By Rev. Canon Hugh Montefiore, Bishop of Kingston
the Animal Welfare Special published by the British Union for the
Abolition of Vivisection in February 1977, to commemorate 'Animal
This is the transcript of the October 3, 1976, St. Francis' Day and
World Day for Animals sermon given by the Bishop of Kingston at
Few of us in the Abbey this afternoon know one another. We are a
great gathering of the unknown. But we have one great cause in common -
animal welfare. What is more, we are convinced that this great common
cause - animal welfare - has something to do with God, or we would not
have entered His house to worship.
It is the task of your preacher to connect these two - God and animal
welfare. What do they have to do with each other? That is my theme.
First, let us remind ourselves, if we need to do so, that the whole
world is God's world. "Let everything that has breath" said the
Psalmist, "let everything that has breath, praise the Lord."
The whole world is God's world. From the beginning of creation the
Spirit of God brooded over the face of the deep, and He has been at work
The whole world stems from the Word of God; and we humans are part
and parcel of this wonderful and mysterious process which we call
The Big Bang of billions of years ago - the exploding universe - the
billions of galaxies - the blazing stars - the cooling planet - all stem
from the creative word of God.
The formation of earth and sea, the structure of rocks, the first
stirrings of life, the great pageant of species with their myriad forms
and shapes and sizes, the growing complexity of flora and fauna on sea
and land and in the air - all are the creation of God.
Finally, as a latecomer in this process there emerged man; man
similar in so many ways to other beings, and yet unique; unique in his
power to think, unique in his personal relationships, unique in his
power of foresight and invention.
In a very short time - in the twinkling of an eye when viewed from
the perspective of geological time - man assumed dominion over the
earth. He has got on top.
"So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created
him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them and said to
them: 'Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it; and have
dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over
every living being that moves on the earth!"
That, as you know, comes from the first verse of the Bible. It
describes precisely what is the case. Man does have dominion over all
But man is also made in God's image. In some way his nature resembles
that of Almighty God. After all he is the only creature with
self-consciousness, he is the only animal with moral consciousness; and
so he is to behave in a godlike way. He is to act responsibly towards
Since God's nature is love, man too is to act towards nature in a
loving way. Since cruelty is the opposite of love, man denies his own
nature if he is cruel to animals.
Of course cruelty cannot arise if there is no consciousness of pain.
And it is true that we do not know exactly how animals are conscious of
pain, for they are different from ourselves.
But we know enough about them to realise that pain can be exceedingly
unpleasant. It follows that it is morally wrong for any human being to
cause any animal unnecessary pain.
Whether or not animals have rights is a debatable point. But man has
no right to inflict unnecessary pain upon an animal. I do not see how
there could be any debate about that.
Here as Christians we should take our stand, joining forces with any
others - and there will be many - who would stand with us in this
matter. We would expect there to be many others, whatever be their
religious faith, for unless he have been brought up as sadist, natural
man is revolted and disgusted by unnecessary pain, fear and stress
caused to the animal creation.
There have been many Christians in the past who have been an
inspiration to us in their love for animals. Today we remember St
Francis of Assisi on the eve of his festival, he who called the animals
his brothers and sisters.
All the same the Christian record has not always been honourable, and
Christians can even learn from others about the humane treatment of
animals. And Christians can protest at what is happening in this country
I do not intend to get involved in subtleties from the pulpit. I
leave on one side matters on which we would not all agree - matters for
example concerning vegetarianism or vivisection.
I simply take my stand on one unassailable point: no human being has
the right to inflict unnecessary pain, fear or stress upon any other
To inflict such pain is bad for the person who inflicts it. To
inflict such pain is bad for the animal which suffers from it.
It is immoral and wrong, and it denies both the dignity of man and
the dignity of the animal creation.
What I have said is always true. Why say it today, in the year of our
Lord 1977? Well, partly because this year marks a hundred years since
the passing of our Cruelty to Animals Act; but the real reason lies
deeper than that.
Nowadays the scale of human activity has increased so drastically and
dramatically. Man's power to alter his environment has escalated beyond
imagining. The scope of modern technology - medical and otherwise - so
much vaster than it was.
All these add up to what is almost a new situation. A fresh look is
required at what we are doing not only to our fellow- men, but to the
animal creation for which we are accountable to God.
The object of Animal Welfare Year is to prevent cruelty to animal
life by promoting humane behaviour so as to reduce pain, fear and stress
inflicted upon animals by men.
This applies to domestic pets. They have been in the news lately,
with proposals for dog wardens and increased charges for dog licences.
But more fundamental than matters of hygiene is the suffering caused to
The number which have to be humanely destroyed each year is
appalling. I fear that for many people pets are not loved as they should
be for their own sake, but for the pleasure they give to people. When
the pleasure fades the animal is abandoned. The novelty wears off, or
people go on holiday, and the pet is forgotten.
This of course has always happened - there have always been people
who are thoughtless or ignorant or callous. It is the scale on which
this kind of cruelty now takes place that calls for protest.
It would be far, far better if there were less pets rather than for
the present state of affairs to continue.
If they were all well fed they would consume enormous quantities of
valuable protein. But to neglect or abandon a domestic pet is a form of
sin - disrespect for God's creation, a form of selfishness of which
anyone ought to be ashamed.
It is terrible to train defenceless animals to trust their masters,
and then for their masters to abandon them. It is worse than bestial -
for animals do not behave like that to each other.
Many wild animals as well as pets are endangered. There are cases
where whole species are in peril. The story of man's exploitation of the
whole is one of the most disgraceful tales in human history.
The clubbing of seals is not only an affront to human nature - think
of the effects of doing it on those who carry out this annual slaughter
- but also an affront to the animal kingdom as such.
If people who wear fur coats had actually witnessed the pain of the
wild animals caught in a trap, I doubt if they would ever dare to wear
Or, again, it is tragic to think that kites and peregrines and eagles
may be endangered in these islands because some people offer huge and
illegal rewards for fledglings or eggs. It is disgusting to see dead
fish lying on their backs on the surface of some river that has been
fouled by some toxic pollutant.
Of course it would be more expensive to find other means of disposal
for these effluents, but we have a moral duty to prevent such fouling.
It is an offence against the law to maltreat a pet. But it is odd
that if an animal is being reared for food production, there is no law
To be sure there are recommended codes of conduct, but even these do
not measure up to the standards proposed by experts who advised on how
farm animals should be treated.
Surely we have no right to deprive an animal of basic functions which
belong to the essential dignity of its species - for example, the
ability to lie down, or to stretch its body.
This is to treat an animal as a thing - to deny it the dignity God
It may be cheaper to produce veal or chicken or eggs by these means.
If the result is sub-standard food, it is also sub-standard humanity.
To dishonour the creature is to dishonour the Creator who made it and
the Spirit which gives it life. If other countries can forbid such
practices as hen batteries and still maintain a high standard of living,
so can we.
Here Christians, too, must take a stand, and insist that codes of
conduct in intensive farming be changed.
Then there is the matter of animal experiments. Let us gladly admit
that thousands of human lives have been saved through animal experiments
- that is a fact.
Let us gladly agree that we are of more value of many sparrows -
those are the words of Jesus Christ.
Let us also welcome the truth that most laboratory workers are
conscientious and humane, and when they inflict suffering on animals,
they do so in good faith and with good motives.
Most, I say, but not all - there are always some sadists.
But what we are concerned about is unnecessary pain and fear and
stress. When the Act was passed a century ago, things were very
different from today, when over 5 million animal experiments are carried
out annually, and when there now exist new techniques for testing drugs
which in some cases need not involve living animals. Animal experiments
are also used to test lipsticks, shampoos, face creams and other
Some of us here hold in good faith that some animal experiments which
cause pain can be justified on grounds of medical research. But should
animals be made to suffer so that human beings may safely change their
grooming habits or increase their sex appeal?
Is this necessary or unnecessary suffering?
The pulpit is not the case to argue these matters in detail. But the
proposal to set up machinery to review the hundred-years old Act seems
Circumstances change; and however conscientious scientists may be,
they have no monopoly on moral sensitivity. What the law permits or
requires is the responsibility of the whole community, and no person
should be the judge in his own cause.
Most of us lead lives far removed from nature. We see only finished
products - cellophane wrapped oven-ready birds, attractively packaged
cosmetics, seductive advertisements. We are shielded from reality: and
the reality is that man is sinful.
He exploits his fellow men: he exploits the animal creation. He
exploits pets to gratify a passing whim: he exploits wild animals for
luxury apparel or personal gratification: he exploits farm animals for
quick profits and cheap food.
He exploits laboratory animals so that he - or she - for example may
safely use luxury skin preparations. He exploits the whole natural world
for selfish reasons. By dishonouring the creature, we dishonour the
Thank God there are many who love and respect animals; but not all.
Sin needs repentance, not in the sense of feeling guilty but of
amending our ways. We need change of attitudes on the part of the
individuals: we need to consider change of the law on the part of
"Let everything that has breath praise the Lord". Let that be our aim
and object. "Let everything that has breath praise the Lord."
Reproduced with thanks
The ethics of meat-eating
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