My family and I are all Catholic. We are not very religious, and we rarely go to church, but we still hold our faith and celebrate Catholic holidays. It is important in my family to spend these holidays with family. As I do not really have other family members in Florida besides one aunt and uncle several hours away, with the rest of my family in Canada and Illinois, it is common that holidays are spent with just my immediate family and I. It is something we have become accustomed to and is pretty traditional for my family now. This year, as I was unable to go home for Easter, however, my family decided to come to me. My mom, dad, sister and I all stayed at a hotel on the beach for Easter weekend, starting on that Friday.
The Friday directly before Easter Sunday is known by Catholics as Good Friday. It is the day that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross. This day is observed in remembrance of that, and there are restrictions that come along with observing Good Friday, one of those being that Catholics are to abstain from eating any type of meat the whole day.
Ever since I was a child, I was always a pretty picker eater. My parents used to have to force me to eat some foods, and for a while, my parents thought I would end up being a vegetarian. I have never been a very big fan of meat. The sight of raw meat turns my stomach a little, and sometimes even cooked meat can be unsightly to me. Still, I continue to eat meat, mostly out of convenience. For me, then, not being allowed to eat meat on Good Friday is not a huge deal; in fact, it does not bother me too much. The rest of my family, on the other hand, is very different in this aspect. They are big meat-eaters and love to eat meat with mostly every meal. For them, Good Friday is a struggle, desperately trying to find an adequate and sufficient meatless meal.
While I was with them this Good Friday, we had an interesting conversation at the dinner table. We had had a fun day at the beach that afternoon, and decided to order a nice cheese pizza and some side salads for dinner. When the salads came to the table, my parents saw that theirs had bacon bits in it, not knowing it was prepared that way when they had order it. This sparked my family’s annual conversation about how difficult it is to go a single day without meat. The horror. Then, my parents said, and I wish I was making this up, “Animals were put on this Earth for us to eat them.” As I said before, I do not find giving up meat a big deal, and might even be okay if I never ate meat again, so this time I had enough and decided to put my two cents in.
I started to drill my parents and my sister with questions like “Who said humans are hierarchically superior to all other beings on this planet?” “Who says that the sole purpose of animals is to satisfy human needs and desires, and that they do not have a purpose separate from human functions?” You know, just some light dinner conversation, casually challenging the taxonomical hierarchies in place and channeling some Houser and Taylor. The usual.
The fact that my parents actually said that animals exist for humans to eat them really did get me thinking about these theorists’ ideas, though. First and foremost, I thought about what gives humans the right to say what other beings’ purpose in life is? What gives us the right to have a say in what is done with these beings at all? Animals of all different species have existed for thousands of years, and humans have only been around for a minute fraction of that amount of time. Other animal species were around before humans, and will likely continue to be around after humans eventually go extinct. Yet, somehow, humans get the idea that they are more worthy than other animals, going so far as to say that other animals should be sacrificed for the sake of humans. This made me think about how Taylor discussed the desire for human intervention regarding animals. In her article, “Animal Crips,” she examines “how assumptions about disabled animals are informed by human ableism” (Taylor, 95). Her story about Chris P. Bacon, the pig in the human-made wheelchair, becoming an internet sensation is a good example of this. There is also the example of Lizzie, the dog with the wheelchair in Houser’s “Grace for a Cure: Poisoned Ethics and Disabled Non-Human Images.” Humans feel the need to be like a hero and a savior for animals that are deemed cute by society. These moments seem to “restore faith in humanity,” and show that there are still good people in the world, while hiding the fact that these instances are much rarer than slaughterhouse killings, and the mistreatment of animals.
As Houser explains in a quote from Matthew Scully “we are called to treat [animals] with kindness, not because they have rights or power or some claim to equality, but in a sense because they don’t … Human beings love animals as only the higher love the lower, the knowing love the innocent, and the strong love the vulnerable” (Houser, 20). Humans are egotistical. They have this idea that they are greater than animals, and this gives them the sense of responsibility to take care of them; but only the “cute” ones. The other animals are also under the responsibility of humans, though. Humans feel they have the right and responsibility to choose the fate of these animals as well, and, unfortunately, their future is not as bright. In a sense, this concept is almost an example of how humans abuse their power. It would not be a big deal that humans hold themselves hierarchically superior to animals, but the fact that they use that as logic and reasoning to mistreat and kill them makes it an issue.
Another example that relates to this is the idea of a “mercy kill” that Taylor discusses. She demonstrates how hunters choose to shoot animals who look ill or any disabled in some way. Knowing nothing about the animal, its success, its happiness, and the permanence of his or her condition, hunters shoot the animal on their own judgement. They decide that the animal is suffering too much and its life is not worth living; it has a poor “quality of life” (Taylor, 96). This is a perfect example of human assumptions being made regarding animals. For all we know, the animal could have just been injured with a wound that would have healed in a few days’ time, but now the animal is dead, because a single human decided that was what was best. It is not a human’s place to decide this, and humans have continuously over-stepped their boundaries when it comes to the treatment of animals.
As stated beforehand, animals have been on this planet long before humans, and they will likely be here long after humans are gone. Humans do not need to try to be God to animals, deciding what they should or should not do, where they should go, and especially whether or not they should live. While my family may have scoffed at my idea that maybe humans should not be so anthropocentric and rather take a more laissez faire approach to animals, I think Houser and Taylor would agree that human intervention and ideas do not always have a place in the animal world.
Houser, A. (2014). Grace for a Cure: Poisoned Ethics and Disabled-Nonhuman Images. Journal for Critical Animal Studies, 12(2).
Taylor, S. (2014). Animal crips. Journal for Critical Animal Studies, 12(2).
“9 things you need to know about Good Friday.” National Catholic Register. N.p., n.d. Web.