God, Nimrod, and the World: Exploring Christian Perspectives on Sport Hunting - Bracy V. Hill II and John B. White, Eds.
From All-Creatures.org Book, CD and Video Review Guide

Editors: Bracy V. Hill II and John B. White

Reviewed by: Robert Ellwood, VegetarianFriends.net

Publisher: Mercer University Press


I'm sure it is safe to say that few readers of The Peaceable Table are sport hunters. So far as is humanly possible, we do not kill animals, and many of us strive to live without consuming them or their products. Living free of their flesh and their milk and eggs, we feel healthier and happier, and the science is more and more on our side. Some of us are passionate about the ethical treatment of animals, which for us includes respect for their right to life without fear of humans with a big gun. We would prefer that animals see us as guardians and friends rather than as predators.

Nonetheless, we are aware of another side out there, and it may well be part of our own lives too. Some of us love our companion cats even though they are hunters, probably both for sport and vittles. If they live both in- and outdoors, we grieve for the mangled birds or mice they proudly offer us. Many of us have hunter friends or relatives who are otherwise good, kindly persons, whom we care about even though we do not share that particular avocation with them, and indeed find it repellent. So in all fairness let's hear what they, and world-class spokespersons both for and against hunting, have to say.

God, Nimrod, and the World may be seen by hunters, if not by those who reject hunting, as a comfortable room, perhaps with a blazing fire, for that discussion after a day outdoors in clear frosty air enjoying both nature and the hunt. Here the two sides are given voices, and let me emphasize how valuable this book is as a collection of diverse statements by qualified writers. No one can truly say they have an honest, responsible position on some issue unless they have familiarized themselves with all sides, and this room is where to do it. A couple of caveats about God, Nimrod, and the World, however.

The editors are both professors affiliated with traditionally Baptist Baylor University: Hill in History, and White in the Truett Theological Seminary. The book is explicitly Christian, with no reference to the views of other religions except to some extent Judaism. Most of the writers seem to be more or less evangelical Protestant, and some articles are characteristically packed with biblical quotes, though a few are Roman Catholic, and one by Bracy Hill extensively cites William Channing, founder of American Unitarianism. But readers should be aware that, as the title states, this book is really just about Christian views for and against hunting, nothing else. At the same time, I want to say that the editors' major introductory and concluding essays are impressive: balanced, well-informed, and respectful to all.

The second caveat is that the book is clearly biased toward hunting as an acceptable Christian activity; there are many voices praising hunting, and few opposed to it.

The structure of the book goes like this. The first section discusses hunting past and present, including instances in the Bible. A piece follows on Naucratius, a lesser-known brother of two of the Cappadocian Church Fathers, siblings Basil and Gregory of Nyssa. This little known brother was and is considered to be a holy man whose hunting provided food for hermit monks. Then we come across a study of changing attitudes in Britain on hunting between 1800-2000. After that the reader may peruse an interesting discourse on C.S. Lewis arguing that, despite implied praise of the “kingly sport” in the Narnian books, Lewis was dubious of hunting and subtly opposed it, at least for our world, in his Out of the Silent Planet. A race of unfallen talking animals on the planet Malacandra (Mars) engages in a successful community hunt for a violent sea creature, but such a sinless hunt would not be possible on earth because of partially evil intent and practice on earth by fallen human beings. Next the untiring reader faces a series of short conversational-style pieces by "ordinary" (though some are professional) Christians who hunt and see it as in agreement with their religious commitment.

Finally there are the heavy-duty academic arguments. I need to register, up front, my displeasure at the way this final section is introduced. It is called "Academic Musings" and the introductory essay is subtitled "Perspectives from Concerned Citizens in Ivory Towers." Perhaps as a former academic I am overly sensitive, but to me such expressions sound condescending and trivializing at the outset, suggesting that what such persons with their heads in the clouds have to say is not to be taken as seriously as that of the "real people" who hunt and go to church in the preceding part.

In any case, here appear two major anti pieces, "Killing and the Kingdom: A Case Against Sport Hunting," by Shawn Graves, and "Muscular Christianity and Sport Hunting: Missing the Mark," by co-editor John B. White. Then come six pro selections. The first by Nathan Kowalsky takes Andrew Linzey to task, calling his anti-hunting theology a Christian "heresy" and accusing the distinguished British theologian of "animal gnosticism." Others discuss the "Dominion" concept (Stephen M. Vantassel), the meaning of "Killing What You Love" (Theodore R. Vitali), "Sport Hunting as Tragic Play" (James A. Tantillo, and "Bow Hunting as an Act of Worship" (W. E. Nunnally).

The kinds of arguments used by the pro-hunting side may be of more interest to readers of The Peaceable Table who are less familiar with them. Although the distinction is not always made as clearly as one would like, the writers often do recognize that "sport" hunting is not to be justified simply on the basis of a need for food or maintaining a sound ecology, but bespeaks something more in the relation of humans to animals.

The case typically begins with an evocation of nature, so little known in its true character to modern urbanites, who increasingly are most people in our culture. In this nature--at once sublimely beautiful and horrible, becoming scarcer with every sunrise--the hunter is not just being present, but with his gun is part of its cycles of predation. This even has to do, we are told, with the Christian doctrine of divine incarnation as an affirmation of God's presence in nature in all its facets, including killing, eating, being killed, being eaten. In short, if you don't kill and eat along with nature, and enjoy it, you're not really living in God's world, made by God rather than some lesser being as allegedly was Linzey's anti-hunting gnostic world.

I am unconvinced, to say the least. Despite all the Bible talk by these writers, there is no place I am aware of in which the Sacred Text endorses sport hunting, though it may reluctantly acknowledge animal flesh as a source of food in its time and place. This is a result of the Fall, and of the Noachic flood; before the forbidden fruit was eaten, Eden was vegan. Judaism, the major custodian of the majority of these Scriptures, has never endorsed sport hunting, and condemns Nimrod as a negative character.

Some of the writers invoke the "dominion" argument from Genesis 1:28, in which God gave Adam and Eve dominion over animals. We should first note that this "dominion" was given when Eden was still vegan, so could not have originally meant the right to kill. Moreover, dominion is from Latin dominus, lord of a household, and the chief responsibility of any lord or pater is not to kill his/her subjects, but to maintain the peace, and to befriend and protect them. When Canada was termed a dominion under the Queen of England, that did not mean the Queen had the right to kill and eat any Canadian she got in her gunsights, but to guard them and keep them content to the extent of her ability.

I might bring up another important note. Only a couple of the writers are women, and though there are women who hunt, hunting is a predominantly male activity. Part of its positive function is said to be male bonding, including father and son, something much needed in today's world. However, as the father of a son myself, I can say the hunting field is not the only field where this bonding can take place; how about when parent and child befriend, especially when they rescue, animals together rather than killing them?

That leads into our final point. Despite the insistence of some writers that one can love beings in nature while killing them, I find this emotionally and intellectually a bridge too far. Some of us know by experience that one can just love animals in nature, or at home, without carrying a gun or bow, but rather in the spirit of ahimsa, harmlessness, and of the Jewish and Christian basic precept, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” One can simply look into the animal's eyes deeply, feeling our shared consciousness, and know as much about nature as you could by killing the animal--indeed, more. One can put out food if needed, delight in the wild friend's young and her care for them--sharing in the female experience again without consuming the creature's eggs or milk--and eat rather according to the diet of Eden, not to mention of the recipes in The Peaceable Table. Biblically, one can look forward to the triumph not of Nimrod but of the renewal of vegan Eden, where the lion lies down with the lamb.

One last thought. There is little indication that the writers in this book recognize that not all who go out to hunt are skilled marksmen. Often prey are hit but not killed, and die over a matter of days in extreme pain.

Again, God, Nimrod, and the World is recommended as a "go to" source for the arguments on all sides of hunting. Since it defends hunting much more than it challenges it, the book is painful to read for any to whom compassion for our animal cousins is important, and especially for Christians who see their compassion as anchored in the God they worship. But if you want to be on top of what the other side says--important to fairness and discipline--pick up a copy.

About the Editors:

Bracy V. Hill II is senior lecturer in History at Baylor University where he teaches courses in British and American History, especially the history of hunting. He holds a PhD in Religion (Baylor), an MA in Theology (University of Notre Dame) and a BA in History and Classical Antiquities (Missouri State University).

John B. White is the Harold and Dottie Riley Professor in Practical Theology and faculty director of the Sport Chaplaincy/Ministry Program and the Youth Spirituality and Sports Institute (funded by Lilly Endowment, Inc.) at George W. Truett Theological Seminary of Baylor University. He holds a PhD in Theological Ethics (University of Edinburgh), an MA in the Philosophy of Religion (Trinity International University), an MD in Systematic Theology (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) and a BS in Business (Indiana University.)

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