I recently read something quite disturbing about human beings. Something that revealed we have in common with Klingons and Ferengis one of their most disgusting traits. These people eat living creatures while they’re still alive (redundancy intentional).
Gene Roddenberry, creator of the Star Trek universe, foresaw a future in which humanity would rise above its omnivorous ways. “Replicated” food could still take the form of meat, but it would just be made of assorted atoms. The epitome of this view is found in Star Trek: The Next Generation. There, Commander William T. Riker declares to a diplomat from a race that consumes living mammals, “we no longer enslave animals for food purposes.”
In Roddenberry’s dream, humans have attained utopia on Earth. One way other races reveal their inferiority is by their diet. In addition to larvae and slugs, a main part of the Ferengi diet consists of squirmy Tube Grubs.* The more aggressive Klingons prefer assorted mollusks and their staple, the appropriately named Gagh. Gagh could be eaten cold or cooked, but the “serpent worms” were preferred live.**
I had deluded myself to think the devouring of living creatures was relegated to science fiction and the predators of the animal world. Sadly I recently learned about two Asian meals that merit the same stigma.
Goong ten is a Thai meal known as “dancing shrimp,” because the crustaceans are devoured alive.
In the Northeast Thailand region of Isaan, cooks often serve meat raw . . . Street vendors sometimes take the uncooked element one step further, selling a dish known as “dancing shrimp” (goong ten) from double-basket carts. On one side, seasonings await. On the other, a heap of small, translucent shrimp try in vain to escape from beneath a cloth. . . .
Those who might be anxious about eating a still-moving snack can opt to eat each bite swathed in a betel leaf. The traditional wrap conveniently prevents diners from accidentally making eye contact with their meal. Should curiosity get the better of you, however, a standard serving offers dozens of creatures you can stare down before eating alive.
In Japan, shirouo no odorigui describes another squirming delight.
Odorigui refers to the feeling of eating live sea creatures, or “dance-eating.” When it comes to shirouo no odorigui, the creatures dancing to their death are minnow-sized, transparent fish. In Japan’s Fukuoka prefecture, diners down these fish, also known as ice gobies, in shot glasses. As they’re served with nothing but a dash of soy sauce, there’s no hiding from the tiny faces of these slippery, still-moving snacks.
I would be a hypocrite to condemn eating fish and other animals. However, I find myself utterly repelled by the notion of chewing something that is still alive. It seems unnecessarily cruel. I doubt I’ll ever hold membership in PETA, but I agree with their view that the abuse of animals is a grievous wrong.
C.S. Lewis would share this conviction that the abuse of these creatures is immoral. He wrote that “in justifying cruelty to animals we put ourselves also on the animal level. We choose the jungle and must abide by our choice.”
The merciful treatment of animals is one of Scripture’s most overlooked themes.
Judaism places great stress on proper treatment of animals. Unnecessary cruelty to animals is strictly forbidden, and in many cases, animals are accorded the same sensitivity as human beings. This concern for the welfare of animals is unusual in Western civilization. Most civilized nations did not accept this principle until quite recently; cruelty to animals was not outlawed until the 1800s, and even now it is not taken very seriously.
The primary principle behind the treatment of animals in Jewish law is preventing tza’ar ba’alei chayim, the suffering of living creatures. . . . Judaism has always recognized the link between the way a person treats animals and the way a person treats human beings. A person who is cruel to a defenseless animal will undoubtedly be cruel to defenseless people.
Even the slaughtering of animals is intended, under Kosher rules, “to be as fast and painless as possible . . . Hunting for sport is strictly prohibited, and hunting and trapping for legitimate needs is permissible only when it is done in the least painful way possible.
More on the Subject from Lewis
C.S. Lewis possessed a concern for suffering animals. We used to call this regard “humane,” because it reflected a natural compassion that God instills within us. Sadly, in many people it has been all but extinguished.
In 1940, Lewis included a full chapter on “Animal Pain” in The Problem of Pain. There he advocates a compassionate attitude, without being so doctrinaire as the aforementioned PETA. His concern is theological. He desires to explain how animals can suffer despite the “goodness” of God’s creation. Lewis recognizes that, in a word, the suffering of animals is an evil.
The problem of animal suffering is appalling . . . because the Christian explanation of human pain cannot be extended to animal pain. So far as we know beasts are incapable either of sin or virtue: therefore they can neither deserve pain nor be improved by it.
Lewis also confronted a distortion of biblical teaching that is often employed to justify the mistreatment of animals. Some say humanity is intended to lord over creation (including animals) however we see fit. However, in 1956 Lewis wrote to a correspondent that animals should be treasured.
I think God wants us to love Him more, not to love creatures (even animals) less. We love everything in one way too much (i.e. at the expense of our love for Him) but in another way we love everything too little. No person, animal, flower, or even pebble, has ever been loved too much—i.e. more than every one of God’s works deserves.
The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention offers an excellent article on the positive place of animals in creation. Animals are precious to God. “They aren’t the product of happenstance or fortuitous natural processes any more than humans are.” Their ten biblical observations about animals echo the thoughts of Lewis, and are quite worthy of your consideration.
One of Lewis’ essays, “Vivisection,” upset a number of his contemporaries who had no reservations at all about experimentation on animals. It appears in the collection God in the Dock, but here are a few excerpts.
The vast majority of vivisectors have no such [Christian] theological background. They are most of them naturalistic and Darwinian. Now here, surely, we come up against a very alarming fact.
The very same people who will most contemptuously brush aside any consideration of animal suffering if it stands in the way of “research” will also, on another context, most vehemently deny that there is any radical difference between man and the other animals. On the naturalistic view the beasts are at bottom just the same sort of thing as ourselves. . . .
We sacrifice other species to our own not because our own has any objective metaphysical privilege over others, but simply because it is ours.
Once the old Christian idea of a total difference in kind between man and beast has been abandoned, then no argument for experiments on animals can be found which is not also an argument for experiments on inferior men. . . . The victory of vivisection marks a great advance in the triumph of ruthless, non-moral utilitarianism over the old world of ethical law; a triumph in which we, as well as animals, are already the victims, and of which Dachau and Hiroshima mark the more recent achievements.
In justifying cruelty to animals we put ourselves also on the animal level. We choose the jungle and must abide by our choice.
And what does this human jungle bring into being?
If we cut up beasts simply because they cannot prevent us and because we are backing our own side in the struggle for existence, it is only logical to cut up imbeciles, criminals, enemies, or capitalists for the same reasons.
If you are interested in learning more about Lewis’ view of the ethical treatment of animals, download “C.S. Lewis and Animal Experimentation” by Michael Gilmour.
It appeared in 2015 in Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith. All issues of the journal, going back to its founding in 1949, are accessible for free online.
The older I have grown, the more sympathetic to animals I have become. Admittedly, the live worms and crustaceans concern me less than the agony of mammals, which are far more conscious of their pain. And . . . I sincerely grieve for people who do not feel compassion for their suffering.
* The Ferengi also love their Slug-o-Cola, with its guaranteed “43% live algae in every bottle.”
** There are presumably more than 5- types of gagh, some of which had feet. And if that doesn’t gag you, your gut has a much higher quotient of iron than does mine.
*** For a lively discussion of whether “the human race has gone vegetarian in Star Trek,” check out this site.
10 thoughts on “C.S. Lewis & Cruelty to Animals”
I draw the line at eating anything still alive – or almost alive.
Law enforcement agrees with Judaism on this ” the link between the way a person treats animals and the way a person treats human beings. A person who is cruel to a defenseless animal will undoubtedly be cruel to defenseless people.” Most serial killers start with animals. Probably many of those who abuse spouses or children also are guilty of animal abuse.
Animals may be seen as “lesser” creatures” but we supposedly were given dominion and guardianship over them as shepherds over their sheep. Farmers and ranchers are often some of the most kind to animals. I eat meat, but do my best to make sure they are raised as naturally as possible with free range and feeling the sun.
A thoughtful post written on a difficult topic
Thank you for your thoughtful reaction to the post. Yes, it is a difficult topic, one that elicits a lot of intense feelings.
It sounds like you and I are on exactly the same wavelength with this.
Kids can make the mistake of being insensitive to animal suffering… and be corrected by their parents and others. Early intervention is critical, since your observation about developing abusive behaviors is well taken. Not all insensitivity is evil, of course, but it does provide fertile soil for inhumane behaviors.
A very good topic. Protecting our little friends says alot about how we manage the bigger things in our life.
Okay, I hope this is not off topic, but are you a Star Trek/Sci-fi fan? You seem to know more about Klingon and Ferengi culture than the normal passerby. The reason I ask is because I also am a Sci-Fi writer, we have a blog and podcast as well. You could say we are fandom ministers. We are trying to find a way to get Christian followers, prayers and partners in reaching folks in fandom. If you want to hear more I will send you a link.
Ah, Star Trek. I’m a big fan. I vividly recall laying on the floor in front of our old tv watching the original series when the first episode aired.
Yes, by all means share your scifi website with us here.
Coincidentally, my proposal for a chapter in a nonfiction Star Trek volume was recently accepted. Now the writing! Probably be a year before you see it in print. The working title is Theology and Star Trek.
Oh, my gosh. Please keep me posted. I think we need to talk about some ideas. We love to network with believers who feel a call to use fiction to influence people’s faith. Who knows, maybe we can have you on our podcast as well.
C.S. Lewis was a master of using fiction to nurture faith, which is only one of the reasons I regard him so highly.
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A very good and helpful argument. Ironically (it changes nothing in your presentation really) a new study came out this week showing that several sea creatures are sentient and are quite aware of slow death – like octopi and crustaceans like lobsters and some shrimp – which has changed my view about dropping one into a pot of boiling water. One just never knows what creatures are highly aware and which are not.
That’s true about sentience. Who are we to presume we can determine its level in other creatures?
Certainly, those closest to human beings, such as animals we have “domesticated” and sometimes even come to regard as family, merit unique consideration.
Dogs, for instance. I was very happy to read this week that South Korea is considering ending the eating of dogs. The dogs they raise as a “delicacy” are beautiful, docile, trusting animals have been bred to be human companions. Seeing them hanging in markets, or even worse, being transported unknowingly to their slaughter, is a horrible thing.