Flinders, looking south to Wilpena Pound November 2014

Animal Rights

The Biscuit Plot
About 20 minutes before we go to bed the dog goes outside for the toilet. After a general perusal of the stars, much sniffing of the breeze, and a detailed search for a suitable place to do one’s business, Little Dog comes back inside and is rewarded with two teeth cleaning biscuits of irresistible doggy goodness.

Recently, Little Dog had not long had her biscuits, when she jumped up and rapped urgently on the back door. Accompanying her outside I observed a perfunctory squat, which was followed, upon returning to the kitchen, by a “you’ve forgotten my biscuits” tap-tap on the pantry door.

This second trip outside was repeated several nights running, and it became obvious that the squat, which she soon replaced with a mere circuit of the back veranda before returning to the back door, was a strategy designed to get more food! I began refusing the second set of treats, and her sudden need for a second toilet trip disappeared. The dog’s response to these refusals is best described as a sulky pout.

Animals are not Biological Machines
Animals can reason, plan and plot, and adjust to their environment. They are not human, but they are “not far from human.” You can meet some of the most interesting and odd, specimens of humanity at dog and cat shows, but these folk have a much greater grip on reality than those doctrinaire researchers who seem to wish, at all costs, to reduce the intelligence of animals to some kind of stimulus response. 

The intelligence of animals continues to startle us; crows making hooks to get stuff out of bottles, sheep rolling across grids to raid the village gardens, sheep learning to surf!, cows and sheep opening the latches on yards, monkeys hiding and storing rocks to throw at zoo visitors. The list is growing.

Yet we still regard animals as less than us. We have greater rights, and it is not clear that animals even have rights. Concern for animal rights is somehow less noble. As one of my friends said of his daughter, “Forget the starving millions; she just wants to save the whales.”

- - -

Animal Rights - A New Paradigm
This essay seeks to re-examine our relationship with animals. Nothing much I will say is new, and yet sadly, little of it is familiar to the local church.

My basic assumption in all of this is that we grow in our humanity, both as individuals and as a society. We evolve to new insights about our attitudes and behaviour. We have done this with issues such as slavery, race, the treatment of women, and the treatment of people based on their sexual orientation.

In each case we have found better ways to be human, and have repudiated attitudes that were once seen as natural, and even God ordained. There is no reason why we might not grow the same way in our relating to animals.

The long and unfinished battles over slavery, race and sexism of all kinds should alert us to the fact that a similar rethinking of how we relate to animals will be difficult. In fact, the thinking will be the easy part. Acting on the thinking will be much harder.

This is because we are dealing with the fact that in our evolutionary past we ate animals to survive. In many situations, eating meat was necessary for survival. Therefore animal ownership, and meat eating, is a deep rooted behaviour which most of us regard as normal and natural. It is not surprising that we live out of a paradigm which sees that our species is fundamentally different from and superior to other species.

We have fine organizations like the R S.P.C.A., which address some of the excesses of our cruelty. They do not adequately address the issues of treating animals as other, as possessions, and as food. Such organisations work within the paradigm of human superiority largely holding to the notion that humans have greater worth, whatever the attitude of individuals within them. The organisations do not challenge the paradigm.

Moral Responsibility
Tom Regan suggests that where people have no choice but to eat meat or starve, they have a much diminished moral responsibility. We in the West, who can afford not to eat meat, bear a much greater moral responsibility.

We use similar moral reasoning with respect to cannibalism; the Andes air crash is a case in point, where the normally reprehensible action of eating human flesh was excused.

Regan suggests that moral responsibility should not be equated to “being a bad person.” He is correct. Good people fall short of their ideals in many areas. In the case of animal welfare, it is one thing to have a changed moral perception of how we should relate to animals but another thing altogether to change our actions quickly.

 Farmers may have millions of dollars invested in animal husbandry and may also have legal contractual obligations. This cannot be changed overnight; city dwellers have no right to feel superior if they come to a new understanding and ‘go vego’ with relative ease.

A wider understanding of animal rights would have major flow on affects on abattoirs, fodder and seed producers, and the economic structure of country towns. It would change food pricing structures (including non meat products) in ways that are difficult to predict.

Food is not the only area of concern. Shoes, clothes, medicines, and wine making are only a few of the areas affected.


Why Do I Think We Should Change?
Where does my desire to address the issue of animal rights come from?

There are five areas I address in his essay. There has been no orderly progression through these points, but rather a slow brewing mix between them over years. They are

  1. Living with the Little Dog
  2. Working with sheep and cattle, and pigs
  3. Roo shooting, and hunting generally
  4. The blurring of the line we once thought delineated animals from humans,
    and finally,
  5. Christian theology. 

Little Dog
Little Dog has caused me much thought. There were dogs on the farm before I was aware of myself. I am told “Whoppers” used to sit protectively under my cot when I was put out in the sun, and bark if the birds came near. But Little Dog is the first dog who has lived inside the house with me. She sleeps on the bed, which I sometimes think is hers, not ours!

I have been constantly amazed at her perspicacity. She is a dog, not a human, but her reading of us, her planning, and her memory for things betrays deep intelligence. She clearly has emotions which we can only anthropomorphise, as we are human and not canine, but which seem analogous to the things we call sadness, sulkiness, humour, love, headstrong, puzzlement, anger, and possessiveness, and others.

She is a dog which still wants to sniff other dog’s bums and faeces, but which is far closer to me than I had ever imagined. The grumbles, and the pointed looks in the direction of the bedroom, when we stay up too late, are a source of hilarity, but also of wonderment.

She is Thou, not an it. My Christian heritage goes against owning someone who is Thou. I have no rights over someone who is Thou. I have responsibility toward them.

Sheep , Cattle and Pigs
 It is a common-place that city people are romantic, impractical, and overly sentimental about animals. We are advised to take wisdom from farmers, who are practical and unsentimental about these things. There is truth in this.

In fact, the farmers have been my best teachers. There is something deeply incongruous in the way we treat animals in agriculture. There is a disconnect between how we relate to them and how we treat them. We expect city folk coo over chickens at the Royal Show and then go and eat eggs from birds which have spent a life time in cages. This is the sentimentality and impracticality of the city. But farmers do the same!

In fact, as farmers, we exemplify this disconnect.

My father was a farmer. We had sheep; the only things which ever caused him to swear, and which were almost always the cause of the few times I saw him lose his temper.

Yet even in the stock yards, he would talk to the sheep. He did not verbally abuse them, but spoke to them respectfully, something common to many farmers. Some of them had names.

He grew sheep for wool. Meat was a by product. Dad would not kill his own sheep; we bought meat from the butcher. He did not like mutton, and I often wondered if it was because he did not like to eat the animals with which he worked.

He would look after sick sheep, putting them up in slings to keep them standing, and spending far more effort then they were worth in dollar terms. They were a commodity which he treated far better than a commodity.

As the cost-price squeeze of the seventies began, he could have grown pigs in cages, or later, feed lot beef. Our neighbours did such things, making good money. Cattle stood in dust bowl pens in the summer sun, fed for weeks from troughs. I don't think Mel had the heart for it. Suggestions and questions from us kids were met with refusal to even consider the idea.

Not much later, I worked for Peter, who ran two intensive piggeries. These were automated, efficient, and exciting. He taught me to weld so I could build new crates for more pigs. It was a technologically fascinating enterprise. But even then, young as I was, I was disconcerted that he spoke to his pigs as tenderly as he spoke to his dogs. A farmer’s dogs come second only to his wife, and not always.

Here were animals who spent their whole life in a cage in a shed, grown on to be killed. Even in this environment, Peter could not but relate to his pigs as Thou, despite what he was doing to them. I am not sure how he did it. The experience set me against "meat production” in any intensive form, for life.

As a young farmer I could cope with wool production. I thought the animal at least had a life. So too, dairying—  although I was well aware of what happened to the calves.  I thought maybe the arid land beef and sheep had the best of it. They were relatively free agents. They had a life.

Then I helped clear out wild bush cattle in the Musgraves. The loading of cattle onto trucks with electric prods, heaving, shoving, beating—  I remember shovels being used—  was outrageous. The aboriginal people of the region were hunters. They were necessarily pragmatic about the lives of animals. Yet in all that they had a respect for the animal that was totally missing in the loading of cattle.

The Great Disconnect
The only consistent treatment of animals in the three examples I have given, is the mustering of the wild bush cattle. These were a commodity without rights, and treated accordingly. The only tempering of their treatment was to limit any physical harm that would lessen their market value. And like couriers and removalists everywhere, the truckies did not necessarily care too much about the packages anyway.

In the other examples, the farmers could not be consistent in their use of animals as commodities. The most pragmatic of us are conflicted in the way we relate to animals. Those two farmers are typical of farmers generally. Farmers are intolerant of people who mistreat stock.

This incongruity, or disconnect, is a sign to us that something is wrong in our relating to animals. Like all incongruities it shows us that our paradigm is under stress, and that it is not telling us the full story of what is. The disconnect is calling us to a new way of relating.

Roo Shooting.
I was a hunter, until something about hunting soured. I’m quoting another post here.

One night I shot a kanyula (hill kangaroo) which vanished in the muzzle bloom, and the buck of the scope. We went to the spot and found it gone. We tracked the blood 300 feet up a spur, down into a gully, and as high up the other side. The chest cavity was almost empty. I marvelled at its endurance, but felt the beginnings of a regret.

Not long after, in a gun magazine, I suppose, I read a soldier talking about how much punishment the body can take. He’d shot “his first Viet Cong” six or eight times, but the man had kept coming for him. His whole tone was one of regret and frustration, but not about the killing. Back home, he had bought a proper gun.

Somehow, the two incidents connected. I’d once said to someone about my rifle, “If you’re within 500 metres, you’re dead.” It was no boast, just a fact. [But now, using] such a weapon for fun began to feel deeply, viscerally wrong.

My theological studies inexorably brought me to a sense or the connectedness of all things, and of all Life.

Meat became a problem. I understand why my father refused to kill his own meat on the farm.  I wonder if his long dislike of mutton was really about the eating the animals he grew for wool.

The current outrage in Australia at the inhumanity of Indonesian abattoirs, and the opposition to the live sheep trade, is ironic. We do the same killing here. Killing is killing, and we are not half as humane about it as we pretend. Life becomes a commodity.

Perhaps the Bushman says a prayer before he kills on the hunt, but it doesn’t happen at the abattoirs, and there are no prayers said as terrified stock are run down with helicopters, and forced into stock crates. Few of us even say Grace at meals.

You see what you want to see in all this. I don’t eat much meat, anymore.

The blurring of the line between animal and human
The “thing” that is supposed to distinguish us from the animals keeps shifting. It was intelligence. It was language. It was opposable thumbs. It was tool making. It was our DNA. Each of these differences has been blurred or reduced.

Animals make tools. Animals plan. Animals have emotions. We share an astonishing amount of DNA with other species. As Tom Regan points out, some animals to whom we do not afford rights, are more intelligent than some disabled humans to whom we unhesitatingly afford rights.

The sort of sensitivity I have gained from the experiences I have listed, and others, leaves me wondering, with Regan, if there is not something arbitrary about our superiority to animals. It begins to ‘smell’ like the other superiorities which we have learned to be an abuse of power, such as race and gender.

Speciesism is the name commonly given to this prejudice. This idea has been characterized in a variety of ways. For present purposes let us begin with the following twofold characterization of what I shall call categorical speciesism.

Categorical speciesism is the belief that

(1) the inherent value of an individual can be judged solely on the basis of the biological species to which that individual belongs, and that

(2) all the members of the species Homo sapiens have equal inherent value, while all the members of every other species lack this kind of value, simply because all and only humans are members of the species Homo sapiens. (Regan)

Regan develops this:

How, then, might the prejudicial character of speciesism be established?

.... consider the nature of the animals we humans hunt, trap, eat, and use for scientific purposes. Any person of common sense will agree that these animals bring the mystery of consciousness to the world. These animals [are not only] in the world, they are aware of it -- and also of their inner world. They see, hear, touch, and feel; but they also desire, believe, remember, and anticipate .... Common sense clearly is on the side of viewing these animals as unified psychological beings, individuals who have a biography (a psychological life-story), not merely a biology.

.... common sense is not in conflict with our best science here. Indeed, our best science offers a scientific corroboration of the common-sense view.

Regan says that corroboration can be seen in evolutionary theory. His argument here is that although we “are the most complex life form of which we are aware” we have evolved from species that are not far different. We would not be here without them. He is implying that these capabilities are not some great leap from other species, but that the biological features within which we live are common to many species.

...  it is entirely consistent with the main thrust of evolutionary theory, and is indeed required by it, to maintain that the members of some species of nonhuman animals are like us in having the capacity to see and hear and feel, for example, as well as to believe and desire, to remember and anticipate. Certainly this is what Darwin thinks, as is evident when he writes of the animals we humans eat and trap, to use just two instances, that they differ psychologically (or mentally) from us in degree, not in kind.(I have added the emphasis here.)

A second related consideration involves comparative anatomy and physiology. Everything we know about nature must incline us to believe that a complex structure has a complex reason for being. It would therefore be an extraordinary lapse of form if we humans had evolved into complicated psychological creatures, with an underlying anatomical and physiological complexity [to support our psychology], while other species of animals had evolved to have a more or less complex anatomy and physiology, very much like our own in many respects, and yet lacked -- totally lacked -- any and every psychological capacity. If nature could respond to this bizarre suggestion, the verdict we would hear would be, "Nonsense!"

Christian Theology
Christianity is popularly understood to say that we own the earth; God has given it to us. People quote Genesis 1:26 as a kind of carte blanche justification (or condemnation) for our having control over the earth, and the right to do with it as we like.

 Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’ (Genesis 1:26)

There has been a revolution in theology in the last 100 years; even before, which does not see such verses as a mandate to exploit the earth. Rather, dominion is understood to mean responsibility for. We are stewards of God’s creation, responsible for its care and its flourishing, and therefore forbidden to exploit it for our own purposes.

There is no warrant here to treat animals as we please. We are responsible for their care, which in Christian theology is not a permission to control or dominate, but an injunction to enable a person or being to reach their maximum potential. In very simple terms, my responsibility to the Little Dog is to enable her to be the best dog she can be, rather than to use her for my purposes. As the vets and the RSPCA say, pet ownership is a responsibility.

When it comes to eating meat, also known as animals we have killed, there is little biblical warrant in Genesis. Look what comes after the creation of both humans and animasl in Genesis. In a world where hunting was still important, and animal husbandry hugely important, the authors and editors of the Genesis story says nothing about the eating of animal flesh. Instead, we have this.

28God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’ 29God said, ‘See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. 30And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.’ And it was so. 31God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.

Surely if the intention of God was perceived to be that we eat flesh, it would be mentioned here! It is not.

Nonetheless, there are two words here which are inescapable: dominion and subdue. At face value these suggest a much more dominating control of the planet than I have allowing.

The corrective to this can be seen in an article by Lee Canipe, as one example among many. He notes a traditional interpretation of the text.

Criticizing what he considered to be the unfairly restrictive regulation of public land by the federal government, for example, James Watt (President Reagan’s controversial Secretary of the Interior) [said,] “The laws which should have made us better stewards, in fact, made us careless landlords,” Watt wrote in 1982. “Instead of protecting resources, we have neglected them. Instead of using resources to build a strong nation . . . we have deprived America of the raw materials it needs.”[7] Watt’s solution to this problem of needlessly excessive conservation—make more national park land available for the development and extraction of natural resources. After all, he pointed out, “the earth is ours.”[8]

Then he points out the wider context of theology which we so easily forget. I’ve broken his paragraph up for clarity.

The word [dominion] must be understood in the context of the entire command that God gives to the first couple in Genesis 1:27-28.

Verse 27 tells us that God creates humans in God’s image and according to God’s likeness.  Here, I believe, lies the key to understanding the divine imperative in a way that both preserves the integrity of the text and establishes a true caretaker role for humanity toward creation.

 God does indeed call men and women to exercise radah, or dominion, over creation. But the real question is: What sort of dominion?

According to verse 27, the answer is clear: a dominion that is in the image, or likeness, of God. Humans, in other words, are to rule over creation in a way that is consistent with the way God rules.

And how does God rule?

Consider Psalm 72:8, the only time, significantly enough, that radah is used in the Old Testament to describe God or God’s activity: “May God have dominion”—or, radah—“from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth.”

The psalmist then proceeds to describe the nature of God’s rule: “For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight” (72:12-14).

When used in connection with God, the potentially violent connotations of radah suggest instead a more generous sort of kingship. God, the psalmist writes, does not exploit or dominate or consume recklessly. God does not use His power to hurt, but rather to heal. God values what cannot be replaced. God works to preserve life, not to destroy it......

Canipe sums up the argument by quoting the prominent Old Testament scholar Gerhard von Rad.

.... von Rad underscores this implicit connection between the image of God and the command to rule. “Just as powerful earthly kings, to indicate their claim to dominion, erect an image of themselves in the provinces of their empire where they do not personally appear,” von Rad writes, “so man is placed above the earth in God’s image as God’s sovereign emblem. He is really only God’s representative, summoned to maintain and enforce God’s claim to dominion over the earth.” That, ultimately, is the divine imperative of Genesis 1:27-28, and it contains within it the seeds of a coherent Christian theology of stewardship toward the environment. After all, stewardship is the act of caring for someone else’s property in a manner consistent with the way he or she would care for it.

Canipe writes from a relatively conservative perspective, quite immune to gender aware language, and yet is strongly against any sense that we own creation, or should dominate it. In the same way, we do not own animals. This re-interpretation of Genesis is not radical; it is the common view outside of fundamentalism.

The Fulfilment  of Life
Read the great prophecy of Isaiah 11:1-9

A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse,
   and a branch shall grow out of his roots. 
2 The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
   the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
   the spirit of counsel and might,
   the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. 
3 His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. 
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
   or decide by what his ears hear; 

4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
   and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
   and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. 
5 Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
   and faithfulness the belt around his loins. 

6 The wolf shall live with the lamb,
   the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
   and a little child shall lead them. 
7 The cow and the bear shall graze,
   their young shall lie down together;
   and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 
8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
   and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. 
9 They will not hurt or destroy
   on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
   as the waters cover the sea. 

These verses one extraordinary. In their original content, they looked forward to a restoration of the glory days of Israel. A shoot of the stump of Jesse refers to the dynasty of King David. Jesse was his father.

The early Christians appropriated these words as their own (eg Romans 15:12) and saw them as referring to Jesus of Nazareth who was the Christ, the one the Gospel of John says came that our joy may be made full. (John 10:10)

How did Isaiah, and the early Christians who co-opted him, envisage the garden of paradise, the ideal world that would be created when the Messiah came? It is clear that justice and righteousness and compassion are all important consequences.

But there is also reconciliation with the animals and with the earth itself. Isaiah did not imagine a world where people rule and dominate animals in the way we do today. It will not only be that the child can lead wild and dangerous animals in safety, but that the animals will be at peace with each other.

“They will not hurt or destroy on my entire holy mountain...” does not sound like meat eating or factory farming!

The hope for a profound change in the nature of the world is not imagined in human terms alone. Animals are integral to it.

Something of this interrelatedness of humans and the other animals can be seen in Paul's letter to the Romans, chapter 8.

18 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 19For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; 23and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.

Paul’s immediate agenda is not the issue here. What is important is that he saw human fulfilment and salvation as intimately connected to the fulfilment and completion of the whole creation. Creation itself is to obtain" the freedom of the glory of the children of God," which is a bit difficult if we are still eating the parts of it most like us! Paul  is writing poetry as much as he is writing words we can pin down in tight definition, but it is hard to see how creation’s gaining the "freedom of the glory of God” can include an entire life spent in a cage in a factory farm!

Sacrifice of Animals
If the Hebrew Scriptures point us towards a harmony and fellowship with animals, why did Israel have such a central dependence upon animal sacrifice in its religion? Surely this suggests I am astray in my assertions.

Israel, like us, was called to grow in its relationship with animals. Animal sacrifice was not the best way to relate to animals or God.

However, I think we frequently misunderstand the nature of animal sacrifice. It is the giving of a life to make up for our own shortcomings; to be blunt, our sinning for which we feel we deserve to die.  Someone should die, and the animal is chosen instead of the person. 

Human sacrifice was known within Israel, and condemned. (eg Jeremiah 7:30-34) Within this paradigm of death being required as some kind of expiation, animals were chosen.

But they are chosen not simply because they are lesser, but because they are an adequate life to sacrifice for human sin. Animals are only sacrificed because they are like us. The life of an animal sits directly within the sphere which I quote from Tom Regan earlier in this article:

... the members of some species of nonhuman animals are like us in having the capacity to see and hear and feel, for example, as well as to believe and desire, to remember and anticipate. Certainly this is what Darwin thinks, as is evident when he writes of the animals we humans eat and trap, to use just two instances, that they differ psychologically (or mentally) from us in degree, not in kind.(I have added the emphasis here.)

For all its imperfections in the treatment of animals, sacrifice values them far more than our factory farming! As I said earlier, we often do not even bother to say grace for the flesh that we eat! Even we who say Grace think mostly of our good fortune, and ignore the life given (or should that be, taken) for our benefit.  When did you last hear someone pray, “Thank you God for this food, and for those who have given us their lives and bodies?”

Occasionally, Christian exclusivists and extremists  are wont to be upset about halal food, or rumours that abattoirs have secret halal rituals as animals are killed. Ironically, if this were true, the practice would be far more hallowing and honouring of God, than our casual gorging at barbecues with no thought other than how cold the beer is, or how well we have cooked the animal.

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The Challenge
None of this is easy for someone who loves meat. It involves a complete change. We are challenged at every level.

The mere fact being alive means we impact on other living things. We tread on ants. Because I do not lie down and die while riding outback roads, I deny the carrion who stalk me food they could use to stay alive. The vegetarian’s tofu and rice destroy the habitat of other animals as the grain grows. We poison the mice which desire the grain, and shoot the birds the crop attracts. My eating food means other homo sapiens go hungry. A friend remembers the adults starving around him when he was a child, going hungry in the refugee camp, so he could eat.

We cannot avoid impacting other life. The question is, in what spirit do we do this? Do we harvest the land frugally and gently? Do we till regretfully, carefully, or uncaringly? Do we even say Grace? Or do we simply take, because we are all that is important, and our rights come first? Indeed, do we consider we are the only ones who have rights?

“Saying Grace” is not only a religious concept.  Secular folk can have an awareness of the gift of food and resources (grace means gift), and subsequently seek to live with earth. Or, like far too many religious folk, take the world for granted, and consume with no thought of what they are costing it.

The theologian Andrew Linzey believes God's love is intended "not just for human beings but for all creatures."

Linzey teaches that Christians should treat every sentient animal according to its intrinsic God-given worth, and not according to its usefulness to human beings.

Christians who do this will achieve a far greater spiritual appreciation of the worth of creation.

I find this to be true for myself. The world has become a deeper and richer place. But rethinking our treatment of animals goes far beyond some kind of spiritual buzz. It “re-hallows” life. A world which properly honoured the life of animals would also be a much gentler and more compassionate place for humans.

It would also be much more alert to the effect we have on the environment. Factory farming and feed-lotting, in particular, are an inefficient use of resources. Meat production wastes food and increases environmental degradation. The PETA website substantially agrees which what I learned in my agricultural science degree 40 years ago. Raising meat where other crops can be grown is wasteful.

I do not at all subscribe to ideas that we cannot have mutually beneficial (symbiotic) relationships with animals. The Little Dog with whom I began is a case in point. She fills us with joy, and we fill her with food and, I suspect, a certain doggy kind of joy.

When it comes to food, my friend Amy has a turkey who lives with her and her family. They eat the eggs, but the turkey will never be killed for food, and lives rather well, apparently getting on very well with the family toddler.

My daughter has shares in a cow. I don’t know how the economics work, but the cow has health insurance, and a guaranteed retirement plan rather than a trip to the slaughter house. And yes, the milk costs more than the dollar a litre concoction available in Coles and Woolies, but it is whole milk and only ever a day old at most. (I do not know what happens to the bull calves.)

And to throw in a really wild thought, consider the death of Lee Scoresby in Pullman’s His Dark Materials.

And because the Texan aeronaut was one of the very few humans Iorek had ever esteemed, he accepted the man's last gift to him. With deft movements of his claws, he ripped aside the dead man's clothes, opened the body with one slash, and began to feast on the flesh and blood of his old friend. It was his first meal for days, and he was hungry.

We make Bogan jokes about eating road kill, but maybe it is a more ethical meat eating than most us ever manage.

I will never buy leather shoes again, but is throwing out my five year old, three times resoled shoes— the uppers have years left in them—   an act of disrespect to the animal from whom they were taken?

We are infants in reconsidering how we should live with animals, and in answering questions like the ones I have just asked. We cannot properly consider such ideas until we have made one basic moral choice, which is that many animals are different from us only in degree, not in kind.  And that no life is to be taken lightly. We do not own this place; we are only its stewards. We are called to nurture, not to exploit.

Andrew Prior

Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please note that references to Wikipedia and other websites are intended to provide extra information for folk who don't have easy access to commentaries or a library. Wikipedia is never more than an introductory tool, and certainly not the last word in matters biblical!


Tom Regan is professor of philosophy at North Carolina State University, where he has twice been named Outstanding Teacher and in 1977 was selected Alumni Distinguished Professor. He has written or helped to edit ten books, including The Case for Animal Rights and All that Dwell Therein.

The essay from Relgion Online which I have quoted originally appeared as chapter 6, pp. 73-87, in Charles Birch, William Eaken and Jay B. McDaniel (eds.) Liberating Life: Contemporary Approaches in Ecological Theology, published 1990 by Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York 10545. 

Lee Canipe who is an Adjunct Professor at Chowan University.

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Food for thought
Eileen 15-01-2013
Timely discussion here Andrew, from my point of view. I have started the journey of wondering about my meat eating habits, and have gone as far as keeping two hens at home for eggs, which has significantly reduced the amount of meat we consume. I like knowing that my hens have lots of room to move about (about 9 square metres each in their run, plus a chook tractor we haven't quite finished constructing) and will never be eaten. The more I know about large scale animal farming the less comfortable I feel with it all.

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