Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Schweitzer and Barth on Animals

Two significant theologians with opposing views, Albert Schweitzer and Karl Barth, make important contributions to our discussion on animals. [The comparison of these two thinkers is drawn from Andrew Linzey. Animal Theology. (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1995), 4 –8.]

Schweitzer understood “self-devotion to the world to be self-devotion to human life to every form of living being with which it can come into relation.” I must show to “all will-to-live” the same reverence as I do to my own. This reverence for life is not, for Schweitzer, one principle among many, but the sole principle of the moral. Love and compassion, for example, are simply expressions of this reverence. Life is itself sacred or holy and must therefore be responded to with reverence.

The ethical person, for Schweitzer, “tears no leaf from a tree, plucks no flower, and takes care to crush no insect.” He places a worm found on the roadside back into the soil. He would rather suffer in a stuffy room when working by lamplight than open the window and see a mosquito perish when attracted to his light. He picks insects out of puddles to give them another chance at survival. Anticipating the ridicule such a stance may elicit from an incredulous world, Schweitzer responds, “It is the fate of every truth to be a subject for laughter until it is generally recognized.”

The seemingly impractical implications of such a position are moderated somewhat by the reminder that Schweitzer is concerned not to avoid injury to life under any and all circumstances, but when such injury if easily avoidable. “Beyond the unavoidable, I must never go, not even with what seems insignificant.” He tells us only “what reverence requires without the pressure of necessity.”

This reverence for life is not, for Schweitzer, obedience to moral law. It is more like a religious experience or approach to life. Paul Tillich in "Morality and Beyond" held that “a moral act is not an act in obedience to an external law, human or divine [rather it is] the inner law of our true being, of our essential or created nature, which demands that we actualise what follows from it…The religious dimension of the moral imperative is its unconditional character.” This reminds me of C. S. Lewis who, somewhere, states that concepts of “right” and “wrong” are not discussed in heaven; they are laughed at! Those who dwell in heaven need not make some considerations because they act in accordance with their true nature, in ways that are appropriate to redeemed existence.

Karl Barth is the only theologian to have given Schweitzer’s position serious critical reflection and rebuff. He accepts that Schweitzer’s concern is by no means laughable but very serious, and the problems he raises very important. “Those who smile at [Schweitzer’s compassion for even the tiniest creature] are themselves subjects for tears.” Barth, however, has three criticisms of Schweitzer.

1. Barth rejects Schweitzer’s idea that vegetable life deserves the same careful reverence and respect as animal life. Each animal is a unique and separate being, whereas the use of plants is a use of its surplus material (eg the consumption of fruits and vegetables), which does not totally destroy the existence of the food-bearing plant. One cannot eat a dog without annihilating it. One can, however, eat an orange without annihilating the orange tree.

2. Reverence and responsibility properly belong to human-to-human relationships. Consideration of animals is serious but secondary.

3. Schweitzer does not appreciate the moral distinction between animals and humans because he does not grasp the meaning of the Incarnation. God “reveals, entrusts, and binds” himself to the rest of creation through taking, not plant or animal, but human form.

Schweitzer's view then seems more Hindu with its affirmation of the value of all sentient beings as part of the life force of the universe, and Barth's more Christian, with its idea of a covenantal bond between God and humanity established through the Incarnation.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Animals Rights, Vegetarianism etc.

In Animal Theology, Andrew Linzey, of Oxford University, a leading theologian and ethicist who has written extensively on the rights of animals asks three questions: 1. Should we show reverence, or respect, to animals? 2. Do we have a responsibility to animals? and 3. Do animals have rights? He proposes that all three questions should be answered in the affirmative.

Linzey condemns the close confinement of animals in intensive farming methods, such as the use of battery hens, as follows: "Animals have the right to be animals. The natural life of a...creature is a gift from God. When we take over the life of an animal to the extent of distorting its natural life for no other purpose than our own gain, we fall into sin. There is no clearer blasphemy before God than the perversion of his creatures...Confining a de-beaked hen in a battery cage is more than a moral crime; it is a living sign of our failure to recognize the blessing of God in creation."

What about vegetarianism? According to Linzey: "It will be obvious that humans can live healthy, stimulating and rewarding lives without white veal, pate de foie gras...or cheap eggs...The Christian argument for vegetarianism…is simple: since animals belong to God, have value to God and live for God, then their needless destruction is sinful. In short: animals have some right to their life, all circumstances being equal...There were doubtless good reasons, partly theological, partly cultural and partly economic, why Christians in the past have found vegetarianism unfeasible. We do well not to judge too hastily, if at all. We cannot relive others’ lives, or think their thoughts, or enter their consciences...But what we can be sure about is that living without...‘avoidable ill’ has a strong moral claim upon us now."

Vegetarianism was the first dietary practice of the original creation (Genesis 1:29). Permission to eat animals was given after the flood but restrictions were placed on which animals could be eaten (kosher laws). According to Rabbi Abraham Kook, the Old Testament includes the goal of eventually restoring humanity to a vegetarian diet (Isaiah 11:69). It seems to me, however, that the major problem for Christian vegetarians, who maintain that there exists an ethical imperative to avoid meat eating, is that Jesus ate meat. A simple syllogism demonstrates this problem. Jesus was without sin. Jesus ate meat. Therefore, eating meat is not sinful. Even if we assume, as Linzey suggests, that Jesus ate no meat at the Last Supper, it would surely be too great an assumption to suggest that a Jewish boy growing up in an ordinary Jewish home had never eaten lamb at the Passover! In any case, we know for sure that he ate fish at breakfast on the beach with his disciples after he had risen from the dead. Linzey’s attempts to escape the implications of a meat-eating Saviour for Christian vegetarians are valiant, but ultimately unsatisfying.

The Bible expresses wonder at God’s creation, found often in the Psalms, Jesus spoke of God’s concern even for a single sparrow, and Isaiah envisions a time when the lion will lie down with the lamb. Paul sees, in Romans 8, the whole creation (which must includes animals) having been subjected to frustration through human sin, and that same creation participating, in some sense in the glorious liberty of the sons of God yet to be revealed. Yet it has to be admitted a biblical theology of animals is not enunciated in any systematic way in Holy Scripture. Interestingly, the Hebrew phrase nefesh chaya (“a living soul” or “creature”) is applied in the Old Testament to animals as well as to humans (Genesis 1:21-24). God is said to have established covenants with animals as well as with humans (Genesis 9:9-10; Hosea 2:18-22). All of this indicates a significant place for animals in the divine order.

In the next post we will consider Albert Schweitzer's and Karl Barth's contributions to this discussion.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Crewsick Pictures

From Sept 1st the Boy Wonder will be a full time employee of Creswick Pictures where he will work as a film editor. Check out their website. I'll think you'll be suitably impressed by the clients they have,such as Disney, Buena Vista etc.


Praise the Lord for answered prayer and for this great inside track into the industry Jesse loves so much. Good on you Jess. We are proud of you and very happy for you.


Monday, August 18, 2008

First Thoughts on an Animal Theodicy

A few years ago I was intrigued by a question put, by Dr. Carl Schultz of Houghton College while we were team-teaching an Intensive an intensive at Kingsley on "Human Suffering and the God of Love." My paraphrase of his question, as I recall it, is as follows. “Why do we limit our subject matter to human suffering? What of animal suffering? To some people it is a more acute question for the problem of evil, since, while we may conceive of some greater good coming out of human suffering, in terms of some ‘higher end’ such as character development, this would not be the case with animal suffering.” For many people the problem of animal pain is the worst aspect of moral evil, precisely because animals are not moral beings. [This why when watching a battle scene in a movie we might find yourselves saying when a horse is killed, “Oh not the horses! They haven’t done anything wrong!”] Earlier than this, I was struck by a suggestion, in 1997, during a course on John Wesley’s theology at Asbury Seminary, in Wesley’s sermon The General Deliverance that in the new heavens and the new earth God may grant the lower creatures something akin to the rationality and consciousness currently existing in humans. What I would like to do over the next few posts is survey some of the current thinking on the consciousness of animals, and on “animal rights” among philosophers and theologians, and then ask what all this might mean for theodicy.

Philosophers have led the way in this discussion; theologians have been much less vocal. Andrew Rowan, Dean of Special Programs at Tufts University’s School of Veterinary Medicine in the USA has observed that “within the last fifteen to twenty years contemporary moral philosophers have written more on the topic of human responsibility to other animals than their predecessors had written in the previous two thousand years.” This is certainly a new trend since philosophers have usually avoided the subject of animals very carefully. Albert Schweitzer famously compared the place of animals in European philosophy with a kitchen floor scrubbed clean by a housewife who is “careful to see that the door is shut lest the dog should come in and ruin the finished job with its footprints.” If we accept that “moral education…is about finding within us an ever-increasing sense of the worth of creation...” then this must include a sense of moral awareness regarding the place of animals within creation. The Christian faith, while often thought to provide a rationale for the exploitation of animals for human use, also provides some material that challenges this world view.

It cannot be denied that traditional views have led to some outrageous treatment of other of God’s creatures beside ourselves. The traditional view might be represented by Joseph Ricaby, SJ when he states that “Brute beasts, not having understanding, and therefore, not being persons, cannot have any rights.” When Robert Mortimer, formerly Anglican Bishop of Exeter, was asked to defend fox-hunting he stated that it reinforced “man’s high place in the hierarchy of being.” The Dictionary of Moral Theology published in 1962 stated “Zoophilists [lovers of animals] often lose sight of the end for which animals were created by God, viz., the service and use of man…moral doctrine teaches that animals have no rights on the part of man.” More recently the 1995 Catholic Catechism has stated that “animals, like plants, and inanimate beings, are by nature destined for the common good of past, present and future humanity,” and “they may be used to serve the just satisfaction of man’s needs.” Of course, the idea that animals exist only for the benefit of humans predates Christianity. Aristotle held, for example, that since “nature makes nothing without some end in view, nothing to no purpose, it must be that nature has made [animals and plants] for the sake of man.” The question of whether animals have rights and whether we should eat them will be the subjects of the next post.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Announcing the launch of Crucible - a completely free on-line journal of peer-reviewed articles and other resources on Christian life and thought

If you like, you can read my review
of Will Willimon's Proclamation and Theology

Go to http://www.crucible.org.au/

Monday, July 07, 2008

Friday, June 27, 2008


Well it's official - Sarah and Brad are parents and Lynda and I are grandparents, due to the birth of Amelia Eden Sage at 8.01 pm on Thursday 19 June 2008 at Kingaroy Hospital. These are some of the first pictures taken in the delivery room about 10 minutes after birth - two of Amelia, then her mum, then me, than Aunty Sophie, and finally Aunty Ellen.


The Boy Wonder's film, HALT, finally premieres at 7.30 pm this Monday 30 June at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (Federation Square).  It was to be cast and crew only but it is now open to the generel public - $10 admission. Click here to check it out. Sorry about the late notice but I am in Queensland right now celebrating much bigger news - the birth of our first grandchild, Amelia Eden Sage, born to Sarah and Brad on 19th June weighing in at 7lbs 5 ozs. Pictures to follow soon.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Nazarene Rap

A little bit of self-mocking from the Nazarenes. Reminds me a little of my Kiwi Wesleyan friends from cession who gave us a smokin' verison of Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing" at Lake Taupo one year - "When I get that feelin' I need Wesleyan healing.." Any chance of a video reprise guys?

Monday, April 21, 2008

On Common Grace and the Non-Elect

I recently read one of Richard J. Mouw’s Stob lectures, "Seeking the Common Good," given at Calvin College in 2000, (He Shines in All That’s Fair: Culture and Common Grace. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001, pp. 75-88). The central question Mouw is asking is whether or not Calvinists should engage with wider society in seeking the common good of all, even when it is recognized that the “all” is not solely made up of God’s elect. He quite rightly challenges the attitude of some Calvinists in boycotting this sphere and argues persuasively for a full engagement with human culture. So far, so good. All very commendable. But the reason this is a problem at all for Mouw’s audience is that it is a very Calvinist one indeed. One's understanding of his argument hinges on understanding what Calvinists mean by “common grace.” Common grace is what makes it possible even for the non-elect to enjoy a cool glass of water on a hot day or sit under a shady tree. If we fall over and break our leg an ambulance will come along and take us to the hospital. God causes such rain to fall on the just and the unjust, on the elect and the non-elect. But for Calvinists this grace does not in any way contribute to a person’s salvation. Here is where “common grace” differs from “prevenient grace” as held, for example, in the Wesleyan tradition. Prevenient grace is God drawing all people to salvation (whether or not they ultimately come – the offer at least is genuine.) Common grace on the other hand is given to all but only the elect may be drawn to God. This is made explicit on page 82 when Mouw defines common grace as …”the teaching that God has a positive, though non-salvific, regard for those who are not elect…” This is exactly the difference between prevenient and common grace. The first has the aim of salvation, the second does not. It surprises me that Mouw quotes the Reformed theologian Herman Hoeksema without any attempt to defend his outrageous claim that “All of the non-elect…are the enemies of God, and God ‘hates His enemies and purposes to destroy them, except them he chose in Christ Jesus.'” (pp. 82-83) It’s certainly an understatement when Mouw follows this up with the admission that “this does not seem to comport well, however, with Christ’s command to love your enemies.”! It’s a good article and a timely word to Calvinists (and all Christians) of the need to engage culture. But it is marred by a view of God which hardly matches the God of love set forth in the Bible who is "not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance."

Tabor on the Radio

Some of my Tabor colleagues appeared on John Cleary's Sunday Night programme on ABC Radio a couple of weeks ago. You may like to have a listen to Wynand de Kock (Principal), John Capper (Dean) and Leanne Hill (student and Dean's PA) discussing Tabor, Kingsley and theological education in general.click here and have a listen.
John Capper, Dean of Tabor College.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Free Will and Predestination

Last night I had the opportunity to discuss predestination and free will with David Hohne of Moore College on John Cleary's (at left) Sunday Night programme on 774 ABC Radio. You can download a podcast or listen online by clicking here. I love any opportunity to talk theology in the public square. We had what I thought was a very interesting discussion though I felt that David was hesitant to be drawn into a discussion of the substantial differences between Calvinists and others. Of course, we Wesleyans have to believe in free will - we have no choice; we're Arminians!

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Free At Last!

Thank God for You Tube! If you have never taken the quarter of an hour needed to listen to Dr. King's I Have a Dream speech, you cannot really be said to understand the nature of the modern world. Do yourself a favour and watch it.

[There was a] man from Atlanta, Georgia
By the name of Martin Luther King
He shook the land like rolling thunder
And made the bells of freedom ring today
With a dream of beauty that they could not burn away
Just another holy man who dared to take a stand
My God, they killed him !
- Kris Kristofferson

Friday, February 29, 2008

The Mist

Well the Oscars are over, and I may get around to a blog entry on the four (out of five) "Best Picture" nominated films I saw over the course of two days last weekend. But first let me recommend a great overlooked film - Frank Darabont's The Mist. When I first heard about this my response was kind of "yeah, whatever." I had seen The Fog and it was awful (though the John Carpenter original I hear tell is a lot better). But when I heard that this was a Frank Darabont film, I thought I'd give it a try. After all, the man who made The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, knows how to make a good movie out of a Stephen King story, right? Well, my instincts were right and this is one of the best creature features I've seen in a while. Even Thomas Jane is good in this (didn't know he had it in him).

Frank Darabont at work behind the camera (left)

You would think that a film with a premise like this would be filled with Hollywood cliches. A small town near a military base is covered by a dense fog and people begin to be picked off by prehistoric tentacled monsters hidden in the fog which have been set loose as a result of the military experimenting with inter-dimensional portals. The remarkable thing is that Darabont gets his actors to behave in ways that you could imagine people would behave in a situation like that instead of acting like Hollywood stereotypes. The slow building of suspense as the townspeople in the local supermarket begin to realise that something is amiss is brilliantly carried off and a masterpiece of direction.

Marcia Gay Harden's religious fruitcake "Mrs. Carmody" is a bit of a cheap shot, I guess (why are religious people in movies so often dangerous and crazy?) but her mania provides the Lord of the Flies scenario that sees the grocery store inhabitants revert to their most savage and primitive of survival instincts. A sacrificial victim is needed to appease the blood lust of the monsters and Mrs. Carmody is happy to provide the victims. Renee Girard's concepts of "mimetic violence" and the "scapegoat mechanism" are at work here. A sacrificial social order based on violence is the only thing that can secure salvation for those trapped in the mist enshrouded supermarket. Or is it? Thomas Jane's David Drayton and his little band of dissenters beg to differ and make their escape prefering the monsters in the fog to the ones in the grocery store.

A warning-the ending of this film is very downbeat. By the final act, you feel like you really need the payoff of a happy ending but it doesn't come. This shows a lot of restraint on Darabont's part as he makes good on his intention to be faithful to the original story, even at the risk of alienating the audience. Four stars from me.

On Burning Heretics

I've been reading any interesting post by Stumac over on In the Moment about the bad behaviour associated with battles over theology. I think we find this kind of thing so hard to deal with partly because we view heresy so differently from the ancestors. We tend to see it as an intellectual infirmity - the person isn't thinking straight. They, on the other hand, saw it as a moral fault - the willingness to believe a lie. Actually the New Testament seems to assume this pre-modern concept. It's interesting to note that in the Book of Revelation it is not only the false prophet who is thrown into the lake of fire but also "all those deceived by him." Hang on isn't being deceived something amoral, something "not my fault"? Perhaps not; perhaps I allow myself to be deceived because of some inner fault that is willing to believe a lie.

The other difference between us and earlier generations of Christians is that because religion was previously so much a part of society (especially from the late medieval/early modern period) a heretic threatened the very stability of the social order. Today a heretic can hold whatever false doctrines he or she wants and it doesn't bother us at all because we live in a free and liberal society, in a world of complete freedom of religion. Every suburban Kingdom Hall is evidence that this system works very well. But to a person in, say, Luther's Germany, a heretic such as Michael Servetus (just as an example) was considered not unlike the way we might consider a terrorist - a person whose view threatened the safety of society and who needed to be prosecuted for his religious views for the good of the whole.

Now, I am not trying to make excuses for the atrocious act of burning and torturing heretics. It was as unChristian then as it would be today. But understanding these people's context and the way they acted as people of their time helps us understand a little better the actions they took (even if we still believe they were wrong). I'm glad we no longer burn heretics - these days we make them bishops.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Apology

Kevin Rudd in Darwin during the election campaign (AAP: Alan Porritt)

Yesterday the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, made history with the following speech. I'm sure you've already heard it and read it, probably more than once, but I wanted to post it here because many of my international vistors (hopefully some of my Australian History students from Houghton Down Under, may not have got it elsewhere. Mungo Macallum has complained that it should have been written by a poet, but he is one, so he would say that. OK so it may have been written by a parliamentary team of speech writers but it is historic, and it is just, and it is a solid foundation for a shared future.

"Today we honour the Indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history.

We reflect on their past mistreatment.

We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were Stolen Generations – this blemished chapter in our nation’s history.

The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia’s history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future.

We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.

We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country.

For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.

To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.

And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.

We the Parliament of Australia respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered as part of the healing of the nation.

For the future we take heart; resolving that this new page in the history of our great continent can now be written.

We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians.

A future where this Parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again.

A future where we harness the determination of all Australians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to close the gap that lies between us in life expectancy, educational achievement and economic opportunity.

A future where we embrace the possibility of new solutions to enduring problems where old approaches have failed.

A future based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility.

A future where all Australians, whatever their origins, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of this great country, Australia."

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Halt Teaser Trailer

Here is a teaser trailer for the Boy Wonder's current short film project (still in post-production as we speak).

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Sermon for Transfiguration Sunday (3 February 2008)

One of the most popular themes in reality TV is the “make-over.” A person is transformed from an ordinary looking person with not much style or dress sense into a stunning, sexy, smartly dressed man or woman through the magic of the make-over team. A variation on the theme is plastic surgery shows where a disfigured person undergoes radical changes to their face and/or body through surgical intervention. The highlight of the show is when friends and loved ones all gather and the person is revealed for the first time in all their transformed glory. Tonight sees the return of TV’s The Biggest Loser where people are transformed from being morbidly obese to being, well…not morbidly obese. Viewers will sit through the entire series in order to get to the final episode when the contestants will stand in all their reduced glory – transformed and transfigured by their experience of diet and exercise.

The New Testament word "transfiguration" may be translated by our English word, "metamorphosis." It is used four times in the New Testament and is translated twice as, "transfigured," (Mark 9:2; Matthew 17:2 - the transfiguration of Jesus on the mount) twice as "transformed" (Romans 12:2; 2 Corinthians 3:18 - the transformation of believers into greater degrees of Christlikeness). The linking of these Gospel passages with Paul’s letters is important. It shows that we are to share in some way in the glory of Christ. C.S. Lewis once said that if we could see the creature God will make of our neighbour we would be tempted to bow down and worship him.

The First Sunday of Epiphany the text is always about the baptism of Jesus where the voice is heard from heaven: "This is my son, the beloved; with him I am well pleased." Today is the last Sunday, and a voice again says, "This is my son, the beloved; with him I am well pleased." Eugene Peterson paraphrases these words: "this is my son, marked by my love, the focus of my delight." This reassurance was needed by Jesus and needed by the disciples as Jesus is about to enter into the final journey to the cross. Wednesday is Ash Wednesday the commencement of the season of Lent, when we are called to fast and to undergo a season of self denial and repentance in preparation for Easter. At such a time we need the revelation that we are given here. Often we are told in sermons that we must change. How often have you heard someone say in a prayer. ”Lord may we leave this place changed people.” I wonder if that is really the answer.

In Cecil B. Demille's final film, The Ten Commandments, Moses emerges from Sinai (an event recalled in today's Old Testament reading) looking very different from when he went into the cloud. It works in its own way I guess but it also looks a little comical. It comes off as a clever makeup job but it’s unintentionally humorous as no reason is given why a previously younger looking Moses has now emerged from his encounter with God donning a full flowing beard and looking about 40 years older! I don’t know how many sermons I’ve given on the transfiguration – a lot. But when I look in the mirror I see the same old me. We too often come away from a sermon on the transfiguration asking ourselves what we need to do to change. It is not what we do that leads to change, it is what we see. What Peter, James and John saw on the mountain that day, certainly changed them as their writings bear witness.

The sad thing about make-over shows is that the people who make such transformations to their exterior self soon revert to their older careless ways and are just as slovenly and overweight as when they began. A make-over is only skin deep. It is not a make-over we need but laser surgery. This Lent as we adopt our Lenten discipline and focus on Christ let the emphasis not be on the discipline but on the focusing. May God grant us to see a new vision of Christ’s glory so that “all of us, with unveiled faces [see] the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, [and are] transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” Amen.


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