The Fellowship of Life
Can animals be said to have rights?
Sir, - Hugh Montefiore's comments on animal rights (Opinion, 5 May) saddened me deeply, as yet another example of the flawed approach to issues which is fundamentally damaging our religion.
Religion is not rational; it transcends rationality. But whenever I read reports or articles by leading members of the Church, I might as well be reading the efforts of a university academic or politician. All I see is analysis, argument, measurement, leading to a conclusion which is then confused with truth. Spirituality is immeasurably greater than mere reason. It is about an inner search for divine guidance.
The difference between the two approaches was dramatically illustrated to me recently. I met someone who used to practise vivisection for medical research. The point came when he had to give it up. When he went deeply within himself, beyond his reasoning mind, he unleashed an innate compassion which simply would not allow him to continue. That is spirituality; that is the approach that our religion should be teaching.
Sir, - Even if one does go down the road of making a direct and simple correlation between rights and duties, which can be problematic in itself, Hugh Montefiore's arguments against the rights of animals need balancing. One could argue that the rights which animals have in their relationship with humans are not correlative to any duties they have towards humans, but are in some sense a correlative of the human duties towards animals.
The issue then would be the nature of these human duties towards animals. Within the framework of Christian theology, this is often an issue involving discussion of dominion and domination. The course of any such discussion depends largely upon one's world-view. For those who have a predominantly anthropocentric world view, and assign a value to animals only in terms of their functional use for humans, it might indeed seem nonsensical to propose conditions of animal welfare which go much beyond the limits of cost-efficiency for humans. However, if one assigns a value to animals which is distinct from their usefulness to humans, e.g. a value based on the love of God for all his creation, then the duties one assumes towards animals might go well beyond the limits of cost-efficiency.
Interestingly, as with Hugh Montefiore's article, it is often the engagement with the reality of the suffering of animals which can draw one away from a rigid adherence to the former paradigm and towards exploration of the latter.
(Revd.) Timothy L. Jones
Animal rights: theirs or ours?
Sir, - Timothy Jones's view of animals (Letters, 12 May) is just as "anthropocentric" as that of Bishop Montefiore (Opinion, 5 May), which he seeks to oppose.
Assigning a value to animals, or asserting animal rights, is a human activity which has no parallel among animals themselves. Animal rights exist only in so far as man chooses to invent and respect them.
Certainly animals do not show much recognition of each other's rights; and Darwin's study of nature led him to reject belief in a beneficient God. The contrary inference was drawn by Simon Weil: since man's sense of morality and good cannot be derived from the material and natural worlds, we must look elsewhere for their source.
Hugh Montefiore: 'Animals have no rights, but they deserve care'
Protesters demand rights but they seldom mention duties, which are the correlate of rights. Today the calves trade is causing many animal activists to protest in favour of animal rights.
But rights can only belong to moral beings. Animals can no more have rights than they can discharge duties. "Animal rights" may make good rhetoric, but the phrase is literally meaningless.
The fact that animals have no rights does not mean that they can be treated in any way that we choose.
Or does it? A virus is alive, and in that sense it is an animal, if we define an animal as a living being. Few of us have any qualms about killing off a virus that has attacked us: indeed, our immune system does just that.
As for bacteria, we depend on some of these for our life-support systems; but once again, we take medicine to destroy them when they attack us. Is it wrong to use pesticides?
I could continue with this list of questions. If we were Buddists who believe that we might be reincarnated into any of these species, we might well pause before destroying them. God would not have created them or enabled them to evolve, unless they were "good" in his sight.
None the less, we naturally feel more qualms, rightly, about causing pain to those animals which are higher in the "scale of nature" and which more neatly resemble us human beings. As Christians we should try to minimise pain caused to any animal that we know is capable of suffering pain.
At the same time, we need feel no scruples about killing those which we need, since predation is the order of creation, and so we must assume that it is not contrary to the will of our Creator. Why shouldn't freezing Russians wear fur coats?
Where should we draw the line?
We have a duty to be kind to animals as dumb creatures of God's creation, unless they threaten us. During this century, human beings in this country have become more sensitive to the pain we cause animals, although the RSPCA was founded as long ago as 1824.
Do we cause pain to cold-blooded animals like fish? I once "played" a salmon for up to half an hour, and I can't believe no stress was caused. Some oppose fox-hunting, although the pain caused may not be more than in natural predation. We argue where to draw the line. As for experiments on animals, they are subject to government control.
Domesticated animals should have freedom of natural movement, the ability to associate with other animals, facilities for comfort activities such as grooming, ability to perform normal routines, sufficient territorial space, enough food and water, and opportunities for play and exploration by their young. Current rules of keeping pigs and hens badly need revision. Export of veal crates should be prohibited by law.
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