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.


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