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


The Duty of Mercy
by Humphry Primatt

Edited by Richard Ryder
(Centaur Press: Kinship Library, 1992)

This is an excellent book, a reprint of the one first published in the 1770's. It was found recently in the Bodleian Library by the editor.

It is a Christian treatise, based on biblical texts about the Christian duty to "leave animals unmolested and at liberty to perform the tasks, and answer the ends, for which God was pleased to create them." The author's impressive biblical scholarship combines with a clear and easy to read style making this an enjoyable book.

Like Andrew Linzey, the author offers us God as our model of our relationship with animals, and he explains how many biblical texts tell us what this model is - e.g. his use of the story of Balaam and his Ass as a lesson from God about how God can speak to us through animals.

The author uses the argument of not causing pain to animals, but like all who use this, lands in the cul-de-sac of 'unnecessary pain', the meaning of which the vivisectors and the hunters of today use to defend their actions. The author adds additional protection in the phrase "unmerited and unnecessary pain", but the problem of meaning remains.

The argument for rights is well done, in Chapter 2, using the biblical revelation that God's breath - i.e. spirit - is the source of all animal life, human and non-human. The human role of dominion he defines admirably as the duty to give animals food, rest and tender usage. The reverse of this, that the sin of humans is the cause of the evils, natural and moral, in the World (p118), picks up the theme of Paul in chapter 8 of Romans.

The author stops short of vegetarianism, accepting that we can eat flesh. To defend this he has to argue, unconvincingly, that killing an animal when done quickly, does not cause it pain or fear as does cruelty.

Emphasis is put on the excellence of the gift of reason that humans uniquely have; so the author gives other animals a subservient role and fails to see that the non-human creation has much to teach humans, and would if humans would cease to blind themselves by their intellectual brilliance. The literal reading of the Noah story reflects the author's predating modern biblical scholarship. That is a minor irritation in an enlightening, enjoyable book.

Reviewed by Dr Robert Hamilton in The Vegan (Winter 1992)

Reproduced with thanks.

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