There’s excitement at The Humane Society of the United States about our new program on Animals and Religion—and already a slew of news stories about the launch of the program. Its goal is to reach out to and activate religious people and institutions on animal protection issues.
All of the world’s major religions embrace the themes of mercy and compassion and other-centeredness, and these are the same core values that underpin the animal protection movement. Our Animals and Religion program recognizes these shared values, and calls upon religious people to act on these principles in their dealings with animals.
Most of the successful major social movements in our nation’s history, including the abolition and civil rights movements, had religious leaders and followers in the forefront. Our movement must reach out to people of faith, too. It’s not so much a question of the rights of animals, but a matter of the responsibilities of people of conviction to act in a morally consistent manner.
It was with my excitement about our new program that I attended on Friday a remarkable event featuring the Dalai Lama. The event was sponsored by N Street Village—a homeless shelter for women in Washington, D.C.—and the Washington Humane Society. It was the brainchild of Jennifer Sullivan, a long-time friend of The HSUS and a volunteer with both sponsoring organizations.
Jennifer has long recognized the parallel circumstances of the homeless people and animals, and she thought the Dalai Lama would knit these concerns together. Based on the talk that His Holiness delivered, she was so right (watch a video of his speech here).
The Dali Lama spoke for about 30 minutes, and he started by looking directly at the homeless women and speaking to them. He delivered an empowering message about hope and compassion and hard work before pivoting to the topic of animals. He spoke about his deep concern for all living beings and emphasized that we are all connected, and said that showing kindness spawns even more acts of kindness. He called for a worldwide movement toward vegetarianism.
The Dalai Lama’s powerful, engaging and humorous talk reminded us that the principles of compassion and mercy are indivisible. These ideas ought to be put to work in all of our daily decisions, and not just applied to select people or species or when it is convenient. Animals, too, must be the subjects of our compassion and mercy.
The Dalai Lama reminded us that advocates for the less powerful are the people who show the greatest resolve and willpower—in short, that people who fight for the underprivileged are the strongest of all.
He is just one of many religious leaders speaking out more forcefully about animals and our responsibilities to them. With our new Animals and Religion program, we hope to encourage the expression of these sensibilities and to harness the powerful energy of people of faith throughout the nation and the world in the cause of protecting animals from cruelty and exploitation.