A long, long time ago, someone with the authority to speak on behalf of the Judeo-Christian God, told the people of the Earth that they had dominion over the animal kingdom.
It was part of the initial plan for the world, according to Genesis 1:26: ‘And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.’
This idea of dominion comes right at the beginning of our apparent tenure on Earth, and over millennia has become firmly entrenched in the Judeo-Christian mindset, colouring our view of the world: We are the masters―animals have been put on this planet to serve us, to work for and feed us, to entertain and love us. When we look at our day-to-day interactions with animals, it might seem that we deserve this love. We walk our dogs, we feed our fish, we groom our horses… we even cuddle our cats when they deign to let us. But if we look at this concept of dominion, and at the human race as a whole, we are not very nice to the animals we were given responsibility for by divine edict.
Because that is what dominion means. Yes, it means to have mastery over, but in the sense of taking care of that which we control. The word domus means house in Latin and the dominus was the lord or master of a house, and you have to admit, it is a really crappy master who abuses those under his dominion. In the true sense of the word, dominion means ultimate responsibility for the wellbeing of those we are charged with taking care of, not superiority.
However, the idea that we are superior to, and therefore allowed―by God Himself―to use and abuse animals as we see fit has grown from strength to strength over the centuries, to the point that in the current day people―regular people, not just activists or extremists―are changing something as important and fundamental as their diets in order to opt out of a global system that operates on abuse of this divinely appointed dominion over the fish, which are no longer plentiful in the seas, the fowl, which have never known what it means to be of the air, and the cattle that have been force-impregnated year after year to supply us with dairy products and meat. (The Bible doesn’t encourage the eating of pigs, so I’m not even going to mention the horrors of the pork industry.)
When I was a child, I thought that veganism and vegetarianism were healthy lifestyle choices that people made. But these days many people have given up meat for environmental and animal rights reasons, and the truth is, no one becomes a vegan because they think that yogurt is evil―they are vegan because they think the dairy industry has become evil. And they are right. Any person or organisation that systematically separates new-born babies, of any species, from their mothers in order to maximise productivity and increase profit margins is evil. Okay, maybe evil is too hash a word. It is misguided, greedy, selfish, cruel, downright mean, and ultimately inhumane (what is the definition of evil again?) and I, personally, have a great deal of trouble believing that this is what God had in mind when He decreed that mankind should be responsible for the animals.
I live in India, and I see animal abuse almost on a daily basis―emaciated mule-teams hauling supplies to building sites, scrawny chickens in road-side cages awaiting death, hopeful of rebirth as a desi dog (at least then they will be able to roam the streets freely and it is unlikely that anyone is going to want to have them for dinner). The fact that animal cruelty is such an integrated part of our lives is easier to forget in the West, where the methodical, mechanised slaughter of animals is performed behind the walls of commercial meat works factories. In a country like India, everything is more real, more in-your-face, and often more incredible.
Like, for example, a recent ruling by the High Court of Uttarakhand―a state in northern India―which has granted the ‘entire animal kingdom’ the same rights as human beings. The Telegraph reported earlier this month that the state has bestowed the status of ‘legal person or entity’ on animals in the hopes that it will help to prevent poaching, pollution of the natural environment, and the abuse of domestic animals. We consider ourselves to be so enlightened, but is this where our God-given dominion has brought us―a court ruling to stop mankind from being arseholes to animals? Seriously, God must be kicking Himself for not giving dominion to the dolphins. They probably would have done a better job.
Words: Sharnon Mentor-King
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About the author
Sharnon Mentor-King is a freelance writer and editor from New Zealand, currently living and writing in Dharamsala in northern India. As well as picking holes in modern interpretations of the Bible, she also writes bad poetry and excellent young adult fantasy. She has been working on her first novel, A Way to Return, for nearly half her life, and if she ever finishes it, it will be a miracle. Let us pray.