A new relationship with animals, nature and each other.

Abortion and Factory Farming

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Can you truly be “pro-life” if you patronize the factory farms? And, the other way round, can you truly call yourself an animal rights supporter if you’re “pro-choice” about abortion?

Matthew Scully, who promotes the cause of kindness toward animals from a conservative Catholic stance, argues the case against factory farming in a long (12,700+ words) article in National Review.

Scully’s conservative credentials are impeccable: speechwriter for George W. Bush, Sarah Palin and Paul Ryan; passionately anti-abortion; and author of Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy, one of the best books ever to lay out the case for protecting the lives of nonhuman animals.

Wherever he lays out that case, Scully does it with the art of a speechwriter, the passion of a believer, and with a style like no one else. In this latest essay, he equates the horror of factory farming to that of abortion – the willful murder of the helpless innocent. If you are pro-life, he asks the National Review’s mostly right-wing audience, how can you countenance the terrible cruelty that goes on in either of these situations?

The abortion question, rightly a defining concern of modern conservatism, will always center on mercy for the child, who is just as we once were, on our way into the world, waiting to be born and needing to be loved.

… [I ask] readers, and especially those of shared conviction, to consider another moral concern, cruelty to animals, in the same merciful spirit.

… I first learned about the “abortion rights” cause and about the ruthlessness of industrialized farming around the same time, at the age of 13 or 14, and my reaction to both was similar: You just don’t treat life that way.

As a Catholic, Scully quotes liberally from the words of recent popes – like Benedict XVI, who cautioned against “the degrading of living creatures to a commodity”; and John Paul II, who wrote that “It is necessary and urgent that with the example of the little poor man of Assisi [St. Francis], one decides to abandon unadvisable forms of domination, the locking up of all creatures.” He equates the horror of factory farming to that of abortion – the willful murder of the helpless innocent.

(In June, in The Atlantic, he tackled the horror of the massacre of elephants in Africa. Pope Francis had just taken the helm of his church, and Scully quoted him as saying: “Let us be protectors of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment. Let us not allow omens of destruction and death to accompany the advance of this world!”)

In his National Review essay, Scully addresses right-wing beliefs such as “human exceptionalism”, which are routinely used to justify cruelty to animals, not by arguing against them, but rather by saying that any such “dominion” that humans claim for themselves, carries with it a moral imperative:

What is the mark of that special status of ours, anyway, if not precisely the ability to be just instead of merely dominant, to be the creature of conscience and bring mercy into the world? A loving concern for humanity that stops there, instead of spreading outward in a sense of fellowship and active respect toward “our companions in creation,” to borrow a lovely phrase from Pope Benedict, is too close to self-worship, and bad things come of it.

He addresses the fact that many of the worst offenders really don’t even believe they’re being cruel.

Cruel people often quite sincerely protest a feeling of innocence, expecting to be judged by intention rather than by objective consequences — by what they prefer to think they’re doing, instead of what they are doing in reality. Wrongs get endlessly rationalized, power turns to tyranny, so that even Kermit Gosnell [the doctor abortionist who was convicted on three murder charges and more than 200 other violations], somewhere in the back of his mind as he was killing infants who had survived abortion attempts, may have felt himself to be a faithful servant of Progress and Reproductive Choice, doing work the world approved of even if it preferred not to know all the details.

And he appeals to those who believe in the sanctity of life and motherhood:

Cattle blood is fed to calves as a replacement for mother’s milk, so that humans can drink the milk, and the rendered remains of herbivores are fed to other herbivores — more cost-savers, never mind cannibalism, infectious agents, and other bright-line barriers of nature that would have caught the attention of any sane person not caught up in the culture of cruelty.

I don’t like to take issue with Scully. He is by far the best advocate and evangelist to those in the conservative and Christian communities. But I’m still stuck with the fact that he served as speechwriter to both Sarah Palin and Paul Ryan in their vice-presidential campaigns.

Here’s where I get hung up: When I interviewed Scully 10 years ago about his newly-published book Dominion, he said: “Sport hunting is becoming a very grubby and tawdry business, and it needs serious examination by the law. … Bow hunting inevitably inflicts more suffering on these animals. It makes hunting less reliable and greatly increases the likelihood of wounded animals running off to die a slow death somewhere.”

Yet bow-hunting is Paul Ryan’s favored sport. How does Scully reconcile this with his support of Ryan and Palin? In the National Review essay, he pushes back, but it inevitably comes across defensively:

I got a large helping of our vegan, animal-rights brand of sanctimony five years ago after my speechwriting collaboration with Sarah Palin. How could I, having written a book on the theme of animal protection, have anything to do with the wolf huntress of Alaska? For how many pieces of Koch Brothers silver had I sold out my animal friends? Such rank hypocrisy even the cock would be too disgusted to crow of my betrayal. It was a subject of indignant commentary here and there, and it was the rare detractor who could even imagine that the reason might have something to do with a shared belief in the rights of the unborn.

His answer, essentially, is that since Palin is anti-abortion and raising a child with Down syndrome, she’s at least half-way to where she should be and this somehow makes it all OK:

I sure don’t think highly of executing packs of exhausted, terrified wolves from helicopters (“predator control,” as that euphemism goes, never mind the cowardly killers with the guns). But a person who advocates even that strikes me as somewhat more amenable to rational moral appeal than a candidate, and now a president, who has left on the record not a single word of sympathy for the victims of abortion — tens of millions since Roe v. Wade — nor ever supported the merest protection for unborn children.

To his credit, Scully doesn’t try to defend the ultra-rightist goon Rep. Steve King of Iowa:

“… [who] uses his pro-life principles as a pretext for doing nothing on behalf of animals, in a version of the abortion–cruelty connection that other conservatives have also traded on … Glorious man, made in the image of God, can go back to his dog-fighting, cock-fighting, chick-grinding, hog torture, wolf slaughter, and general abuse of the animal world without being held to account.”

But how can he let Palin and Ryan off the hook for shooting animals for fun? I don’t get it.

And when he complains that people on the left wing give President Obama a pass on doing nothing to promote the care of either unborn babies or nonhuman animals, that’s simply not true. Sure, some of them give him a pass, but not all. Obama’s most enthusiastic supporters in the animal protection world were horrified, and very vocally so, when he passed up the opportunity to adopt a dog and, instead, bought one from a breeder. Anyone aspiring to a life founded in “spiritual” values has to begin with the simple acknowledgement that all life is sacred. ALL of it.

Yes, there are massive hypocrisies on both sides. (One humane society recently held a “Claws for Paws” fundraising dinner serving lobsters to save dogs. Was anyone there even remotely aware that something was wrong with this picture?) But giving Palin and Ryan a pass on cruelty to animals because they’re anti-abortion is exactly the same as giving abortion a pass because you’re a vegan.

I’m guessing that the real reason for Scully’s support of these candidates was that writing speeches for Republicans is his day job and he can’t afford to give it up. (If that’s the case, I wish he’d just say so. I’d appreciate the honesty, and I’d have to respond, as Pope Francis famously commented, “Who am I to judge?”)

In the final analysis, any of us aspiring to a life founded in “spiritual” values has to begin with the simple acknowledgement that all life is sacred. ALL of it. If you subscribe to any level of morality or belief, or see yourself as a “steward of creation” or as a “spiritual” person, or you uphold to any kind of religious way of life, the sanctity of life has to be fundamental – the start point and the end point.

Scully ends his article thus:

You can champion human life and scarcely notice the travails of lowly animals, or champion animal welfare and think nothing of the fate of the unborn, and still, by my measure, merit praise and gratitude for at least that much, for caring and trying where the need is great.

Yet how much better to open our hearts to both, defending the innocent and powerless wherever they are, bringing to all creatures who have none to help them the love of their Creator, and by that example showing what it means to be pro-life all the way.

Maybe, but I just don’t think you can have it one way and not the other. Either life is sacred or it isn’t. Anything else is just plain hypocrisy.