By Merritt Clifton, Kim Bartlett
Animal People Online
Note: This article ran as an editorial feature in the June 2012 issue of ANIMAL PEOPLE.
Editor’s Note: Camel sacrificed during a religious festivity in a backward region of Iran. Photo (undated) was sent to activists in the West by “Jaleh”, an Iranian animal activist. He explained, “I take the opportunity to send you some photos taken by my friends during (Aid Ghorban) in my country. I am not going out of my apartment in such days to avoid being faced with the wild people killing innocent animals in these ways. The most disgusting is sacrificing the camels. They thrust to the hilt a sharp knife or dagger in the major blood vessel of the poor creatures so that all blood pumps out from his body. Then they cut the head and the testes. I am [also] sending you some photos relevant to sacrifices of camels, sheep and cows.” [Courtesy: All-creatures.org] Iran, of course, is not alone in this. Wherever superstition and backward people exist there’s a chance that. besides all the other ways in which animals are exploited and tortured, they will also be used in ritual sacrifices. It happens in India, Nepal, Saudi Arabia, and it happens right here, in the USA.—P.G.
Among all the many uses and abuses of animals which persist for a cultural pretext, animal sacrifice is perhaps the most widely practiced, in a variety of different forms and contexts, and the most difficult to address in an effective manner, leading to fewer animals being killed–or ideally, none.
The difficulty of stopping animal sacrifice occurs in part because the perspective of people who practice animal sacrifice tends to be almost incomprehensible to those who oppose it. Opponents are sometimes many generations and often oceans away from any ancestors who ever sacrificed animals. Killing animals to be eaten at traditional holidays remains as ubiquitous as the slaughter of turkeys at the U.S. Thanksgiving. Yet, from the perspective of people who believe in a just and merciful god, which includes about 85% of humanity according to recent global surveys of religious belief, the theology of practitioners of overt animal sacrifice might seem to many to be blasphemous.
What sort of god would demand that animals be killed? Even the priests of the Spanish Inquisition, who accompanied the conquistadors to the New World and “converted” Native Americans to Catholicism through genocidal use of sword and flame, theorized that animal and human sacrifices were so self-evidently evil that the gods of the practitioners of such sacrifices must be diabolical.
From a secular perspective, animal sacrifice is relatively easily recognized as a set of rituals which permit the practitioners to kill and eat animals without guilt–whereas, in other societies, killing and eating animals is rationalized by arguments which draw exaggerated distinctions between the sentience of animals and humans. Secular observers may notice that seasonal sacrificial occasions tend to coincide with the needs of herding cultures to cull surplus male animals after the spring birthing season and to thin the numbers of animals they must feed through the winter. The efforts of priests to perpetuate animal sacrifice as a method of obtaining meat, or of controlling the distribution of meat in some manner, is seemingly obvious. Continue reading »