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


Rights, Ethics, Awe and Reverence

By John Pitt

From a report on the 'Humane Education Symposium' published in the former British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection journal Animal Welfare, October 1980

One of the penalties of having a verbal delivery that might best be described as like a lawn-mower being used on a cobbled pavement is undoubtedly that of being unable to risk commenting unfavorably on the articulation of others.
I therefore find myself mightily relieved when I am called upon to record my appreciation of the talent in this direction of actress Damaris Hayman, pedagogue-cum-priest Fr. Alan Wynne, and his Anglican counterpart, the Rev. Andrew Linzey, who combines the duty of Chaplain and Lecturer in Religious Studies to an older age-group of students.
Damaris Hayman, whose best-known affiliation is surely that of being "with the Woolwich", had already indicated in her review of Animal Rights and Ethics in The Ark magazine how closely she went along with Dean Carpenter's committee's published findings.
These feelings she articulated further in her address, 'Food Animals', which she historically enough opened with that ever-popular catch-phrase from John Donne: "No Man is an Island . . ."
As Secretary of the Farm Animal Welfare Co-ordinating Executive (FAWCE - with a final E - not to be confused with FAWC), she proved herself yet again to be highly conversant on the subject of exploitation of animals destined in part or whole for the human dinner table.
She did not, however, believe that reform could - or, it appeared, really should be brought about by humans working out their impulses of anger in acts of violence against those whose animal exploitation acts offended them.
"Violence breeds violence", she said, perhaps, unconsciously making the "activists'" major point for them, and adding that acts of violence of the Babraham invasion variety can - to echo the words of Babraham director, Dr. Barry Cross: "add to animal stress". Her final offering was to the effect that:
"Without compassion (to fellow humans, too) we might just as well not get into this situation".
Father Wynne, according to the synopsis of his address, 'The Basis of Social and Moral Philosophy', would attempt to discuss "how it is possible to decide whether an action is right or wrong in the light of the present general non-conformity to any particular moral codes". And did.
He was also billed to discuss how, however, "traditional ideas, with their roots in Christianity, can aid a deeper understanding of relationships within creation and could lead to a more responsible and creative approach by man to the animal world". In which I think he certainly tried but failed - but not for lack of special pleading.
For all that - and maybe it is largely because I am by habit too much of a freethinker to give credit for any bar the most outstanding expression of any kind of orthodox religious thought on ethics or morality - I was delighted by one or two of his trenchant observations. For instance:
"If man is deaf to moral considerations, he is not deaf to financial ones".
And I was also impressed when he reasoned that since Man alone among animals was capable of reflection this automatically gave him "unique responsibility".
I still believe that this begged a very large question indeed but, here, just perhaps for once, I am inclined to agree with the popular theory that the end justifies the means.
To me it does not matter why, or how, human animals choose to be more considerate to their fellows. It only matters that they do.
The Rev. Andrew Linzey, who is clearly more at ease now that he is lecturing than he was while serving an internship in a Dover parish, did not by contrast suggest in his paper that it is better to be a Christian animal welfarist than not to be bolstered by faith of any kind.
What in fact he offered in 'Moral Education and Reverence for Life' was one of the most lyrical addresses I have ever heard.
Doubtless he was helped in this by taking Schweitzer's renowned classic Ehrfurcht vor den Leben, the book that is better-known by the poor translation of its German title into Reverence for Life.
I was delighted to hear Linzey explaining that the word, reverence meant something far less than Schweitzer had intended in ehrfurcht.
Schweitzer employed an expression that conveyed more than mere awe and recognition of an infinite, indefinable force.
The German word held more than a tinge of fear and anxiety within the general feeling of humility and awesomeness.
Andrew Linzey defended Schweitzer in the face of those who criticised him since, if not before, his death some 15 years ago for having apparently failed to take into account the differing values of respective life-forms, failing to differentiate between the sentient and the non-sentient and, in general, for not being practical.
I shall not attempt, mostly out of respect for the very perfect way in which he expounded his defence, to paraphrase Andrew Linzey's delivery.
It can be summed up without being mangled.
Schweitzer's concept was too broad, too general and too non-specific to be widely accepted.
Had he confined himself, or had he not posessed so strong a character, or had he even sought to work among his fellow-Europeans, he might have escaped so much posthumous back-biting.
Reproduced with thanks.

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