Continuing a Legacy of Compassion
Why should we care about animals when there is so much human suffering in the world to contend with?
When I mention my work with the Humane Society of the United States on animal welfare, I often get a quizzical look, followed by a line of questioning. Why does a conservative Republican care about animals? Why should any of us worry about animals?
For starters, we are in good company. John Wesley, William Wilberforce, C. S. Lewis and Billy Graham all thought that animal welfare was worth worrying about. And as a conservative, I find myself in the contemporary company of Eric Metaxas, Mary Eberstadt, Charles Krauthammer and even Rush Limbaugh.
It is interesting to note that although their individual reasons may vary, they share a universal understanding that animals feel pain, and that inflicting pain unnecessarily on them is contrary to a universal moral law. Hunters recognize this through “fair chase”, as do farmers through “husbandry”. Animals are not commodities, and our pets remind us of this daily.
But why have we devoted time and effort to develop a Biblical statement on animal ethics?
First, a Biblical framework and foundation for our daily choices is consistent with the way in which we grow as disciples of Christ. A few of us felt that we needed a guide on animal stewardship for our own spiritual maturity. The Bible gives us principles for living, and we daily prescribe them in our lives. As Abraham Kuyper said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”; which, of course, includes the animals we interact with daily in our homes, our meals and in our environment.
Gathering statements from various faith communities exposed a need for a more thoughtful, comprehensive and collective summary of Biblical principles regarding the Biblical admonishment to have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth; a statement which guides but does not prescribe. One that a diversity of Christian traditions can agree on together.
Second, part of the Christian witness to the world is how we treat the world. “They will know us by our fruit,” Jesus warns us in Matthew. What kind of witness is it if we abuse our livestock, or neglect our pets? And what kind of witness is it if, instead of expressing understanding toward others who have made eating choices different than ours, we dismiss them as “earth worshippers.” A well formed Biblical framework will allow us to live respectfully with creation and with others.
Third, we live in an interconnected world, and the way in which we view and treat animals is connected to other issues that affect us all. For example, overfishing leads to a decline in the population of productive fish, thus lowering the number of fish available to eat. Similarly, administering antibiotics to animals to keep them disease free leads to dangerous strains of resistant bacteria that humans then consume.
One of the ways that the treatment of animals is connected to society is reflected in the growing coarsening of the culture. If we knowingly allow for the abuse of animals in factory farms, and are implicated in it, we create permission for one more area of the society to become desensitized to suffering at large, possibly even human suffering. This is akin to the broken windows theory that suggests allowing for small violations in the law eventually leads to a permissive society and an overall atmosphere of lawlessness. The Roman Circus included not only wild and exotic animals tearing each other apart, but humans as well.
Finally, disregarding animal welfare, and tolerating in society a level of animal cruelty whether through animal fighting or abusive factory farming practices affects our souls. Wilberforce wrote that these practices foster, “every bad and base principle of human nature.”
Hopefully reading through this statement will be a helpful guide as you apply the right to rule creation in your daily choices. I was blessed and deeply affected by helping draft it.