.
Yes, strong feelings regarding animal life are quite common. For example, what about hunting? Some persons fiercely condemn it as brutal, senseless and inhumane. Others feel that it is perfectly all right to kill an animal for food or for its pelt. What is a person to think? What is the balanced view for you to take?
As you can appreciate, each situation has its own facets and circumstances, so it is pointless for anyone to give a “blanket” answer. Nonetheless, there is a basis for obtaining a balanced view of the matter of animal life. What is the basis?
The Creator of Animals
The basis for a balanced view of animal life is not the personal view or the emotions of some imperfect human, no matter how sincere he might be. Rather, it is the view (and principles) of the Creator of animal life, which view is perfect.—Deut. 32:4.
After producing the animals inhabiting earth’s land, seas and atmosphere, “God saw everything he had made and, look! it was very good.” (Gen. 1:20-25, 31) So animals are good. They have an important role in our earth’s cycles. They are a living display of God’s wisdom. (Ps. 148:7, 10; Job 12:7-9 ) But, according to what God says, how should we humans treat animals?
We can gain insight from the law that God gave the Israelites. He required that they be merciful and just in dealing with animals. Consider just a few examples. A bull and an ass were not to be yoked together, for that would make the smaller one suffer. (Deut. 22:10) As with humans, animals were given a sabbath day of rest. (Ex. 23:12) A bull threshing grain was not to be muzzled, but allowed to eat some; it would be cruel to tantalize it with food it could not eat. (Deut. 25:4) Furthermore, God said: “A good man takes care of his animals, but wicked men are cruel to theirs.” (Prov. 12:10, Today’s English Version) Clearly, God cares about animals.
Does this mean, then, that men should not kill animals, such as in hunting for food or to obtain furs or skins? And just what is the balanced view of the death of an animal?
Life and Death of Animals
The Creator gave life to both humans and animals. But for how long were they to continue to live? Scientists report that humans seem to have the potential of endless life, so that investigators are perplexed as to why man dies. The Bible gives the reason. It says that the Creator gave the first humans the opportunity of living forever. Death came only because they rebelled. (Gen. 2:17; 3:17-19; Rom. 5:12) What, though, of animals? They are not capable of conscious rebellion against God; yet they live only for a length of time and then die. Hence, it is clear that the Creator never purposed that individual animals live forever. For them death was natural.—2 Pet. 2:12.
Consequently, even though a person might become quite attached to a pet, it is apparent that man should not feel about its life or death as he should about another human. But apparently some do.a
Today there are numerous “pet cemeteries.” A Toronto newspaper described one such cemetery that has a funeral parlor for animals. It offers burials in special silk-lined coffins. The cost? From $100 for a bird up to $800 for a horse. The New York Post reported that a former president of the United States annually sends a $20 check to an animal burial ground for the care of his dead dog.
But what course do you think is appropriate and balanced in the light of God’s Word? Since the Creator never purposed animals to live without dying, how much importance or expense should you link with the death of an animal? In line with the balanced view in the Bible, the Israelites did not have animal cemeteries.
Hunting—What Is Balance?
In discussing animal life, hunting is one of the most controversial aspects. A prime reason is that there is so much excess. For example, some years ago ten hunters in Czechoslovakia shot, in six days, 9,359 hares, 7,245 partridges and 5,089 pheasants—a total of 21,693. Those men may have been thrilled by this, but such blatant slaughter turns many persons against hunting.
Sometimes, though, the excess is the cumulative effect of many hunters. Consider this June 1975 report from Rome:
“Hunters equipped with an array of weapons, from shotguns to nets and snares, kill more than 200 million birds a year . . . The massacre of birds has reached such proportions that it has led to far-reaching changes in the environment. With millions of birds either destroyed or not flying over Italy, insects and pests multiply unchecked. This means that farmers apply huge doses of insecticide to protect their fields, disturbing the balance of nature. . . . It is thought that some 7000 people are killed or injured each year in Italy because of hunters shooting at each other rather than at their prey.”
Some hunters kill just to obtain trophies that they can mount and display, “kills” over which they can boast. For them, hunting is little more than an “ego trip.” Others revel in the joy of killing. Can this be right? God’s concern for animals as seen in his law would clearly rule out taking the life of animals for trophies or for the thrill of it for sport. Rather, the Bible condemns an early rebel against God, Nimrod, who evidently hunted for sport, perhaps killing both animals and humans. He is described as “a mighty hunter in opposition to Jehovah.”—Gen. 10:9.
Still, an unprejudiced reading of the Bible reveals that the Creator does not now oppose the idea of killing an animal for food. Following the flood, Jehovah God told Noah, the progenitor of the entire human family, “Every moving animal that is alive may serve as food for you. . . . Only flesh with its soul—its blood—you must not eat.” (Gen. 9:3, 4) Was this an about-face in God’s view of animal life? No, for, as we have noted, he did not purpose animals to live forever.
Accordingly, Jehovah God did not forbid the Israelites to hunt and fish. What he did stipulate was that a hunter must pour out the blood of an animal killed. (1 Ki. 4:22, 23; Lev. 17:13, 14) This would help hunters to have regard for life, recognizing that even the life (blood) of animals is from God. God also encouraged respectful regard for animal life by the law that forbade taking the life of a mother bird along with her eggs or offspring. The mother, who would be easier to catch because of her attachment to her young, was to be let escape. This would allow her to have more offspring and would prevent any danger of wiping out the species.—Deut. 22:6, 7.
There are numerous Biblical references to catching birds and fish in nets. (Prov. 1:17; Hos. 7:11, 12; Hab. 1:15) Even Jesus Christ, who chose some professional fishermen to be apostles, directed limited fishing operations on occasion.—Matt. 17:27; John 21:5-13.
Perhaps you know, though, that many persons feel that hunting for food is justified only when no other food is available. When you can buy food, is hunting showing disregard for animal life?
A Bible account involving Isaac and his sons helps in weighing the question. Isaac’s son Esau used to provide food by hunting. (Gen. 25:28) Once Isaac told him to “go out to the field and hunt some venison” because, Isaac said, “I am fond of” it. Was venison the only meat available? No, for Jacob on this occasion made his father a tasty dish from two goat kids. (Gen. 27:1-10) Similarly, today a person may prefer to have some game meat, even though he could buy other meat in a store. He might reason, ‘What is the difference whether I eat venison killed by a hunter or beef killed by a butcher?’ Or one who hunts or fishes may feel that he thus can obtain some food while at the same time derive real enjoyment from walking in the woods or resting beside a stream.
If a person is to hunt, however, he should realize the dangers involved. One of those dangers is that he might gradually develop a lust for killing. How many hunters who may have begun by hunting for food came to delight in the ‘joy of the kill’ and now show a wanton disregard for animal life? Colonel Charles Askins, a big-game hunter, observed: “Hunting is a glorious sort of vice working its narcotic with all the efficacy of the ubiquitous [opium] poppy.” Might this be the effect on you?
Leather and Furs
Some men, however, go after animals for their skins or pelts. They do not use these simply as ego-building trophies but as leather hides or for furs. Is killing an animal for this reason showing gross disregard for animal life? Is it wrong?
One valid objection to the indiscriminate killing of wild animals for their hides is the effect on the animal population. For instance, before European settlers arrived, the North American beaver population was between sixty and one hundred million. But by the turn of this century they had almost been exterminated because of excessive trapping to fill the craze for beaver hats and pelts. What, too, about near extermination of leopards, cheetahs and tigers because of the demand for “fashionable” coats from their skins?
Certainly there is no excuse for letting a fad or fashion lead to the wiping out of any form of animal life. When the Creator gave man dominion over the animals it was not so that he could greedily exterminate God’s handiwork! (Gen. 1:26) Still, does respect for animal life require taking the position that in all cases it is wrong to kill an animal for its hide or fur?
Here, too, the Bible provides a balanced view. It shows that animals were for the service of man. Early in human history the Creator himself used animal skins to clothe the first couple. (Gen. 3:21) Was he wrong? Surely it would be unbalanced to criticize God for doing that. And later it was the Creator who gave the direction for making part of his holy sanctuary: “You must make a covering for the tent of ram skins dyed red and a covering of sealskins up on top.” (Ex. 26:14; 39:34, 43) Likewise, the Scriptures show that true worshipers used animal skins for garments and other things.—Lev. 13:48; Matt. 3:4; Heb. 11:37.
So the Bible does not by any means require avoiding garments or other useful things made from leather or skins. Of course, if a person preferred to avoid furs or animal skins, that would be a personal matter. Also, a balanced regard for animal life would recommend that any individual consider whether he will purchase a garment or item made from the skin (or other body parts) of an animal that is being driven to extinction.
Protection of Life and Property?
Sometimes a person is faced with the decision of whether to kill an animal that is a predator or pest. What is the balanced view on this?
Actually, you must evaluate each individual case on its own merits, according to its own facts. Consider, for example: Would you be showing disregard for animal life if you killed a cockroach or a rat that comes into your kitchen? Most persons would readily destroy such a creature because of the likelihood that it will eat or contaminate human food or perhaps spread disease. But what about a fox or a wolf that occasionally kills a chicken or a sheep?
Here, too, the Creator does not leave us without guidance. While the Bible definitely urges respect for life, it shows that when a lion and a bear threatened David’s flock he did not think that killing them was a disregard for animal life. (1 Sam. 17:34-36) Nor is it just a matter of the death of a predator rather than the death of a domestic animal. Song of Solomon 2:15 speaks of taking action against foxes that endangered a vineyard. So a person might kill an animal to protect his food or property. As regards protecting one’s life, it is surely no surprise to read that Samson killed an attacking lion or that Paul shook off into the fire a poisonous viper. (Judg. 14:5, 6; Acts 28:3-6) Clearly, the threat that an animal poses may allow for killing it.—Ex. 21:28, 29.
Yet this can be carried to unbalanced extremes. The Bible does not encourage trying to wipe out all foxes or bears just because some of them presented problems. Because it preyed on sheep, the Australian pouched Tasmanian wolf has been hunted and killed until it seems to be extinct. In the United States there is much controversy regarding a similar matter. Many sheepmen and cattle ranchers feel that wolves and coyotes can be killed wholesale because they endanger domestic flocks and herds. On the other hand, many conservationists and ecologists believe that the damage to sheep and cattle is minimal and does not warrant the elimination of wild animals that are important to the “balance of nature.” What occurred in parts of Brazil and Argentina illustrates their point. Villagers killed off jungle cats and owls that they considered predators. The result? Houses were overrun by disease-carrying rats.
Yes, the problem is complex. It simply is not possible to give a broad solution that would apply equally in all cases. But certainly it does help to have the balancing guidelines of God’s Word. It enables a person to see that animals can be killed to protect human life and property. Yet that is to be balanced against the Bible’s high regard for animal life. Then a personal decision must be made. Other related matters must similarly be resolved.
A student may ask his parents what to do when, in biology class, he is expected to dissect a preserved animal, maybe a frog, grasshopper, worm or fetal pig. Many school authorities hold that such procedures are educational. A laboratory assistant said: “You could sit and trace each artery [of a fetal pig] as it’s connected to the heart. You can’t get that in a textbook.” One student agreed that he learned much from dissecting a fetal pig’s heart, but as regards another experiment, said: “I felt it was really unnecessary to kill the frog. One thing I’ve learned is that life is very complex—you shouldn’t just kill for a purposeless experiment.” In another school a seventeen-year-old girl observed: “The teacher told us it would teach us to appreciate life, which I found ironic. How can you appreciate life by killing?” What would you do in such situations?
If a problem comes up, parents can use the opportunity to discuss with their youngster the balanced view of animal life presented in the Bible. Doing that, as well as discussing the school requirements and the educational possibilities, they can then decide what to do, taking into consideration their child’s conscience.
There is no denying that many questions come up as to how properly to view and treat animals, questions that each adult has to resolve personally. We can be thankful, though, that we have balanced guidelines from the Creator of animal life.
a See the article “Enjoy Animals—in Their Place”! published in Awake! of January 22, 1976.
[Picture on page 17]
Since the Creator never purposed animals to live without dying, how much importance and expense should you link with the death of an animal?