Widening the Circle of Compassion:
Including Emily in Our Theological Vision
“The love for all living creatures is the most noble attribute of man.” Charles Darwin
fantastic as it sounds, this story is true. It is not a fairy-tale, and it
is not from children’s storybook.
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
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)
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
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)
“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
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 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.
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.
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
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
Religion and theology have roles in healing the
world’s brokenness in many ways - including reconsidering the worth of
the animals like Emily.
“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
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
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
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
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’ work gave scientific legitimacy to ‘selective’ or
‘critical anthropomorphism’ enabling scientists to reappropriate
common sense assertions that animals can experience a broad range of
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.
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
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.
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
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
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,
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).
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.
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
[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)
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
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:
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
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.
“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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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