Animal Writes
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1 August 2001 Issue
Voices From Another World

by Andrew Linzey - Email: [email protected]
from The Animals' Agenda - May/June 2001

A few days ago when I was working early in the morning, I heard our dog, Coco, bark. There was nothing strange about that. Whenever she was lonely, or desired attention, or wanted to go out in the garden, she would often bark to let us know she was there. Neither was there anything unusual about her barking at night. I almost always work late into the early hours, and so she is used to nighttime company.

No, the strange thing was that I heard her bark when in fact she had died two days earlier.

Now, I know what some of you must be thinking: "He's finally lost it -- hearing animal voices in the night." Well, I might agree with you, except that night I was working late with my eldest daughter, Clair, on her college essay. We both heard Coco, and Clair has heard her again since.

I have no explanation for this phenomenon. I know psychologists would probably attribute it to delayed trauma or shock due to bereavement, even the result of a suppressed subconscious. Perhaps they're right (though that doesn't quite explain how we both heard it). Perhaps it was nothing more than a sudden jolt due to unconscious suppression.

But another thought occurs to me that I would like to share with you. It is simply that religion and philosophy (and psychology) have yet to grasp the complex spiritual relationship that we have with animals. Although Descartes is dead, the idea that animals are just automata has a strong pull on our minds. But as almost anyone who has had a relationship with an animal knows, they are not just machines, or even just flesh and blood; somehow animals have -- for want of a better word -- "spirit."

After my book Animal Rites was published last year, I received scores of letters from people who had recently lost their companion animals. Many were deeply moving, even heartbreaking, and they provided ample testimony to a deep sense of loss and, not least of all, spiritual diminishment. An animal had not just died; an absence had replaced a presence, a connection to another world had been severed apparently forever.

Words are inadequate to characterize what I have called the "spirit" of an animal. Suffice to say this: I hope that in all our activities of protest, persuasion, and advocacy, we never lose the insight that every creature has its own mysterious life that graces us with its presence. Those who grieve for dead animals are often seen as people with a "problem," as if grieving was somehow unnatural or childish (which of course it isn't). In fact, such grief testifies to something much deeper: that animals are more than most people commonly imagine.

Jewish theologian Martin Buber once wrote of how we need to establish "I/Thou" (rather than "I/It") relationships with other creatures, and he gave as an example his own "deeply stirring" encounter with a dapple grey horse in childhood. He wrote, "I must say that what I experienced in touch with the animal was the Other, the immense otherness of the Other which....let me draw near and touch it."

It is precisely the "otherness" of animals (rather than their similarity to humans) that should provoke in us a sense of awe and wonder. In their very unlikeness, animals offer us an opportunity to "touch" another world.

One doesn't have to hear voices in the night to realize this, but I can say in all honesty that when it does happen, "our" world seems vastly smaller than before.

The Rev. Professor Andrew Linzey is Senior Research Fellow in Theology and Animals, Blackfriars hall, University of Oxford, England. The American edition of his book Animal Gospel is published by Westminster/John Knox Press.

The leader of the Church of England, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Dr. George Carey, has bestowed a Doctor of Divinity (DD) degree upon animal theologian Professor Andrew Linzey "in recognition of his unique and massive pioneering contribution at a scholarly level in the area of the theology of creation, with particular reference to the rights and welfare of God's sentient creatures." Rarely given, the DD degree is the highest award that an archbishop can grant a theologian; never before has one been bestowed in the field of animal rights. Commented Linzey, "I never supposed for a moment that anyone in the Church would recognize my work for animals, not least of all because I have been an outspoken critic of the Church's indifference to animals....I hope the emerging generation of scholars working in t his area will be as heartened as I am by this recognition.

“Reprinted with permission from The Animals’ Agenda, P.O. Box 25881,
Baltimore, MD 21224; (410) 675-4566;”
Email: [email protected]

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