Saturday, January 20, 2007

animal liberation theology, part 2

“Honourable men may honourably disagree about some details of human treatment of the non-human,” wrote Stephen Clark in his 1977 book, The Moral Status of Animals, “but vegetarianism is now as necessary a pledge of moral devotion as was the refusal of emperor-worship in the early church.” According to Clark, eating animal flesh is “gluttony,” and “Those who still eat flesh when they could do otherwise have no claim to be serious moralists.”

“Clark’s conclusion has real force and its power has yet to be sufficiently appreciated by fellow Christians,” says the Reverend Andrew Linzey. “Far from seeing the possibility of widespread vegetarianism as a threat to Old Testament norms, Christians should rather welcome the fact that the Spirit is enabling us to make decisions so that we may more properly conform to the original Genesis picture of living in peace with creation.”

In a 1985 paper entitled “The Status of Animals in the Christian Tradition” (based on a September 1984 talk at a Quaker study center entitled “Non-violence: Extending the Concept to Animals”), the Reverend Andrew Linzey redefined the traditional understanding of human “dominion” over the animal kingdom:

“...scholarly research in the modern period interprets the notion of dominion in terms of early kingship theology in which man is to act as God’s vice-regent in creation, that is with authority, but under divine moral rule. We are therefore not given absolute or arbitrary power over animals but entrusted with God-like power which must be exercised with responsibility and restraint.

“...for centuries Christians have misinterpreted their own scripture and have read into it implications that were simply not there. The idea that human beings have absolute rights over creation is therefore eclipsed. The vital issue that now confronts moral theologians is how far and to what extent we may use animal life and for what purposes.”

After citing Scripture and many positive instances of concern for animals in the Christian tradition, Reverend Linzey concludes that the Christian basis for animal rights includes the following points:

1) Animals are fellow creatures with us and belong to God.
2) Animals have value to God independently of their value or use to us.
3) Animals exist in a covenant relationship with God and mankind and
therefore there is a moral bond between us.
4) Human beings are set in a position of responsibility to animals.
5) Jesus Christ is our moral exemplar in his sacrifice of love for creation.
6) God’s redeeming love extends to all creation.
7) We have duties to animals derived from our relationship of responsibility
to them.

The Reverend Dr. Andrew Linzey’s 1987 book, Christianity and the Rights of Animals, may be regarded as a landmark in Christian theology as well as in the animal rights movement. Linzey responds to criticism from many of the intellectual leaders of the animal rights and environmental movements—Peter Singer, Richard Ryder, Maureen Duffy, Lynn White, Jr.—that Christianity has excluded nonhumans from moral concern, that Christian churches are consequently agents of oppression, and that Christian doctrines are thus responsible for the roots of the current ecological crisis.

“We do not have books devoted to a consideration of animals,” he acknowledges. “We do not have clearly worked-out systematic views on animals. These are signs of the problem. The thinking, or at least the vast bulk of it, has yet to be done.”

Dr. Tom Regan calls Reverend Linzey, an Anglican clergyman, “the foremost theologian working in the field of animal/human relations.” Christianity and the Rights of Animals, a must-read for all Christians, certainly clears the ground.

According to Reverend Linzey:

“It does seem somewhat disingenuous for Christians to speak so solidly for human rights and then query the appropriateness of rights language when it comes to animals...the Christian basis for animal rights is bound to be different in crucial respects from that of secular philosophy. But because Christians (as we see it) have a good, even superior, basis for animal rights, that in no way precludes others from utilizing the terminology.”

Linzey acknowledges that the gospel is ambiguous on ethical questions such as animal rights. “When it comes to wanting to know the attitude that Jesus may have taken to a range of pressing moral issues today, we are often at a loss to know precise answers. But we can at least be clear about the contours. The lordship of Christ is expressed in service. He is the one who washes dirty feet, heals the sick, releases individuals from oppression, both spiritual and physical, feeds the hungry, and teaches his followers the way of costly loving...”

Linzey justifies compassion for animals through the example of Christ. “If God’s self-revealed life in Jesus is the model of how Christians should behave and if, crucially, divine power is expressed in service, how can we disregard even ‘the least among us’? It may be that in the light of Christ we are bound to say that the weakest have in fact the greater claim upon us.

“In some ways,” Linzey continues, “Christian thinking is already oriented in this direction. What is it that so appalls us about cruelty to children or oppression of the vulnerable, but that these things are betrayals of relationships of special care and special trust? Likewise, and even more so, in the case of animals who are mostly defenceless before us.

“Slowly but surely,” Linzey explains, “having grasped the notion of dominion means stewardship, we are now for the first time seeing how demanding our lordship over creation is really meant to be. Where once we thought we had the cheapest ride, we are now beginning to see that we have the costliest responsibilities...Lordship without service is indeed tyranny.”

Discussing the finer points between human “dominion” over animals, versus humane stewardship, Linzey says, “the whole point about stewardship is that the stewards should value what God has given as highly as they value themselves. To be placed in a relationship of special care and special protection is hardly a license for tyranny or even... ‘benevolent despotism.’ If we fail to grasp the necessarily sacrificial nature of lordship as revealed in Christ, we shall hardly begin to make good stewards, even of those beings we regard as ‘inferior.’”

Linzey sees divine reconciliation through Christ. The “hidden purpose” of God in Christ was “determined beforehand,” and consists of bringing “all in heaven and on earth” into a “unity in Christ.” (Ephesians 1:9-11) Linzey notes that in Ephesians, as in Colossians and Romans, the creation is “foreordained in Christ.”

“Since it is through man’s curse that the creation has become estranged from its Creator,” Linzey asserts, “it is only right that one important step along the road to recovery is that man himself should be redeemed. The salvation of human beings is in this way a pointer to the salvation of all creation...For it must be the special role of humans within God’s creation to hasten the very process of redemption, by the power of the Spirit for which God has destined it.

“Human beings must be healed,” Linzey insists, “because it is their violence and disorder which has been let loose on the world. Through humans, liberated for God, we can glimpse the possibility of world redemption. Can it really be so difficult to grasp that the God who performs the demanding and costly task of redeeming sinful man will not also be able to restore the involuntary animal creation, which groans under the weight of another’s burden?”

Linzey thus sees Jesus Christ as the only hope for animal liberation. “In Christ, God has borne our sufferings, actually entered into them in the flesh so that we may be liberated from them (and all pain and all death) and secure, by his grace, eternal redemption.

“In principle the question of how an almighty, loving God can allow suffering in a mouse is no different to the same question that may be posed about man. Of course there are important differences between men and mice, but there are no morally relevant ones when it comes to pain and suffering. It is for this reason alone that we need to hold fast to those cosmic strands of the biblical material which speak of the inclusive nature of Christ’s sacrifice and redeeming work.”

Linzey finds two justifications for a Christian case for vegetarianism:

“The first is that killing is a morally significant matter. While justifiable in principle, it can only be practically justified where there is real need for human nourishment. Christian vegetarians do not have to claim that it is always and absolutely wrong to kill in order to eat. It could well be that there were, and are, some situations in which meat-eating was and is essential in order to survive. Geographical considerations alone make it difficult to envisiage life in Palestine at the time of Christ without some primitive fishing industry. But the crucial point is that where we are free to do otherwise the killing of Spirit-filled individuals requires moral justification. It may be justifiable, but only when human nourishment clearly requires it, and even then it remains an inevitable consequence of sin.

“The second point,” Linzey explains, “is that misappropriation occurs when humans do not recognize that the life of an animal belongs to God, not to them. Here it seems to me that Christian vegetarianism is well-founded. For while it may have been possible in the past to rear animals with personal care and consideration for their well-being and to dispatch them with the humble and scrupulous recognition that their life should only be taken in times of necessity, such conditions are abnormal today.”

In Christianity and the Rights of Animals, the Reverend Dr. Andrew Linzey not only makes a very sound Christian theological case for animal rights, but states further that animal slavery may be abolished on the same grounds that were used in biblical times to abolish human sacrifice and infanticide:

“ may be argued that humans have a right to their culture and their way of life. What would we be, it may be questioned, without our land and history and ways of life? In general, culture is valuable. But it is also the case that there can be evil cultures, or at least cherished traditions which perpetuate injustice or tyranny.

“The Greeks, for example, despite all their outstanding contributions to learning did not appear to recognize the immorality of (human) slavery. There can be elements within every culture that are simply not worth defending, not only slavery, but also infanticide and human sacrifice.”

“With God, all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26; Mark 10:27; Luke 18:27) Linzey urges Christian readers to think in terms of future possibilities. “For to be committed to Jesus involves being committed not only to his earthly ministry in the past but also to his living Spirit in whose power new possibilities are continually opened up for us in the present. All things have yet to be made new in Christ and we have yet to become perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect. Making peace is a dynamic possibility through the Spirit.”

In a 1989 interview, Reverend Linzey insisted, “ primary loyalty is to God, and not to the church. You see, I don’t think the claims of the church and the claims of God are identical...The church is a very human institution, a frail human institution, and it often gets things wrong. Indeed, it’s worse than that. It’s often a stumbling block and often a scandal.”

Linzey expressed optimism from a study of history: “Let’s take your issue of slavery. If you go back in history, say 200 years, you’ll find intelligent, conscientious, loving Christians defending slavery, because they hardly gave it two thoughts. If they were pressed, they might have said, ‘Slavery is part of progress, part of the Christianization of the dark races.’

“A hundred or perhaps as little as 50 years later, what you suddenly find is that the very same Christian community that provided one of the major ideological defenses of slavery had begun to change its is a classic example of where the Christian tradition has been a force for slavery and a force for liberation.

“Now, just think of the difficulties that those early Christian abolitionists had to face. Scripture defended slavery. For instance, in Leviticus 25, you’re commanded to take the child of a stranger as a slave...St. Paul simply said that those who were Christian slaves should be better Christians. Almost unanimously, apart from St. Gregory, the church fathers defended slavery, and for almost 1800 years, Christians defended and supported slavery. So, in other words, the change that took place within the Christian community on slavery is not just significant, it is historically astounding.

“Now, I give that example because I believe the case of animals is in many ways entirely analogous. We treat animals today precisely as we treated slaves, and the theological arguments are often entirely the same or have the same root. I believe the movement for animal rights is the most significant movement in Christianity, morally, since the emancipation of the slaves. And it provides just as many difficulties for the institutional church...”

Christians have found themselves unable to agree upon many pressing moral issues—including abortion. Exodus 21:22-24 says if two men are fighting and one injures a pregnant woman and the child is killed, he shall repay her according to the degree of injury inflicted upon her, and not the fetus. On the other hand, the Didache (Apostolic Church teaching) forbade abortion.

“There has to be a frank recognition that the Christian church is divided on every moral issue under the sun: nuclear weapons, divorce, homosexuality, capital punishment, animals, etc.,” says Reverend Linzey. “I don’t think it’s desirable or possible for Christians to agree upon every moral issue. And, therefore, I think within the church we have no alternative but to work within diversity.”

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