What Does Mormonism Say About Animal Rights?

22

October 4, 2010 by Tariq Khan

Last month, video footage taken as part of an undercover PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) investigation led to the USDA shutting down North Carolina–based contract animal testing facility Professional Laboratory and Research Services, Inc. (PLRS). The animal testing facility, which tested products for major pharmaceutical companies – such as Novartis and Merck among many others – was exposed by animal rights activists as being a sight of disgusting, indefensible cruelty to animals. Details can be found at http://www.peta.org/features/professional-laboratory-and-research-services.aspx.

I have been thinking a lot lately about animal rights and animal liberation. I know that in the past, compassion for animals was not an uncommon topic for LDS leaders to address. I’ve read many words in favor of animal rights from Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, Joseph F. Smith, and especially George Q. Cannon, who spent years championing animal rights. http://byustudies.byu.edu/showTitle.aspx?title=6582

Yet, growing up in the Church, I can’t recall ever having a primary lesson about kindness to animals or ever hearing a Church leader in my time talk about the issue. I wanted to open up for discussion any thoughts Mormon Worker readers or contributors may have on this issue. Past LDS general authorities have unequivocally condemned the act of killing animals for sport or being cruel to animals for fun, but what about killing animals or being cruel to animals for profit? What do you folks understand Mormonism to say about that? Does Mormonism have anything to say about the callous cruelty that animals suffer daily in factory farms, slaughter houses, fur farms, and animal testing labs?

George Q. Cannon said, “These birds and animals and fish cannot speak, but they can suffer, and our God who created them, knows their sufferings, and will hold him who causes them to suffer unnecessarily to answer for it. It is a sin against their Creator.” There is no doubt that the animal industry causes mass numbers of animals to suffer daily. George Q. Cannon also said, “We should by every means in our power impress upon the rising generation the value of life and how dreadful a sin it is to take life. The lives of animals even should be held far more sacred than they are.” (George Q. Cannon, Gospel Truth: Discourses and Writings of President George Q. Cannon, selected, arranged, and edited by Jerreld L. Newquist, p.24).

Before opening this up for discussion I would also like to include this excerpt from a November 1978 Ensign article by Spencer W. Kimball titled “Fundamental Principles to Ponder and Live”.

I read at the priesthood meeting at the last conference the words to the verse of the song years ago, “Don’t Kill the Little Birds,” with which I was familiar when I was a child growing up in Arizona. I found many young boys around my age who, with their flippers and their slings, destroyed many birds.

In Primary and Sunday School we sang the song:

Don’t kill the little birds
That sing on bush and tree,
All thro’ the summer days,
Their sweetest melody.
(Deseret Songs, 1909, no. 163.)

As I was talking to the young men at that time all over the world, I felt that I should say something more along this line.
I suppose in every country in the world there are beautiful little birds with their beautiful plumage and their attractive songs.
I remember that my predecessor, President Joseph Fielding Smith, was a protector of these feathered and other wild life creatures.
While President Smith at one time was in the Wasatch Mountain Area, he befriended the creatures from the hill and forest. He composed four little verses as follows, and opposite each he drew a little picture. Of the mountain squirrel first, he wrote:

This is little Chopper Squirrel
Up in the mountains high.
He begs us for some grains of corn,
With thanks he says goodbye.

And then the bat was next:

This is little Tommy Bat
Who flies around at night.
He eats the bugs and ‘skeeters’ too,
Which is a thing quite right.

Then he came to the deer:

This is little Bambi Deer
Who comes to the cabin homes.
She licks the salt we feed to her,
And on the mountain roams.

And then the birds:

This, our little feathered friend
Who sings for us all day.
When comes the winter and the cold,
He wisely flies away.

Now, I also would like to add some of my feelings concerning the unnecessary shedding of blood and destruction of life. I think that every soul should be impressed by the sentiments that have been expressed here by the prophets.

And not less with reference to the killing of innocent birds is the wildlife of our country that live upon the vermin that are indeed enemies to the farmer and to mankind. It is not only wicked to destroy them, it is a shame, in my opinion. I think that this principle should extend not only to the bird life but to the life of all animals. For that purpose I read the scripture where the Lord gave us all the animals. Seemingly, he thought it was important that all these animals be on the earth for our use and encouragement.

President Joseph F. Smith said, “When I visited, a few years ago, the Yellowstone National Park, and saw in the streams and the beautiful lakes, birds swimming quite fearless of man, allowing passers-by to approach them as closely almost as tame birds, and apprehending no fear of them, and when I saw droves of beautiful deer [feeding] along the side of the road, as fearless of the presence of men as any domestic animal, it filled my heart with a degree of peace and joy that seemed to be almost a foretaste of that period hoped for when there shall be none to hurt and none to molest in all the land, especially among all the inhabitants of Zion.

These same birds, if they were to visit other regions, inhabited by man, would, on account of their tameness, doubtless become more easily a prey to the gunner. The same may be said of those beautiful creatures—the deer and the antelope. If they should wander out of the park, beyond the protection that is established there for these animals, they would become, of course, an easy prey to those who were seeking their lives. I never could see why a man should be imbued with a blood-thirsty desire to kill and destroy animal life. I have known men—and they still exist among us—who enjoy what is, to them, the ‘sport’ of hunting birds and slaying them by the hundreds, and who will come in after a day’s sport, boasting of how many harmless birds they have had the skill to slaughter, and day after day, during the season when it is lawful for men to hunt and kill (the birds having had a season of protection and not apprehending danger) go out by scores or hundreds, and you may hear their guns early in the morning on the day of the opening, as if great armies had met in battle; and the terrible work of slaughtering the innocent birds goes on.

“I do not believe any man should kill animals or birds unless he needs them for food, and then he should not kill innocent little birds that are not intended for food for man. I think it is wicked for men to thirst in their souls to kill almost everything which possesses animal life. It is wrong, and I have been surprised at prominent men whom I have seen whose very souls seemed to be athirst for the shedding of animal blood.” (Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed., Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1939, pp. 265–66.)

One of the poets stated in this connection:

Take not away the life you cannot give,
For all things have an equal right to live.

—and I might add there also, because God gave it to them, and they were to be used only, as I understand, for food and to supply the needs of men.
It is quite a different matter when a pioneer crossing the plains would kill a buffalo to bring food to his children and his family. There were also those vicious men who would kill buffalo only for their tongues and skins, permitting the life to be sacrificed and the food also to be wasted.

When asked how he governed so many people, the Prophet Joseph Smith said, “I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.”
We look to the Prophet Joseph Smith for proper teaching. He said once: “We crossed the Embarras river and encamped on a small branch of the same about one mile west. In pitching my tent we found three massasaugas or prairie rattlesnakes, which the brethren were about to kill, but I said, ‘Let them alone—don’t hurt them! How will the serpent ever lose his venom, while the servants of God possess the same disposition and continue to make war upon it? Men must become harmless, before the brute creation; and when men lose their vicious dispositions and cease to destroy the animal race, the lion and the lamb can dwell together, and the sucking child can play with the serpent in safety.’ The brethren took the serpents carefully on sticks and carried them across the creek. I exhorted the brethren not to kill a serpent, bird, or an animal of any kind during our journey unless it became necessary in order to preserve ourselves from hunger.” (History of the Church, 2:71–72.)

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22 thoughts on “What Does Mormonism Say About Animal Rights?

  1. mormongandhi says:

    Excellent post on animal rights. Thank you, Tariq, for posting this. It’s nice to get so many different resources from prophets on the value of animal life. I personally think it is very much related to nonviolence, and have written a post to this effect entitled “Vegenesis Story: Vegan Thought for Food”(http://mormongandhi.com/a-house-of-fasting/the-vegenesis-story-vegan-thought-for-food/)

  2. Joseph says:

    I suppose it would be possible to argue that the examples of factory farms, testing labs, fur farms, etc., could be said to be exempt from the above prophetic condemnation because they fall under the “for the use of man” category. I disagree.

    Nibley once referred to the massive slaughter of trees done by one of his grandfathers as the “Cain” principle. I’m not referring to Nibley as an authority, I just can’t claim having come up with the idea myself. I do agree with Nibley.

    With just the biblical version of Cain, it seems Cain killed Abel as a result of sibling rivalry and God just randomly loving Abel more than Cain. In the revelation to Joseph Smith known as the Book of Moses, Cain reveals his true motive: “Truly I am Mahan, the master of this great secret, that I may murder and get gain” (5:31). I agree with applying this scripture to trees, and I have no trouble applying it to animals and birds. Factory farms and animals testing labs go beyond “use of man” applications, and are for profit, “murdering [and torturing] to get gain.” The Joseph Smith translation of Genesis states that “the blood of every beast will I require at your hands” (JST Genesis 9:11). The Slavonic Book of Enoch, which I regard as an important work of ancient Christian literature, ends with Enoch admonishing his sons about the proper treatment of animals, stating essentially that we will be held accountable for how we treat animals.

    I don’t know how far along with PETA I go, but deliberately cruel treatment of any form of life is something we will have to answer for. And murdering and torturing for profit makes things worse, because that involves Cain’s Mahan principle.

    • Tariq says:

      I was hoping someone would bring up the Mahan principle. That’s exactly what comes to my mind when I think of factory farms, fur farms, and animal testing labs.

    • Tom says:

      Can you provide a link or a quote from the Book of Enoch part on “proper treatment of animals” or whatever it might say? I’d love to read that, and it’s hard to disagree when we’re discussing factory farms whose sole motive is profit at all costs.

  3. Jacob S says:

    I wrote a post about hunting for sport here:

    http://mormonleft.blogspot.com/2010/07/condemnation-of-hunting-for-sport.html

    As you mentioned, there is a surprisingly lot of material condemning hunting for sport (I say surprisingly because hunting for sport is as Mormon as FHE these days, it seems, or at least nobody seems to think about it critically). I think it is only logical to extend the same reasoning to animal cruelty of all kinds, including CAFOs and the like. I think we need a renewed emphasis on a respect for all life (including trees and bugs and everything else) and how we as God’s children can live in harmony with all of God’s creations. Thanks for the post.

    • Tariq says:

      I’m glad to see your post about hunting for sport. It’s clear that LDS prophets have condemned the practice. It seems to me that something like a fur farm or a factory farm is far worse than hunting for sport, in terms of suffering for the animals. For example, a factory farm cow, pig, or chicken can endure months to years of confinement, pain, and suffering before being killed for profit, while a hunted deer is killed without any of the previous months or years of ill treatment, so if hunting for sport is wicked in the eyes of the Lord, as Joseph F. Smith said it is, then is not the animal industry even more wicked?

    • tariq says:

      Thanks, Mormongandhi, for the link to the story about the Church’s canned hunting preserves. I had no idea about that, and to be honest, it makes me pretty angry. General authorities should know better, especially in light of what early Church authorities have said on the subject of hunting for pleasure. I find it hard to believe that the Church is that much in need of funds.

      The Deseret News article on the subject said that the Church was doing it in order to take “unproductive” Church-owned land and make it “productive”. Why can’t the land be wild and free? Why does it have to be “productive”? Why does productivity have to be based on the destruction of life? Why can’t a man look at a wild area, and simply admire it from a distance. Why does he have to look at a wild area and say, “How can I make money off of this?” When it comes to wild spaces, the best advice is; leave it alone. Those hunting preserves aren’t being used for any kind of humanitarian reasons, they are being used as a place for rich people to go and have a good time killing animals. It’s shameful and it’s even worse that people are being called on missions to raise flocks for this wicked endeavor. I suppose it increases profits it you don’t have to pay anyone to maintain the place. Just tell some faithful members that they’re serving the Lord, and they’ll do it for free.

      The fact that the Church profits off of hunting and factory farms probably does a lot to explain why high-level Church leaders don’t seem inclined to stand up for animal rights the way past LDS leaders did. It seems that profits are more important than prophets.

  4. I am not a vegetarian and prob need to think more about animals and their role and place in my life. However, I have always felt that callousness towards life in any of its forms is repugnant.

  5. Ron Madson says:

    When my family moved to Utah I was still a youth. My Priest quorum went to hunt rabbits in Delta Utah. I had never killed an animal before then. Delta had lots of wild rabbits. One group was sent to one end of the valley and another group at the other end chasing them into each other group. The young men would shot one and call out his #, ie, how many kills he had. I was the only one without a kill after some time. I saw one small rabbit that was exhausted and panting, hiding in a bush. I blow it apart. The image stays with me to this day. Yes, I am a sissy, but I was not prepared for what I saw next. When the rabbits were compressed they were everywhere and exhausted. The boys who had run out of shells started clubbing the rabbits. Then they would throw them like a baseball and bat them to death. It is a killing frenzy. That night I had nightmares of the killing. great “Priest” activity.
    I have an aversion to killing EXCEPT for rattlesnakes….
    and yet I eat meat everyday….don’t know what to make of it

    But I really appreciate your putting this together. Respect for life-all life–seems encoded in our finest instincts…well done

    • tariq says:

      Thanks for sharing that story, Ron. I too can think of some times when I and other LDS youth, (well, LDS young men really, as the girls were never involved in this callous behavior) were cruel to animals. The part of it all that I find most troubling is that none of our leaders ever told us to stop, even though they knew what we were doing. For example, one year at Boy Scouts camp all of us fine, upstanding LDS young men were trying to shoot chipmunks with a paintball gun. When one boy finally hit one, we all broke out in gleeful laughter and thought it was the greatest thing in the world. Our leaders seemed amused by it, and so we took their laughter or silence as a sign of approval. Contrast that with President Kimball’s story of Joseph Smith’s reaction when some of the brethren were about to kill some rattlesnakes. I wonder why kindness to animals isn’t something we emphasize anymore. I wonder why it’s not something the Church seems to care about the way it once did. If the way we treat “the least of these” is indicative of the kind of people we are, then we are in serious trouble. I think that the way a society treats animals says alot about what kind of people make up that society. People who have compassion for animals probably also have compassion for the earth and for other people.

      • mormongandhi says:

        This could not have been said more beautifully:

        If the way we treat “the least of these” is indicative of the kind of people we are, then we are in serious trouble. I think that the way a society treats animals says alot about what kind of people make up that society. People who have compassion for animals probably also have compassion for the earth and for other people.

    • Joseph says:

      I think this is a really important experience to share. And it does NOT make you a sissy to have been bothered by it. I too was pressured into hunting rabbits by cousins as a youth. There wasn’t the blood and carnage since we were just using .22′s, and we only got one rabbit. But I knew I had betrayed something important. It was the most cowardly thing I ever did.

      My dad as a bishop and as the leader of young men’s/Boy Scouts (it was a small ward) was always opposed to wantonly killing animals, and he loved rabbits, so something like this certainly never happened in a Church setting for me. But other than my father, and one stake president who had no trouble quoting Spencer W. Kimball, haven’t heard much from Church leadership on this issue. Perhaps the above article on the Church owned hunting preserve explains some of that.

      But, once the Church opted into capitalism (which they were pretty much forced to do by the U.S. Government), respect for life was bound to disappear. You can’t adopt a system that is all about converting life into money (“You can have anything in this world…”) and still respect life.

      We claim to be children of Abraham, but our works show us to be more after the order of Nimrod.

  6. Forest Simmons says:

    At the time of the 1968 Tet offensive in Viet Nam, our B company of the 15th TC Battalion (AM&S) was in the process of moving from An Khe to Red Beach, just North of Da Nang. As soon as darkness fell, incoming mortar rounds started their deliberate “walk” from their first strike near the concertina wire perimeter towards the grounded helicopters near our company area.

    We had no gunships in the air to counter the mortar fire. And having barely arrived, we had no foxholes, let alone bunkers, for shelter. The beach was just flat sand with no place for cover.

    As I hugged the bare sand, I was sure that we were going to be over-run. If Charlie knew how vulnerable we were, there would be no stopping him.

    I examined my conscience. Nothing bothered me except one thing: once at age ten, after thousands of attempts spread over the years, I had actually hit a sparrow with my BB gun, and then continued shooting at it to put it out of its suffering. Even though everybody including all of the adults that I knew complained frequently about the over population of sparrows relative to robins and other more desireable birds, I felt very bad for having killed a sparrow, having witnessed the suffering and struggle of the innocent little bird in its death throes.

    And that’s the one thing that I still felt bad about ten years later on that beach of the South China Sea half way around the world, when I thought I was about to meet my maker .

    • SUNNofaB.C.Rich says:

      that’s the old “life flashing before your eyes” bit, huh… I’ve had the same experience while wearing a 1st cavalry patch on my shoulder…

      • Forest Simmons says:

        Sun,

        I started out with a four leaf clover (Fourth Infantry Division Patch) on my shoulder in the red mud of Pleiku, but got transferred (through a providential fluke) to the Cav in the last months of 1967. A latter-day saint clerk-typist served as our battalion commander’s secretary, so he routinely checked the religious preference of all of the new personnel, and so invited me to the LDS Serviceman’s Group my first week in AnKhe. Without the Mormon buddies that I met there, my life could easily have gone off in a very different direction.

  7. J. Madson says:

    Some more good info on the church’s hunting preserve

    http://truthmarche.wordpress.com/2010/10/10/church-finance-part-ii/

  8. I’ve joked with mormongandhi before about how gay celestial marriage will likely become acceptable in Mormonism before Mormons are willing to give up meat and hunting for sport. Most people probably think it’s homosexuality, but I tend to think that animal welfare will be the “last frontier” of enlightenment within Mormonism. :)

    In regards to the hunting preserves, I did an updated post on Mormon Matters after the initial post on my personal blog. So the MM post is what I consider to be the most up-to-date information that is available about the LDS-owned hunting preserves. Information is very scarce and the Church has declined requests for more information (as evident in the Sunstone podcast that I linked to). So this is as much as I know, which you can read here:

    http://mormonmatters.org/2009/09/24/is-the-church-sacrificing-principle-for-profit-with-hunting-preserves/

  9. Jim Goldrup says:

    Sad to say, I lost a certain amount of respect for the leadership of the LDS church in them allowing, creating and supporting these hunting preserves. They seem to on their lack of love for the others of God’s creations. They seem to completely close their eyes to the teachings of Joseph Smith and other LDS prophets who came before them, who spoke against such practices of taking innocent life of animals. Joseph Smith taught that the blood of the beasts that are killed will be upon the hands of those responsible. It doesn’t surprise me that they ignore the part about meat in the words of wisdom, since they so quickly came to the conclusion that caffeine was no longer against the word of wisdom after Romney got caught drinking a Pepsi or some caffeinated soda pop, and claimed that caffeine was never a policy of the church. It sort of blew me away that the church is so cold-hearted and bloodthirsty to allow such things as hunting preserves for the shedding of blood for sport and fun to exist. What can I say. Hopefully they repent and change their ways and do as the Lord would have them do, and close those blood money abominations down.

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