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.)