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A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

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Christian Ethical Vegetarianism: A Modest Proposal
By Michael Gilmour   |  Oct 27, 2011

Do Christians have moral obligations to animate creation? Many say no, citing the mandate to “have dominion” over all living things (Genesis 1:28) as reason enough to dismiss notions of animal welfare as a religious obligation. This verse is unambiguous, they argue, demonstrating that animals are a gift from God, available for human consumption whether as food, labor, entertainment or use in scientific research.

But is the language of Genesis so devoid of ambiguity? Some readers may happily embrace the instruction to “have dominion” but overlook the charge “Be fruitful and multiply” in the first half of the verse, perhaps using birth control without any qualm. Why is one imperative limited in scope, while the other universal and timeless? Who determines what laws remain in force, and which cease to apply? The same cynical respondent may also point out that the very next verse describes a plant-based diet, the first reference to food in the Bible (Genesis 1:29; the diet of 9:3 appears to be a concession for a sinful world, not an ideal state). If the “dominion” notion offers enduring permission to rule and consume, why is 1:29 not normative as well? My interest here is not interpretation of the priestly creation story. I merely want to show how the use of proof texts is a slippery business, inevitably involving omissions and selectivity. We cannot appeal to Genesis 1:28 as an easy answer to my opening question any more than we can read 1:29 as an obligatory menu. The Bible, however, is not silent on the subject of animal well-being.

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The author is a Professor of English and biblical literature at Providence University College in Manitoba.

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