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

 

Articles
Sermon for St. Francis' Day (1976)

By Rev. Canon Hugh Montefiore, Bishop of Kingston

From From the Animal Welfare Special published by the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection in February 1977, to commemorate 'Animal Welfare Year'

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 Westminster Abbey.

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 within it.

Creation

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 evolution.

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 animals.

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 other animals.

Denial

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 today.

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.

Vaster

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 living creature.

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 pets.

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.

Affront

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 them.

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.

Duty

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 against cruelty.

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 gave it.

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.

Stand

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 cosmetics.

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?

Responsibility

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 unexceptionable.

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.

Repentance

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 Creator.

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 society.

"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

See: The ethics of meat-eating

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