Widening the Circle of Compassion:

Including Emily in Our Theological Vision

 Mary Margaret Earl
Trevor S. Maloney
Susan Roman



The Story of Emily the Cow

What Has Theology To Do With Animals?

The Urgency of the Question

The Modern Factory Farm

The Modern Slaughterhouse

Animal Consciousness – Why Did Emily Run?

A Critique: Anthropocentric Theology and Philosophy

Aquinas and the Thomistic Tradition




A Theological Analysis: Seeking an Animal Inclusive Theology

Analyzing Emily’s Story via Marjorie Suchocki and Carol Adams







Return to Introduction


The Story of Emily the Cow

“The love for all living creatures is the most noble attribute of man.” Charles Darwin

As fantastic as it sounds, this story is true. It is not a fairy-tale, and it is not from children’s storybook.

In November of 1995, it was business as usual at the A. Arena & Sons slaughterhouse in Hopkinton, Massachusetts. The cows were lined up to go through the large swinging doors into the slaughterhouse to be slaughtered, and then cut up for steaks, hamburgers, and all the other things humans produce from cows. Then, during the workers’ lunch break, all this changed. It seemed that at least one cow sensed that danger was near.

Emily the Cow had just seen several other cows go through those doors and not return. In a desperate attempt, Emily ran towards the five-foot high gate, and with a mighty leap heaved her 1,500-pound body over the top. The workers stared in amazement as the escapee ran off into the woods. After picking up their jaws from the floor, the men chased after her to bring her back to the slaughterhouse. Emily, as the cow came to be known, was too wily for them, though, eluding A. Arena and his sons for forty days and forty nights as she wandered in the wilderness. (www.peaceabbey.org/emilythecow.html)

The locals of Hopkinton, a small, rural town started rooting for Emily. The local paper started running “Emily Sightings” (she was often seen foraging with a herd of deer). Farmers started to leave out bales of hay for her. Arena & Sons continued searching, with the help of the local police, determined to catch her and finish the job. They didn’t count on popular resistance, though; the people of Hopkinton gave the police and slaughterhouse employees faulty information, sending them on a wild-cow chase through the woods. Odd, considering that most of these people were, and still are meat-eaters.

Right outside Hopkinton, Megan and Lewis Randa, devout Quakers, run Strawberry Fields, a school for children with special needs, and the Peace Abbey, an animal sanctuary and conference center that has attracted Mother Theresa and the Dalai Lama. The Randas, strict vegans, were struck by the plight of Emily, and decided to do something about it. Megan contacted the slaughterhouse and offered to buy the cow. Frank Arena offered to sell the cow for $500, and then lowered his price to $350, as Emily had lost a lot of weight during her time in the forest. After consulting his three-year old granddaughter, who named the cow Emily, she was sold to the Randas for the bargain price of $1. “[Frank] liked the idea of Emily being at the school,” explained Lewis. (www.peaceabbey.org/emilythecow.html)

Disaster struck! A blizzard hit Hopkinton, covering Emily’s food in inches of snow. The Randas and their students set out food and water for Emily. When they returned, the food and water would be gone, but Emily was never spotted. "All I could think of was Emily out there in the snow," said Megan (People). Finally, one day in December, after leaving out some food, Emily was spotted by the students and staff of Strawberry Fields. The Randas approached Emily carefully, reassured her that they do not eat animals, and coaxed her into a trailer with a bucket of feed and a lot of pushing. Emily had lost over 500 pounds and needed veterinary treatment, but soon enough she was back to full weight, living safe from Arena & Sons, and enjoying the attention of the students at Strawberry Fields and the media. (www.peaceabbey.org/emilythecow.html)

Since Emily’s daring escape and rescue, Emily has been the focus of attention at Peace Abbey. Producer Ellen Little of First Look Pictures, Hollywood, bought the film rights to Emily’s story for a sum that will provide Emily with food, veterinary care, housing, and companionship for the rest of her life. Little also donated $10,000 for a new barn and an attached educational center focusing on vegetarianism and animal issues. A group of Hindu priests from India stopped at the Peace Abbey to visit Emily, believing her to be the reincarnation of a sacred cow. (www.meat.org/cow_escapes.htm)

Today, Emily still lives high on the hay at Peace Abbey, sometimes receiving letter from fans telling how her story influenced them to stop eating animals. As Megan Randa says, Emily is “an ambassador of compassion for animals.” (www.meat.org/cow_escapes.htm)


What Has Theology To Do With Animals?

“We have enslaved the rest of animal creation, and have treated our distant cousins in fur and feathers so badly that beyond a doubt, if they were to formulate a religion, they would depict the Devil in human form.” -William Ralph Inge

An animal rights publication in 1985 polled its readers about their religious beliefs. The majority had none. About 65 percent considered themselves agnostics or atheists, placing themselves dramatically at odds with most Americans - 90 percent of whom believe in God (Lowe 41). Further, a later academic study concluded that church attendance increases in inverse proportion to belief in “rights” for nonhuman animals (ibid). That is - the more a person goes to church, the less likely she believes animals ought not be eaten, worn or tested upon. Animal rights, an emphatically secular movement, has little to do with theology. And theology has little to do with animals. Both, we believe, are impoverished by these deficiencies. Here, we want to specifically address the latter.

Why ought we spend our time considering a cow like Emily? After all, there is an abundance of human suffering and joy eminently worthy of our consideration. Millions of men and women are dying of AIDS in Africa. Children in Iraq starve. People with physical disabilities overcome great odds to achieve great things. The world throbs with human drama. Why, then, consider a cow?

We believe Emily’s story speaks to a profound truth in the world, and on this we stake our theological claim: God cares about all living creatures, and all these creatures - men and women and cows and eagles and chickens and dolphins - are connected. Emily’s life, and her escape, matter in the world. And the joy with which humans greeted her freedom, though they eat and wear cows just like her, speaks to that not-yet-severed connection we feel in the best part of our humanity. And that is worth our theological consideration.[i]

Theology traditionally has focused primarily on the relationship between humans and God, and the wondrous dance between them. This has made a certain amount of sense. Humans are rightly concerned about the human condition, and consciously contemplating God may be of interest to our species alone. But our species may very well not be God’s interest alone. And if the animals do matter, then God help us, because we are torturing and killing billions of them every year.

Once upon a time, it may not have mattered so urgently for theology to bother  with the animals. Perhaps the animals, many of them, got by all right on small family farms and in an abundance of wilderness. This is less and less often the case in the Western world. Jim Mason in Animal Factories writes:

Farms like the ones of my childhood are rapidly being replaced by animal factories. Animals are reared in huge buildings, crowded in cages stacked up like so many shipping crates. On the factory farm there are no pastures, no streams, no seasons, not even day and night. Animal-wise herdsmen and milkmaids have been replaced by automated feeders, computers, closed-circuit television, and vacuum pumps. Health and productivity come not from frolics in sunny meadows but from syringes and additive-laced feed. (xiii)

These are the animals slaughtered yearly in the U.S: More than 37 million cattle; 110 million pigs; 4 million horses, sheep and goats; 8 billion chickens and turkeys (Eisnitz 61). Eric Marcus in Vegan: The New Ethics of Eating, however, puts the total figure at somewhat less - closer to 8 billion (149).  The numbers are so big they seem irrelevant, like trying to comprehend the national deficit. Marcus quotes animal advocate Gene Bauston, who rescues sick and abused animals from slaughterhouses: “It’s easy to say eight billion ... but it’s impossible to grasp the enormity of the suffering. Eight billion means one animal raised under harsh conditions and then slaughtered, then a second animal, then a third animal, and on and on until you reach eight billion” (149). Emily was nearly one such animal.

Theology and philosophy have defined human beings over and against these animals. The conclusion, explicitly or implicitly, is that humans matter ultimately to God, while the animals don’t.  The reasons are reason or consciousness or language or some other special category in which only humans supposedly belong (and once upon a time, only some humans belonged).  This distinction between humans and animals has enabled us to treat animals grievously. Joy Williams in her Harper’s essay “The Inhumanity of the Animal People” writes:

St. Francis once converted a wolf to reason. The wolf of Gubbio promised to stop terrorizing an Italian town; he made pledges and assurances and pacts, and he kept his part of the bargain. But St. Francis only performed this miracle once, and as miracles go, it didn’t seem to capture the public’s fancy. Humans don’t want to enter a pact with the animals. They don’t want animals to reason. It would be an unnerving experience. It would bring about all manner of awkwardness and guilt. It would make our treatment of them seem, well, unreasonable. The fact that animals are voiceless is a relief to us, it frees us from feeling much empathy or sorrow. If animals did have voices, if they could speak with the tongues of angels- at the very least with the tongues of angels - it is unlikely they could save themselves from mankind. Their mysterious otherness has not saved them, not their beautiful songs and coats and skins and shells, nor have their strengths, their swiftness, the beauty of their flight .... Anything that is animal, that is not us, can be slaughtered as a pest or sucked dry as a memento or reduced to a trophy or eaten, eaten, eaten (pg. 60).

Theology, in an effort to tend human needs, likewise largely has refused this pact with the animals.  We suggest now is the time that theologians are called urgently to the task of redeeming our relationship to the animals.

The Urgency of the Question

The conclusions of religion and theology orient our society’s ethical bearings. How we treat women, children, people from another religious tradition, the earth, flow at least in part from our theology. So, too, theology has informed our treatment of the animals. This treatment in the year 2001 has reached horrific proportions. The situation can wait no longer. Theologians must speak to the fact of mass factory farms and slaughterhouses.

We must stress here that while we theologically consider Emily’s life in specific in this paper, we are not commenting on the conditions of the farm from which Emily came, or the slaughterhouse from which she escaped. We have no knowledge of the conditions of those particular places; they may have been far superior to those that we describe. Rather, we consider here general trends in American farming and slaughterhouse practice. These trends do not fit the images many people hold of farming.

The Modern Factory Farm

Like many aspects of Western culture, farming has become a corporate activity, with large “factory farms” swallowing small family farms and falling under the spell of technology.  Animal Factories authors Jim Mason and Peter Singer, for example, point out that between 1955 and 1977, the number of chickens in a single “egg factory” house  rose to 80,000 from 20,000 - with the chickens increasingly being squashed together in cages. About 45 percent of birds in 1967 lived in cages in egg-laying operations. Mason writes, “today, 95 percent or more of all egg production comes from caged birds in automated factory buildings” (3). These factories are supplied by “multiplier” companies which allow birds to breed egg-producing chickens. Here are the fluffy chicks we admire at Easter.  Half are killed soon after they peek at the world through cracked shells. Mason writes, “males don’t lay eggs, and the flesh of these strains [egg-laying chickens] is of poor quality. So they are, literally, thrown away. We watched at one hatchery as “chick-pullers” weeded males from each tray and dropped them into heavy-duty plastic bags. Our guide explained: “We put them in a bag and let them suffocate. A mink farmer picks them up and feeds them to his mink’ ”(5).

More dismal are the lives of male calves born to dairy cows. They live in the “harshest confinement systems” (Mason 12). Taken from their mothers when they are just a day old, they are placed in tiny stalls so they can’t move around and toughen their muscles - so as to make them more desirable as “veal.” They are fed milk replacer and made anemic, bred to be more appealing to connoisseurs. Mason visited a veal factory and described what he saw:

At feeding time the lights were turned on as the producer made his rounds. In two rooms, more than a hundred calves were crated in wooden stalls. Their eyes followed our movements; some appeared jittery, others lethargic. Many tried to stretch toward us from their stalls in an attempt to suckle a finger, a hand, or part of our clothing. The farmer explained: “They want their mothers, I guess.” (Mason 12-13).

Female calves are raised to give milk. Such cows are increasingly kept in “some type of confinement systems” - Mason estimates about half the 10 million dairy cows are kept thus (Mason 11). The dairy industry has become consolidated, which, Marcus writes, “has put America’s milk supply increasingly in the hands of large corporations and has degraded the everyday care of the dairy cow.” Cows can live up to 20 years naturally, but they begin producing less milk after five years - so they are replaced with younger cows (Marcus 125). The older cows are sent, as Emily was, to the slaughterhouse.

The Modern Slaughterhouse

Though the images of factory farm are wrenching, descriptions of the modern slaughterhouse can be especially disturbing - bringing an immediacy to the way we understand the violence animals face in an increasingly industrialized system. Slaughterhouses have become bigger and faster. Twenty years ago, 75 percent of all cattle were killed in 50 companies and 103 individual plants. Five years ago, 40 percent of all cattle were killed by just three firms in 11 plants (Eisnitz, quoting the USDA 62).  Humane investigator Gail A. Eisnitz in the 1990s began to look into the treatment of animals in the modern, fast-paced slaughterhouse. Though she considered herself to have “thick skin,” she was horrified at what she learned: cows skinned alive, their legs cut off while alive, or beaten with chains, shovels and boards; pigs tortured and beaten and scalded. One problem was that in an effort to be more efficient and “productive” slaughterhouse lines were speeded up, and workers couldn’t keep pace - so cows rather than being knocked unconscious immediately, continued down the line still conscious (28-29). Eisnitz wrote about the humans who worked in these slaughterhouses, whose were brutalized themselves by being forced to brutalize animals. Eisnitz interviewed a slaughterhouse worker:

One time I took my knife- it’s sharp enough- and I sliced off the end of a hog’s nose, just like a piece of bologna. The hog went crazy for a few seconds. Then it sat there looking kind of stupid. So I took a handful of salt brine and ground it into his nose. Now that hog really went nuts, pushing it nose all over the place .... It’s not anything I should be proud of .... It happened. It was my way of taking out the frustration. Another time, there was a live hog in the pit. It hadn’t done anything wrong, wasn’t even running around in the pit. It was just alive. I took a three-foot chunk of pipe ... and I literally beat that hog to death .... It was like I started hitting the hog and I couldn’t stop. And when I finally did stop, I’d expended all this energy and frustration, and I’m thinking what in God’s sweet name did I do?(93-94).

Eisnitz’ sensitivity to both animals and the human workers showed how humans suffer when they become deadened to their connection with animals. Workers shared stories of drinking to numb themselves, or treating their families badly, or becoming generally violent. One worker said “Every sticker [a job on the slaughterhouse line] I know carries a gun, and every one of them would shoot you ... Most stickers have problems with alcohol. They have to drink, they have no other way of dealing with killing live, kicking animals all day long. If you stop and think about it, you’re killing several thousand beings a day”  (88).

What was especially difficult for Eisnitz was her inability to get media attention. Major networks considered the subject too gruesome, or they wanted to focus on those aspects that impacted consumers - such as beef contamination (157). In a world that has decided animals are “ours” to do with as we please, it is taboo to ask humans to face the consequences of that decision. Yet, there is no real way of separating the fate of the animals, or of the earth, from the fate of humans. Our fates are intertwined; peace for one relies upon peace for the many.

Religion and theology have roles in healing the world’s brokenness in many ways - including reconsidering the worth of the animals like Emily.



Animal Consciousness – Why Did Emily Run?

“The question is not, Can they reason? Nor, Can they talk? But, Can they suffer?” – Jeremy Bentham

Can we attribute to Emily an awareness of impending danger and a ratiocinated escape?  If we demur, citing unwarranted anthropomorphizing, can we reasonably posit a state of suffering in the slaughterhouse which Emily would experience and from which she would want to escape?  Ordinary common sense would prompt an affirmative answer from many, but science has traditionally and until the 1980’s disavowed our ability to talk meaningfully about animal consciousness and animal pain.  Bernard E. Rollin, in The Unheeded Cry: Animal Consciousness, Animal Pain and Science[ii], a comprehensive survey and analysis of the subject of animal consciousness, assails the traditionally predominant attitude of animal psychology, zoology and ethology that “animal mentation is unknowable and concern with it is unscientific and scientifically impossible”[iii].  His central premise is that the ‘common sense’ of science, rooted in positivism and behaviorism, with a correlative rejection of value questions, have precluded the treatment of subjective states of pain and suffering as scientific knowledge knowable from physiology and behavior.  This ideology paradoxically repudiates the legitimacy of scientifically discussing animal pain while at the same time animal pain is presupposed in research that attempts to extrapolate human states from laboratory induced animal states.

Happily, Rollin reports that at last the denial of pain in animals is becoming scientifically incoherent. The Cartesian model of animal pain as a mechanical process lacking an experiential and morally relevant aspect is ironically being undone by the increasing discoveries of identical neurophysiological mechanisms in humans and animals, making it highly implausible that animals are automata, if humans are not.  Pain and pleasure centers have been found in the brains of birds, mammals and fish and the neural mechanisms regulating pain response, including biofeedback mechanisms for controlling pain, are similar in all vertebrates.  Science is finding the neurophysiological correlates in animals for all rudimentary forms of mentation.  Of particular relevance to Emily’s pre-slaughter state of mind, research indicates that all vertebrates have receptor sites for benzodiazepine suggesting that all have the physiological basis for experiencing anxiety.  Denial of pain consciousness is implausible from an evolutionary perspective as well; the subjective experience of pain and the motivations engendered thereby appear no less essential to the survival of animal species than to homo sapiens.

Rollin argues strenuously and persuasively against positivism’s demand that only what can be directly observed or experienced is worthy of being deemed factual and that, consequently, states of mentation in animals cannot be established.  The positivist statement about scientific legitimacy is a “value judgement, a statement about what ought to count in science, a statement growing out of a particular metaphysics and epistemology, not out of simple data-gathering”.[iv]  Such a position is not only a metaphysical and valuational choice, it precludes much inter-subjective data which science presumes (e.g. ‘public objects’) and also ignores the fact that mentation, particularly the attribution of mentation to other humans generally, is one of the categories by which we process reality.  We irrepressibly characterize emotive behavior as expressive of underlying mental states.  The attribution of mental states, especially those connected to pain and pleasure, leads to the possibility of morality. In the human species, moral concern for others is grounded in the presumption of feeling coupled with some theory of moral imperative.

While ordinary common sense and language have assumed mentation in animals, most conspicuously in human efforts to train and control animals, common sense has consistently ignored the moral problems that issue from attributing thought and feeling to animals.[v]  Thus, though common sense might take exception to science’s denial of consciousness to animals, it was complicit with science’s avoidance of moral concern since scientific, as well as agricultural and other, uses of animals are seen as beneficial to humans.  Rollin notes that most popular reactions to the conditions in slaughterhouses and packing plants are “aesthetic revulsion” rather than “moral indignation”.[vi]

Rollin charts the rise of social concern about the morality of animal use and its impact on science. In the 1980’s, animal pain and its control became a focus in veterinary and laboratory sciences and research began to seriously consider the subjective experience of pain and other noxious emotions in animals.  Research is confirming that the attribution of mental states to animals best explains their behavior. Illustrative of this principle and relevant to Emily is recent research regarding stress.  It was demonstrated that although the physical stressors applied to a group of animals were identical, variation in psychological stimuli creating varying emotional-cognitive states or attitudes led to radically different physiological signs of stress (as measured by secretion levels of a certain steroid).[vii]

In Rollin’s view, the major factor encouraging animal consciousness studies in science has been social concern with farm animal welfare, particularly in Britain.  Historically, social concern over animal welfare did not focus especially on farm animals because the traditional agricultural setting was viewed as idyllic, where animals roamed freely in natural settings.  As traditional agriculture changed dramatically to intensive methods with animals in extreme confinement managed and manipulated by machinery, the public’s “Old MacDonald’s Farm” conception had not correspondingly adjusted.  An expose published in Britain resulted in the formation of a commission to meet the resulting public outcry and demand to know whether farm animals were suffering.

A substantial scientific effort was then spawned in which common sensical notions and locutions concerning a full range of negative subjective experiences in animals were inserted into an acceptable scientific framework, exemplified in the work of Marion Dawkins.[viii]  Dawkins’ work gave scientific legitimacy to ‘selective’ or ‘critical anthropomorphism’ enabling scientists to reappropriate common sense assertions that animals can experience a broad range of noxious experiences.

The work of Dawkins and others have catalyzed new research into the suffering of farm animals and have led to the introduction of palliative measures.  To Dawkins criteria, however, Rollin would add the animal’s telos.  By this he means, for example “that if an animal has bones and muscles and is given no opportunity to use them, this provides a prima facie reason to postulate suffering”.[ix]

The Unheeded Cry inspires us to let our common sense have sway.  Then, yes, Emily felt anxious about entering the slaughterhouse. The cause?  Perhaps the smell of slaughter, the apprehension of the unknown, the felt collective apprehension of the others around her.  It does not require an anthropomorphic leap from this anxious state to the arousal of her ‘fight or flight response’. Her escape saved her from the far more heinous suffering of actual slaughter. And, yes, these human-like actions elicited human sympathy. But those humans, and others, must come to regard Emily’s actions as intrinsically bovine, the exercise of her natural impulse to fulfill her telos.



A Critique: Anthropocentric Theology and Philosophy
(or: Where are the Animals?)

“True human goodness, in all its purity and freedom, can come the fore only when its recipient has no power. Mankind’s true moral test (which lies deeply buried from view) consists of its attitude toward those who are at its mercy; animals. And in this respect mankind has suffered a fundamental debacle, a debacle so fundamental that all others stem from it.” Milan Kundera

Trying to analyze Emily’s story through mainstream theology is - at best - like analyzing why leprechauns revel in gold. There isn’t much to go on. At worst, the analysis might describe how a machine jumped a fence and denied humans their God-given right to slaughter her. In preparing a sympathetic analysis of Emily’s story, we first explore why such an endeavor is a challenge, critiquing the relevant theology and philosophies of St. Thomas of Aquinas, Rene Descartes, Karl Rahner and Paul Tillich. While none of these influential thinkers easily offers their systems to animal-friendly interpretation, we shall see they vary greatly in how much space they leave to consider Emily and others like her. We will explore why such an endeavor is a challenge, critiquing the relevant theology and philosophy.

Aquinas and the Thomistic Tradition

St. Thomas Aquinas is the progenitor of the historically persistent view, still vibrant in the Catholic tradition, that animals were created by God for the service and use of humanity and have no rights whatsoever against humanity.  In his Summa Theologica Aquinas raises and answers the question of whether it is unlawful to kill any living thing. The commandment ‘Thou shall not kill’, wrote Aquinas, is not to be taken as referring to “irrational animals, because they have no fellowship with us.”[x]  In his Summa Contra Gentiles, he writes that by divine providence the natural order of things is such that the “imperfect” is made for the “perfect”.  Animals are “intended for man’s use in the natural order. Hence, it is not wrong for man to make use of them, either by killing them or in any other way whatsoever.”[xi]  For Aquinas, animals are not even inherently deserving of any charity, for charity is a kind of fellowship that in his view cannot even metaphorically be extended to ‘dumb’ animals. Even God loves the animal only in so far as they are of use to humanity.

The Thomist doctrine became the dominant Western theological position on animals unchallenged until the eighteenth century.  The notion that the mental superiority of humans legitimates absolute dominion over animals seems rooted in Western consciousness and was perpetuated by Descartes.


Peter Singer, in his landmark work Animal Liberation, writes of Descartes’ view of animals saying, “The last, most bizarre, and- for the animals- most painful outcome of Christian doctrines emerged… in the philosophy of Rene Descartes” (Singer 207). For Descartes, Emily’s condition simply would not be an issue. His view of animals totally abdicates man from any responsibility towards the animal kingdom. If humans today actually believed what Descartes believed about animals, then there would be no ground for the occasional animal abuse trials that pop up in our court systems. Descartes did not believe that animals have the capacity to suffer.

For Descartes, there are two principles that cause motion in human body. The first is the corporeal principle. This principle is purely mechanical, dependent on the construction of organs. Reflexes fall under the corporeal principle. We move without thinking, and it takes great discipline to subjugate this principle. The second principal is that of the incorporeal mind, or the soul. This principle is responsible for our voluntary motions. (Letters, 243) I can sit here at my computer and type because I have consciously willed to do so. My incorporeal mind causes my fingers to push the correct keys. The incorporeal mind also makes it possible for me to sit and think, motionless, about what it is I will type. Emotions and pain are registered in the incorporeal mind, although the response may be manifest in the corporeal principle.

The situation of motion is quite different for animals, however. The incorporeal mind is completely absent in animals (although present in the human animal). This means that any motion acted out by an animal has origins in the construction of the physical organs of that animal. The squirrel foraging for acorns does so because the need for food sets off a mechanical “switch” in its body and causes it to look for food. The dogs yelps and runs away when smacked with a rolled-up newspaper because a “spring” has been set off to make it do so. Animals are not conscious of pain. In fact, it is difficult to speak of the pain of animals in the thought of Descartes simply because they do not consciously feel pain. Animals are mere machines, “automata” in Descartes’ terminology, mechanically reacting to outer forces, such as the rolled-up newspaper, and inner forces, such as the physical need for food. Everything an animal does is, for Descartes, like clockwork.

Doubtless when the swallows come in spring, they operate like clocks. The actions of honeybees are of the same nature, and the discipline of cranes in flight, and of apes in fighting (Letters, 207).

Descartes gives a rather bizarre defense of his theory that animals are automata (and he admits that it is only a theory, on which we will comment later). He writes,

it seems reasonable, since art copies nature, and men make various automata which move without thought [earlier, he gives the example of clockworks], that nature should produce its own automata, much more splendid than artificial [man-made] ones. These natural automata are the animals (Letters, 244).

Since men can make machines, then it only naturally follows that “nature” is able to produce such even more “splendid” machines.

Unfortunately for the animals, the “splendid” character of these natural clocks does not merit any respect on the part of man. “Descartes himself dissected living animals in order to advance his knowledge of anatomy” (Singer 209). In the seventeenth century, vivisection involved nailing the paws of fully conscious animals onto boards and slicing into the flesh to reveal organs (Singer, 209).

Descartes recognized the logical outcome of his view of animals; that humans do not hold any responsibility to animals without souls. “My opinion is not so much cruel to animals as indulgent to men… since it absolves them from the suspicion of crime when they eat or kill animals” (Letters, 245). For Descartes, the machine-like character of animals dissolves any moral responsibility that humans may feel they have towards animals.

To those of us familiar with even the elementary principles of physiology, it seems obvious that since animals (especially mammals) have a very similar organ structure as humans, it follows that they would also feel pain in a like manner as we humans. Now, Descartes did indeed recognize the physical similarities, but he was not willing to follow that through to attributing like experience of pain. Voltaire found this mechanical view reprehensible and inconsistent. “Answer me, mechanist, has Nature arranged all the springs of feeling in this animal to the end that it may not feel?” (Singer, 210).

How does one respond to such a strange view of animals? As Descartes says, “the human mind does not reach into their [animals’] hearts” (Letters, 244). Observing an animal writhing, it may seem that the animal is feeling pain. However, there really is no way for me to enter into its mind and know for certain whether or not it is experiencing the stimulus on a conscious level. On the other hand, there is no way for me to know for certain that the animal is not experiencing pain on a conscious level.

Descartes himself recognized that his theory could not be proven either way. Because of this recognition, he left some openings in his philosophy. Descartes admits that it “may be conjectured” that since animals have organs similarly arranged as in humans, then they have thoughts. Still, he says, these thoughts would “be of a very much less perfect kind” (Letters, 208). Descartes attributes the capacity to speak (in words or signs) to the existence of a soul, the incorporeal principle. Since animals cannot speak in any way understandable to humans, they must not possess this incorporeal principle.

[T]his proves not only that brutes have less Reason than man, but that they have none at all: for we see that very little is required to enable a person to speak. [I]t is incredible that the most perfect ape or parrot of its species, should not in this be equal to the most stupid infant, or at least to one that was crack-brained, unless the soul of brutes were of a nature wholly different from ours (Discourse on Method, 62). (emphasis added)

In this place of ambiguity and uncertainty, I think it would be best to give the animal the benefit of the doubt. Assume that animals do indeed feel conscious pain. This assumption is not a far leap to make. Animals and humans have similar physiological structures, “springs of feeling,” in the words of Voltaire), and animals react to a painful stimulus in the same way that humans do (writhing, attempting to escape the source of pain, vocalizations of protest).


Karl Rahner’s writings describe a transcendent love story between a mysterious God and the special beings he created for himself.  To read this Catholic theologian is to be touched by the faithfulness of his path, his wonder for his Creator, his concern for his fellow humans. To read him is also to find little room for the real value of any creature beyond these human beings.

Rahner’s God is Mystery of mysteries. How many times does Rahner use that word to point toward the wonder to which he refers? God is unknowable but absolutely trustworthy. Rahner writes:

Remember that God is simply the incomprehensible. That is how he is the eternal, personal, knowing, self-possessing primal cause of our existence. He is the personal God who is absolutely identical with his freedom, so that we cannot - so to speak - get behind this freedom of God....            (231).

Yet, Rahner seemingly sees beyond the veil clearly enough to discern what constitutes God’s precise concern: Us. We humans. Just as God ought to be our ultimate, our everything, so we seem to be His. Rahner describes God’s activity in terms of God’s monogamous fidelity to our well-being. God has created the world in order to “raise up beings who can stand in personal relationship to himself and so receive his message” (47).  Only two partners - God and humans - are really, deeply involved in this Cosmic dance.

This exclusivity perhaps is understandable, given the human concerns with which  Rahner is wrestling. He is grappling with a human anxiety, un-knowing, the fear of insignificance and of death.  Rahner sees into the confusing world humans face, a human history that:

seems to human beings a growing chaos-an impenetrable mix of sin and holiness, light and darkness, of blood and tears, of noble achievements and rash presumption; a history that is appalling and magnificent, an ooze of endless trivia and yet a high drama.  (195).

And it is within this same history that the human being also “is reduced to the status of total insignificance among billions of his brothers and sisters” (195). Rahner sees the woundedness of the human person, the unease with which we dwell in this world, and writes that the human is as someone dying, who is “suspended between heaven and earth, for we are not fully at home either here or there. Heaven is too remote from us, and earth too is far from being a dwelling place in which we can feel ourselves really secure” (298).  Rahner is sensitive to our painful ennui, to times in which “our soul seems to continue its weary way on the road followed endlessly by the multitude with its innumerable trifles” (511). For Rahner, God answers these aches - the lack of certainty, the fear we don’t really matter, the loss of meaning. But in doing so, in assuring humans they are, indeed, beloved in a vast universe no matter how seemingly small, Rahner defines them over and against all other beings.

Rahner preaches the Good News: the word that God loves us. Through his writing, he cares for his fellow humans, promising:

that the dreary plain of our existence also has peaks soaring up into the eternal light of the infinite God , peaks we can all scale, and that the awful bottomless abysses still hide God-filled depths we have not sounded, even when we think we have experienced everything and found it all absurd. (389).

His care is commendable. But it casts a shadow. In order to assure his human brothers and sisters of their inestimable worth, no matter how large or confusing the world, he distinguishes them from the next-closet beings: the animals.

This is a recurring theme in Rahner’s writing.  Humans must not imagine they are simply part and parcel of the natural world, lest they become “an animal with technical sophistication” (82). He notes that if we ceased contemplating God we may “die a collective death and regress back into a colony of unusually resourceful animals” (208) Our human knowledge of God gives us meaning, and “without it everything is limited, every individual truth within the picture of the world becomes the prison in which the person dies the death of an animal - although a clever one” (215). He argues that humans cannot be reduced to a mere “rational animal” (348). Doubtless Rahner did not intend to disparage the animals. The animals weren’t his concern at all. He was concerned about the problem of human existence. His impulse was pastoral. But in defining who humans are, he defines who they are not. And that point of departure is where we as humans begin mattering to God - which bodes badly for the animals.

Rahner follows this trajectory in his understanding of creation. By making humans God’s most significant concern, all of creation falls into relief. This is not to say Rahner’s understanding of creation was simple. In fact, it was subtle. He tried to correct a stark platonic dualism between matter and spirit, world and God, (261), and partly reconciled humans to creation. He urges humans to “love everything loved by him with his love .... precisely as something valid in the sight of God, as something eternally justified and hence as something divinely and religiously significant before God” (262). Yet Rahner quotes St. Ignatius in setting forth the world hierarchy: “The human person is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by that means to attain salvation. The other things on the face of the earth are created to help the person attain the end for which he is created” (89). According to this definition, not one non-human being has inherent value. Every plant, insect and animal matters only in relation to what humans want from them.  Rahner, in shaping an understanding of human relationship with creation, reminds us that humans cannot succumb to nature, must not “abandon their role as the measure of all things” (82).

For all its beauty, Rahner’s theology affirms an anthropocentric view of the world that offers little to nonhumans. A hawk gliding over a steep, green valley, a lioness giving birth to her young, Emily leaping a fence and fleeing into the woods - the only relevance of these events is as they appear to us, as they might inspire or delight or frustrate us. They are nothing unto themselves.


For animal advocates and theologians, it is regrettable, given the power and majesty of Paul Tillich’s Systematic Theology, that Tillich continued the mainline Christian tradition in failing to specifically develop an animal, or ‘subhuman’ (in Tillich’s terminology), theology. Tillich’s theology is anthropocentric and perpetuates a categorical distinction between the human and the animal in delimiting the dimension of ‘spirit’ to the human.  The hopeful animal theologian is then relegated to asking whether Tillich’s system could be viewed as supportive, or at least not structurally opposed, to theological positions such as those of Schweitzer and Linzey.

In surveying the Systematic Theology to conjecture what Tillich might have written concerning the theological underpinnings of animal welfare, we may at first be disheartened by his statement that “In maintaining that the fulfillment of creation is the actualization of finite freedom, we affirm implicitly that man is the telos.” (Vol 1, 258)

Man uniquely transcends the “chain of stimulus and response by deliberation and decision”.  Further, says Tillich, “Man is the image of God because in him the ontological elements are complete and unified on a creaturely basis, just as they are complete and united in God as the creator.  Man’s logos is analogous to the divine logos.” (259).[xii]

Clearly Tillich draws a categorical distinction between the human and the subhuman, but one must ask whether Tillich would intend that distinction to support the Thomist conclusion of the absence of “fellowship” between the categories and the resultant absolute dominion of the the human over the subhuman. Even if this were to be Tillich’s answer as well, we could plausibly conjecture that Tillich might be persuaded otherwise by more recent scientific findings that would blur such a categorical distinction between instinct and reason.

However, further study within Tillich’s system suggests that Tillich would dispute the Thomist conclusion. Plausible evidence for this is found in Tillich’s caution that although the ontologies are incomplete in the subhuman, this does not imply that the subhuman has less “perfection”. “On the contrary, man as the essentially threatened creature cannot compare with the natural perfection of the subhuman creatures.” (Vol 1,  260).  Here Tillich uses the same term, ‘perfection’, that was used by Aquinas to support a divine ordinance of beings that proceeds from imperfection to perfection where the less perfect are subject to the use and dominion of the more perfect. But Tillich extols the natural perfection of the subhuman to the human.

In Vol 3, Tillich rejects the metaphor of “levels” within creation. Here he answers ‘yes” to the express question of whether there is a gradation of value among the various dimensions of creation, but only in the sense that the criterion of value is the “power of a being to include a maximum number of potentialities in one living actuality. . . . Man is the highest being within the realm of our experience, but he is by no means the most perfect. (17).”

Later in this section Tillich explains that ‘perfection’ means actualization of one’s potentialities, which can be found to be more perfectly actualized in the subhuman.  Rather, then, the criteria for the ranking of the dimensions of life are the degree of ‘centeredness’ and the richness of its content.  Man is the highest being in being a fully-centered being which is all-embracing in terms of content.

Yet it cannot be overemphasized that in Tillich’s system this difference is a matter only of degree.  Both centeredness and individualization are “qualities of everything that is, whether limited or fully developed (32)”.  Indeed, the appearance of a new dimension of life is dependent on the constellation of conditions in a preceding or lower dimension. Thus, Tillich rejects the doctrine that God added an ‘immortal soul’ to the human, bearing with it the life of spirit, at some discrete moment in the evolutionary process, which he says is borne out of a “supranaturalistic doctrine of man”. With this rejection comes the correlative rejection of theologies debasing animal welfare on the grounds that animals, unlike man, have no ‘soul”. Moreover, such a concept, asserts Tillich, disrupts the multidimensional unity of life

The oneness of being is irrefutably foundational in Tillich’s system.  Even if one is not persuaded of a qualitative distinction with a moral difference between the Thomist ordering of nature and Tillich’s multidimensionality, then the animal theologian can turn with hope to the interdependent unity of being in Tillich’s system.  God’s directing creativity creates through the freedom of man and through the “spontaneity and structural wholeness of all creatures” (Vol. 1, 266) and man actualizes his finite freedom in unity with the whole of reality. Tillich expressly rejects the classical doctrine that man participates in nature as a microcosmos: “What happens in the microcosm happens by mutual participation in the macrocosmos, for being itself is one” (261). While this interdependence may not give the moral mileage to get us to Schweitzer’s concept of reverence for life, it certainly implies that man may interfere with the telos of the subhuman at his peril.

Tillich believes that the question of man’s participation in the subhuman becomes most crucial in the consideration of whether the Christian doctrine of salvation of the ‘world’ refers to the human race alone. Clearly, Tillich agrees with classical doctrine that salvation is cosmic and universal because “the totality of being demands a participation of the universe in salvation” (Vol. 2, 96). While it is the eternal relation of God to man that is made manifest in the Christ, “man cannot claim that the infinite has entered the finite to overcome its existential estrangement in mankind alone” (96), although such is beyond verification by man.  Tillich suggests that where there may be an awareness of existential estrangement in non-human worlds, the interdependence of the totality of being  requires the operation of saving power within such worlds.  Linzey mistakenly grasps this point to claim that Tillich includes animals within the reconciling work of Christ.[xiii]  Yet, although Tillich does not go this far, his system demands that the subhuman participates in God’s salvation.

Although the lodestar of Tillich’s system is humanity and its essential estrangement, it cannot reasonably be viewed as supportive of the Thomist doctrine regarding animals.  While the human remains the ‘highest being’, this ascendant position derives from an evolved degree of actualization of the potential dimensions of life, not in a momentary divine bestowal of innate superiority, and humanity remains embedded within the interdependent multidimensional unity of life. Clearly Tillich would support  ecologically based protection of the subhuman world as necessary for humanity and consonant with God’s salvation.



A Theological Analysis: Seeking an Animal Inclusive Theology

“Not to hurt our humble brethren (the animals) is our first duty to them, but to stop there is not eno8ugh. We have a higher mission – to be of service to them whenever they require it. If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.” St. Francis of Assisi

While a vast majority of Christian theology has been indifferent to animal issues (such as Tillich) or outrightly harmful to the animal rights cause (such as Descartes), other theologians have recognized this particular deficit and sought to do something about it. Even in works by more helpful theologians, systems do not always include an explicit theology of animals. Therefore, we must at times construct an animal theology in addition to conducting an analysis. Such is the case with, for example, Marjorie Suchocki.

Analyzing Emily’s Story via Marjorie Suchocki and Carol Adams

Conventional theology may see Emily’s leap to freedom and the subsequent human hoopla a diversion largely devoid of godly significance. By intertwining the process theology of Marjorie Suchocki and Carol Adams’ feminist critique of theology, however, we can tell a story rich with theological meaning. In this story, Emily’s life does indeed matter in the world and to God. And her story reveals the possibility of healing the broken relationship between humans and the rest of creation.

Uncovering the Power Bias

Suchocki’s and Adams’ feminist perspective helps them illumine traditional theology’s blindness: location and power influences theological conclusions. Suchocki points out that privileged and powerful humans develop systems of thinking that reinforce their power, to the detriment of groups such as women and African Americans (3). Adams in Neither Man Nor Beast brings this point to bear on Emily’s story. Emily had been excluded from human care because humans have decided that she does not “matter” in the same way humans do. She was sent to the slaughterhouse on the assumption that her body belongs to humans, and we may do to her what we wish.  Theology has aided that conclusion by arguing from special abilities such as language - which supposedly place humans nearer to God. Adams points out that this is “circular” thinking - humans beginning with human capacities to define what is special to God. Adams says: “Language may be one of the methods for acquiring knowledge, but to stake one’s knowledge claims solely on language becomes self-referential ... anthropocentric theology is inherently circular too” (182). Humans have made “absolute knowledge claims” regarding categories of beings, including animals. “Such Absolute or universal knowledge claims,” Adams writes, “represent the logic and interest of the oppressor” (188). Adams recounts how she came to “know” in her body that we shouldn’t torture and kill animals, which “involved recognizing that whereas I had ontologized animals as consumable, exploitable, violable, I could do so only through the god trick, by following the methods of any oppressor in believing the illusions that this was a universal perspective” (193).

Adams additionally suggests that anthropocentric God metaphors often assert a “triumphant, monarchical God” that “help to explain why we see animals as exploitable. A value hierarchy that is upheld by a logic of domination places animals so low on the hierarchy that their bodies can be viewed instrumentally” (185). Process theology abandons traditional ideas of omnipotence, which helps us to envision different, more companionable metaphors - metaphors that could enable us to include animals within that which we hold sacred.

Everything Matters in Process: Bringing Emily into God’s Being

Suchocki envisions for us a reality which includes everything in it, and in which everything effects God. According to Suchocki, the world works this way: God envisions in God’s primordial nature an infinite number of possibilities held together by a vision of harmony (30-31). The world is made up from occasions of experience which God summons toward the most harmonious choice. When those occasions are completed, they become what is actual, and God accepts these into God’s being. Suchocki’s world is eminently relational - everything has an impact, which God feels. Once a “unit of existence” is complete, it becomes an influence in the ongoing process (30-36). Suchocki does not limit this influence to humans. She writes that “in a relational world, no entity, be it cell or society, can exist apart from its receiving and giving to others” (76). No one and no event stands in isolation: not the song of the cricket, the event of a child’s new tooth, a colt’s first, wobbly steps. So the well-being of all beings matter. “To be for oneself,” Suchocki writes, “is also to be for others” (82).

God feels all of the world’s happenings - not just that which impacts humans. “God feels this world, not as an abstraction, but as a reality” (109). Everything that has become will register in what we might call the body of God (81). There is a horror in this. To understand this means to know that at this moment God feels whatever the billions of animals experience as they are crowded into cages, or tossed into trashbags, or herded into slaughterhouse-bound trucks. God feels, then, the pigs freezing in the truck on their way to slaughter, as described by a worker in Gail Eisnitz’ book.

They’re supposed to be dead when they come back there. I thought, anyway. I went to pick up some hogs one day for chain sawing from a pile of about thirty frozen hogs, and I found two frozen hogs alive in that pile.... I could tell they were alive because they raised their heads up like, ‘Help me.’ Like they were saying ‘Somebody’s got to have to do something to help me.’ (103).

Suchocki writes that “the dreadful truth revealed in crucifixion of Jesus Christ is that the world crucified God. We crucify God. Each pain we feel and each pain we inflict enters into the reality of the God who is for us” (110). There are moments of joy, though, and relief, as in the moment of Emily’s escape. God was with Emily - felt Emily - as she faced her slaughter. And God was with her as she leaped over the five-foot high fence and sought some measure of freedom. God feels Emily now, as she lives contented and in peace.

Slaughtering Animals as Sin; Breaking the Grip of Sin

If Adams is right, and animals are to be accorded a status previously denied in anthropocentric theology, then we see our system of treating animals in a new, harsh light. If animals are subjects, we wrongly treat them as objects - and introduce sin into the world. Suchocki writes the societal sin occurs when “any society treats others, within or without, as objects for its own disposal” (121). Suchocki notes that we are born into the structures of the world as they are. Americans are born into a world in which burgers on the grill are the norm. Slaughterhouse workers are born into towns where killing animals one of the few available jobs. Factory farm owners are born into a world that considers animals objects to be used for our convenience. This is all the state of sin. Suchocki writes:

We are born into structures that already shape our existence, molding our identity. We absorb these structures into our normal way of perceiving things, so that we are not only shaped by the structures, but we perpetuate them (193).

One step toward healing this state of societal sin, according to Suchocki, is to name the “demons”(194) - to see how we all contribute toward sinful structure. For us, this means naming Speciesism - the sinful state that lets us see Emily - a living, breathing, sentient being - as a tool for our use, an object to please our palates.

God always urges us to include more of the world in our understanding of our essential relationality. “We are pushed not so much toward an awareness of God as we are toward a deeper awareness of the world and its interrelationships ... the reign of God looks toward a gracious inclusiveness towards all people and all nations, and toward an abundance in the natural world,” Suchocki writes (191). Emily’s escape works to that end. The event brought attention to a particular cow, and a cow’s life. People flock to the Peace Abbey with their children to meet Emily, and to listen to her story. While they are at the Abbey they learn about a peaceful, vegetarian diet that embraces all living beings. Animals become more “real” for people visiting the Abbey. Emily helps accomplish an increased awareness of the relationality of beings, to use Suchocki’s concepts.

Emily similarly helps create what Adams calls a “Second-Person Theology” - that is, a theology constructed out of an actual relationship with those beings who we are describing in our theology. Adams writes:

God unfolds in relationships. Most animals are excluded from experiencing this notion of “God-in-relationship” because we use them in ways that sever relationships. Many forms of animal exploitation involve caging and confining them, restricting their ability - no, their need - to enjoy social relationships, and bestow upon animals an expectation that they can exist inanimately even while alive .... If God is in process, being, and revealed through relationship should we not situate all beings within the divine relationship, seeing with loving eyes? (195).

In this theology, we would experience animals outside of situations in which they are exploited - farming, circuses, laboratories, hunting expeditions - so that we could actually understand who they are in relation to us, and perhaps get a better sense of who they might be to God. This is the kind of knowing that people such as Jane Goodall has experienced. As Adams questions, how do we say who animals are, or aren’t, when we don’t really know them?  Emily is providing such an opportunity now.

Seeing Past the Blindness

Though Suchocki presents a way of understanding Emily’s situation theologically, Suchocki is not a perfectly animal-friendly theologian. She, too, often speaks in terms of human society when referring to justice. She refers to two general categories: humans, and a vague, general nature, writing, for example that “we realize that we, too, are nature, and that our caring cannot be restricted to sisters and brothers in the human community, but must extend toward ‘brother sun and sister moon,’ and all the earth and sky” (195). Like many ecologically minded humans, she jumps from considering the worth of individual humans to a very general “nature”, and skips commenting upon individual animals within nature.[xiv] Likewise, she focuses upon human “consciousness” as God’s highest value (46). In short, while she constructs a theology in which she sees how we humans fail to notice our blindness, she herself does not fully see. Yet, she also provides the possibility of an eventual realization.

Suchocki says to achieve God’s reign on earth, we must be listen for new and unexpected forms of God’s call for justice. She speaks squarely to a religious sensibility that defends slaughtering animals because the Bible says we can, or because old theologians said we ought. She writes:

Our natural tendency is to draw back from new ways of actualizing justice, for we would rather hold on to the security of the past. But the reign of God does not allow us that luxury. Our trust must not be placed in our past ways, not even when those ways were enacted in response to concrete divine guidance. This would be akin to a person at age forty claiming that seven-year-old behavior was still appropriate, since once it had been in response to God’s guidance.  (192).

How much of our mistreatment of animals like Emily flows merely from past assumptions? From the status quo? How little of our understanding of animals like Emily relationships with them, and honest self-reflection?

By escaping, Emily startled the status quo. She gave human beings an opportunity to consider as an individual a being typically treated as a thing. In doing so, she created a chance for healing in our relationships with the animals, and the rest of the nonhuman world.


Schweitzer felt that theology and philosophy of the past had overlooked animal issues, resulting in grave consequences. On Descartes, Schweitzer writes that he has “bewitched all of modern philosophy;” “We might say that philosophy has played a piano of which a whole series of keys were considered untouchable” (Teaching, 50). This series of keys is, of course, the issue of non-human animals. Schweitzer wants to start playing these keys.

Schweitzer takes quite a different approach to his analysis of animals. In fact, one could say that he doesn’t “analyze” animals. He doesn’t engage in the deconstruction of the psyche into different principals. Schweitzer’s concern is with life, not corporeal or incorporeal principles. For Schweitzer, life in and of itself is worthy of respect. He calls this idea “the ethics of reverence for life.”

Reverence for life in an all-encompassing ethic. It includes humans, “lower” animals, and even plant life. Reverence for life expresses itself in compassion for all life. Under reverence for life, “the essence of Goodness is: Preserve life, promote life, help life to achieve its highest destiny. The essence of Evil is: Destroy life, harm life, hamper the development of life” (Teachingr, 26). In rescuing Emily the cow from the slaughterhouse, and in their vegan lifestyle, the Randas were in line with reverence for life. They sought to preserve Emily rather than destroy her, to promote her rather than harm her, to allow her to live out her natural life free from the threat of slaughter.

For Schweitzer, we have responsibility to treat all life with equal respect. “The ethics of reverence for life makes no distinction between higher and lower, more precious and less precious lives” (Teaching, 47). All life is considered to be of equal value under the ethics of reverence for life. This raises some problems. If we are not to distinguish between higher and lower forms of life, what are we to do when there are irreconcilable conflicts of interests? What am I to do with mice or ants in my kitchen? I have an interest in keeping a sanitary space in which to eat and live, and this cannot be maintained while mice eat my bread and ants crawl in my sugar bowl.

Schweitzer does not try to gloss over the fact that it is necessary to destroy some form of life to protect or promote the interests of another form of life. There is no way to get around this fact. The answer lies in dealing with this unpleasantry with integrity. “When under pressure of necessity, the truly ethical man is forced to decide which life will be sacrificed in order to preserve other lives, he realizes that he is proceeding subjectively and ultimately arbitrarily, and that he is accountable for the lives sacrificed (Teaching, 47).” When possible, we should do all we can to avoid harming life. When this ideal is not possible, we must be willing to take responsibility for our actions.

For Schweitzer, peace between humans and animals is essential to peace between humans:

“A system of values which concerns itself only with our relationship to other people is incomplete and therefore lacking in power and good. Only by means of reverence for life can we establish a spiritual and humane relationship with both people and all living creatures within our reach” (Reverence, 57).

When humans exclude animals from ethical treatment, human ethical development is stunted. “Through reverence for life, we become, in effect, different persons” (Reverence, 57). By affirming the inherent value of life, one enters into a new relationship with the universe, allowing one to “act on a higher plane, because we feel ourselves truly at home in our world” (Reverence, 57). Schweitzer’s reverence for life extends beyond a sense of allegiance to the human species, and therefore allows one to care for the human species at a deeper level. For Schweitzer, reverence for life had political implications. On atomic weapons, he writes, “The abolition of atomic weapons will become possible only if world opinion demands it. And the spirit needed to achieve this end can be created only by reverence for life” (Reverence, 62). Schweitzer offers us a new way to look at the world. Through reverence for life, we are freed to have truly peaceful relations with all of God’s creation.


One may well question whether theology or any theological perspective was influential in motivating the sympathetic, or perhaps empathetic, responses to Emily.  The theologian Andrew Linzey has authored several works in his effort to develop a Christian theology of animal rights.  In his Christianity and the Rights of Animals[xv], Linzey concludes that despite a strongly influential Thomistic tradition of justifying man’s absolute dominion over non-human creation based upon a naturalistic order of creation, Christianity is not “irremedially specieist”.[xvi]  Rather, Christianity has not squarely addressed the question of the theological significance of animals; systematic theology regarding animals has yet to be done.  It cannot surprise us, then, if theology has figured insignificantly in secular thinking about animals and their plight.

In his effort to add theological argument to humanistic, psychological, ecological and other grounds for animal welfare, Linzey has charted much of the territory centered on a God-perspective approach.  Though compact and concise, Christianity and the Rights of Animals touches on most of the elements of a systematic assay, the ethos of which is expressed in an exhortative proposition borrowed from Romans: “The groaning and travailing of creation awaits the inspired sons of God”[xvii].

Clearly this proposition implies that humanity should play a significant role in the redemption of non-human creation, but Linzey’s perspective is not simply humanist.  The “theos-rights’ of animals, as conceived by Linzey, are not given by humanity but by God. To affirm that animals possess rights means (1) that God as creator has rights in his creation; (2) that “Spirit-filled breathing creatures composed of flesh and blood”[xviii] are subjects of inherent value to God; and, (3) the foregoing assertions are the ground of an objective moral claim which is nothing less than God’s claim on us.  Against the charge that ‘rights’ conceptions are intrinsically untheological, Linzey argues that even the concept of human rights must ultimately be grounded theistically; non-human creatures (at least those Spirit-filled breathing creatures composed of flesh and blood, which category would include Emily) then have the same claim as humanity to be honored and respected as that which God has given.

At the foundation of Linzey’s animal theology, then, is the ontological fact of creation, the “giveness of created reality”[xix] and the critically important theological assertion that God cares, despite the equally apparent ontological fact that nature, even without human tyranny, is red in tooth and claw.  Linzey’s God-perspective is fundamentally grounded in his hermeneutics of the Genesis story and of the new covenant made by God through Jesus Christ.  Creation, and the place of the human and non-human within it, is to be understood within the duality of blessing and curse.  The blessedness of creation is understood in God’s generosity in creating, in the independent intrinsic value of all creation as it partakes of the divine glory (necessitating bovine glory), and the God-given freedom of each of God’s creatures to enjoy their life with and in God in relation to their nature and according to their being.

The curse of creation inheres in its fallen state: all of creation, not only humanity Linzey emphasizes, is estranged from God.  The cursedness of this state of alienation is manifest particularly in the ‘risk of creation’, the freedom of creatures, especially the human, to turn against creation and in the “shackles of mortality” binding all creatures.[xx]

Yet, as Christians, we know that God has wrought reconciliation and redemption in Jesus Christ.  But Linzey reminds us, in contrast with anthropocentric (and soteriologically anthropomonistic) Christian theological tradition, that just as all creation fell, all creation is redeemed.  Humanity then, is to be concerned not only with its own salvation but also with the salvation of all creation.  The basis and nature of that concern is articulated by the biblical concepts of ‘dominion’ and ‘covenant’.

The Thomistic view of absolute dominion (radah in Hebrew) over non-human creation conflicts threefold with a scholarly analysis of the Genesis story (Genesis 1:26 et seq): first, man’s lordship is dependent upon and derivative of the absolute power of God and his dominion is therefore to be God-like; second’ man’s ‘kingship’ is exercised in accountability to God and the kingdom is to be founded on God’s order (differing presumably from the Thomistic conception); and, third, man’s bodily sustenance is to be the plants and fruit –bearing trees[xxi], further evidence of God’s will that man’s dominance not be absolute (and will not extend to devouring Emily).

If dominion is dependent, how should such dominion be exercised?  Linzey asserts that our model must be God’s self-revealed life in Jesus Christ expressed in humility, service and sacrificial love.  Indeed, although Linzey admits that little can be gleaned from the gospels to construct Jesus’ view toward animals, he posits that Jesus’ special concern for the ‘least among us’ impresses humanity with a special trust for non-human creation.

Human responsibility toward non-human creation and animals particularly is also explicitly derived from God’s covenant.  In Genesis 9:8-11, God makes his covenant with man and with “every living creature that is with you”.  Humanity is thus placed in a moral community with other living creatures and is bound to a moral covenant with animals.  Further, argues Linzey, centuries of Christian theology have institutionalized an anthropomorphic redemption when a cosmic redemption was foreordained in the Old Testament.  The Incarnation is not God’s “special ‘yes’ to human beings”[xxii].  Linzey counters that the ‘ousia’ assumed in the Incarnation is of all creaturely being.  Although man’s rational and self-conscious nature comports with a biblical view that man may achieve a greater intimacy with God, rationality is not the sine qua non for spiritual status. The same breath of Spirit (ruach) breathes life into man and animal alike – our redemption is also theirs.

How, then, should humanity cooperate with God the Spirit in the redemption of creation, in the “freeing of creation to be itself for God”[xxiii]?  Linzey offers three opportunities: the adoption of an attitude of reverence for the grace of created life; the substitution of God-centeredness for anthropocentricity in valuing creation; and the surrender of human hubris and meddling.  If we can do no good, then at least do no harm; we should let creation be as God intended.

With respect to Spirit-filled creatures composed of flesh and blood, like Emily, Linzey’s behavioral translation of the above moral precepts is the “liberation” of these creatures from “wanton injury”. Wanton actions are those devoid of moral justification like ‘need’, ‘defense’, ‘survival’ or even ‘benefit’.  ‘Injury’ inheres in any activity that causes pain, suffering, harm, distress, deprivation or death.

With this moral armor, donned in defense of his theologically grounded animal theos-rights[xxiv], Linzey assails humanity’s treatment of animals in specific instances, including the predicament of Emily and her kin.  To the extreme confinement practices of intensive farming and the suffering engendered thereby, we must respond that all Emilys have the God-given right to be cows, to live their God-intended natural life without perversion simply for human gain.  Whether or not some would argue that humans have a ‘need’ for meat (an argument that Linzey and we would consider unsupportable), there is no right to the cheapest meat or the whitest veal that trumps the animal’s right to its natural life (its telos).

With respect to the morality of eating meat, Linzey recognizes that Genesis  9.3 (‘Every creature that lives and moves shall be food for you; I give you them all as I once gave you all green plants’) apparently revokes the vegetarian limitation in God’s gift of food in Genesis 1:29. Linzey argues that notion that the animal’s life belongs only to God is retained in the stricture of Genesis 9:4:  ‘But you must not eat the flesh with the life, which is the blood, still in it’.  Although the priestly tradition accepted meat eating that may have been, Linzey conjectures, necessary to survival at the time, the tradition did not sanction human appropriation of the life of the animal.  The moral significance of taking the life of the animal is preserved and can only be justified when essential to human survival. Our mistake in interpreting Genesis 9:3-4 has been to allow an exception to establish a permanent rule.  If the biblical notion that the life of an animal belongs to God is accepted and it is also recognized that humans do not need to kill for food in order to sustain health or even to eat well, then the slaughterhouse cannot possibly be morally condoned.  “For if luxury rather than necessity can justify killing, where will it all end?”[xxv]




We began this effort with several assumptions: theology has the power to influence human thinking about our relationships with others; the animals are in dire need of theological consideration; and traditional theology fails to come to their aid. We sought a theology that includes them in our care.

Each of the final group of theologians we explored provided rich resources with which to reconsider the animals, and therefore conduct a proper theological analysis of Emily and her escape. Schweitzer is lyrical and deeply empathic. His strength flows from his inclusiveness, the beauty of his language, his earnest concern. Schweitzer rightly points out the need for humans to consider the animals if they wish to have real peace on earth - and so speaks strongly to the wisdom of the impulse to cheer Emily on, as so many in her neighborhood did when she escaped.

Linzey's Biblical reconsideration of the animals is potent when we consider how much abuse of the animals is Biblically based. He provides an understanding of how Emily by escaping was fulfilling her God-given telos and establishes her theos-right to do so. Marjorie Suchocki provides a vibrant theology that speaks to a new consciousness about relationality, and enables us to see how each being is affected by other beings. Her language, as well as Linzey’s formulation of theos-rights, enables us to frame the abuse of animals in terms of sin, and Emily's rescue as part of a new consciousness - a new word from God about justice.

Our ideal theology based on these theologians, however, would be a blend of Suchocki and Linzey. We would join Suchocki's dynamic relationality with Linzey's recognition of God's love for and rights in the animals of His creation. The result would be a theology of relationality elevated to include the theos-rights of animals - a theology that does not reduce relationality only to animal welfare, but that also recognizes each animal’s telos and its God-given right to actualize that telos. We would call for a theology that recognizes that we are all connected - we who walk or crawl or fly, humans and dolphins and Emily - and each within that web ought live out its God-intended life.  




[i] Some of the images and ideas in the previous paragraphs were earlier articulated in a sermon given by Mary Margaret Earl.

[ii] Rollin, Bernard E., The Unheeded Cry: Animal Consciousness, Animal Pain and Science, Expanded Edition (Iowa: Iowa State University Press, 1998).

[iii] Ibid., p. 21.

[iv] Ibid., p. 156.

[v] Rollin, like Linzey below, conjectures that the absence of moral concern arises partly from the anthropocentric emphasis of the Christian tradition. p. 164.

[vi] Ibid., p. 165.

[vii] Ibid., p. 198.  It should be noted here that although Rollin and we applaud this turn in science, further concern is raised regarding the animal subjects of this research.  Rollin and we hope it is eventually realized that the obvious (animal consciousness and the ability to experience stress and pain) need not be demonstrated.

[viii] Dawkins, Marion., Animal Suffering: the Science of Animal Welfare, (London: Chapman and Hall, 1980).

[ix] Rollin, p. 258.

[x] St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Question 64, Article 1, reprinted in A. Linzey,  Animal Theology, p. 13.

[xi] St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, Book III, Ch. CXII, reprinted in Andrew Linzey, Animal Theology, p. 14.

[xii] Presaging the fuller treatment of the distinction between the human and the subhuman in Part II, Vol. 1, Tillich speaks of creatures (subhuman) having freedom only analogous to that of man, not freedom itself, at p31, Vol. 2.

[xiii] Linzey, Andrew. Animal Theology, University of Illinois Press, Urbana and Chicago, p. 99.

[xiv] This is an idea that has been expressed by Professor Paul Waldau.

[xv] Linzey, Andrew.  Christianity and the Rights of Animals, Crossroad, New York: 1987.

[xvi] Ibid. p. 23.

[xvii] Ibid. p. 104.

[xviii] It is by this characterization that Linzey avoids the logical necessity of entertaining notions of vegetable and mineral “rights” and also the historically fruitless task of arguing for ‘animal souls’.

[xix] Ibid. p.97.

[xx] Ibid. p.24.

[xxi] Linzey acknowledges and addresses the antagonistic priestly tradition of Genesis 9.3 in specific arguments against slaughter which will be reviewed herein below.

[xxii] Ibid. p. 34.

[xxiii] Ibid. p. 14.

[xxiv] In another work, Animal Theology (University of Illinois Press, Chicago and Urbana, 1995) Linzey uses the theological arguments articulated here for theos-rights as the a fortiori grounds for human responsibility to and reverence for animals.

[xxv] Ibid                                                   




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