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


What are our animals telling us?

by the Rev. John W.M. Cameron
Minister of Liberton Kirk, Edinburgh

From the Church of Scotland magazine Life and Work (July 1986):

A recent Bible exam asked students about the references to "dog" in the Old Testament. The point of this rather obscure question is that the word is always derogatory, and refers to the snarling, snapping pariahs that hung around the fringes of human settlements. The only reference to a dog as a companion and pet is in the apocryphal book of Tobit.

Well, we may say, people struggling to survive in primitive times had no time to spare the feelings of animals. We have come a lot further. We are a nation of animal-lovers.

Both points are untrue. We still reveal tendencies to hurt and degrade animals in our charge, as statistics and newspaper headlines remind us. Sometimes we kill them with kindness. Sometimes we just kill them, releasing our frustration, spite and perversity.

The Bible by no means authorises the high-handed kind of dominion over the animal creation for which it is sometimes blamed. Certainly the Jewish people did not worship creation, or animal-like deities, and forbade all forms of such idolatry.

But if we read the Psalms, the final chapters of Job, and above all, the Noah story, we find that the whole creation is a unity, dependent on God, with a complex network of interdependent relationships under him. The whole plan of salvation is prefigured by the covenant with Noah, who has built his ark to rescue the animals from the doom that mankind has brought upon the world.

Not acceptable

Animal creation, too, has fallen: it is a flawed thing, with savagery, parasites and disease- bearing organisms, but it waits for humankind to find its destiny and its ultimate restoration in the great scheme proclaimed by Paul in Romans 8.

The Old Testament concept of animal sacrifice, so brutal and wasteful to us, did attempt to ensure that human beings may only take an animal life if it is solemnly returned to God, the giver of all life. Casual and random killing is unacceptable. Animal sacrifice is abolished by the new relationship we are given with God, by Jesus Christ who freely gave his life in total obedience to God's will; but we are not thus permitted to deprive animals of life, as I believe we do, for our entertainment, or even for our food and our research.
Christians are told to pray for daily bread. That means asking questions about it. Are we eating what is wholesome and nourishing? Are we taking more than our share, or paying too little to those who produce it, at home or in the third world?

We demand cheap and plentiful food, but do we ask how the food is produced, and whether the animals bred by intensive methods can enjoy some kind of natural life, enhanced by wise animal-husbandry; or are they subjected to an existence which is grotesque, brutish and short, because this is cheaper?

What of eggs and dairy produce? What of procedures in our slaughter-houses? Let us remember that our farmers will produce what we will buy, and shops will sell us what we want. Food patterns are already changing, and could change more. Some will choose to be vegetarian, but all Christians must be willing to ask questions before saying grace, or even before reaching the check-out in the supermarket.

Pain and distress

Are we fair even to our pets? Sometimes we use them to express feelings we hide from others, playing God. If we are God to our pets, what kind of a God are we presenting? Over-indulgent, we deny them proper food, exercise and training. Careless, we leave them to stray - and to breed - neglected, or abandoned, finally to join the thousands of unwanted animals which are destroyed annually.

We are more distanced from the animals we see in zoos, safari parks, and circuses, but, despite caring and overworked staff, perhaps we are failing to respect the animals which entertain or amuse us, in more subtle ways.

The whole question of research is a complex one. Genesis begins with the affirmation that some knowledge is inappropriate and destructive. Some forms of research, and even some required tests, are bound to cause pain, fear, and distress to the animals used. Only a fraction of such tests advance medical knowledge, and many people are shocked by the procedures used to test cosmetics. We do not want unsafe medicines, or household products, but most of us deplore the use of animals as victims of contrived accidents or targets for new war weapons.

Best traditions

Many of us depend on animals for our livelihood - farmers, gamekeepers, dairymen, retailers, to say nothing of those who work in zoos and research centres. Should the rest of us "gang up" against such folk, or tell them to walk out? Too often those who claim to care passionately about animal welfare and the environment permit themselves to undertake acts of destruction and violence which cannot be part of a Christian response. Rather we should encourage those who work with animals to be true to the best traditions they know, to keep a good conscience as they respect all forms of life, and to be on their guard against the brutalisation that comes with treating other living creatures less than responsibly.

If we believe in the oneness of God's creation, and his purpose of life more abundant assured in Christ, we will find that others have been affirming the worth of animals in more strident tones and waiting for Christians to find their voice.

New legislation has become law which some feel can only be a beginning. How we treat animals reveals a great deal about how we treat one another. Balaam's ass spoke the word of God, when the prophet would not hear it.
What are our animals telling us today?

Reproduced with thanks .

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