animal liberation theology
- ANIMAL LIBERATION THEOLOGYThe International Network for Religion and Animals (INRA) was founded in 1985 by Virginia Bouraquardez. Its educational and religious programs are meant to "bring religious principles to bear upon humanity's attitude towards the treatment of our animal kin...and, through leadership, materials, and programs, to successfully interact with clergy and laity from many religious traditions."According to INRA:"Religion counsels the powerful to be merciful and kind to those weaker than themselves, and most of humankind is at least nominally religious. But there is a ghastly paradox. Far from showing mercy, humanity uses its dominion over other animal species to pen them in cruel close confinement; to trap, club, and harpoon them; to poison, mutilate, and shock them in the name of science; to kill them by the billions; and even to blind them in excruciating pain to test cosmetics."Some of these abuses are due to mistaken understandings of religious principles; others, to a failure to apply those principles. Scriptures need to be fully researched concerning the relationship of humans to nonhuman animals, and to the entire ecological structure of Nature. Misinterpretations of scripture taken out of context, or based upon questionable theological assumptions need to be re-examined."In the winter of 1990, INRA's Executive Director, the Reverend Dr. Marc A. Wessels of the United Church of Christ wrote: "As a Christian clergyman who speaks of having compassion for other creatures and who actively declares the need for humans to develop an ethic that gives reverence for all of life, I hope that others will open their eyes, hearts and minds to the responsibility of loving care for God's creatures."In a pamphlet entitled "The Spiritual Link Between Humans and Animals," Reverend Wessels writes: "We recognize that many animal rights activists and ecologists are highly critical of Christians because of our relative failure thus far adequately to defend animals and to preserve the natural environment. Yet there are positive signs of a growing movement of Christian activists and theologians who are committed to the process of ecological stewardship and animal liberation."According to Reverend Wessels, "The most important teaching which Jesus shared was the need for people to love God with their whole self and to love their neighbor as they loved themselves. Jesus expanded the concept of neighbor to include those who were normally excluded, and it is therefore not too farfetched for us to consider the animals as our neighbors."To think about animals as our brothers and sisters is not a new or radical idea. By extending the idea of neighbor, the love of neighbor includes love of, compassion for, and advocacy of animals. There are many historical examples of Christians who thought along those lines, besides the familiar illustration of St. Francis. An abbreviated listing of some of those individuals worthy of study and emulation includes Saint Blaise, Saint Comgall, Saint Cuthbert, Saint Gerasimus, Saint Giles, and Saint Jerome, to name but a few..."Jesus' life was one of compassion and liberation;" concludes Reverend Wessels, "his ministry was one which understood and expressed the needs of the oppressed. Especially in the past decade, Christians have been reminded that their faith requires them to take seriously the cries of the oppressed."Theologians such as Gutierrez, Miranda, and Hinkelammert have defined the Christian message as one which liberates lives and transforms social patterns of oppression. That concept of Christianity which sees God as the creator of the universe and the One who seeks justice is not exclusive; immunity from cruelty and injustice is not only a human desire or need--the animal kingdom also needs liberation."A growing number of Christian theologians, clergy and activists are beginning to take a stand in favor of animal rights. In a pamphlet entitled Christian Considerations on Laboratory Animals Reverend Marc Wessels notes that in laboratories animals cease to be persons and become "tools of research." He cites William French of Loyala University as having made the same observation at a gathering of Christian ethicists at Duke University--a conference entitled "Good News for Animals?""With God, all things are possible." (Matthew 19:26; Mark 10:27; Luke 18:27) Anglican priest Reverend Andrew Linzey urges Christian readers to think in terms of future possibilities. "For to be committed to Jesus involves being committed not only to his earthly ministry in the past but also to his living Spirit in whose power new possibilities are continually opened up for us in the present. All things have yet to be made new in Christ and we have yet to become perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect. Making peace is a dynamic possibility through the Spirit."Clive Hollands of the St. Andrew Animal Fund in England, wrote in a 1987 paper entitled "The Animal Kingdom and the Kingdom of God" that animal rights "is an issue of strict justice," and one that calls for Christian compassion:"As Christians we believe that God gave us dominion over His Creation and we used that authority, not to protect and safeguard the natural world, but to destroy and pollute the environment and, worse, we have deprived animals of the dignity and respect which is due to all that has life."Let us then thank God for the unending wonder of the created world, for the oneness of all life--for the Integrity of Creation. Let us pray for all living creatures, those in the wild that may never even see man and in whose very being worship their Creator."Let us think and pray especially for all those animals who do know man, who are in the service of man, and who suffer at the hands of man. Let us pray to the God who knows of the fall of a single sparrow, that the suffering, pain and fear of all animals may be eased."Finally, let us pray for all those who work to protect animals that their efforts may be rewarded and the time may come when animals are granted the dignity and respect which is their due as living beings created by the same hand that fashioned you and me."The Glauberg Confession is a theological statement of faith made before a God whose love extends to all His creatures. It reads as follows:"We confess before God, the Creator of the Animals, and before our fellow Men; We have failed as Christians, because we forgot the animals in our faith."As theologians we were not prepared to stand up against scientific and philosophical trends inimical to life with the Theology of Creation."We have betrayed the diaconical mission of Jesus, and not served our least brethren, the animals."As pastors we were scared to give room to animals in our churches and parishes."As the Church, we were deaf to the 'groaning in travail' of our mistreated and exploited fellow-creatures."We justify the Glauberg Confession theologically."We read the statements in the Bible about Creation and regard for our fellow-creatures with new eyes and new interest. We know how tied up we are with Nature, linked with every living thing--and under the same threat."The rediscovery of the theology of Creation has also turned our regard upon the animals, our poorest brothers and sisters. We perceive that as theologically thinking and working Christians we owe them a change of attitude."We justify our Confession pastorally."For years many people actively engaged in animal welfare have been waiting for us ministers of religion to take up the cause of animal rights. Many of them have quit the Church in disappointment because no clear witness was given for the animals in the field of theology, in the Church's social work or in the parishes, either in word or in deed. The task of winning back the trust of these people who dedicate their time, money, energy and sometimes their health to reconciliation with the animals, is a pastoral challenge to us."Reverend Marc Wessels says of The Glauberg Confession:"It speaks simply but eloquently on behalf of those who have determined that they will no longer support a theology of human dictatorship that is against God's other creatures..."This brief statement was written during the spring of 1988 and was signed by both Roman Catholic and Protestant clergy who participated in its framing."It was signed by men and women of religious orders, as well as by laity. Both academics and average church members have indicated their support for the document by signing it."Growing numbers of people around the globe are also adding their own personal declaration of support by forwarding their names to the covenors of the confession.""Increasingly, during this century Christians have come to understand the gospel, the Good News, in terms of freedom, both freedom from oppression and freedom for life with God and others. Too often, however, this freedom has been limited to human beings, excluding most other creatures, as well as the earth."This freedom cannot be so limited because if we destroy other species and the ecosystem, human beings cannot live. This freedom should not be so limited because other creatures, both species and individuals, deserve to live in and for themselves and for God. Therefore, we call on Christians as well as other people of good will to work towards the liberation of life, all life."---World Council of Churches
"The Liberation of Life," 1988In "The Liberation of Life," the World Council of Churches, a politically left-liberal organization with worldwide influence, has taken the strongest animal protection position of any Christian body.This document urges parishioners to avoid cosmetics and household items that have been tested on animals; to buy "cruelty-free" products, instead. This document urges parishioners to boycott animal furs and skins, and purchase "cruelty-free" clothing as a humane alternative. This document asks that meat, eggs and dairy products be purchased from sources where the animals have not been subject to overcrowding, confinement and abuse, and reminds parishioners they are free to avoid such products altogether. Parishioners are also asked not to patronize any form of entertainment that treats animals as mere objects of human usage.In a paper presented before the Conference on Creation Theology and Environmental Ethics at the World Council of Churches in Annecy, France in September, 1988, American philosopher Dr. Tom Regan (the foremost intellectual leader of the animal rights movement), expressed opposition to discrimination based upon genetic differences:"...biological differences inside the species Homo sapiens do not justify radically different treatment among those individual humans who differ biologically (for example, in terms of sex, or skin color, or chromosome count). Why, then, should biological differences outside our species count morally? If having one eye or deformed limbs do not disqualify a human being from moral consideration equal to that given to those humans who are more fortunate, how can it be rational to disqualify a rat or a wolf from equal moral consideration because, unlike us, they have paws and a tail?"Dr. Regan concluded:"...the whole fabric of Christian agape is woven from the threads of sacrificial acts. To abstain, on principle, from eating animals, therefore, although it is not the end-all, can be the begin-all of our conscientious effort to journey back to (or toward) Eden, can be one way (among others) to re-establish or create that relationship to the earth which, if Genesis 1 is to be trusted, was part of God's original hopes for and plans in creation."It is the integrity of this creation we seek to understand and aspire to honor. In the choice of our food, I believe, we see, not in a glass darkly, but face to face, a small but not unimportant part of both the challenge and the promise of Christianity and animal rights."In a 1989 interview with the Animals' Agenda, Reverend Linzey insisted, "...my primary loyalty is to God, and not to the church. You see, I don't think the claims of the church and the claims of God are identical...The church is a very human institution, a frail human institution, and it often gets things wrong. Indeed, it's worse than that. It's often a stumbling block and often a scandal."Linzey expressed optimism from a study of history: "Let's take your issue of slavery. If you go back in history, say 200 years, you'll find intelligent, conscientious, loving Christians defending slavery, because they hardly gave it two thoughts. If they were pressed, they might have said, 'Slavery is part of progress, part of the Christianization of the dark races.'"A hundred or perhaps as little as 50 years later, what you suddenly find is that the very same Christian community that provided one of the major ideological defenses of slavery had begun to change its mind...here is a classic example of where the Christian tradition has been a force for slavery and a force for liberation."Now, just think of the difficulties that those early Christian abolitionists had to face. Scripture defended slavery. For instance, in Leviticus 25, you're commanded to take the child of a stranger as a slave...St. Paul simply said that those who were Christian slaves should be better Christians. Almost unanimously, apart from St. Gregory, the church fathers defended slavery, and for almost 1800 years, Christians defended and supported slavery. So, in other words, the change that took place within the Christian community on slavery is not just significant, it is historically astounding."Now, I give that example because I believe the case of animals is in many ways entirely analogous. We treat animals today precisely as we treated slaves, and the theological arguments are often entirely the same or have the same root. I believe the movement for animal rights is the most significant movement in Christianity, morally, since the emancipation of the slaves. And it provides just as many difficulties for the institutional church..."Christians have found themselves unable to agree upon many pressing moral issues--including abortion. Exodus 21:22-24 says if two men are fighting and one injures a pregnant woman and the child is killed, he shall repay her according to the degree of injury inflicted upon her, and not the fetus. On the other hand, the Didache (Apostolic Church teaching) forbade abortion."There has to be a frank recognition that the Christian church is divided on every moral issue under the sun: nuclear weapons, divorce, homosexuality, capital punishment, animals, etc.," says Reverend Linzey. "I don't think it's desirable or possible for Christians to agree upon every moral issue. And, therefore, I think within the church we have no alternative but to work within diversity.""Every year," says Dr. Linzey, "I receive hundreds of anguished letters from Christians who are so distressed by the insensitivity to animals shown by mainstream churches that they have left them or on the verge of doing so. Of course, I understand why they have left the churches and in this matter, as in all else, conscience can be the only guide. But if all the Christians committed to animal rights leave the church, where will that leave the churches?"The time is long overdue to take the issue of animal rights to the churches with renewed vigor. I don't pretend it's easy but I do think it's essential--not, I add, because the churches are some of the best institutions in society but rather because they are some of the worst. The more the churches are allowed to be left to one side in the struggle for animal rights, the more they will remain forever on the other side."I derive hope from the Gospel preaching," Linzey concludes, "that the same God who draws us to such affinity and intimacy with suffering creatures declared that reality on a Cross in Calvary. Unless all Christian preaching has been utterly mistaken, the God who becomes incarnate and crucified is the one who has taken the side of the oppressed and the suffering of the world--however the churches may actually behave."WE'RE ON A MISSION FROM PETAJared Warth, bass for blessthefall: "I think that protecting animals is a big part of Christianity. Animal abuse is a big problem in the world today, especially in animal fighting and animal testing. I feel animals shouldn't be used for these things. God did not intend for it to be this way, and humans should not take advantage of God's gift...get involved with Action for Animals. From what I've heard it's a very informative program and will give anyone any information they need on preserving animal rights."Patrick Meadows, guitar for Gwen Stacy: "I first became aware of PETA while I was in high school. I remember going to the Warped Tour every summer and seeing their tents, though I never really put much thought into it until I went to college. [T]he idea of factory farming has always disgusted me."Eric Gregson, guitar for Sleeping Giant: "I have been vegan for about 12 years now. I became aware of PETA in the late '90s as a result of my passion to end animal cruelty. Yes, I would consider Sleeping Giant a Christian band. Along with Sleeping Giant, I also pastor a church in Redlands, California. As I have studied the Bible, the nature and character of God has become more apparent to me."In Genesis, we see that God created a perfect world, and in that world animals were not mistreated, abused, or used for human consumption. That being said, I believe that God cares about all of His creation (including animals), and it was never in His heart or will for them to be mistreated. Jesus died to regain what was lost in that perfect world. Christians have much to learn about the heart of God."Factory farming is the issue that I feel most strongly about. Out of all the animal rights issues, I believe factory farming causes the most pain and does the most damage to animals and people. Millions of animals are mistreated and destroyed every year for the sake of our comfort. It is appalling."Joe Lengson, bass for MyChildren MyBride: "I first heard about peta2 at, I think, Warped Tour in Pomona, California. I saw the tents and the people trying to get signatures and I signed up. They gave me the DVD and all the booklets. … Then I started meeting people, and they started sending me stuff. Over the years I became aware of animal rights and turned veg[etarian] and vegan for a while."I first heard about peta2 at, I think, Warped Tour in Pomona, California. I saw the tents and the people trying to get signatures and I signed up. They gave me the DVD and all the booklets...Then I started meeting people, and they started sending me stuff. Over the years I became aware of animal rights and turned veg[etarian] and vegan for a while."[A]t least try out being a vegetarian—that even makes a difference…[E]ducate yourself about the topic and learn what to give a crap about...Millions of animals are mistreated and destroyed every year for the sake of our comfort. It is appalling."Probably animal testing and the fur issue. Maybe about two years ago, a friend of mine from PETA sent me a bunch of stuff when you guys were doing the "Fur [Is] Dead" campaign...I looked into it and I was like, "That is so messed up." There are so many other things you can wear that are just the same [as fur]. I ended up wearing [that Fur Is Dead shirt] for a whole tour on stage..."--Vasuvasumurti@...
- George T. Angell, founder of the Massachuse tts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said, “I am sometimes asked, ‘Why do you spend time and money talking about kindness to animals when there is cruelty to men?’ I answer: ‘I am working at the roots.’”"There is no religion without love, and people may talk as much as they like about their religion, but if it does not teach them to be kind to beasts as well as man, it is all a sham."
author, Black Beauty
"I care not for a man's religion whose dog or cat are not the better for it...I am in favor of animal rights as well as human rights. That is the way of a whole human being."
French philosopher and mathematician Rene Descartes (1596-1650) taught that animals are simply machines, without souls, reason or feeling. The cry of a dog in pain, according to Descartes, is merely a mechanical noise, like the creak of a wheel. His beliefs found acceptance in ecclesiastical and scientific circles. Science was progressing quite rapidly in the 17th century; Descartes effectively removed all moral objections to animal experimentation.
One voice of objection was that of Henry More (1614-1687), a Cambridge Platonist. In a series of letters with Descartes, More wrote that no one can prove animals lack souls or experience an afterlife. He regarded animal souls and immortality as consistent with the inherent goodness of God. He wrote that people deny the animals souls and an afterlife out of "narrowness of spirit, out of overmuch self-love, and contempt of other creatures."
More wrote further that this world was not made for man alone, but for other living creatures as well. He taught that God loves the animals and is concerned about their welfare and happiness. More believed that humans were meant to rule over the animals with compassionate stewardship. He quoted Proverbs 12:10 from the Old Testament: "The good man is merciful to his beasts."A distinguished philosopher and an eloquent writer, More believed unrestrained human violence and abuse towards animals would cause humans to likewise deal with one another. "I think that he that slights the life or welfare of a brute Creature," wrote More, "is naturally so unjust, that if outward laws did not restrain him, he would be as cruel to Man."
In 1776, Dr. Humphrey Primatt, an Anglican priest, published A Dissertation on the Duty of Mercy and the Sin of Cruelty to Brute Animals. This may have been the first book devoted to kindness to animals. Dr. Primatt believed that cruelty towards animals leads inevitably to human violence: "if all the barbarous customs and practices still subsisting amongst us were decreed to be as illegal as they are sinful, we should not hear of so many shocking murders and acts as we now do."
According to Primatt, "Love is the great Hinge upon which universal Nature turns. The Creation is a transcript of the divine Goodness; and every leaf in the book of Nature reads us a lecture on the wisdom and benevolence of its great Author...upon this principle, every creature of God is good in its kind; that is, it is such as it ought to be."
Primatt drew no distinction between the sufferings of animals and those of men: "Pain is pain, whether it is inflicted on man or on beast; and the creature that suffers it, whether man or beast, being sensible of the misery of it whilst it lasts, suffers Evil..."
Primatt wrote with a vision of universal emancipation: "It has pleased God the Father of all men, to cover some men with white skins, and others with black skins; but as there is neither merit nor demerit in complexion, the white man, nonwithstanding the barbarity of custom and prejudice, can have no right, by virtue of his colour, to enslave and tyrannize over a black man.
"Now, if amongst men, the differences of their powers of the mind, and of their complexion, stature, and accidents of fortune, do not give any one man a right to abuse or insult any other man on account of these differences; for the same reason, a man can have no natural right to abuse and torment a beast, merely because a beast has not the mental powers of a man.
"For, such as the man is, he is but as God made him; and the very same is true of the beast. Neither of them can lay claim to any intrinsic Merit, for being such as they are; for, before they were created, it was impossible that either of them could deserve; and at their creation, their shapes, perfections or defects were invariably fixed, and their bounds set which they cannot pass.
"And being such, neither more nor less than God made them, there is no more demerit in a beast being a beast, than there is merit in a man being a man; that is, there is neither merit nor demerit in either of them.
"We may pretend to what religion we please," Primatt concluded, "but cruelty is atheism. We may boast of Christianity; but cruelty is infidelity. We may trust to our orthodoxy; but cruelty is the worst of heresies.
"The religion of Jesus Christ originated in the mercy of God; and it was the gracious design of it to promote peace to every creature on earth, and to create a spirit of universal benevolence or goodwill in men.
"And it has pleased God therein to display the riches of His own goodness and mercy towards us; and the revealer of His blessed will, the author and finisher of our faith, hath commanded us to be merciful, as our Father is also merciful, the obligation upon Christians becomes the stronger; and it is our bounded duty, in an especial manner, and above all other people, to extend the precept of mercy to every object of it. For, indeed, a cruel Christian is a monster of ingratitude, a scandal to his profession and beareth the name of Christ in vain..."
Christian writer C. S. Lewis noted that animals were included in the first Passover. The application of the "blood of the lamb" on the doorposts, not only saved a man and his family from death that night in Egypt, it saved his animals as well. Lewis put forth a rational argument concerning the resurrection of animals in The Problem of Pain. His 1947 essay, "A Case for Abolition," attacked vivisection (animal experimentation) and reads as follows:
"Once the old Christian idea of a total difference in kind between man and beast has been abandoned, then no argument for experiments on animals can be found which is not also an argument for experiments on inferior men. If we cut up beasts simply because they cannot prevent us and because we re backing up our own side in the struggle for existence, it is only logical to cut up imbeciles, criminals, enemies, or capitalists for the same reason. Indeed, experiments on men have already begun. We all hear that Nazi scientists have done them. We all suspect that our own scientists may begin to do so, in secret, at any moment.
"The victory of vivisection marks a great advance in the triumph of ruthless, non-moral utilitarianism over the old world of ethical law; a triumph in which we, as well as animals, are already the victims, and of which Dachau and Hiroshima mark the more recent achievements. In justifying cruelty to animals we put ourselves also on the animal level. We choose the jungle and must abide by our choice.""I am not a Christian," wrote one animal rights activist in Animals, Men and Morals (1971), "but I find it incomprehensible that those who preach a doctrine of love and compassion can believe that the material pleasures of meat-eating justify the slaughter it requires."
In 1977, at an annual meeting in London of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), Dr. Donald Coggan, the Archbishop of Canterbury, said, "Animals, as part of God's creation, have rights which must be respected. It behooves us always to be sensitive to their needs and to the reality of their pain."
Dr. L. Charles Birch, an Australian "eco-philosopher," has long urged the churches to preach conservation of nature and respect for other living creatures. In July 1979 he argued at a conference of the World Council of Churches in Cambridge, Massachussetts, that all living creatures should be valued because of their "capacity for feeling." Dr. Birch has also condemned "factory farming" -- the overcrowded, confinement methods of raising and killing animals for food as "unethical," and declared that "the animal rights movement should be supported by all Christians."
Christians have mobilized on abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment and other sanctity-of-life issues. While a rational case can be made for the rights of preborn humans, a stronger, more immediate, self-evident and compelling secular case exists for the rights of animals. Animals are highly complex creatures, possessing a brain, a central nervous system and a sophisticated mental life. Animals suffer at the hands of their human tormentors and exhibit such "human" behaviors and feelings as fear and physical pain, defense of their children, pair bonding, group/tribal loyalty, grief at the loss of loved ones, joy, jealousy, competition, territoriality, and cooperation.
Can organized religion give its massive support to the struggle for animal rights? Today we find churches spearheading social change, calling for civil rights, the protection of unborn children, an end to human rights abuses in other countries, etc. This has not always been the case. It has often been said that on issues such as women's rights and human slavery, religion has impeded social progress.
The church of the past never considered slavery to be a moral evil. The Protestant churches of Virginia, South Carolina, and other southern states actually passed resolutions in favor of the human slave traffic.
Human slavery was called "by Divine Appointment," "a Divine institution," "a moral relation," "God's institution," "not immoral," but "founded in right." The slave trade was called "legal," "licit," "in accordance with humane principles" and "the laws of revealed religion."New Testament verses calling for obedience and subservience on the part of slaves (Titus 2:9-10; Ephesians 6:5-9; Colossians 3:22-25; I Peter 2:18-25) and respect for the master (I Timothy 6:1-2; Ephesians 6:5-9) were often cited in order to justify human slavery. Some of Jesus' parables refer to human slaves. Paul's epistle to Philemon concerns a runaway slave returned to his master.
"Paul's outright endorsement of slavery should be an undying embarrassment to Christianity as long as they hold the entire New Testament to be the word of God," says contemporary Quaker physician Dr. Charles P. Vaclavik. "Without a doubt, the American slaveholders quoted Paul again and again to substantiate their right to hold slaves.
"The moralist movement to abolish slavery had to go to non-Biblical sources to demonstrate the immoral nature of slavery. The abolitionists could not turn to Christian sources to condemn slavery, for Christianity had become the bastion of the evil practice through its endorsement by the Apostle Paul. Only the Old Testament gave the abolitionist any Biblical support in his effort to free the slaves.
'You shall not surrender to his master a slave who has taken refuge with you.' (Deuteronomy 23:15) What a pittance of material opposing slavery from a book supposedly representing the word of God."
In 1852 Josiah Priest wrote Bible Defense of Slavery. Others claimed blacks were subhuman. Buckner H. Payne, calling himself "Ariel," wrote in 1867, "the tempter in the Garden of Eden...was a beast, a talking beast...the negro." Ariel argued that since the negro was not part of Noah's family, he must have been a beast. Eight souls were saved on the ark, therefore, the negro must be a beast, and "consequently he has no soul to be saved."
The status of animals in contemporary human society is not unlike that of human slaves in centuries past. Quoting Isaiah 61:1, Luke 4:18, Colossians 3:11, Galatians 3:28, or any other biblical passages in favor of liberty, equality and an end to human slavery in the 18th century would have been met with the same response animal rights activists receive today if they quote Bible verses in favor of ethical vegetarianism and compassion towards animals.
Dr. Tom Regan, the foremost intellectual leader of the animal rights movement and author of The Case for Animal Rights, notes that animals "have beliefs and desires; perception, memory, and a sense of the future, including their own future; and emotion life together with feelings of pleasure and pain; preference and welfare interests; the ability to initiate action in pursuit of their desires and goals; a psychophysical identity over time; and an individual welfare in the sense that their experiential life fares well or ill for them, logically independently of their being the object of anyone else's interests."
Similarly, research psychologist Dr. Theodore Barber, writes in his 1993 book, The Human Nature of Birds, that birds are intelligent beings, capable of flexible thought, judgment, and the ability to express opinions, desires, and choices just as humans do. According to Dr. Barber, birds can make and use tools; work with abstract concepts; exhibit grief, joy, compassion and altruism; create musical compositions, and perform intricate mathematical calculations in navigation.
If animals have rights, then the widespread misconception amongst Christians, that compassion for animals and vegetarianism are solely "Jewish" concerns, becomes as absurd as saying, "it's only wrong to own slaves if you're a Quaker." Suffering and injustice concern us all. Christian clergy have begun to seriously address the issue of animal rights. The Reverend Dr. S. Parkes Cadman has been quoted as saying:
"Life in any form is our perpetual responsibility. Its abuse degrades those who practice it; its rightful usage is a signal token of genuine manhood. If there be a superintending Justice, surely It takes account of the injuries and sufferings of helpless yet animate creation. Let us be perfectly clear about the spirituality of the issue before us. We have abolished human bondage because it cursed those who imposed it almost more than those who endured it. It is now our bounded duty to abolish the brutal and ferocious oppression of those creatures of our common Father which share with man the mystery of life...this theme is nothing if not spiritual: an acid test of our relation to the Deity of love and compassion."
In a 1985 paper entitled "The Status of Animals in the Christian Tradition" (based on a September 1984 talk at a Quaker study center entitled "Non-violence: Extending the Concept to Animals"), the Reverend Andrew Linzey redefined the traditional understanding of human "dominion" over the animal kingdom:
"...scholarly research in the modern period interprets the notion of dominion in terms of early kingship theology in which man is to act as God's vice-regent in creation, that is with authority, but under divine moral rule. We are therefore not given absolute or arbitrary power over animals but entrusted with God-like power which must be exercised with responsibility and restraint.
"...for centuries Christians have misinterpreted their own scripture and have read into it implications that were simply not there. The idea that human beings have absolute rights over creation is therefore eclipsed. The vital issue that now confronts moral theologians is how far and to what extent we may use animal life and for what purposes."
After citing Scripture and many positive instances of concern for animals in the Christian tradition, Reverend Linzey concludes that the Christian basis for animal rights includes the following points:
1. Animals are fellow creatures with us and belong to God.
2. Animals have value to God independently of their value or use to us.
3. Animals exist in a covenant relationship with God and mankind and therefore there is a moral bond between us.
4. Human beings are set in a position of responsibility to animals.
5. Jesus Christ is our moral exemplar in his sacrifice of love for creation.
6. God's redeeming love extends to all creation.
7. We have duties to animals derived from our relationship of responsibility to them.
In a sermon preached in York Minster, September 28, 1986, John Austin Baker, the Bishop of Salisbury, England, attacked the overcrowded confinement methods of raising and killing animals for food, choosing as his example, the treatment of chickens.
"Is there any credit balance for the battery hen, denied almost all natural functioning, all normal environment, lapsing steadily into deformity and disease, for the whole of her existence?" he asked. "It is in the battery shed and the broiler house, not in the wild, that we find the true parallel to Auschwitz. Auschwitz is a purely human invention."On another occasion, Bishop Baker taught: "By far the most important duty of all Christians in the cause of animal welfare is to cultivate this capacity to see; to see things with the heart of God, and so to suffer with other creatures."
On World Prayer Day for Animals, October 4, 1986, Bishop Baker preached against indifference to animal pain and lauded the animal welfare movement: "To shut your mind, heart, imagination to the sufferings of others is to begin slowly but inexorably to die. It is to cease by inches from being human, to become in the end capable of nothing generous or unselfish--or sometimes capable of anything, however terrible. You in the animal welfare movement are among those who may yet save our society from becoming spiritually deaf, blind and dead, and so from the doom that will justly follow..."
According to Bishop Baker: "...Rights, whether animal or human, have only one sure foundation: that God loves us all and rejoices in us all. We humans are called to share with God in fulfilling the work of love toward all creatures...the true glory of the strong is to give themselves for the cherishing of the weak."
In October, 1986, on the Feast Day of St. Francis, the Very Reverend James Morton in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, New York City, made this observation: "We don't own animals, any more than we don't own trees or own mountains or seas or, indeed, each other. We don't own our wives or our husbands or our friends or our lovers. We respect and behold and we celebrate trees and mountains and seas and husbands and wives and lovers and children and friends and animals...Our souls must be poor--must be open--in order to be able to receive, to behold, to enter into communion with, but not to possess. Our poverty of soul allows animals to thrive and to shine and be free and radiate God's glory."
A 1980 United Nations report states that women constitute half the world's population, perform nearly two-thirds of its work hours, yet receive one-tenth of the world's income and own less than one-hundredth of the world's property. The impact of the women's movement upon the church is being heralded as a Second Reformation. Women are now being ordained as priests, pastors and ministers, while patriarchal references to the Almighty as "Father" are replaced with the gender-neutral "Parent." Jesus Christ is designated the "Child of God."
The words of Scripture--perhaps, more accurately, the words of the apostle Paul--on this subject are seen today not as a divine revelation, but rather as an embarrassment from centuries past:
"Let the women keep silent in the churches, for they are not allowed to speak. Instead, they must, as the Law says, be in subordination. If they wish to learn something, let them inquire of their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church...let a woman learn quietly with complete submission. I do not allow a woman to teach, neither to domineer over a man; instead she is to keep still. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman, since she was deceived, experienced the transgression. She will, however, be kept safe through the child-bearing, if with self-control she continues in faith and love and consecration." (I Corinthians 14:34-35; I Timothy 2:11-15)
Many churches now claim these instructions were merely temporary frameworks used to build churches in the first century pagan world--they are not to be taken as universal absolutes for all eternity. If churches, Scripture and Christianity can adapt and be redefined or reinterpreted in a changing world to end injustices towards women, they can certainly do the same towards animals.
The International Network for Religion and Animals (INRA) was founded in 1985 by Virginia Bouraquardez. Its educational and religious programs are meant to "bring religious principles to bear upon humanity's attitude towards the treatment of our animal kin...and, through leadership, materials, and programs, to successfully interact with clergy and laity from many religious traditions."
According to INRA:"Religion counsels the powerful to be merciful and kind to those weaker than themselves, and most of humankind is at least nominally religious. But there is a ghastly paradox. Far from showing mercy, humanity uses its dominion over other animal species to pen them in cruel close confinement; to trap, club, and harpoon them; to poison, mutilate, and shock them in the name of science; to kill them by the billions; and even to blind them in excruciating pain to test cosmetics.
"Some of these abuses are due to mistaken understandings of religious principles; others, to a failure to apply those principles. Scriptures need to be fully researched concerning the relationship of humans to nonhuman animals, and to the entire ecological structure of Nature. Misinterpretations of scripture taken out of context, or based upon questionable theological assumptions need to be re-examined."
In the winter of 1990, INRA's Executive Director, the Reverend Dr. Marc A. Wessels of the United Church of Christ wrote: "As a Christian clergyman who speaks of having compassion for other creatures and who actively declares the need for humans to develop an ethic that gives reverence for all of life, I hope that others will open their eyes, hearts and minds to the responsibility of loving care for God's creatures."
In a pamphlet entitled "The Spiritual Link Between Humans and Animals," Reverend Wessels writes: "We recognize that many animal rights activists and ecologists are highly critical of Christians because of our relative failure thus far adequately to defend animals and to preserve the natural environment. Yet there are positive signs of a growing movement of Christian activists and theologians who are committed to the process of ecological stewardship and animal liberation.
"Individual Christians and groups on a variety of levels, including denominational, ecumenical, national and international, have begun the delayed process of seriously considering and practically addressing the question of Christian responsibility for animals. Because of the debate surrounding the 'rights' of animals, some Christians are considering the tenets of their faith in search for an appropriate ethical response."
According to Reverend Wessels, "The most important teaching which Jesus shared was the need for people to love God with their whole self and to love their neighbor as they loved themselves. Jesus expanded the concept of neighbor to include those who were normally excluded, and it is therefore not too farfetched for us to consider the animals as our neighbors.
"To think about animals as our brothers and sisters is not a new or radical idea. By extending the idea of neighbor, the love of neighbor includes love of, compassion for, and advocacy of animals. There are many historical examples of Christians who thought along those lines, besides the familiar illustration of St. Francis. An abbreviated listing of some of those individuals worthy of study and emulation includes Saint Blaise, Saint Comgall, Saint Cuthbert, Saint Gerasimus, Saint Giles, and Saint Jerome, to name but a few."
Reverend Wessels notes that: "In the Bible, which we understand as the divine revelation of God, there is ample evidence of the vastness and goodness of God toward animals. The Scriptures announce God as the creator of all life, the One responsible for calling life into being and placing it in an ordered fashion which reflects God's glory. Humans and animals are a part of this arrangement. Humanity has a special relationship with particular duties to God's created order, a connection to the animals by which they are morally bound by God's covenant with them."According to the Scriptures, Christians are called to respect the life of animals and to be ethically engaged in protecting the life and liberty of all sentient creatures. As that is the case, human needs and rights do not usurp an animal's intrinsic rights, nor should they deny the basic liberty of either individual animals or specific species. If the Christian call can be understood as being a command to be righteous, then Christians must have a higher regard for the lives of animals.
"Jesus' life was one of compassion and liberation;" concludes Reverend Wessels, "his ministry was one which understood and expressed the needs of the oppressed. Especially in the past decade, Christians have been reminded that their faith requires them to take seriously the cries of the oppressed.
"Theologians such as Gutierrez, Miranda, and Hinkelammert have defined the Christian message as one which liberates lives and transforms social patterns of oppression. That concept of Christianity which sees God as the creator of the universe and the One who seeks justice is not exclusive; immunity from cruelty and injustice is not only a human desire or need--the animal kingdom also needs liberation."
A growing number of Christian theologians, clergy and activists are beginning to take a stand in favor of animal rights. In a pamphlet entitled Christian Considerations on Laboratory Animals Reverend Marc Wessels notes that in laboratories animals cease to be persons and become "tools of research." He cites William French of Loyala University as having made the same observation at a gathering of Christian ethicists at Duke University--a conference entitled "Good News for Animals?"
On Earth Day, 1990, Reverend Wessels observed:
"It is a fact that no significant social reform has yet taken place in this country without the voice of the religious community being heard. The endeavors of the abolition of slavery; the women's suffrage movement; the emergence of the pacifist tradition during World War I; the struggles to support civil rights, labor unions, and migrant farm workers; and the anti-nuclear and peace movements have all succeeded in part because of the power and support of organized religion. Such authority and energy is required by individual Christians and the institutional church today if the liberation of animals is to become a reality."
The Reverend Dr. Andrew Linzey's 1987 book, Christianity and the Rights of Animals, may be regarded as a landmark in Christian theology as well as in the animal rights movement. Linzey responds to criticism from many of the intellectual leaders of the animal rights and environmental movements--Peter Singer, Richard Ryder, Maureen Duffy, Lynn White, Jr.--that Christianity has excluded nonhumans from moral concern, that Christian churches are consequently agents of oppression, and that Christian doctrines are thus responsible for the roots of the current ecological crisis.
"We do not have books devoted to a consideration of animals," he acknowledges. "We do not have clearly worked-out systematic views on animals. These are signs of the problem. The thinking, or at least the vast bulk of it, has yet to be done."
Dr. Tom Regan calls Reverend Linzey, an Anglican clergyman, "the foremost theologian working in the field of animal/human relations." Christianity and the Rights of Animals, a must-read for all Christians, certainly clears the ground.
According to Reverend Linzey:
"It does seem somewhat disingenuous for Christians to speak so solidly for human rights and then query the appropriateness of rights language when it comes to animals...the Christian basis for animal rights is bound to be different in crucial respects from that of secular philosophy. But because Christians (as we see it) have a good, even superior, basis for animal rights, that in no way precludes others from utilizing the terminology."
Linzey acknowledges that the gospel is ambiguous on ethical questions such as animal rights. "When it comes to wanting to know the attitude that Jesus may have taken to a range of pressing moral issues today, we are often at a loss to know precise answers. But we can at least be clear about the contours. The lordship of Christ is expressed in service. He is the one who washes dirty feet, heals the sick, releases individuals from oppression, both spiritual and physical, feeds the hungry, and teaches his followers the way of costly loving..."
Linzey justifies compassion for animals through the example of Christ. "If God's self-revealed life in Jesus is the model of how Christians should behave and if, crucially, divine power is expressed in service, how can we disregard even 'the least among us'? It may be that in the light of Christ we are bound to say that the weakest have in fact the greater claim upon us.
"In some ways," Linzey continues, "Christian thinking is already oriented in this direction. What is it that so appalls us about cruelty to children or oppression of the vulnerable, but that these things are betrayals of relationships of special care and special trust? Likewise, and even more so, in the case of animals who are mostly defenseless before us.
"Slowly but surely," Linzey explains, "having grasped the notion of dominion means stewardship, we are now for the first time seeing how demanding our lordship over creation is really meant to be. Where once we thought we had the cheapest ride, we are now beginning to see that we have the costliest responsibilities...Lordship without service is indeed tyranny."
Discussing the finer points between human "dominion" over animals, versus humane stewardship, Linzey says, "the whole point about stewardship is that the stewards should value what God has given as highly as they value themselves. To be placed in a relationship of special care and special protection is hardly a license for tyranny or even... 'benevolent despotism.' If we fail to grasp the necessarily sacrificial nature of lordship as revealed in Christ, we shall hardly begin to make good stewards, even of those beings we regard as 'inferior.'"
Linzey sees divine reconciliation through Christ. The "hidden purpose" of God in Christ was "determined beforehand," and consists of bringing "all in heaven and on earth" into a "unity in Christ." (Ephesians 1:9-11) Linzey notes that in Ephesians, as in Colossians and Romans, the creation is "foreordained in Christ."
"Since it is through man's curse that the creation has become estranged from its Creator," Linzey asserts, "it is only right that one important step along the road to recovery is that man himself should be redeemed. The salvation of human beings is in this way a pointer to the salvation of all creation...For it must be the special role of humans within God's creation to hasten the very process of redemption, by the power of the Spirit for which God has destined it.
"Human beings must be healed," Linzey insists, "because it is their violence and disorder which has been let loose on the world. Through humans, liberated for God, we can glimpse the possibility of world redemption. Can it really be so difficult to grasp that the God who performs the demanding and costly task of redeeming sinful man will not also be able to restore the involuntary animal creation, which groans under the weight of another's burden?"Linzey thus sees Jesus Christ as the only hope for animal liberation. "In Christ, God has borne our sufferings, actually entered into them in the flesh so that we may be liberated from them (and all pain and all death) and secure, by his grace, eternal redemption.
"In principle the question of how an almighty, loving God can allow suffering in a mouse is no different to the same question that may be posed about man. Of course there are important differences between men and mice, but there are no morally relevant ones when it comes to pain and suffering. It is for this reason alone that we need to hold fast to those cosmic strands of the biblical material which speak of the inclusive nature of Christ's sacrifice and redeeming work."
Linzey finds two justifications for a Christian case for vegetarianism:
"The first is that killing is a morally significant matter. While justifiable in principle, it can only be practically justified where there is real need for human nourishment. Christian vegetarians do not have to claim that it is always and absolutely wrong to kill in order to eat. It could well be that there were, and are, some situations in which meat-eating was and is essential in order to survive. Geographical considerations alone make it difficult to envisiage life in Palestine at the time of Christ without some primitive fishing industry. But the crucial point is that where we are free to do otherwise the killing of Spirit-filled individuals requires moral justification. It may be justifiable, but only when human nourishment clearly requires it, and even then it remains an inevitable consequence of sin.
"The second point," Linzey explains, "is that misappropriation occurs when humans do not recognize that the life of an animal belongs to God, not to them. Here it seems to me that Christian vegetarianism is well-founded. For while it may have been possible in the past to rear animals with personal care and consideration for their well-being and to dispatch them with the humble and scrupulous recognition that their life should only be taken in times of necessity, such conditions are abnormal today."
In Christianity and the Rights of Animals, the Reverend Dr. Andrew Linzey not only makes a very sound Christian theological case for animal rights, but states further that animal slavery may be abolished on the same grounds that were used in biblical times to abolish human sacrifice and infanticide:
"...it may be argued that humans have a right to their culture and their way of life. What would we be, it may be questioned, without our land and history and ways of life? In general, culture is valuable. But it is also the case that there can be evil cultures, or at least cherished traditions which perpetuate injustice or tyranny.
"The Greeks, for example, despite all their outstanding contributions to learning did not appear to recognize the immorality of (human) slavery. There can be elements within every culture that are simply not worth defending, not only slavery, but also infanticide and human sacrifice."
"With God, all things are possible." (Matthew 19:26; Mark 10:27; Luke 18:27) Linzey urges Christian readers to think in terms of future possibilities. "For to be committed to Jesus involves being committed not only to his earthly ministry in the past but also to his living Spirit in whose power new possibilities are continually opened up for us in the present. All things have yet to be made new in Christ and we have yet to become perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect. Making peace is a dynamic possibility through the Spirit."
Frances Arnetta founded Christians Helping Animals and People Inc. (CHAP), a New York-based ministry. "I believe Jesus Christ is the only hope for ending cruelty towards animals," she says. The end of animal cruelty will coincide with Jesus' Second Coming, when the Kingdom of Peace will reign. Arnetta lives her life in preparation for that day. Arnetta cites Psalm 50:10-11 and Revelations 4:11, insisting animals belong to God and are not here for human exploitation.
"Compassion towards people and compassion towards animals are not mutually exclusive," Arnetta writes. "A truly sympathetic person cannot turn his or her feelings on and off like a faucet, depending on the species, race, sex or creed of the victim. God teaches us in Psalm 36:6 and in Matthew 6:26 and 10:29 that his compassion encompasses all creatures, human and animal. Shall we not imitate our Heavenly Father?"
In a pamphlet entitled Animal Rights: A Biblical View, Arnetta cites Genesis 1:20-22. God creates animals and blesses them; animals have the right to be blessed by God. After creating the nonhuman world, God "saw that it was good." (Genesis 1:25) "Here, God gave the animals their own intrinsic value; the Creator and Lord of the universe called them good! Now they had the right to be viewed as individuals with inherent qualities of goodness and worth, independent of human beings, who had not yet been created!
"Next," Arnetta continues, "God brought the animals to Adam to be named. This naming gave status to the animals...God saw to it that every living creature had a name. (Genesis 2:19) here God gave them the right to personhood and respect...God has also used the animals as His messengers. The first time Noah sent forth the dove from the ark, her return told him that the waters had not receded enough for the occupants of the ark to leave it. The second time she returned with an olive leaf, telling him that the waters were abated. During the drought and resulting famine in Israel under Ahab's reign, God sent ravens to feed the prophet Elijah. (I Kings 17:4-6)"
On the issue of animal sacrifice, Arnetta notes that, "Without the shedding of innocent blood, there can be no forgiveness of sin (Hebrews 9:22). I believe that death was the price exacted by Satan for the return of creation into fellowship with God...The sacrificial animal was an Old Testament symbol of Christ, the Redeemer: 'Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, ye shall have no life in you.' (John 6:53) I believe God dearly loves the animals, because they are innocent--only their innocent blood could cover sin until Jesus shed His innocent blood to wash away sin. With Jesus' death, the need for animal sacrifice was done away with."
Arnetta supports this position, as well as her view that animals are included in God's kingdom, by citing John 3:16:
"'For God so loved the world (not just humankind), that He gave His only begotten Son...' The word 'world' used here in the original Greek means 'cosmos'--all of creation! (See also I Corinthians 15:16-28 and Colossians 1:15-20). And so, through Jesus Christ, the animals have a right to eternal life!"Revelations 5:13 tells of the coming worship of Jesus," explains Arnetta. "And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, 'Blessing and honour and glory and power be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb (Jesus) for ever and ever.'"
Arnetta regards animal rights not as a form of "good works," but rather as a fundamental Christian concern: "Why worry about the unwanted unborn? Why worry about the starving peoples of the world? Here's why: We are to 'occupy' until Jesus returns...the salvation of souls is our first priority. But we can't help souls if we're one-dimensional. Jesus commands us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned, and in general practice all the works of mercy.
"In our present world," Arnetta admits, "human problems will never be solved. Jesus said, 'For ye have the poor always with you...' (Matthew 26:11) What we must do is try to relieve suffering wherever we find it, regardless of the nature of the victim, until Jesus comes back. Only His return will eliminate all suffering forever (see Isaiah 11:6-9).
"Revelations 12:12 specifically states that the devil causes suffering to animals, and Ephesians 4:27 warns us not to give him any place. Genesis 1:20-25 declares that as God created each creature 'He saw that it was good.' In this way, God gave every creature its own intrinsic worth, before man was even created...Some years ago, the FBI did a study on the link between a child's cruelty to animals and his/her tendency toward violent crime in adulthood. A direct relationship was proven beyond doubt..."
According to Arnetta, "As humanism and speciesism took hold in the 'Age of Reason,' Descartes declared that animals are only machines. And so, Western civilization took a tragic detour from Biblical compassion--a detour that is with us to this day."Arnetta rejects the idea that biblically-based respect for the sanctity of all life will lead to pantheism or the deification of animals, as is the case with certain non-Christian faiths. "When we Christians are compassionate to animals," she says, "we are imitating our Heavenly Father. If non-Christian people are leading the way in respect for the lives of animals, it is because we Christians have failed to be the light Jesus commanded us to be. We should be an example of boundless mercy."
In a pamphlet entitled What the Bible Says About Vegetarianism: God's Best for All Concerned, Arnetta writes that Christians should be "harmless as doves," and describes vegetarianism as "God's best for good health," "God's best for the environment," and "God's best to feed the hungry."
"Vegetarianism is the diet that will once again be given by God. Jews look forward to that time as the coming of the Messiah; Christians see it as the return of the Messiah--Jesus Christ. It is prophesied in Isaiah 11:1-9 and in Isaiah 65--a time when, under His lordship, predator and prey will lie down side by side in peace and once again enjoy the green herb and the fruit of the seed-bearing tree.
"In the New Testament, Revelation 21:4 describes this as the time when 'God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.'
"Not only is it totally Scriptural to be a vegetarian," Arnetta concludes, "but when done in service to the true and living God, it may well be as close to a heavenly lifestyle as one can get!"Clive Hollands of the St. Andrew Animal Fund in England, wrote in a 1987 paper entitled "The Animal Kingdom and the Kingdom of God" that animal rights "is an issue of strict justice," and one that calls for Christian compassion:
"As Christians we believe that God gave us dominion over His Creation and we used that authority, not to protect and safeguard the natural world, but to destroy and pollute the environment and, worse, we have deprived animals of the dignity and respect which is due to all that has life.
"Let us then thank God for the unending wonder of the created world, for the oneness of all life--for the Integrity of Creation. Let us pray for all living creatures, those in the wild that may never even see man and in whose very being worship their Creator.
"Let us think and pray especially for all those animals who do know man, who are in the service of man, and who suffer at the hands of man. Let us pray to the God who knows of the fall of a single sparrow, that the suffering, pain and fear of all animals may be eased."Finally, let us pray for all those who work to protect animals that their efforts may be rewarded and the time may come when animals are granted the dignity and respect which is their due as living beings created by the same hand that fashioned you and me."
The Glauberg Confession is a theological statement of faith made before a God whose love extends to all His creatures. It reads as follows:
"We confess before God, the Creator of the Animals, and before our fellow Men; We have failed as Christians, because we forgot the animals in our faith.
"As theologians we were not prepared to stand up against scientific and philosophical trends inimical to life with the Theology of Creation. We have betrayed the diaconical mission of Jesus, and not served our least brethren, the animals.
"As pastors we were scared to give room to animals in our churches and parishes.
"As the Church, we were deaf to the 'groaning in travail' of our mistreated and exploited fellow-creatures.
"We justify the Glauberg Confession theologically.
"We read the statements in the Bible about Creation and regard for our fellow-creatures with new eyes and new interest. We know how tied up we are with Nature, linked with every living thing--and under the same threat.
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