Editorial: Welcome, brother or sister. Come on in.
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 1993:
A recent study by Western Carolina University psychology professor Harold A.
Herzog Jr., published in the Journal of Social Issues volume 49, #1, concluded after inter-
viewing 23 grassroots animal rights activists that there are “several parallels between an
involvement with the animal rights movement and religious conversion.” In particular,
Herzog discovered that “animal rights activism,” for his study subjects, “usually entailed
major changes in lifestyle,” including both subtractive changes such as giving up eating
meat, hunting and fishing, and wearing fur, and additive changes such as becoming politi-
cally active: writing letters, carrying petitions, giving speeches, picketing, prosletyzing.
Herzog’s findings probably surprise neither committed activists nor critics of the animal
rights movement, many of whom frequently disparage the overt missionary zeal of some
activists (especially new converts). A few opponents of animal rights have even called the
cause a new religion. At least one member of the fur trade press has warned that animal
rights threatens the fundamental premises of Judaism, while several prominent anti-animal
rights authors have claimed the idea challenges Christianity.
Quite a number of prominent religious thinkers disagree. In truth every major reli-
gion has a tradition of concern for animals, maintained by leaders of the stature of Isaiah,
Mohammed, St. Francis of Assisi, and within our own century, Gandhi and Albert
Schweitzer––to name just a few whose ideas many of us have adopted.
But the animal rights movement is only one component of the humane movement,
and if Herzog had looked farther (which he may do in the future), he might have found
even stronger parallels, which in part explain another of his major findings: “a surprising
degree of diversity in attitudes and behavior of the activists.”
That’s another way of saying we don’t all believe the same thing, which in turn is
a means of distinguishing a legitimate broad-based shift in societal values from the growth
of a cult. Cults may become influential, but because their central tenets tend to be exclu-
sionary, pitting the faithful against the sinners, they tend to be self-limiting. Only when
ideas become separated from dogma and achieve heterogenous interpretation do they
become truly integrated into culture. To the cultist, this is a corrupting process. To the rest
of us, it’s a matter of making the product user-friendly––like when computer manuals were
first written in semi-simple English, and one no longer needed to learn calculus to integrate
computer use into daily life.
Somewhere between the pursuit of impossible purity and the practice of cynical
hypocrisy, most movements to make us better people require occasional rejuvenation:
A little over 40 years ago, there was still just one humane movement, led in the
U.S. by the American SPCA and the American Humane Association, who had little dis-
agreement over philosophy and carried out similar educational and political programs.
Vivisection issues were left mainly to specialized antivivisection societies, which though
founded by many of the same people in the late 19th century, largely maintained a separate
existence thereafter. The equivalent of the Protestant Reformation came during the 1950s,
as the Animal Welfare Institute, the Humane Society of the U.S., and the Catholic Humane
Society (now the International Society for Animal Rights) one by one broke away––primari-
ly over vivisection-related issues such as pound seizure. The animal rights movement
emerged in the 1970s from the confluence of concerns addressed by the antivivisection
groups and the newer organizations, some of which brought antivivisection work back into
the mainstream of humane activity while others opened up new directions both in topics
and in tactics.
There is still sufficient commonality in many respects that one can speak of “the
humane movement” in a broad sense, or of “the animal rights movement” with slightly
more specificity, but by now such discussion must be tempered by the recognition that
there are also very deep differences even as to what “humane” and “animal rights” may be.
Further, while the policies of various humane, antivivisection, and animal rights groups
may overlap at times on particular issues, an overlap here is often offset by sharp disagree-
ment there. Certainly, it is a serious if common error to identify any one group as “the
leader” or “driving force” behind any of the major branches of humane work. The humane
field today is as diverse as religion, for many of the same reasons. In humane work as in
the practice of religious belief, we have teaching and rescue organizations, organizations
whose activity is more philosophical, evangelical groups who may or may not be funda-
mentalists, and fundamentalists who may or may not evangelize.
The importance of all this is that humane concerns are now broad enough, ubiqui-
tous enough, that at least a large portion of the U.S. population contributes money and time
toward helping animals. Some animal protection organization exists to represent the beliefs
and insights of almost anyone whose consciousness includes either recognition of kinship
with animals––spiritual or physical––or recognition that animals suffer.
Most problematic to many humane people, at the periphery of the cause there are
organizations of laboratory researchers who hope the animals they experiment on can be
spared pain; animal fanciers who raise the occasional litter, but also do breed rescue;
agribusiness consultants who try to minimize the stress of livestock; and even hunters for
whom lugging a gun they no longer shoot is a macho pretext for taking a nature walk,
including many of the volunteer wardens who are still the first line of defense against illegal
wildlife slaughter across much of North America. We may find some of the deeds of these
individuals repugnant. We may even find them repugnant. Yet it is worthwhile to remem-
ber that our own consciousness may have evolved from similar places, that we too are prob-
ably still far short of perfection, and that the individual who becomes involved in an espe-
cially objectionable activity before recognizing what is wrong about it may have a much
harder time becoming disengaged from it. The activity may be a job that feeds a family, or
involve a lifestyle shared by all one’s family and friends. For such a person the mere act of
questioning vivisection or eating meat or hunting may in itself require considerable moral
courage. While missionary fundamentalists win some converts with railing sermons and fig-
urative baptisms of the abruptly enlightened and repentent, other approaches are equally
necessary, including accepting baby steps from those who must become stronger and braver
to make great leaps of faith. In such a situation, the most effective influence may be simply
setting a good personal example.
To the person of humane impulse but perhaps incomplete understanding of how to
translate it into a liveable daily life, ANIMAL PEOPLE says, “Welcome, brother or sis-
ter. Come on in. See what we do, how we dress, what we eat. Have a bite. We’ll just go
on about being who we are, and if you want, we’ll show you how to share in what we’re
doing. If not, we’re still pleased to have you visit. Come again any time you like.”
Our firmest belief, in either religion or working to help animals, is that we don’t
all have to do or believe the same things. We just have to remember that the often errant
quest of all the great religions, as well as of humane work, is simply to find a way for we
imperfect humans to live and let live.