The Fellowship of Life
a Christian-based vegetarian group founded in 1973


A Christian approach to the animal world

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 those things.

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 garden.

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 his path.

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 presence.

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 cages.

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 this.

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 sick.

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.

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