Animal Rights: What does faith say?

DOES God want you to care about animal welfare?

The creation narrative in Genesis says that God gave humans “dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” Dominion has been interpreted variously, ranging from free license to do what we will to a sacred obligation to care for and protect animals.

A cow grazes in Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, Kentucky. Photograph taken by Paul Hile.

An animal grazes in Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, Kentucky. Photograph taken by Paul Hile.

The Human Society of the United States (HSUS) has a very clear interpretation. Through its Faith Outreach program, this 60-year-old organization—the largest and most effective animal protection organization—calls upon people of faith to embrace animal rights. This program “seeks to engage people and institutions of faith with animal protection issues, on the premise that religious values call upon us all to act in a kind and merciful way towards all creatures.”

The Faith Outreach program provides many resources, including a video series, religious statements on animal welfare, and more.

What does “dominion” mean to you?

Do religious values call on us to treat animals humanely?

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Animal Rights: Does Wal-Mart support the Five Freedoms?

five freedoms

Click the poster to find a printable PDF version of the poster from the ASPCA.

In 1941, Franklin Delano Roosevelt articulated Four Freedoms for all peoples: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. Now, we have Five Freedoms for animals under human control. Do you support these freedoms? Does mega-retailer Wal-Mart?

The Five Freedoms were developed in 1965 by the Farm Animal Welfare Committee in the U.K. These Freedoms have been adopted by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). The ASPCA offers a free poster with the Five Freedoms, the wording of which I reproduce here:

  1. Freedom from hunger and thirst by ready access to fresh water and diet to maintain health and vigor.
  2. Freedom from discomfort by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.
  3. Freedom from pain, injury or disease by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment.
  4. Freedom to express normal behavior by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind.
  5. Freedom from fear and distress by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.

Mercy for Animals has been waging an “intense campaign” against Wal-Mart, including organized protests, petitions, and hidden-camera videos of animal abuse. The campaign paid off. The retail giant announced just this month that it was adopting the Five Freedoms for animals across its entire supply chain.

What’s your view of the Five Freedoms?

What about Wal-Mart’s new policy?

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Animal Rights: Should animals have the same rights as people?

A dog fetches sticks

An eager dog gathers stick. (Photo by J. Bennett via Wikimedia Commons.)

What’s your view of animal rights?

Consider these three statements. Which one comes closest to your opinion about animal rights?

  • Statement 1: “Animals deserve the exact same rights as people to be free from harm and exploitation.”
  • Statement 2: “Animals deserve some protection from harm and exploitation, but it is still appropriate to use them for the benefit of humans.”
  • Statement 3: “Animals don’t need much protection from harm and exploitation since they are just animals.”

Gallup gave these three choices to a national survey of American adults earlier this month. And they found that Americans’ views on animal rights are changing.

Today, more Americans believe that animals should have the same rights as people to be free from harm and exploitation. About one third (32%)—agree with Statement 1, according to Gallup. In 2008, the figure was 25%. Five years before then, it was also 25%

The majority of Americans still say that animals deserve some protection but it’s still OK to use them for human benefit. However, support is weakening for this position. About six of ten Americans (62%) today agree with Statement 2, down from about seven in ten (72%) in 2008. Very few Americans (about 3%) say that animals don’t need protection (Statement 3).

The increase in support for animal rights occurred across political and demographic lines. Democrats are more likely than Republicans to agree with Statement 1, but both groups increased their support of animal rights from 2008 to 2015. Women are more likely than men to choose Statement 1, but both groups increased their support. Older Americans are more likely than younger Americans to pick Statement 1, but Americans across the age spectrum increased their support of animal rights.

Which of the three statements above comes closest to your view about animal rights? Why?

Tomorrow—Do you know the “Five Freedoms” for animal welfare?

Talk with friends …

The OurValues project is designed to spark healthy, civil discussion on tough issues related to our values. We invite readers to share these columns to spark civil discussion. You’re free to print out this column or share it via email or on social media.

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American Religious Trends: Decline of Non-Christian Faiths?

THE percentage of Americans who identify as “Christian” declined between 2007 and 2014. What’s happened with other religions? Have they declined as well?

This week, we’ve examined the end-of-religion theme that has accompanied the release of Pew’s report on the American Religious Landscape. We considered whether there’s a seismic shift in the landscape, or the headlines are just journalistic hyperbole, the fact that some Christian groups are growing, how most of the religiously unaffiliated say “nothing in particular” when asked to describe their religion, and that many of the unaffiliated actually do have religious and spiritual beliefs. Today, we consider the fates of non-Christian religions.

Click this Pew graphic to read the entire report.

Click this Pew graphic to read the entire report.

Non-Christian faiths are small minorities in America. But many grew during the same period that Christian faiths declined.

About 1.7% of the American population identified as Jewish in 2007, growing to 1.9% in 2007. Not a big change, but it’s statistically significant.

Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus are even smaller minority religions. But Muslims and Hindus increased as percentages of the American population between 2007 and 2014. Buddhists were stable.

Overall, minority faiths increased from 4.7% of the American population in 2007 to 5.9% now. Pew notes that they may have underestimated this numbers, since their survey was conducted only in English and Spanish.

Are you surprised at the growth of non-Christian religions?

Does the decline in Christians as a percentage of the American population signal the end of Christianity?

What’s your conclusion about the changing American religious landscape?

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American Religious Trends: Are the unaffiliated really unreligious?

THE “end of religion” is a newsy theme that the new Pew survey on religious trends has given new momentum. A key finding, heralded in the media, is the rising number of Americans who indicate “none” when asked about their religious affiliations. What can we learn about the meaning of “none”?

In 2007, 16.1% of American adults self-identified as religiously unaffiliated. In 2014, 22.8% indicated the same. From Pew’s study, we know that many of the “nones” are young adults: over a third of Millennials say they do not affiliate with a specific religion. As these unaffiliated Millennials replace the religiously affiliated older generations, prognosticators predict the end of religion in America.

Click this Pew graphic to read the entire report.

Click this Pew graphic to read the entire report.

How accurate is this prediction? Often lost in the headlines about the decline of religions, Pew’s report also says: “many people who are unaffiliated with a religion believe in God, pray at least occasionally, and think of themselves as spiritual people.” Affiliation with religious institutions may persist, but it doesn’t seem like the unaffiliated are unreligious.

“The ‘nones’ are ‘someones’ in [our] vibrant U.S. religious landscape,” writes David Briggs.   His conclusion? “The end is not near for religion in America—or elsewhere in the world.”

Briggs reports on a recent symposium at Baylor University, “The End of Religion.” There, scholars cited evidence that the world may be more religious now than it was a century ago. And, America is the same: few Americans were church members at the time of the American Revolution, and the “churching” of America has increased ever since. The only deviation was a drop after the Civil War.

The problem might be the surveys themselves. As a survey researcher, this is an issue of which I am keenly aware. Survey questionnaires tend to be conservative—not in the political sense, but in the sense that they lag behind contemporary changes in how people think and believe when it comes to religion. Maybe surveys are clumsily capturing what Briggs calls “a reordering of beliefs and practices in younger generations.”

Are we witnessing the “end of religion” in America?

Or, is this a time of change, dynamism, and exploration?

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American Religious Trends: Is “nothing in particular” your religion?

WHAT is the fastest growing religious category in America?

It’s the religiously unaffiliated, also called the “nones” because they check the “none of the above” box when asked to choose from a list of religious affiliations. But “none” is a vague designation. What does it really mean?

The religiously unaffiliated category grew from 16.1% of the American adult population in 2007 to 22.8% in 2014, according to Pew’s new survey. More than two of ten Americans now say they do not have an affiliation with an established religion.

Some of the “nones” are atheists. They disbelieve in God. Only 1.6% of the adult American population claimed to be atheists in 2007. This group almost doubled by 2014 to 3.1%.

Click this Pew graphic to read the entire report.

Click this Pew graphic to read the entire report.

Some of the “nones” are agnostic. Agnostics don’t believe or disbelieve in God. Agnostics outnumber atheists. In 2007, 2.4% of American adults claimed to be agnostic. This figure rose to 4.0% 7 years later.

Most “nones” say “nothing in particular” when asked to describe their religion. In 2007, 12.1 of American adults said “nothing in particular,” which rose to 15.8% in 2014.

 Is “nothing in particular” your religion?

Is the rise of the religiously unaffiliated good, bad, or indifferent for American society?

Do atheists and agnostics have a place in American society?

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American Religious Trends: Are any Christian groups growing?

Pew Research Center study of America's Changing Religious Landscape

CLICK either of these Pew charts to read the full Pew report.

The overall number of Americans who self-identify as “Christian” decreased from 178.1 million in 2007 to 172.8 million in 2014, according to Pew’s survey of the American Religious Landscape.

Not all Christian groups are shrinking, however. Which ones are growing? The answer depends on how you look at it.

Mainline Protestants and Catholics have experienced the biggest declines from 2007 to 2014. As a share of all American adults, mainline Protestants have decreased by 3.4 percentage points and Catholics by 3.1 percentage points.

Evangelical Protestants are growing in absolute numbers, according to Pew. The number of Evangelical Protestants has increased from 59.8 million adults in 2007 to 62.2 million in 2014. As a percentage of all American adults, however, this still represents a small decline. Evangelical Protestants were 26.3% of American adults in 2007, but now are 25.4%.

Pew Research Center study of America's Changing Religious LandscapeThe number of adults in historically Black Protestant traditions is up slightly from 15.7 to 15.9 million. As a share of the American population, there hasn’t been any change. (The percentages are within the margin of error.)

Other Christian groups—such as Orthodox Christians, Mormons, and Jehovah’s Witness—have been stable over the 7-year period.

If we look at absolute numbers, one Christian group is clearly growing: Evangelical Protestants. But if we look at shares of the adult population, no Christian group grew since 2007.

Looking at these facts and figures, are Christians in America on a long-term trend toward oblivion?

Or, are these facts and figures simply indicators of shifting religious preferences?

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