Applying Religious Teachings To Reduce Abuses of Animals

                                Review of Animal Theologians

    Animal Theologians, edited by long time British animal rights activists Andrew and Clair Linzey, has the potential to help shift our imperiled planet onto a sustainable path. Why? It can help move people, especially religious ones, to plant-based diets at a time when the world is rapidly heading inward a climate catastrophe and a major societal change to such diets is essential to efforts to avert a climate catastrophe.

         Such a shift would sharply reduce emissions from cows and other ruminants of methane, a greenhouse gas over 80 times as potent as CO2 per unit weight in heating up the atmosphere during the 10 – 15 years it is in the  atmosphere. Even more importantly, it would enable the reforestation of much of the over 40% of the world’s ice-free land that is currently used for grazing and growing feed crops for animals. That would result in the sequestering of much atmospheric CO2, reducing it from its current very dangerous level to a safe one, helping provide a habitable, healthy, environmentally sustainable world for  future generations.

         By providing inspiring essays by longtime animal rights activists (Jewish, Unitarian, Christian, transcendentalist, Muslim, Hindu, Dissenting, deist, and Quaker), about 24 of the world’s leading theologians who promoted the end of animal abuses, Animal Theologians can inspire many current religious. Leaders to shift to plant-based diets and to urge their congregants to do so as well, potentially starting a groundswell that would help reverse climate change.

         The Linzeys are very well qualified to edit this book. Andrew Linzeyis director of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics and has been a member of the Faculty of Theology in the University of Oxford for twenty- eight years. He is the author or editor of more than thirty books, including Animal Theology, Why Animal Suffering Matters, and The Global Guide to Animal Protection,    

          Clair Linzey is the deputy director of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics. She is a professor of animal theology at the Graduate Theological Foundation, and is the author of Developing Animal Theology. She is coeditor with Andrew Linzey of several books, including Animal Ethics for Veterinarians, The Ethical Case against Animal Experiments,  and Ethical Vegetarianism and Veganism.

         Among the theologians discussed in the book are Mohandas K. Gandhi, Andrew Linzey, John Ruskin, Henry David Thoreau, Leo Tolstoy, and Albert Schweitzer. In there introduction, the Linsey’s give concise summaries of how each of the 24 theologians contributed to the advancement of animal rights. Actually, not every person discussed in the essays is a theologian, but they all use religious teachings to promote better conditions for animals.

           The essays are all very well documented with a total of 1,473 footnotes, an average of over 61 footnotes per essay. Most of the essays have a conclusion section and all provide many sources in bibliographies. The chapter on Rabbi Kook, for example, how 112 sources, including my 2001 book, Judaism and Vegetarianism. Making the book even more valuable is its 12 page index.              

         Since I am president emeritus of Jewish Veg and author of Vegan Revolution: Saving Our World, Revitalizing Judaism, I will focus in this review on the three Jewish activists for animals included in the book; Martin Buber, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, and Isaac Bashevis Singer.

           Martin Buber (1878– 1965) addresses the nature of spiritual encounters and relationships with non-human animals, based largely on his experience as a 11 year old stroking a horse. Although he was more concerned with relations between humans than those between people and animals, he opened up the possibility of an “I-Thou” rather than an “I -It”.relationship between people and non-human animals. He had a special fondness for cats.

            Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (1865– 1935) was affectionally known as Rav Kook and was the first chief rabbi of pre-state Israel. His vegetarian views were based on biblical values. They appear in  “A Vision of Vegetarianism and Peace,” which was edited by his disciple Rabbi David Cohen, based on two of Rav Kook’s essays.” It. was the first systematic Jewish treatise on human– animal relations. Rav Kook believed that God’s permission for people to eat meat (Genesis 9:3 -5) was a temporary concession to human weakness after the great flood in the time of Noah, but that God’s initial vegan dietary regime (Genesis 1:29) would be restored in the idea time to come (the days of the Messiah) that he thought the world was on the brink of, when, “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb … the lion shall eat straw like the ox … an no one shall hurt nor destroy in all of God’s holy mountain (Isaiah 11;6 – 9). He stressed that cruel treatment of animal was inconsistent with Jewish teachings, including that God’s compassion is over all of God’s Creations” (Psalms 145:9).  He regarded the taking of milk from cows as theft since that milk was meant for the calves. He felt that the Jewish dietary laws would lead Jews back to the vegan dietary regimen that God prescribed in the Garden of Eden.

.        Isaac Bashevis Singer ( 1904 – 1991) was a Nobel Prize mlaureate in literature and was well known for his vegetarianism. Many of his writings had vegetarian messages, including two discussed in detail in the essay: “The Slaughterer, ” which very forcefully expressed his horror at animal slaughter, and “The Slave.” On being asked once why he was a vegetarian, Singer responded: “For health reasons – the health of the chicken.” 

          As the Linzeys point out in their introduction, the book focuses on some perennial underlying themes, including: 

  • the diet prescribed by God for humans; 
  • the state of nature, and to what extent, if at all, it represents God’s will; 
  • the nature and significance of animal sentience; 
  • the meaning of human dominion or power over animals; 
  • the theological basis of animal protection; and 
  • eschatology and God’s end for creatures. 

             The Linzeys point out in their introduction that since non-human animals are fellow creatures created by God, we should treat them well and certainly not abuse them. This is consistent with the views of most major religions. Judaism, for example, teaches that Jews should be rachmanim bnei rachmanim (compassionate children of compassionate ancestors), emulating a compassionate God. Unfortunately, religious teachings on compassion to animals are not put into practice by most religious practitioners, judging for example by.the fact that so few have plant-based diets. This would change if this book was widely read and its messages heeded.

           The editors point out that Christianity has been anthropocentric through most of its history, considering animals primarily in terms of how they can benefit humans.  This changed starting in 1994 when Andrew Linzey’s book Animal Theology was published. Its criticism of Christianity for “proceeding on the basis of a moral neglect of God’s creatures” and his call for a consideration of positive biblical teachings on animals helped put teachings on animals on the Christian agenda. Because of his book Animal Theology and  his many other writings on theology that challenged and in many ways changed the churches and academia, often at personal costs, Andrew Linzey was recognized in 2006 by The Independent’s “Good List” as one of fifty people who have changed the world “for the better.”

           Since, as the editors point out, 85 percent of the world’s people profess to be religious, it is essential that many adopt plant-based diets if the world is to have a chance to avert a climate catastrophe and reduce other environmental threats. This is why I strongly recommend this wonderful book, because readers of the inspirational essays will motivate people to make positive dietary changes. It is urgent that this happens, helping to shift the world onto an environmentally sustainable path, leaving a habitable, healthy world for future generations. There is no Planet B or effective. Plan B.


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