Rat Tales

Another case of "home alone" has hit the headlines . . . this time with a bizarre twist. Instead of a little boy being left at home to fend for himself, it was a tank of tropical fish. The owner was summoned to court and charged with cruelty to animals. He got off only when he produced a book explaining that tropical fish can be left for several days without harm. Another woman was not so lucky. When she left her pet rat Ziggy home alone for several days, she was charged and fined. Cases like these could be laughed off as silly antics by the animal-rights movement. But the issues involved are no laughing matter. Behind the media stunts, the court cases and the attacks on research laboratories?is a serious and dangerous philosophy. To get at that philosophy, we need to ask why some people are opposed to animals being raised for food or used in medical research. The answer is that they don't believe there is any fundamental difference between animals and humans. When Ziggy's owner was brought to court, an animal-rights activist argued that the rat "was a warm-blooded animal that can suffer pain . . . just like any human being." Another activist said, "We take the view that cruelty is cruelty, whatever species is involved." The idea that humans are special in any way is denounced as "speciesism," defined as a prejudice akin to racism and sexism. Ingrid Newkirk of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) even compares eating meat to the Nazi holocaust. "Six million Jews died in concentration camps," Newkirk says, "but six billion boiler chickens will die here in slaughterhouses." Comparisons like this are meant to make us more sensitive to the plight of chickens and cows, but what they really do is trivialize evil committed against humans. And the haunting danger is that when humans are put on the same level as animals, we may begin treating them as animals. Charles Oliver of Reason magazine puts it well: "By placing chickens and Jews on the same ethical plane," he warns, "animal-rights activists may inadvertently make it easier for a future Hitler to herd millions of humans into gas chambers." Oliver is right. As Christians, we have a moral duty to respect the animal world as God's handiwork. But respect for animals is completely different from rights for animals and we should never confuse the two. As Oliver puts it, "Animal-rights activists will never be satisfied with `mere' humane treatment. They demand a complete restructuring of our moral universe." And not just a restructuring but a complete inversion. PETA's Ingrid Newkirk says openly that the movement is "at great odds" with Christianity. She denounces Christian teaching as "supremacist" because it confers special moral status on human life. In her view, humans are merely a part of nature, nothing more. So when you read news items about pets left home alone, remind yourself of the deeper issues that the newspapers don't even touch. Ultimately, there's a question we all have to answer: Are we made in the image of God? Or is there really no difference between a child and a chicken?


Chuck Colson


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