A recent Washington Post article about efforts by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals to persuade Episcopalian churches from cooking lobsters inspired a number of comments regarding religion. Readers made reference to chapters in Genesis, claimed the animal-rights group has become the “Westboro Baptist Church of the vegan movement” and said, “Once again PETA has massaged fact and reality to fit philosophy.” The commenters were not the first to compare PETA to a religious organization.
In “The Gospel According to PETA,” published on the MarketFaith Ministries website, Freddy Davis posits, “While PETA is not a formal religion, everything they do is based on a set of beliefs which becomes a religion for those who are believers.” He says the group has a specific worldview that is akin to religious dogma.
In a 2015 article claiming PETA uses religion for its own aims, Daily Caller analyst William Coggin called “appalling” a widely published op-ed from the organization’s “director of Christian outreach and engagement,” which suggested that “Lent is an ideal time to start [the] journey” toward veganism.
Q. Is PETA “twisting doctrine” when it equates animal rights with human rights? Could it be said that PETA is akin to a religion of its own?
I wonder if it is twisting doctrine to equate the rights of corporate entities, which live on paper only, with the free speech rights accorded to human beings in the U.S. Constitution?
No one owns the concept of religion and I’m sure PETA doesn't mind being accused of behaving with religious fervor as it pursues its goal of changing the world’s idea of the human-animal relationship. Every movement has its vanguard. No doubt the vanguard of the Christian right making this criticism of PETA recognizes that as well.
While accepting that one of the world’s major religious texts claims that humans should have dominion over the Earth, including other animals, I see no reason why that precludes the most humane treatment possible, even to the point of never eating them. The large-scale production and slaughter of animals for food is clearly a greater environmental burden on the Earth than vegetarianism or veganism.
One writer who condemns PETA for its “offensive propaganda” is with a group called the Center for Consumer Freedom. Its website reveals nothing about its funding, nor does it list any advisory or governing board. But many other research and news organizations have a lot to say about CCF. One example: “Its advisory board is comprised mainly of representatives from the restaurant, meat and alcoholic beverage industries.” So the Center for Consumer Freedom knows propaganda when they hear it, but it is for consumers to judge what is offensive.
Biblically it is errant to equate animal rights with human rights. The creation of animals is clearly distinct from the creation of Man in Scripture. Mankind alone is made in the image of God. When Adam and Eve sinned and realized they were naked, God sacrificed animals and brought them the skins to wear. In the Mosaic Law, God commanded the ongoing sacrifice of animals (and the eating of their cooked flesh) as atonement for the sins of men.
I find the suggestion to use Lent as a time to “start the journey toward veganism” ironic. Yes, it’s a time when many Christians give up certain luxuries, including eating meat. But Lent leads up to Easter, which coincides with (and to the Christian supersedes) the celebration of Passover, in which every citizen of Israel was commanded by God to eat roasted lamb. Jesus, who kept every commandment of God’s law, would himself have eaten lamb. So God clearly distinguishes between human and animal life. Consequently, so do his people.
Is PETA akin to a religion of its own? Yes. It has its own worldview, its own system of morality and its own standard of expected conduct. It has exalted its own beliefs above the clear teaching of the Bible, God’s word. Call it just another form of idolatry, or the philosophies of men, but however it’s labeled, it’s unbiblical and errant. Christians are certainly free to abstain from eating meat as a matter of conscience, but any church that teaches PETA’s suggestions as doctrine, or even as preferable behavior, has fallen into error.
Jesus came to save people, not animals. That should be the church’s primary focus too.
Pastor Jon Barta
Yes, PETA is a religion. It has a set of self-generated morals that it propounds for the conversion of the world, yet its disciples have shown themselves to be cruel to their own humankind for the sake of animals. They seem to have an almost self-loathing, or desire, to be less than the other creatures on this planet, and it makes many of us cringe.
I saw the note PETA sent to the Episcopal Church’s presiding bishop, which read “all killing requires conquering, violence, and separating ourselves from the rest of creation. God designed humans to be caretakers, not killers.” How would PETA know? PETA is not a godly organization. PETA has concern for animals, and that’s laudable, but it takes its concerns too far, conflating the consumption of meat with animal cruelty. These are different things.
PETA also presumes to know God’s will for us without consulting him. God did give us charge over the animals, to be their caretakers, and also to use them for our own benefit (as beasts of burden and as food). According to God’s own words, he instructed the animal savior, Noah, saying “Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you” (Gen 9:3). God gave the sacrificial system to his Old Covenant people, and they would humanely slaughter their animal sacrifice, make offering, and then eat the cooked animal. Jesus (God incarnate) ate the Passover with its lamb (except the last one before his crucifixion) and then he ate fish with St. Peter after he rose from the dead (Luk 24:41-3).
I’m reminded of the PETA “evangelistic” tract that targets children of fishermen, telling them to “Ask your daddy why he’s hooked on killing!” PETA should meet Peter, the saint who was a fisherman, and Jesus, the one who created both fish and Peter, and who, himself, fished and ate fish and called Peter to be his apostle.
Mankind is superior to all other creatures because we alone are made in the image of God. It is in our created image that God became flesh and dwelt among us. He didn’t come as a lobster, he came as a man; a man who ate seafood (although at the time, lobster was not consumed by Jews under the Mosaic law).
Without God’s input, who says that animal cruelty is wrong, or that anything at all is right? PETA has a religious perspective founded on faulty reasoning and wrong assumptions about God and creation, so I advocate its opposition by all Christians (carnivorous or otherwise).
Rev. Bryan A. Griem