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From The Ark Number 194 - Summer 2003

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Book review

Dominion: the power of man, the suffering of animals, and the call to mercy, by Matthew Scully. New York: St Martin’s Press, 2002, 434 pps, h/b ISBN 0312261470,£19.99. UK publication date August 2003.

You really must get hold of a copy of this book. It is the best of its kind that I have read recently - on a par with the works of Andrew Linzey and Richard Ryder. And if you look at the note at the end, I have obtained a good bargain for Ark readers.

One American reviewer, the Revd JR Hyland, Director of Humane Religion, wrote in Animal People (Jan/Feb 2003): ‘Dominion is so powerful that when I read the manuscript before it was sent to the publisher, I was sure that St Martin’s Press would either refuse to print it or would force Scully to do a rewrite that would neutralise both its content anf the passion of his writing. That did not happen ... The writing is intense from the first chapter to the last.’

Scully reflects on the bases on which we have misapplied the notion of our ‘dominion’ over the universe. He urges people to use their free will and judgement in a moral way, and to behave with the restraint and compassion appropriate to our species: a sort of noblesse oblige by the creatures made in the image of God. Christians, after all, believe in a gracious God - one who is self-giving, not despotic or tyannical. God’s is the model of dominion: loving rule.

Scully denounces abuses of the Creator’s intentions, where people reduce creation to commodities, giving wild and domestic animals alike no more than financial value. It may have been the case in history, he argues, that hard necessity required the equally hard use of animals for labour, for furs, or to be hunted for food. But that when ‘substitute products are found, with each creature in turn, responsible dominion calls for a reprieve. The warrant expires. The divine mandate is used up. What were once "necessary evils" become just evils.’ Scully names the evils - and it must be uncomfortable reading for many.

He takes his opponents and their theories seriously, the better to refute them: ‘One tires especially of the posture among the theorists that they, and they alone, are guided by reason, while the rest of us wallow in our silly emotionalism. that is why we must ... [examine] their assumptions.’

The author investigates three assignments: a convention of big-game hunters, a meeting of whalers, and an industrial pig-farm, or ‘hog-growing’ unit.

The first is an annual convention of Safari Club International, whose members brag of the points gained by the number of trophy animals they have killed (the ‘big five’ being rhino, elephant, leopard, lion and buffalo). Serious killers go to Africa, but for local weekend killing trips, animals are transported, bred, or ‘retired’ from circuses and zoos, to provide easy targets in ‘No Kill. No Pay’ fenced-in game parks in the USA. One popular item displayed is the book Secrets of Tax Deductible Hunting, on sale along with videos of ‘great kills’ and gadgets that replicate the call of distressed young creatures to lure the adults into the sights of the guns. What is also really sickening are the accounts of the prayer services asking for God’s blessing on the hunters and their ‘sport’.

The whalers and industrial pig farmers are shown up as totally devoid of concern for the animals in their businesses, justifying their activities on ‘providing people with what they want’. In the words of the late Cardinal Heenan, ‘The difficulty is that many people do not realise the extent to which cruelty to animals is practised as a matter of business...’ Scully’s great service is in exposing this very ‘matter of business’: big business interests coming before the environment, before the small farmer, before the ‘integrity of creation’, as Catholic teaching puts it.

Scully asks for consistency in our treatment of animals. We dote on our dogs and cats, but they are no different from other sentient creatures. ‘Go into the largest livestock operation, search out the darkest and tiniest stall or pen, single out the filthiest, most forlorn little lamb or pig or calf; and that is one of God’s creatures you’re looking at, morally indistinguishable from your beloved Fluffy or Frisky.’

Matthew Scully is writing mainly for Americans, in whose country nine States have no animal cruelty leglislation (Nebraska has just become the 41st State making cruelty a felony: Alleluia!). Yet his knowledge of the British scene is impressive - especially moving is his treatment of our recent disastrous foot-and-mouth crisis. This book is one which all of us should have, not on our shelves, but beside our writing desks.

Deborah M Jones


Return to Number 194 - Summer 2003

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