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



Man and the Beasts
by Professor William Barclay

From the January 1976 edition of the Church of Scotland magazine Life and Work

It is a curious thing that treatises on ethics very seldom make any attempt to deal with an ethical relationship that a man may have to the beasts.

On the whole the Greeks and Romans felt little relationship to the animals. Varro, writing on agriculture, classes animals and wagons alike as tools, the only difference being that the animal is able to utter some kind of sound.

But the Old Testament has a good deal to say about the animals, and their place in the structure of things. The creation of the animals is assigned to God, as much as is the creation of man (Genesis 1.25; 2.19). The support of the animals is the action of God. God preserves both man and beast; he gives to the beast his food and to the young ravens which cry; he gives grass in the field for the cattle (Psalm 36.6; 147.8; Genesis 1.30; Deuteronomy 11.15; Psalms 104.14).

God's care for Nineveh comes from the fact that there are many people in that city and much cattle (Jonah 4.11). The fate of the cattle mattered to God.

Animal rights

It is true that dominion over the beasts and the birds and the fishes is given to man (Genesis 1. 26-28; Psalm 8. 6-8). But that by no means freed man from the responsibility he had to the beasts. "A righteous man," says the Proverbs, "has regard for the life of his beast" (Proverbs 12.10).

"Do you have cattle? says Ben Sirach "Look after them" (Ecclesiasticus 7.22).

The rights of the animals are protected. The animals must have their day of rest as men must have it (Exodus 20.10; 23.12). If a nest is harried, the mother bird must never be killed, but must always be let go (Deuteronomy 22.6,7). When the ox is drawing the heavy sled that threshes the grain, he must never be muzzled. He must, as it were, be allowed to have a share in the fruit of his labours (Deuteronomy 25.4).

Two a penny

No one went further than Jesus did in this. He talks about the Father feeding the birds (Matthew 6.26). One of his sayings is reported in two forms. Matthew has: "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father's will" (Matthew 10.29); but Luke has: "Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God" (Luke 12.6).

In Palestine, if you were prepared to spend only one penny, you got two sparrows; but if you were prepared to spend two pennies you got five sparrows - one thrown into the bargain, one that was, so to speak, worth nothing, the forgotten sparrow. Not even that valueless sparrow is forgotten by God.

Another point - Matthew, as the R.S.V. has it, says that not one of them will fall to the ground without the knowledge and the will of God. Will fall to the ground; that phrasing makes us think of the sparrow dropping dead on the ground. But J.E. McFayden used to insist that, if you put the words back into the Hebrew or Aramaic in which they were first spoken, the words would mean that not a sparrow lights on the ground from flight without God seeing it and knowing it. So detailed is the care of God for the least creatures of his creation.

We can only in the space available take two or three big and practical issues.

i. We can begin with an issue which may affect any of us. Many of us will live in the cities and not in the country, and therefore many of us will have nothing of the first hand relationship with animals that, for instance, a farmer will have. But there is one relationship to animals that any of us may have; that is, the relationship to an animal as a domestic pet.

Too often an animal is brought into a house, and then treated with a callous irresponsibility in the end. The animal may begin by being a pet, and may end by being put out on the street, and left to wander. Holiday time comes round; it is inconvenient to take the pet animal with the family; the family cannot or do not wish to pay for lodging for the pet, and the animal is left simply to wander the streets. It has even been known for an animal to be deliberately ejected from a car on a motor-way and left to fend for itself. This kind of thing happens and it is conduct of which no Christian person can dare to be guilty.

This kind of cruelty can happen on a shocking scale. Some few months ago more than 2,000 parakeets, finches, and mynah birds were crammed into crates and dispatched by air from Calcutta to London. On arrival in London just 89 of the 2,000 were still alive.

Christians have a duty to see to it that such things are made impossible, and to be very certain that they do not themselves ever treat animals with callous irresponsibility.

Blood sports

ii. There is the issue of what are called blood sports, the hunting of wild animals for sport. James Anthony Froude wrote in Oceana: "Wild animals never kill for sport. Man is the only one to whom the torture and death of his fellow creatures is amusing in itself."

Certainly, animals such as foxes have to be kept under control, but surely that does not necessitate the mobilisation of a regiment of huntsmen and a pack of dogs to kill in the most cruel possible way.

Trapping can be even worse. If an animal must be killed, the clean shot is surely the best way; and it is to be noted that really expert deer-stalkers will never shoot, unless the shot is sure to kill.

We would do well to remember Ralph Hodgson's poem:

'Twould ring the bells of Heaven
The wildest peal for years,
If parson lost his senses,
And people came to theirs,
And he and they together
Knelt down with angry prayers
For tamed and shabby tigers
And dancing dogs and bears,
And wretched, blind pit ponies
And little hunted hares.

iii. At one other issue we must look and it is the most emotive of all. That is, the use of animals, in experiments which are designed to help the cause of medical science. The opinions of experts on the rightness and the necessity of this can be so diametrically opposed that the layman dare not lay down the law, except to this extent. If this is ever necessary, then it must be done; for, if this is the only way to find or test a cure, then the life of the animal must be sacrificed for the life of the human being. But if it is done, it must be done in such a way that the animal is spared all unnecessary pain and distress. If it is really the case - and note I say if - that we have to choose between the suffering of a rat and the discovery of a cure for a child, then there is no choice - the life of the child must come first, although every care and precaution must be taken.

God's design

Let us before we end return again to Scripture. The dream of the Old Testament is the dream of a golden time when the world will be recreated into a perfect creation; and it is of no little interest and importance to see that in that last perfection the animals too have their place. The old enmities will be done with, and there will be universal peace and friendship. Wolf and lamb, leopard and kid, lion and calf and fatling will lie down together; and the child shall play with the poisonous snake and take no harm (Isaiah 11. 6-9).

Hosea has a vision of a new covenant, and hears God saying to him: "And I will make for you a covenant on that day with the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the creeping things of the ground... and I will make you lie down in safety" (Hosea 2.18).

The design of God, as the prophet saw it, is a world where man and beast, even the savage and poisonous beasts, live in perfect friendship. This was the world which Burns thought ought to be, and which he thought that man had shattered: and which he wrote about when he turned up and destroyed the mouse's nest with the plough:

I'm truly sorry Man's dominion
Has broken nature's social union,
An' justifies th'ill opinion
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor, earthborn
An' fellow mortal!

The key word in the Gospel is reconciliation, and that reconciliation is not only between man and man, but also between man and beast.

For discussion

1. Has all this anything to do with food? Does it in principle necessitate vegetarianism?

2. Ought the Church to do more for animals; e.g. have an annual animals' Sunday, widely observed, press for protective legislation for animals?

3. If you have anything to do with any kind of animal, what would you say was your responsibility to it?

Forum - "Life and Work" (March 1976)

"Man and the Beasts" - purrs for the professor or barking back at Barclay?

It is indeed heartening to see Professor William Barclay writing on behalf of animals, quoting many Scriptural references concerning their rights and welfare, and pointing to the Christian's duty to see that they are not cruelly misused.

In his short but excellent article Professor Barclay has shown that legislature to protect animals is sorely needed, and it would be encouraging to find the voice of the Church being added to those of the animal welfare societies which have campaigned for such for many years.

I should, if I may, like to add a rider to Professor Barclay's paragraph (iii) relating to experiments on animals. People who are not conversant with the subject may believe that the five and a half million animals now used annually in research establishments are for purely medical purposes; this is not the case as more than half of this number are involved in the commercial and industrial testing of cosmetics, detergents, fertilizers and the like, which is merely exploitation for profit, not the advancement of medical science or the cure of disease.

H.W. Steen,

Dr. Barclay must be congratulated on his thoughtful and much-needed article on "Man and the Beasts" which will surely do much to arouse Christians to their responsibility to the animal creation. It was especially good to see his quotations from Isaiah 11:9 and Hosea 2: 18,, and the questions he raises at the end of the article. For the Christian there is another important question, viz. Genesis 1: 29, "And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat", as well as "Thou shalt not kill." It is obvious from these three or four quotations alone (there are more) that a diet that does not depend on killing and cruelty is the highest and purest one to which man can aspire - all else are intermediate steps towards such a pure and compassionate diet. Too often when one deplores the slaughter of animals for food one hears the cry "As long as it is humanely done", or "It seems cruel but it is necessary." This may, or may not be right for the uncommitted, but the committed Christian has no choice. Is he not urged in a well-known hymn to "rise-up, have done with lesser things" - the lesser things in this instance being killing and cruelty? Vegetarianism is no new cult - it has been practised all down the ages and those who practise it show far more compassion than those who do not.

Once we make up our minds that we shall no longer kill to eat - other cruelties fall into place - e.g. vivisection (for cosmetics, drugs, food and even household goods), factory farming, circuses, bloodsports, pets and trapping for furs.

The Fellowship of Life, of which I am privileged to be the Secretary, whilst not an animal welfare society as such, although in sympathy with the work of animal societies generally, believes in union with God and the one-ness of All Creation, and that the responsibility of all believers is much more fundamental than simply working for better conditions for animals, admirable and necessary as it is, and therefore aims at teaching and uniting Christians primarily in a new way of life which is beneficial not only to the animals, but to the hungry Third World, the environment, and themselves.

Margaret E. Lawson,
Inverness IV1 2PG.

With Professor Barclay's article shall we at last be seeing a much-needed breakthrough in the Church's thinking about animals? For years now I, and many others like me, have been pummelling at the prejudices of various religious denominations, urging them to accept the fact that animals, as creatures of God, have rights, and that man, as creatures of God, have a responsibility to respect those rights.

Professor Barclay listed what he regarded as three of the most pressing animal welfare issues - the treatment of pets, bloodsports, and vivisection. But these issues, important though they are, make up only the tip of the iceberg of exploitation, and the attrocities committed by man on animals far outweigh those committed by man on man.

(Mrs.) B.E. Hardwick,

Points made by other readers include:

Having seriously considered the question of eating animal flesh, many Christians will be led to realise that where millions of people in under-developed countries are dying from starvation, it is totally wrong for us of the affluent western world to maintain over-populated food animals on precious sources of protein food which we import in vast quantities from the Third World.

It is possible that much of the sadistic and inhuman treatment of animals by man, would lessen and perhaps disappear altogether, once vegetarianism became widely accepted.

(Mrs.) B. Boiling,

Professor Barclay appears to be quite humane in his attitude towards animals, until he comes to the matter of vivisection.

He says if vivisection is ever necessary, then it must be done, he then says if it is done, it must be in such a way that the animals are spared unnecessary pain and distress. Is he unaware that the annual number of experiments in Britain now run into millions and that it is quite impossible to have them without causing great pain and distress to the animals?

(Miss) I. Rowatt,

There are alternatives to the use of laboratory animals and it is one aspect of the work of this Trust that not only does it encourage advanced scientific research for the benefit of suffering humanity, but also for the replacement of the animal in the laboratory.

There is before me as I write, a report from one of the scientists we are supporting giving details of the development of special medical machinery which will give more accurate diagnoses than using the lungs of beagle dogs. This takes the form of a mathematical model of the human respiratory system and the complicated variations in gas exchange in both normal and abnormal lungs.

R. MacAlastair Brown,
The Humane Research Trust,

Women could help greatly if they refused to wear fur coats, especially those obtained by cruel trapping and poaching of wild animals. Also it is not generally realised how many of our cosmetics have ingredients that cause great pain to animals in the course of manufacture.

C. Winifred Kilpatrick,

Many of the alternative methods are as good or better than vivisection medically. The great bulk of vivisection has nothing to do with medicine, and there is a border-line form in which animals are tied up, shot at, gathered up, and used for practice in treating gun-shot wounds. Thus one evil, shooting at each other, leads men into another.

Alison Foss,
Castle Douglas.

Already, 1,250,000 signatures have been collected on a national petition against coursing. It is my hope that the Church of Scotland will add its voice of condemnation.

(Mrs.) Doreen Parkes,

If any of your readers are interested in receiving a copy of the leaflet "The Bible and Vegetarianism - Was the Master a Vegetarian?" price 5p, or a free recipe leaflet and other information, they should send a stamped addressed envelope to The Vegetarian Society, Parkdale, Durham Road, Altrincham, Cheshire.

David Knowles,

I suppose we shall have to renounce the strong meat which the writer of Hebrews says belongeth to them that are of full age, along with the meaty discourses we are accustomed to in our better pulpits. As for the Apostle's licence to the Corinthians to eat "anything sold in the meat market" (N.E.B. translation), perhaps that will be less of a problem if we invent another new sin and call it Paulism; and if we tear the Epistle to the Romans out of our Bibles.

C.K. Elder,

The Reverend Professor William Barclay (1907-1978)

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