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.


Ross said...

There's a good argument for only buying free range poultry and meat products, certain brands of tinned fish, or eating at certain fast food outlets.

As for turning vegetarian, not likely. I'm sorry, but I need my protein to function effectively through the daily grind.

Anonymous said...

I'm not quite sure on what basis Linzey claims animals have "rights" in the first place (not denying that they do).

If it is based solely on the concept that God made them and gave them life, then where do we draw the line on what has rights? Surely worms have life, and so do mozzies (i remember reading of a monk convicted of the sin of squishing some mozzies)! How about the tick, the tapeworm, and a range of other parasites? Shall we stop the use of antibiotics - for surely the innocent microbe has life! But moving a little down the taxonomy ladder, lets not forget plankton, fungi, and grass as well :)


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