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Spirit, Animals & Humanity
There was a time in human history where animals were respected, if not revered, perhaps even considered equals when people were hunter-gatherers. With the dawn of agriculture, sociologists tell us, humanity began to adopt an attitude of superiority and management. Such a stance required believing that animals were not only lesser beings, but were only immediately useful at best, and mostly useless, dangerous or annoying, as well. People lost the understanding of life's interconnectedness.
Until the invention of equipment capable of studying brain function and physiology, science didn't even believe an animal could feel pain, let alone "higher" order senses of happiness or sadness. With the proof that animal brains are so similar has grown the animal rights movement.
The Bahá'í Faith teaches that kindness and compassion for all life is of paramount importance. "Burden not an animal with more than it can bear. We, truly, have prohibited such treatment through a most binding interdiction in the Book. Be ye the embodiments of justice and fairness amidst all creation." - Baha'u'llah, The Kitab-i-Aqdas (Book of Laws), p. 87
Those who believe humans are the superior life form and animals merely biological machines to be used and discarded may fear the notion that their human brain is no different from the animal. Bahá'u'lláh, Prophet/Founder of the Bahá'í Faith, taught that human beings have a dual nature-- basically spirit, associated with a physical form for a short period of their lives.
"Materially, man is the prisoner of nature; the least wind disturbs him, the cold hurts him, the heat incommodes him, a mosquito irritates him; but when we consider the intelligence of man, an elephant is powerless before him, a lion is his prisoner, and a boy of twelve can lead twelve hundred animals. Man dries up the sea, inundates the desert, circumnavigates the globe, discovers what is under the earth, rides upon the air and creates new sciences. These are the signs of the crowning spiritual power of man--that power which can make nature his prisoner." - 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Divine Philosophy, p. 95
"Man--the true man--is soul, not body; though physically man belongs to the animal kingdom, yet his soul lifts him above the rest of creation. Behold how the light of the sun illuminates the world of matter: even so doth the Divine Light shed its rays in the kingdom of the soul. The soul it is which makes the human creature a celestial entity!" - 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 85
So, it is basic Bahá'í theology that righteousness includes treating animals with respect and compassion: "Briefly, it is not only their fellow human beings that the beloved of God must treat with mercy and compassion, rather must they show forth the utmost loving-kindness to every living creature. For in all physical respects, and where the animal spirit is concerned, the selfsame feelings are shared by animal and man. Man hath not grasped this truth, however, and he believeth that physical sensations are confined to human beings, wherefore is he unjust to the animals, and cruel...And yet in truth, what difference is there when it cometh to physical sensations? The feelings are one and the same, whether ye inflict pain on man or on beast. There is no difference here whatever. And indeed ye do worse to harm an animal, for man hath a language, he can lodge a complaint, he can cry out and moan; if injured he can have recourse to the authorities and these will protect him from his aggressor. But the hapless beast is mute, able neither to express its hurt nor take its case to the authorities...Therefore is it essential that ye show forth the utmost consideration to the animal, and that ye be even kinder to him than to your fellow man." Further, "Train your children from their earliest days to be infinitely tender and loving to animals. If an animal be sick, let the children try to heal it, if it be hungry, let them feed it, if thirsty, let them quench its thirst, if weary, let them see that it rests." - Selections from the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, p. 158-159
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