Battery (Hens) Not Included
A Unitarian's Sentimental Spin on
by NATHAN BRAUN
The Bible According to Noah: Theology as if Animals Mattered.
By Gary Kowalski.
New York: Lantern,
Do animals matter? Gary Kowalski has written his fourth ("good")
book saying -- among other things -- that, yes, indeed animals do
matter. (T)his latest is a handsome volume ambitiously entitled The
Bible According to Noah and even more aggressively subtitled
Theology as if Animals Mattered. Kowalski assumes, of course, that
they do. In the tradition of midrash, this modern-day Noah considers
five key stories of the Hebrew Bible "especially in regard to how we
view and treat other animals."
A Unitarian minister educated at Harvard, Kowalski feels our
"religious traditions are [hopelessly] anthropocentric --
human-centered..." as if that were a bad thing. He feels the Jewish
"spiritual heritage... managed to guide people and enabled them to
endure over the course of many lifetimes" and therefore "deserves a
large measure of respect." However, while feminist and liberation
theologians ongoing attempts to reinterpret Scripture "can be
applauded," animals have been neglected. The author thus turns our
attention to the animals by rewriting five Bible stories "according to
Never mind that Noah was the first human instructed by God to
eat flesh as "the fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts
of the earth" (Gen. 9:2-3). Noah nonetheless represents the goodness
of God in providing for creation, and the image of the ark remains a
powerful symbol of saving grace. In each chapter of The Bible
According to Noah, Rev. Kowalski quotes a story from Scripture and
then discusses how and why he wants to change it. He then "concludes
with a revised version of that same tale--one that embraces the
unity and diversity of life."
The first chapter, naturally enough, follows the prologue in
re-writing the Creation, without getting bogged down in the ongoing
evolution controversies. His focus is, again naturally enough,
light. Kowalski feels "[w]e human beings seem to be drawn toward the
creatures of the wild like moths toward a flame." He throws in his
own acrostic poem (celebrating "The Alphabet of Gratitude") and
rebukes human arrogance in thinking only humans "look like" God,
saying "[l] ittle besides parochialism can support such a claim"
which "would have far- reaching and destructive consequences."
Chapter two considers Noah´s ark from a "bird´s eye view" --
specifically the "Difference the Dove Made." Chapter three
beautifully and dramatically retells what turns out to be Abraham´s
non-sacrifice of neither Isaac nor the ram. Developing his case,
Kowalski chillingly recounts relevant psychological research about
humans´ unquestioning obedience to authority, even when instructed
to hurt others "for research purposes." In short, rhesus monkeys
were far less willing than humans to cause pain to their peers, even
when starved. Chapter four pays more careful attention to the many
animals so quickly discarded "rather unceremoniously in the very
first chapter" of Job -- concluding with a radically revised yet
thoughtful poem, where Job finally accepts "his place within the
family of things." The fifth and final chapter likewise brings Jonah
to shore aboard a friendly Flipper-like dolphin, not the belly of a
beastly man-eating fish.
All of these tales betray a deep unease with the fact of life
called food. "Eat and be eaten" is a message foreign to Kowalski and
the Bible he wants to write. In this age of plenty, we humans
increasingly (and understandably) want to include other animals
within our "circles of compassion." But that is only because there
seems no good reason to prevent us from doing so. Contrary to our
intuitions, we simply no longer need to exploit animals for our own
benefit. In fact, using animals (especially when we could do
otherwise) actually hinders our own growth and development and
contributes substantially to global health, environmental and
Indeed, if it weren´t for the health and environmental benefits
of vegetarianism (and inadequacy of animal research), significant
concern for animals in general (and animal rights in particular)
would not make any sense at all. For example, if eating only veggies
lowered lifespans to 25 years of age and tripled incidence of heart
disease and cancer, human concern for other animals would amount to
little more than a joke: sentimental nonsense at best. It is only
because its the other way around, and human interests are currently
furthered by caring more for animals, that books such as this have
any merit whatsoever.
For "The Bible According to Noah" is just that: it is according
to a human caretaker of Creation. No matter how much we want to
appear biocentric, it is impossible to escape our God-given
human-centeredness, which naturally parallels other species´ concern
for themselves in the great circle of Life.
While care for other species may be indeed natural, it is care
for our own which is paramount. It amounts to little more than a
coincidence that human benefit now almost precisely corresponds to
the well-being of all Creation.
For indeed, human self-preservation will always weigh out all
other considerations, animals included.