The Rapidian

Ethics and Religion Talk: Have a Dog for Dinner?

South Korea is considering a ban on consumption of dog meat. Why is eating dog meat any worse than eating the flesh of a cow, pig, goat, or deer?

What is Ethics and Religion Talk?

“Ethics and Religion Talk,” answers questions of ethics or religion from a multi-faith perspective. Each post contains three or four responses to a reader question from a panel of nine diverse clergy from different religious perspectives, all based in the Grand Rapids area. It is the only column of its kind. No other news site, religious or otherwise, publishes a similar column.

The first five years of columns, published in the Grand Rapids Press and MLive, are archived at http://topics.mlive.com/tag/ethics-and-religion-talk/. More recent columns can be found on TheRapidian.org by searching for the tag “ethics and religion talk.”

We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up on the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

For more resources on interfaith dialogue and understanding, see the Kaufman Interfaith Institute page and their weekly Interfaith Insight column at InterfaithUnderstanding.org.

Linda Knieriemen, Senior Pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Holland, responds:

“In Christian scripture, (I Timothy 4:4) I read ‘everything (all plants and animals) created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.’ Based on this scripture alone, bon appetit! to a meal of dog or cow or bird so long as a  prayer of gratitude precedes the roast. However, a Springer Spaniel is my house-mate. A Lab, a Siberian Huskey and a Tibetan Terrier were my companions as well. Because I have experiences close companionship of dogs, because I have come to love and experience love from them, I find the idea of eating dog flesh deeply disturbing, approaching my reaction to human cannibalism. In other words, for me, eating dog meat is taboo. While I would not judge a starving person from eating dog meat, I approve of their ban.”

Fred Stella, the Pracharak (Outreach Minister) for the West Michigan Hindu Temple, responds:

“I wouldn’t disagree with you. Westerners are offended at the idea of eating dogs or cats because of the relationship we’ve established with them.  Also, we tend to eat animals that are herbivores, not carnivores. There are exceptions, but they are rare. While I do think vegetarianism is the best diet for most of us, I do consider the fact that in many indigenous societies it is not always possible to follow such.

“By the way, have you ever tasted dog? I haven’t, but word is that it doesn’t taste like chicken.”

Father Kevin Niehoff, O.P., a Dominican priest who serves as Judicial Vicar, Diocese of Grand Rapids, responds:

“The motive for the President of South Korea to consider a ban on the consumption of dog meat reflects a change in South Korea and its definition of a pet. In the United States, a pet is defined as ‘a privately owned companion animal not intended for research or resale and includes dogs, cats, ferrets, rabbits, hedgehogs, reptiles, amphibians, and rodents’ (https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/pet-travel/definition-of-a-pet). This definition separates a dog from other animals raised for consumption as cows, pigs, goats, and deer.

“The distinction between the two groups above is why I would not consume an animal that qualifies as a pet. In other words, my choice to avoid eating an animal designated as a pet is for practical purposes.”

The Reverend Colleen Squires, minister at All Souls Community Church of West Michigan, a Unitarian Universalist Congregation, responds:

“There is a growing trend in Unitarian Universalists circles to embrace a plant-based diet over the conventional meat-eating diet. This trend is happening due to two main reasons, the environmental impact carnivorous diets have on the planet, (many natural resources are consumed to raise livestock for the meat industry) and the ethical concerns about killing and eating animal meat in general. For those who embrace a plant-based diet there is no difference between what kind of meat is being eaten, it is all bad. For those of us who are still carnivores, we are very selective or in denial about how we view the dairy cow and a steak on our dinner plate. We are able to disconnect the bacon from the pig but it becomes harder because dogs are also our family’s pet.”

Rev. Ray Lanning, a retired minister of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, responds:

“With regard to the food we eat, there is no accounting for the dictates of culture. Scots eat oatcakes, black pudding​, and haggis; Dutchmen dine on pickled herring, smoked horsemeat, and stewed eel; Arab hosts present their guests of honor with the eyeballs of a roasted goat. As a child in Philadelphia, I breakfasted on fried ‘scrapple’ (you don’t want to ask!) and in later years sang the praises of Bookbinders’ turtle soup, laced with sherry. My father was fond of beef heart, calf’s tongue, and ‘sweetbreads,’ slices of animal brains breaded and fried. ‘One man’s meat is another man’s poison.’

“Presbyterianism adheres to the rule of the apostle Paul. He warns of apostate Christian teachers who command their followers ‘to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer’ (I Timothy 4:3-5).”

Imam Kip Curnutt, Director of Religious Education and Associate Imam of Masjid At-Tawheed in Grand Rapids, responds:

“This question rests on a larger discussion on the role of the human intellect in deciding what is moral and immoral. In Islamic theology there have been 3 opinions on this issue. The first is that the human intellect has no ability on its own to know right from wrong and scripture is the only source for morality. Put simply, what's wrong is what God says is wrong and there is no other criteria. On the opposite side of the spectrum, some from what would be considered an unorthodox strain of Islam said that right and wrong are intrinsic qualities in the world that the human intellect can discern on its own even without scripture. In the middle there where those who said that the intellect has an ability to know right and wrong at a certain level but it is highly fallible and so any reasoning about right and wrong must be guided by and subservient to scripture. I personally lean towards the third school of thought. On  the issue different kinds of meat, in scripture we been prohibited from eating any predatory land animals so the reference on this issue is scripture itself. I think this example makes a good case for the need for scripture to guide morality. There are many things that we intuitively feel are wrong but may not be able to put forth a reason. So for me, I take scripture as my guide for morality and then search to understand the wisdoms behind what the scriptures prohibit while not making by following of those prohibitions dependent upon reaching those wisdoms through my own intellectual reasoning.”

 

This column answers questions of Ethics and Religion by submitting them to a multi-faith panel of spiritual leaders in the Grand Rapids area. We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up in the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

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