For most Americans, the Bible provides an ostensibly simple, unambiguous protocol for human behavior. It is, in short, a morality manual from God. But upon closer scrutiny, these sacred texts are anything but unequivocal.
Genesis says: “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the cattle and all the animals that crawl on the earth.” But if this oft-cited verse is to be the mandate governing our relationship with animals, then biblical apologists need also explain the divine instructions for genocide (Nahum, Deuteronomy 7), gender subjugation (Corinthians 14:34-35, Ephesians 5:22-24, Deuteronomy 21:10-14), and slavery (Exodus 21, Leviticus 25:44-46).
The Antebellum South’s political class invoked God’s authority to justify their institution. Africans, as descendants of Ham (Hamites) were ordained to be perpetual servants (Genesis 9:20-27). So powerful was the Bible’s sway that a congressman (South Carolina’s James Hammond) could rise on the House floor and declare: “The doom of Ham has been branded on the form and features of his African Descendants. The hand of fate has united his color and his destiny. Man cannot separate what God hath joined.”
The Genesis passage would eventually lead to an animal-property class; dominion from God conveyed ownership. Worse, animals could (can) be used in any way that may benefit mankind. This comes directly from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
God entrusted animals to the stewardship of those whom he created in his own image. Hence it is legitimate to use animals for food and clothing. They may be domesticated to help man in his work and leisure. Medical and scientific experimentation on animals is a morally acceptable practice if it remains within reasonable limits and contributes to caring for or saving human lives.
So, God’s word somehow justifies this. It’s as if biblical teachings supersede any need to apply reason and compassion. But, in truth, a sensible and just moral code does not require a religious charter; we can manage quite fine without a supernatural guide. Unless we are prepared to revert to Old Testament principles on races, creeds, and genders, we must forever dismiss a God-sanctioned enslavement of other beings as the specious nonsense that it is.