God has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God? — Micah 6:8 (NRSV and NIV)
I said in my heart with regard to human beings that God is testing them to show that they are but animals. For the fate of humans and the fate of animals is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and humans have no advantage over the animal; for all is vanity. All go to one place; all are from dust, and all turn to dust again. Who knows whether the human spirit goes upward and the spirit of animals goes downward to the earth? — Ecclesiastes 3:18-21 (NRSV)
I think one answer is that there are many misconceptions about what animates activists and advocates for other animals. Sometimes we are perceived as bleeding hearts who can’t deal with the real and necessary violence inherent in the web of life. Other times, we are written off as putting the needs of lesser beings above those of people. Still other times, we are accused of being elitist, particularly when we reject eating flesh-foods, hunting for sport or preference, and rearing domesticated animals for anything other than survival. Our efforts are readily seen as too emotional, too illogical, and not that important in the grand scheme of things.
But widespread failure to understand a position does not make that position void. That I differentiate between stepping on an unseen ant and purposefully shredding a butterfly’s wings, between a lion killing a gazelle and a human breeding and raising a cow just to slit her throat does not mean I do not accept that death is part of creation. That I include other animals in my sphere of compassion has not diminished my concern for other people but has instead made the intersecting realities of human and animal oppression clearer. That I cry openly for the animals trapped in test labs, slaughterhouses and circuses, and gunned down in the wild does not mean I cannot argue for the sanctity of their lives with precision.
Increasingly, we are learning that the biological uniqueness human beings once claimed for ourselves are shared by other animals. We are learning that those we show limited regard have their own capacity for communication, community, intelligence, pain, grief, decision-making, adaptation and even morality. This knowledge is as transforming as learning the earth is indeed round or that people we’ve imagined to be beasts are indeed humans deserving of freedom and dignity. Animal liberation at its heart involves recognizing and breaking down the crumbling human vs. animal binary that has falsely and disastrously divided us from other creatures. It is about deconstructing one of the remaining walls of hostility upon which humans of all kinds have comfortably built our societies and identities.
Other animals are so hidden and entrenched within our systems that successfully freeing them can shake many foundations. Military and medical industrial complexes, animal entertainment enterprises, animal agriculture, repressive economic systems and environmental pillaging: these and other strongholds would tremble under a collective acceptance that the human being is an animal among animals, and that other animals are no less than biological, theological and ecological kin who deserve the same moral and ethical consideration. No wonder this agenda is rejected by so many camps!
To fully and seriously embrace animal liberation means undermining a longstanding form of oppression that is so inherent to our being that the most unlikely allies are united in preserving it. Orienting our standpoint from one in which other animals are here for human use to one in which their lives are fundamentally good and not for our taking means reexamining who we eat, what we wear, what is sport, who we count as neighbors, who we love and how we love. It means a revolution in how we conceive of ourselves and how we tread upon the earth.
My vision as a Christian who embraces animal liberation is actually pretty simple but it is also entirely subversive: it is to love justice so deeply that species boundaries cannot suppress it; to practice mercy so thoroughly that even other-than-human creatures receive it; and to walk so humbly that I seek to withhold destructive power against an Other because I am human and they are not. It is to transgress a last great separation: to widen the circle to all who embody God’s breath.
Nekeisha is the co-founder of Jesus Radicals and co-organizer of its annual anarchism and Christianity conference. She is an occasional writer and speaker with numerous interests including animal ethics from a Christian and anti-oppression perspective. She joined the Anabaptist/Mennonite tribe in 2003 and works for anti-racist transformation within the church. She also takes part in ecumenical conversations as part of the Ekklesia Project.