The purpose of this summary is to make the body of literature on animal rights and Christianity more accessible.
IntroductionLinzey points out that animals, because they too are created by God, have value in relation to him – their value should not be defined simply in relation to humans.
In the Bible animals are also depicted as having been given their life from God’s spirit.
Linzey says that one of the best defences for law (i.e. the rule of law, enacted by a State) is that it provides protections for the weakest and most defenceless in society. But from this it follows that those who advocate for animals, animals who are some of the weakest and least protecte in soceity, should not contravene the law as part of their advocating.
Ch 1 – Religion and Sensitivity to Animal Suffering
The Christian record on treatment of animals is not great – and this might be in part because we do not revere and wonder at those aspects of God’s creation. We don’t celebrate the diversity of God’s creation – and so we don’t recognise it’s value as coming from God.
To have reverence is to recognise a power greater than ourselves, the creative hand of God. That is what we need to recognise in our dealings with animals (p. 3).
There is now a huge amount of evidence that mammals (at least) experience not just pain but suffering, terror, stress, anxiety, anticipation and foreboding – even if to a lesser degree than ourselves (p. 5).
But much for this is ignored among practicing Christians, and indeed, even among Church leaders. For example, ten bishops sitting in the UK’s House of Lords spoke or voted against the banning of fox hunting – this despite Linzey’s having written an open letter to the bishops in the Lords explaining why fox hunting is cruel.
Ch 2 – Theology As If Animals Mattered
Still, the idea that animals are here for our use did not develop within Christianity. Aristotle argued that Nature made animals for man, and Aquinas took that thought over and provided a theological rationalisation for it – divine providence has decreed that “non-rational beings should serve the higher species”. This leads Aquinas to conclude that “it is not wrong for man to make use of [animals] either by killing or in any other way whatever”.
Linzey points out that this idea is not even remotely plausible, on reflection. How could God, who creates and sustains millions of species, care for only one of them? Is it at all plausible to think that the only purpose of lives of all the animals who’ve lived and died through the long period of evolution is to serve humans by filling their stomachs? And is this how it is for the millions of species which are inedible for humans? (p. 11)
No – what we must recognise is that God cares for all his creatures, and the value those creatures have comes from their relation to God. (p. 13, 18)
Jesus gives us a model for morality – and it involves being compassionate to the poor, disadvantaged, the outcast. Extending this today means including the creatures we make use of in our factories. (p. 17)
Ch 3 – Animal Rights and Animal Theology
The concept of animal rights deserves serious, and critical, attention. Linzey says that “History is invariably an antidote to superficiality”, and we must be aware that there have always been a minority of thinkers who have noted a moral problem in our treatment of animals. (p. 22)
For example, the English SPCA was formed in 1824, the American SPCA in 1866. These organisations pushed for advances that we now take for granted.
Animal rights is not bolstered or motivated by anti-human sentiment.
Rather, modern concern for animals can be traced back to the “humanitarian movement” of the 1800s, which advocated for slaves, children, and the poor. Lord Shaftesbury, William Wilberforce and others pushed for better treatment of animals alongside the other ethical issues. In other words, compassion for others creatures goes hand in hand with compassion for our fellow humans. (p. 24)
Animal rights thinkers today are diverse; but it includes thinkers like Linzey who thinks that our God-given power over animals involves a special care for the weak and vulnerable. And societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals were seen by their initial leaders as specifically Christian enterprises. This stands in contrast to the tradition within Christianity, based on writings from Augustine and Aquinas, which excluded animals from any direct care, but it shows that animal rights need not be “pagan” or “secular”.
The movement has been through several stages. The “humanitarian movement” of the 1800s was focused on preventing cruelty; later came the welfare movement, which extended the purview to include well-being of animals more generally; later still the issue of animal rights has been raised, which asks whether animals are to be included in the sphere of duties/rights.
The latter development gives a wider notion of justice. But it doesn’t degrade the idea of “human rights”. This is evident when we note that for thousands of years children were thought to have no rights because they were unable to acknowledge any duties to us. Recognising their rights did not diminish the idea of “human rights” (which was at that time really just adult rights) but enhanced it – and the same is true with animals. It shows a deeper and more enhanced moral solicitude on the part of humans when they recognise that they might owe animals a certain kind of treatment.