Why Do Many Atheists Still Eat Animals?

If you’re a Humanist, and you believe all living beings are near or distant cousins — branches of a larger evolutionary tree — how does that impact your diet? How does that change how you treat animals?

Kim Socha believes animal liberation is a direct extension of her non-religious philosophy, and her new book Animal Liberation and Atheism (Freethought House, 2014) is all about why we need to pay more attention to this subject.

An excerpt from the book’s introduction is below:

Greek mythology (a religious belief system no longer in vogue) tells the story of Procrustes, a smith, thief, and torturer. When not roaming the paths between Athens and Eleusis looking for people to rob, Procrustes would invite travelers into his home to rest for the evening. He would then proceed to fit them to his bed. If one was too short for the bed, he would stretch him out (the name Procrustes means “the stretcher” or “he who stretches”). If one was too tall, he would hack away at her limbs until she fit properly. And lest we think anyone could ever survive the “the subduer,” Procrustes actually had two beds. If an unsuspecting traveler fit one bed, his tormenter would move him to the other and stretch or hack as the situation demanded.

The idea of the “Procrustean bed” has been adopted and adapted into contemporary vernacular with slightly different meanings depending on the context. The idea of the Procrustean bed is most often used to signify (and I go no further than the online Free Dictionary here) “[a]n arbitrary standard to which exact conformity is forced.” I will show that religious arguments for animal rights, emancipation, and advocacy, despite the compassion behind them, merely hack away at or stretch the parameters of religion to make animal liberation fit what is essentially an anthropocentric, speciesist, hierarchical belief system that fails to speak to the liberation of nonhuman animals.

I do not address each individual religion throughout human history to explain why it is ultimately not animal-friendly, although I will take specific religions to task. Rather, my purpose is to explore how the very concept of religion — the belief in a higher power, in whatever form it may take — is antithetical to liberating nonhumans from the human perception that other species are ours to do with as we please. Of course, some religions are considerably kinder to animals than others, but there is not one that claims nonhuman animals and human animals have an equal claim to personhood or parity. Similarly, the secular community has been slow to acknowledge what a lack of human exceptionalism means to how we treat other animals. When that association is made by atheist luminaries such as Richard Dawkins (see his essay “Gaps in the Mind,” to which I will later refer), they do not follow up with appropriate action such as going vegan or vegetarian, or becoming advocates for nonhuman animals. Thus, a further purpose of this book is to explore the lack of interest in animal concerns within the secular world and to inspire freethinkers to think more seriously about the other animals with whom we share the Earth.

For those with religious authority, religion-as-tool is an avenue for the domination of animal-kind, humans included, and the Earth’s resources. Like Procrustes’ bed, religion is a device that has been repeatedly used to harm others. Any time religion has been used to deceive, violate, and discriminate, it is violence. And as one who believes that gods, goddesses, demons, spirits, divine mandates, and other supernatural concepts are made up and often abused by humans in power, I argue that religion is in a perpetual state of deception. It is up to the individual to decide whether to use religion. Thus, my intentions herein are to dismantle the bed and expose it as a dangerous apparatus, but one on which you need not lie. And if you do find solace there, I ask that you critically analyze its foundation. The pillows and blankets may feel comforting, but you are prostrate, meaning both lying down and powerless. The other-than-human animals upon which Western civilization is built are prostrate and slaughtered by the billions every year. Religion allows, even sanctions and demands, this avoidable butchery.

At this point, perhaps you are wondering what became of Procrustes. The answer to that will extend the metaphor and clarify the purposes of this book. He was killed by the Greek hero Theseus upon the very bed on which he had mutilated countless victims. Fritz Graf notes that Theseus represented a new kind of hero in ancient Greece, one more progressive than brutes such as Hercules; indeed, Graf calls Theseus a “civilizer.” Procrustes, and by extension his tortuous bed, was destroyed by a civilizing and enlightening force. Theseus “made the road from Troezen to Athens safe for travelers. He is shown clearing the road of all sorts of bandits” and other malicious men who threw people off cliffs, crushed them, tore at them. To me, that is what atheism does. It clears the road through and to secular enlightenment so that, for example, people of the same gender (or no identifiable gender) can live without fear of social exclusion; it allows women education and influence; it negates the need for human children to have their genitals mutilated; and it challenges any of the other myriad atrocities enacted in the name of an imperceptible deity. At this point, however, atheism does not adequately speak for other-than-human animals. They too need the path cleared so they can go about their business, even if that business is killing other animals for survival, without the human interference that so often manifests as abuse. The purpose of this text is to begin that conversation, which should be of interest to animal advocates and those in the secular community. Ideally, it will interest anyone who wishes to live in a less violent and more just world.

Animal Liberation and Atheism is available on Amazon beginning today.

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