"If the misery of the poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin."
- Charles Darwin

Nov 14, 2007

Animal Torture in God's Name

From Jesus to the Jesuits, animals afflicted with religious cruelty.

The cat piano developed by Roman Jesuits in the 17th century.

Image: Magia universalis, 1657

The Bible is full of descriptions of cruelty to animals. When Jesus exorcises a demon from an afflicted man (see Luke 8:27, though Matthew 8:28 states there were two men) he sends the spirits into a herd of pigs who he then commands to drown themselves in a lake. Why he couldn't have merely drowned the offending spirit(s) without the intermediary isn't explained. However, the religious interpretation that animals are merely to be used for human purposes meets a truly despicable level in this example from historian Anthony Grafton:

Roman Jesuits "developed the cat piano (a clavier whose keys, when played, drove nails into a set of imprisoned cats carefully chosen for their voices, a musical and non-lethal cat massacre . . . guaranteed to cure the most melancholic ruler of his lethargy).

Ghandi has stated that moral progress can be judged by how animals are treated. How exactly can one claim that the Bible offers great moral lessons when such treatment is condoned?


Anthony Grafton (2002). Magic and Technology in Early Modern Europe, Dibner Library Lecture, Smithsonian Institution Libraries, p. 18

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James F. McGrath said...

I think the cat piano is sick, and I think this is evidence that the ethical sensibilities of most people (whatever their religious viewpoint) has broadened and improved since back when they made such 'musical instruments'.

I don't think the pigs story works well in this argument. I've explained elsewhere why I think the story is clearly an instance of political satire rather than a story about an actual event.

Here's a link to a recent post about Noah's ark that makes a similar point. But I'm not sure how much this other ahistorical story proves anything. Perhaps your point could be better made by looking at the Levitical sacrificial system, which was all about slaughtering animals. But most of them were also eaten, so I'm not sure that helps much either, unless you are a vegetarian. And later prophets within the Bible itself argued that God wasn't interested in animal sacrifice, so this is just another instance of a developing tradition and developing ethical sensibilities.

Maybe we could agree that the real problem is when people look to ancient texts to determine moral guidance in the present in a way that doesn't take into account how much at least some of our moral sensibilities have improved since those texts were written?

PandoraLairg said...

Not just cats etc., but the bears kept in cages with tubes attached to take their juices today, cruel is the word, why? Have we learned over the years?

Daniel Rico said...

en MAR DEL PLATA ARGENTINA, se esta restaurando el piano de gatos.