by Eddy Stride
From The Church of England Newspaper and Record dated
November 7, 1969
It is a job to know how animals are feeling and to
what extent they "work things out" for themselves.
Recently a lady wrote in to a BBC programme describing an incident
between a buzzard and some rabbits. The bird had grabbed a baby rabbit
and dropped it while taking off.
From then on, other rabbits in the area constantly ran around the
bird every time it attempted to retrieve its victim. The lady wanted to
know if they were really trying to save their young or what.
The BBC man replied that he didn't think so. Rabbits run and jump
around anyway, in quite a scatty fashion, and it was probably one of
I was amused when my wife recounted all this to me. We have watched
our older rabbit, Patch, dealing with one of the hedgehogs in our
This prickly creature has invaded her burrow and she resents it. When
the hedgehog ambles along between two entrances she waits in a bush,
then at full speed she belts along just missing his snout as she crosses
Then she turns round and again, at full speed just misses him again.
The hog stops in his tracks, not sure what to do and when she has passed
him she turns again and repeats the harrying process.
Whether the hedgehog learns from this to keep off her territory I
don't know, but it is perfectly plain that Patch is opposing his
Both she and her son Teddy deal with cats similarly. Our cat just has
to take refuge on the gate post when the rabbits are free.
Our lady-worker's cat has double trouble. The other day I saw him
flying from a rabbit and leaping on top of the gate . . . only to find
our cat already up there, for the same reason I suppose, and these two
animals are strictly on swearing terms!
One sense rabbits seem to develop is that of knowing when you are
merely meeting them socially or approaching them to return them to their
Certainly our older one will lie sprawled out on the ground and allow
you to approach and stroke her, but if you are meaning to put her in, a
different look comes in her eyes and there follows a battle of wits
until in the end, she hops over to her hutch and jumps in. I suppose
it's a case of extra-sensory perception.
One of the Bible pictures of peace and harmony in the new world is
that the lion and the lamb will lie down together and the viper won't
even sting a child who puts his hand over its nest.
Here it is, from the Jerusalem Bible, Isaiah 11. v. 6ff:
"The wolf lives with the lamb, the panther lies down with the kid,
calf and lion cub feed together with a little boy to lead them. The cow
and the bear make friends, their young lie down together. The lion eats
straw like the ox," (and on p.91 of his book, Tower Hill 12.30, Lord
Soper quotes his zoologist daughter as asserting that this most
certainly is zoologically possible) "the infant plays over the cobra's
hole; into the viper's lair the young child puts his hand. They do no
hurt, no harm . . . For the country is filled with the knowledge of
Jehovah as the waters cover the sea."
It is interesting that it is the knowledge of the Lord that causes
One of the results of the Fall of man was fear and another was
ignorance. Our relationships with animals show up these factors.
I would never dream of picking up a hedgehog, because of its prickly
coat, but now that I've watched my oldest boy lay full length on the
ground to talk to one face to face, and seen him pick them up my
repugnance has gone.
So when he brought a young one in last week I held it and had it on
the table, and it amused us by constantly pushing against my hand with
its snout as if human beings were perfectly natural companions!
One notices with hamsters, too, how quickly they attach to human
beings. If ours escape from their cages at night they will totter up to
us in the morning, chilly and glad to be put back in their nests. Yet
when they first came we were treated very differently.
When I think of the varied and interesting life some of the creatures
around us live, and also of the growing intelligence or sense that they
develop through contact with humans I must confess that the sight of
rows of calves in 19in. slots on a factory farm leaves me feeling a bit
The nausea isn't helped by hearing of poultry farmers who have to cut
back their birds beaks to stop them pecking, and of cages in which the
birds never stretch their wings.
One of the marks of a good man, according to the Bible, is that he
cares about his animals - Proverbs. 12. v. 10 "The virtuous man looks
after the lives of his beasts, but the wicked man's heart is ruthless."
The children of Israel were told not to muzzle an ox treading out the
corn (Deut. 25.v.5.). I can imagine how some farmers would view that
today. The ox would have its muzzle off for the length of time necessary
for it to eat enough to keep up its strength sufficiently for doing the
treading. Then the muzzle would be back on again. The animal would, in
fact, be a threshing machine and no more.
Care of sparrows
At the heart of the Christian approach to the animal world must be
the doctrine of creation and the plain teaching of Jesus.
He claimed that our Heavenly Father is so intimately concerned with
the animal order that not one sparrow falls to the ground without him
caring. He used God's care of sparrows to underline how much God cares
for us. No Christian can treat the animal orders lightly after that.
The creation doctrine seems equally clear. Man's responsibility to
animals is given in Gen. 1 v.29, 30, and carnivorous after, ch.9, v.3,
by God's commandment.*
I am sure the dignity of animals is not respected when they are
thought of as mere economic units. Lack of respect for creation, of
which we are a part ourselves, leads to belittling human life too.
I like the reverence said to exist among South American Indians who
bow to and thank an animal before they kill it. There is something
basically right in that attitude.
Of course, we are told that factory-farming is an economic necessity
in today's competitive world.
It is rather disturbing that this was the argument used 100 years ago
when Shaftesbury and his friends were fighting the employment of women
and children in coal mines!
Reproduced with thanks
* The author was an elderly Anglican clergyman and theologians today
have put forward the view that the "commandment" in Genesis 9:3 which
states: "Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and
just as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything" - is
better understood as a concession to survival conditions after the Fall.
God's original aspiration and ultimate hope remains for mankind to
return to peaceable existence, as envisaged by the biblical prophets.