One area not in dispute among mainstream scholars is that the Christian scriptures (New Testament) should be discussed and studied and that, for example, passages that seem to justify slavery must be viewed in context. For more information on this topic, read the answer to, "If Jesus were a vegetarian, why don't we have a passage reading, 'Thou shalt not eat meat,' or a clear statement that Jesus didn't eat animal flesh?" "The fact that few scholars have addressed the issue of animal cruelty does not discredit the value of doing so."
Biblical scholars are products of society and academe, both of which accept as self-evident the status of animals as valuable only insofar as they're useful to humans and neither of which rewards a person for challenging the status quo.
In society, animal exploitation is the norm, and theologians and Biblical scholars tend to entrench or ignore societal mores, rather than challenge them. This is true both because they tend to believe them to be self-evidently true and also because as with most aspects of society, conformity is rewarded.
Take the historical example of slavery. As Rev. Andrew Linzey explains in Animal Theology, " go back about two hundred or more years, we will find intelligent, respectable and conscientious Christians supporting almost without question the trade in slaves as inseparable from Christian civilization and human progress" (my emphasis, p. 141). Dr. Gary Francione points out, in Rain without Thunder, "If you had asked white men in 1810 whether blacks had rights, most would have laughed at you." It was not until society's attitudes changed markedly that theologians felt free to reevaluate the Biblical passages that appear to justify slavery.
So, "Why do you support slavery?" was not a question that anyone (including theologians) asked in 1800. Rather, those who opposed the practice were required to justify themselves. In the same way, it will come to pass that today's question, "Why should a Christian abstain from flesh?" will one day become "How can a Christian possibly justify violence and mercilessness against any of God's creatures?"
Saints Augustine (354-430) and Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), the two most well-respected and widely read Christian theologians in history, both entrenched the idea that women were born as defective humans and that a societal hierarchy, including slavery, was integral to God's plan. Today, such beliefs, considered self-evident both when Augustine and Aquinas argued for them and for more than 1,800 years after Jesus lived, are considered by most scholars to be self-evidently anti-Christian.
It should humble us that Christians so recently justified as Biblical mandates self-evidently unchristian activities like slavery, witch burnings, and the subjugation of women and children. This should allow all of us to consider the possibility that we are equally wrong-headed today in our understanding of how animals should be treated.
Once society comes to understand that exploitation on the basis of species is as unjustified as exploitation on the basis of gender, race, or nationality, scholars will advocate justice for all animals. One day, Christians will look back on the injustices done to animals with the same horror and shame we presently reserve for such relatively recent atrocities as slavery and the Inquisition.
The Nazarenes of Mount Carmel
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