Seeing a slaughtered pig as a boy was something Jim Mason said he will never forget.
“I blacked out, and family members told me that I was hysterical for a few days,” Mason said. “I had nightmares and had to leave the farm to stay with my aunt. I didn’t want to return to the farm.”
Mason, an MU alumnus, came to the MU School of Journalism on April 12 to speak about animal ethics and its connection to the spread of dominionism in the Western world.
Dominionism is an evangelical Christian way of thinking that says God gave humankind dominion over the earth and its creatures, according to Mason.
Looking back, Mason realized that this was the “programming” he was brought up with: People kill animals, and it is OK. Mason also believes there is a mentality that animals were given to us and that slaughtering the animals doesn’t hurt them.
A new understanding of animal rights and humane animal treatment was what led him to become an activist and environmentalist, Mason said. Mason’s latest book is “An Unnatural Order: Why We Are Destroying the Planet and Each Other,” in which he analyzes how the dominionist view has made humans believe that they are supreme beings and that everything else — including animals, who were once seen as equals — is below them.
Genesis 1:26 states: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness and let them rule over the fish in the sea and over the fowl of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.’ ”
Mason said he speculates that the dominionist way of thinking caused humans to begin using animals for their own purposes. Animals were once regarded as special creatures with strong spirits, but once domestication started, the idea was lost. More damaging was the technique of animal husbandry, or the manipulation of breeding, Mason said.
Religious scholars look at dominionism from a different viewpoint. Nancy Weatherwax, a visiting assistant professor for the department of religious studies at MU, said that dominionism does not need to be interpreted as the right to exploit. She said there are subsequent Bible verses that call for human care and responsibility for creation — an attitude of good stewardship.
During his speech, Mason showed part of a documentary called “Peaceable Kingdom,” which contained footage of confined animal feeding operations, or “factory farms.” Animals such as goats, pigs, cows and chickens are bought and kept in large numbers for slaughter.
Allison Morrow, a member of Students for Ethical Animal Treatment, which sponsored Mason’s visit, discussed after Mason’s lecture how to solve the problem of feeding the earth’s population without using factory farms.
“I’d like to see them stop overbreeding and overfeeding cows, chickens and pigs,” she said. “We could be using these resources to feed hungry people.”
Morrow said that she agrees with Mason’s theory on dominionism to an extent because it enables humans to detach themselves from the natural inclination not to commit cruelties to animals.
Mason believes the idea of dominionism, which began in the Western world, is taking over the rest of the world. Beginning with animal husbandry, oppression against other forms of life, such as that toward blacks, women and Jews, appeared in other areas, Mason said.
Kendra Holliday, a member of the Columbia Alliance for Animals, said she agrees with Mason’s argument about oppression of other groups. She referred to a quote from Alice Walker, author of “The Color Purple”:
“The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for whites, or women for men.”