Animal Rights or Human Obligations?

Question of the Week:

I was introduced to your work by Bill Orender, one of my business coaches, and I am on my 3rd read through of Thou Shall Prosper. This is definitely one of my favorite books if not my favorite book on the subject of money. I find myself constantly referencing the concepts of service and money in daily life, especially in business.

There is one small qualm that I have with your premise on service being unique to humans. While business certainly is, I don’t believe service in itself is unique to humans. All of Our Creator’s creatures serve one another in one capacity or another. While you allude to the instinctual nature of animals to serve, I think we misunderstand the personhood of non-human animals, which is why much of my literary work as a published author and poet, is devoted to animal rights advocacy.

My real question is why would an animal save another animal, if all of us are not innately drawn to service? I mean no disrespect, and I hope this is not taken offensively. I was raised by a Methodist Minister, who shared your views of animals, as do most people I think. However, being raised Methodist has allowed me to challenge assumed traditional thinking.

Again, I truly appreciate your work, and would be honored to hear your feedback on these thoughts. Thank you for your incredible service because I can truly say it has changed my life. I grew up very anti money, feeling as though money and integrity could not coexist. I admired my father for not taking money from the church, but instead working as a social worker. Though now, I think the 70 hour work weeks between work and volunteer led to his passing at 56 due to colon cancer, which led me to a vegan lifestyle and this particular email (the tapestry we can’t see is so amazing). Your work has helped me to shift that thinking and allowed me to begin to truly prosper.

Thank you so much,

~ Abioseh Joseph C.

Dear Abioseh Joseph,

We not only appreciate your kind words but we are thrilled when we hear that our work has blessed others. We are also thrilled when our ideas are challenged. Like most people, we grow when we are led to question our assumptions and to further articulate them. One of the main causes of terrible things happening in our world today is that what used to be known as ‘classical liberalism’ has morphed into fanatical Leftism. One of the key identifying features of Leftism is destroying those who disagree with you rather than engaging in a conversation with them.

We think that this paragraph highlights where we reach different conclusions from you. You write:

There is one small qualm that I have with your premise on service being unique to humans. While business certainly is, I don’t believe service in itself is unique to humans. All of Our Creator’s creatures serve one another in one capacity or another. While you allude to the instinctual nature of animals to serve, I think we misunderstand the personhood of non-human animals, which is why much of my literary work as a published author and poet, is devoted to animal rights advocacy.

We don’t think this accurately represents what we believe. If one of us has stated that service is unique to humans, then we appreciate the opportunity to correct that misstatement. Animals certainly serve and, furthermore, as we lay out in Unit 1 of Scrolling through Scripture, one way that God blesses man is through the service of animals, be they mules that help man plow, horses that provide transportation or dogs that provide companionship and support.

Perhaps we were using the word service in a very specific sense, discriminating between the way that animals serve and people serve.

You see, we don’t see animals as having ‘personhood,’ almost by definition. People are people and animals are animals. We do not fault a wolf for eating a sheep precisely because the wolf isn’t a person. We do fault a person who kills another person, precisely because a human being is expected to control his behavior. The difference is one of instincts versus choice.

Animals do have symbiotic relationships. Cattle egrets perch atop water buffaloes. They eat insects like fleas and ticks that plague the buffaloes. Meanwhile, the buffaloes provide transport for the cattle egrets on their backs. In this way, the egrets and buffaloes serve each other. God created these creatures to work together. You will not discover a water buffalo who decides that the egret is taking advantage of him and who limits the egret’s time on his back. Nor will you find an egret who demands that the buffalo take him to a specific place in repayment for the insects he is eating.

Similarly, animals in a group or mother animals will sacrifice themselves to save others in the group or their young. This instinct may very well be stronger in some animals than others, but it is an instinct. That same instinct is present in dogs who race into a fire to save their owner. The dog is responding to an internal call, but unlike the firefighter who also enters the burning building, he has not made the calculated choice the firefighter has to put his own needs and those of his family’s beneath those of the person inside the building.

Unlike you, we don’t think that animals have rights. Instead, we think that people have obligations towards animals. In other words, you and I are obligated not to treat animals with cruelty. That may look similar to an animal having the right not to be treated with cruelty, but it is actually worlds apart. It does explain why you, as a human being, are involved with animal rights advocacy rather than supporting an advocacy group run by sheep and elephants. There isn’t such a thing and we would prefer calling it a ‘human obligation to animals’ group rather than animal advocacy.

Hoping that makes sense,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin


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