Dr. Christian Sailer
Ethical and legal aspects for an
effective protection of animals
Mankind has never before caused so many animals so much suffering as in our day and age. For instance in the intensive live-stock farms in which the victims of the modern meat-industry are packed into such small space that, out of fear and aggression, they attack one another. For example during the transport of the animals right across Europe, in which the livestock is barbarically maltreated. Or let us consider the slaughterhouses in which badly stupefied animals become conscious again during their slaughter and die under infinite agony. Not to mention the special tortures which the animals in the scientific laboratories experience - more than threehundred million animals per year, worldwide.
All this takes place in countries in which ethics and morals are claimed to be the foundation of their legal system, and which feel themselves committed to human rights and humanity. If mankind wants to gain a new relationship towards nature and animals we must ask ourselves how it came to the low regard for animals and their misuse by humain-beings in the first place.
The ethical starting-point which determines the relationship between man and nature and animals in Europe, results from an anthropocentric conception of the world characterized by Jewish-Christian thought. According to this God created man as creation's crowning glory. How threatening this came to be for the rest of living things is already discernible in Genesis Chapter 9 where God is supposed to have said: "And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, upon all that moveth upon the earth, and upon all the fishes of the sea; into your hand are they delivered. Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things." Allegedly God is supposed to have said this, but nowadays we know how the Bible came into being - not as a direct divine inspiration but in the cause of hundreds of years in which all - too human ideas were added to this so-called Holy Book.
With the early Christians a short change in favour of animals took place. Many of them appear to have been vegetarians. After all Jesus of Nazareth, who was the teacher of peaceableness had warned humanity not to reach for the sword. And in this warning He made no exception to the butcher's knife. But this was all quickly forgotten when Christianity, under the Emperor Constantine, came into power and later became the religion of the state. Whoever refused to kill animals in order to eat them was persecuted in exactly the same way as those Christians who refused to bear arms. From the official church which developed in the following centuries, the pre-emminence of man, as opposed to animals, was, above all, accentuated by the fact that man was solely in possession of a soul. Francis of Assisi's love of animals was a mere episode. According to Thomas of Aquin animals have no soul at all. These religious-"weltanschauliche" premisses put their seal on the pitiable fate of animals for about two thousand years.
On the part of philosophy no help came. On the contrary: In the 17th Century Francis Bacon imparted the information that nature "should be made submissive, and be handled like a slave". That it should "be put to the torture until it divulged its secrets." And René Descartes intensified the way of looking at the world from a centrally human point of view by his famous words: "Cogito ergo sum". The spirit was reduced to its place in the human brain, and the rest of the world was dead matter. An animal was nothing more than a machine and its cries of pain nothing more than the squealing of this machine.
This mechanical conception of the world celebrated its triumph in connection with the developing natural sciences, but lost sight of life, the soul and the spirit. Spirit and life were no longer separate identities but the result of chemical combinations and physical processes.
This way of thinking dominates us even today in respect of our dealings with nature and animals. We treat them as "goods" over which we may dispose as we please - the tropical forests as reserves of wood, the seas as rubbish dumps, the animals as meat products which satisfy our unrestrained desire for meat, or as objects of lust in the bloody productions to be seen in the arenas of the bull fights, or as sacrifices of torture during scientific experiments. Modern man, who treats his fellow creatures with such a lack of dignity, doesn't even notice that in doing so he casts aside his own dignity. But the results of this inhuman terror regime are now becoming obvious. The pride of creation has now become the damaging pest for all other forms of life. Man's acts of violence against his fellow creatures hit back at him - by way of natural disasters, terror and war, plagues and epidemics of all kinds. As long as we do not recognize the connection between such behaviour and the portentous doom which is in the offing, or even drawing nigh, but instead speak of chance incidents, then we simply cannot be helped. Perhaps a look at the last book in the Bible, the Revelation of St.John the Divine, in which the historic era of this civilisation ends apocalyptically might be of use to us. The omens of such a turning point in time are not to be overlooked any longer.
And that is why it is not merely a question of a few corrections - fewer forests being cut down, a more lasting use of energy, ecological farming with somewhat less animal suffering. No! It is a question of a fundamental change in our attitude towards nature and animals, a question of taking leave from those unholy traditions of ecclesiastical and philosophical teachings which destroyed the unity of life and separated everything which belonged together. There is no life which has no soul, spirit exists not only in human brain-cells; plants, too, have sensitivity. Animals feel joy and sorrow, good health or pain. There is a unity in all living things and even a unity of all being. Such a general notion of the world is not mere day-dreaming but already an object of modern physics, or more exactly quantum physics. This has long surmounted the idea of a material conception of the world. Max Planck suspected that behind all matter the energy form of a conscious and intelligent spirit was to be found, which, in turn, was the origin of all being. In biology there is a "rebirth of nature", which is also the title of one of Rupert Sheldrakes books. James Lovelock's vision of Gaia also has its place here: the earth as a living organism.
And last but not least. In many respects a new spirit is to be felt in religiousness which surmounts all confessional limitations - whether it takes the form of charismatic movements within the Church, or religious movements outside the Church, such as the community of the Original Christians in Universal Life, which assumes that God reveals Himself in our day and age through the mouth of a prophet, giving new insights into the correlations of life which, in many ways, are identical with the accounts given by the quantum physicians: that an almighty cosmic spirit interlaces and interweaves through all things. That the essence of the microcosm and the macrocosm is in everything, whether it be an atom, a molecule, a plant, an animal or, of course, a human-being. It is one and the same breath which flows both through human-beings and animals - God's breath of life.
Such new ways of thinking demand that we, at long last, take the protection of animals seriously - not only ethically, but also legally.
One of the most important requirements would be that the protection of animals be incorporated in the currently developing European Constitution and that fundamental rights for animals be similarly made law on a national level in respect of consideration for their dignity and a way of living which allows them a life befitting their species. And then it will finally become a constitutional question as to whether it will be permissible to lock up millions of hens in cages in which they mutually hack one another bloody, so that their beaks and claws have to be cut in order for them to go on living at all. Then it will finally become a question of law as to whether it will be possible to continue breaking out pigs' teeth or cutting off their tails, or of force-feeding chickens until they collapse and break their bones.
The egg and meat-producers would be up in arms against such basic legal demands, since over the last decades inappropriate agricultural politics have succeeded in driving away small and medium-sized farms, replacing them by agricultural factories. But: Do we want, once and for all, to submit to the dictates of industrial meat production? Or do we want to get out of this impasse, not only because of our health, but also out of respect for the lives of animals? It will not take place over night, nor should it take place by the acceptance of an economical collapse of a branch which offers work to thousands, but through a gradual transition towards a more peaceful treatment of our fellow creatures.
This also holds good for the fundamental right of animals that they may live. As long as our society is still obsessed by the consumption of meat this basic right is only to be realised step by step. It is therefore only to be anchored by law after having been subjected to more detailed legal regulations. Constitutional rights would first forbid an overproduction of animals for slaughter, which then led to a procedure of annihilation. In order that a gradual transposition towards the protection of life in favour of animals may take place, a reprogramming of our eating habits will have to come about. If we no longer tell our children - who often have a natural distase for meat - that they have to eat meat in order to make something of themselves, then the consumption of meat, would, in the following generations, be reduced of its own accord. If we made it an obligation that gastronomy offer half the dishes on the menue in the form of vegetarian meals, then our gastronomic culture would gradually change.
Finally, there is still a most important point to be considered. The very best legal requirements in favour of animal protection do not help these animals if their observance is not to be enforced in a law-court. And therefore it must be made possible that animal protection groups may, in the name of these animals, take legal proceedings in the courts to compel the official enforcement of these legal rights for animal protection.
These are just some of the social and legal basic-conditions with which one might help the ethical postulations of the protection of animals to be put into practice step by step. Some may, at the present day, find this utopic. But the time seems ripe for such a step. The European BSE-epidemic is "the writing on the wall". Because of the biblical and ecclesiastical low-regard for animals, we have, all too long, ousted the opposing voices of the occidental history of ideas. For instance, Pythagoras, one of the founders of Greek philosophy, who warned his fellow contemporeries: "do not hurt a delicate plant or a guiltless animal"! Or the Greek scholar Plutarch, who, in essence, said: "Every meal is to costly, for which another living creature must die." Leonardo da Vinci the universal genius of the occident expressed himself even more clearly: "The time will come in which we condemn the eating of animals just as we condemn cannibalism today."
These are personal declarations, which one may share - or not. The anthropocentrical ethics of ecclesiastical Christendom lead us astray. And that is the reason why more and more people once again follow the original Christian body of thought, just as it was taught by Jesus of Nazareth over 2000 years ago. His spirit also flows through a present-day text conveyed by the prophetic word with which I would like to end my speech. "The hour is drawing near, when everyone will have to answer for what he has done to human beings, to nature and to animals. The New Era is dawning, in which the bloody sacrifices and animal experiments will cease, and the slaughter and consumption of animals, too, for these are the neighbours of man. The earth will cleanse itself from all that is base. All that is unlawful will be replaced by the higher life, in which the will of God will be fulfilled more and more."