Battery (Hens) Not Included
A Unitarian's Sentimental Spin on (Selected) Scripture


The Bible According to Noah: Theology as if Animals Mattered.

By Gary Kowalski.
New York: Lantern, 2001.

Do animals matter? Gary Kowalski has written his fourth ("good") book saying -- among other things -- that, yes, indeed animals do matter. (T)his latest is a handsome volume ambitiously entitled The Bible According to Noah and even more aggressively subtitled Theology as if Animals Mattered. Kowalski assumes, of course, that they do. In the tradition of midrash, this modern-day Noah considers five key stories of the Hebrew Bible "especially in regard to how we view and treat other animals."

A Unitarian minister educated at Harvard, Kowalski feels our "religious traditions are [hopelessly] anthropocentric -- human-centered..." as if that were a bad thing. He feels the Jewish "spiritual heritage... managed to guide people and enabled them to endure over the course of many lifetimes" and therefore "deserves a large measure of respect." However, while feminist and liberation theologians ongoing attempts to reinterpret Scripture "can be applauded," animals have been neglected. The author thus turns our attention to the animals by rewriting five Bible stories "according to Noah."

Never mind that Noah was the first human instructed by God to eat flesh as "the fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts of the earth" (Gen. 9:2-3). Noah nonetheless represents the goodness of God in providing for creation, and the image of the ark remains a powerful symbol of saving grace. In each chapter of The Bible According to Noah, Rev. Kowalski quotes a story from Scripture and then discusses how and why he wants to change it. He then "concludes with a revised version of that same tale--one that embraces the unity and diversity of life."

The first chapter, naturally enough, follows the prologue in re-writing the Creation, without getting bogged down in the ongoing evolution controversies. His focus is, again naturally enough, light. Kowalski feels "[w]e human beings seem to be drawn toward the creatures of the wild like moths toward a flame." He throws in his own acrostic poem (celebrating "The Alphabet of Gratitude") and rebukes human arrogance in thinking only humans "look like" God, saying "[l] ittle besides parochialism can support such a claim" which "would have far- reaching and destructive consequences."

Chapter two considers Noah´s ark from a "bird´s eye view" -- specifically the "Difference the Dove Made." Chapter three beautifully and dramatically retells what turns out to be Abraham´s non-sacrifice of neither Isaac nor the ram. Developing his case, Kowalski chillingly recounts relevant psychological research about humans´ unquestioning obedience to authority, even when instructed to hurt others "for research purposes." In short, rhesus monkeys were far less willing than humans to cause pain to their peers, even when starved. Chapter four pays more careful attention to the many animals so quickly discarded "rather unceremoniously in the very first chapter" of Job -- concluding with a radically revised yet thoughtful poem, where Job finally accepts "his place within the family of things." The fifth and final chapter likewise brings Jonah to shore aboard a friendly Flipper-like dolphin, not the belly of a beastly man-eating fish.

All of these tales betray a deep unease with the fact of life called food. "Eat and be eaten" is a message foreign to Kowalski and the Bible he wants to write. In this age of plenty, we humans increasingly (and understandably) want to include other animals within our "circles of compassion." But that is only because there seems no good reason to prevent us from doing so. Contrary to our intuitions, we simply no longer need to exploit animals for our own benefit. In fact, using animals (especially when we could do otherwise) actually hinders our own growth and development and contributes substantially to global health, environmental and economic problems.

Indeed, if it weren´t for the health and environmental benefits of vegetarianism (and inadequacy of animal research), significant concern for animals in general (and animal rights in particular) would not make any sense at all. For example, if eating only veggies lowered lifespans to 25 years of age and tripled incidence of heart disease and cancer, human concern for other animals would amount to little more than a joke: sentimental nonsense at best. It is only because its the other way around, and human interests are currently furthered by caring more for animals, that books such as this have any merit whatsoever.

For "The Bible According to Noah" is just that: it is according to a human caretaker of Creation. No matter how much we want to appear biocentric, it is impossible to escape our God-given human-centeredness, which naturally parallels other species´ concern for themselves in the great circle of Life.

While care for other species may be indeed natural, it is care for our own which is paramount. It amounts to little more than a coincidence that human benefit now almost precisely corresponds to the well-being of all Creation.

For indeed, human self-preservation will always weigh out all other considerations, animals included.

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