Animal rights

At the time I was about to look forward to what would be my two year up to now blogging career, it would have come as little surprise that some of my posts turned out to be about human rights but back then I would not have envisaged that I would one day be posting on the topic of animal rights as well. This was one (of many probably) subjects that was not on my radar, although maybe it should have been. In a recent exchange with a friend about suffering, he brought up the matter of animal pain, asking some searching questions, and I said I would go away and think about it. This blog post represents some of my thinking about the subject so far, and while I recognise my own limited understanding and may not have answered all the questions to my friend’s satisfaction, I am at least making a start and hope what I am about to share will be of some help.

As those who know me well, I try to begin to answer any question, especially those where it is clearly relevant (as in this case), based on my understanding from a theological perspective. While I am more switched on than most, theologically speaking, I have to confess my theological reflections on the subject of animal rights to date are light weight as are most Christians, and it is not a subject I hear much discussed. When I asked my pastor for his thoughts he began by pointing me in the direction of the Old Testament law which seemed to have quite a bit to say about animal welfare, which may surprise some who reckon this to be pretty oppressive in some aspects of human rights. He followed this up a few days later by presenting me with a copy of the book titled “Animal Gospel – Christian Faith As Though Animals Mattered” by Andrew Linzey, which I read with interest and have only just completed.

Before going into what I found out from the book and some of the issues relating to animal rights, I thought I should state my position prior to when my friend asked his questions. While I am an animal lover (I have three cats that I am affectionate toward), I am not over sentimental about animals. I have thought (although I am more inclined now to challenge this) that animals do not have spirits or souls and are decidedly below humans in the creation pecking order, and that our focus should be on helping humans ahead of helping animals. While I believe we should be concerned for animal welfare and am aware of all sorts of scenarios where animals are not treated in the way they should be, I hadn’t thought much through many of the issues. I am decidedly non-veg. concerning eating preferences and I have tended to go for the cheaper options when shopping for food, these being only two out of many considerations.

The marks of a good book, especially when in the non-fiction category, is that it informs, inspires and takes one out of one’s comfort zone. This book did all that for me and more, and while there are aspects I am not fully convinced on, including the question of where the balance lies, I now know more than I did before and some of what the book argues in terms of taking animal rights seriously I recognize I need to take on board if I want to be more than someone who merely pays lip service to what I hear. While it did not elaborate much on what the Old Testament law said about animal welfare, it did a lot of theologizing and much of it I had to concede is sound, as is the premise that when it came to defending animal rights down the ages the church has done a pretty bad job, although there had been some bright lights. I like the idea of seeing in the final redemption this including animal as well as human kind, and recognizing that the Fall is where much of the wrongs toward animals (and humans) stems from.

I can easily rattle of a whole list of animal right issues, especially now that I have read the book, all of which are relevant today: cruel animal sports, cruelty to animals generally, live animal exports, experimentation on animals, and these need to be considered before these matters arise and not just when, and we should be proactive in the way we live our lives and the causes we espouse and in all this the implications regarding animals need to be considered. It has all sorts of ramifications, e.g. the food we eat, the products we buy (many of which involve animals), as well as “hot” issues like cloning, fox hunting, factory farming and the export of live animals.

One of the things I found intriguing in the study was coming across people in the past who I particularly admired, like St. Francis who regarded animals as his brothers, who championed the animal rights cause. Christian activists like William Wilberforce, Lord Shaftsbury and C.S.Lewis are all known and honoured for many things other than their involvement with animal rights, yet all did something quite remarkable away from their main activist area. Wilberforce was in the forefront of setting up organizations to prevent animal cruelty, Shaftsbury did much the same with his anti-vivisection campaigns and anyone who has read the “Narnia” books will know that Lewis’ Narnian utopian like vision had humans and animals living together in harmony and operating on an equal footing.

While I believe that humans are the crowning glory of God’s creation, I have no doubt that in the new heaven and earth that animals will have an important part to play. I cannot explain away animal pain any more I can human pain, especially of the vulnerable and innocent, who more often than not bear the brunt, but one day I look forward to coming to a full understanding. Meanwhile, I must try to protect all such, and that includes animals.

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