Philip Lymbery, Chief Executive of Compassion in World Farming and author of Dead Zone: Where the Wild Things Were, reflects on his childhood memories of being a vicar’s son, developing a passion for animals and campaigning against the terrible impact of factory farming.
Dr Simon Kittle, researcher in philosophy at the University of Innsbruck, explores relational theology; the idea that love and relationships are central to understanding God, His creatures and how we are to relate to others.
Relational theology takes seriously the idea that God is love, and that because love requires relationship, relationship is central to who God is and how God operates. Dr Thomas Jay Oord, theologian and lecturer at Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa, Idaho, says that two ideas can be seen as essential to any relational theology:
- God affects creatures in various ways. Instead of being aloof and detached, God is active and involved in relationship with others. God relates to us, and that makes an essential difference.
- Creatures affect God in various ways. While God’s nature is unchanging, creatures influence the loving and living Creator of the universe. We relate to God, and creation makes a difference to God (Oord 2012: 2).
Relational theology stands opposed to the Aristotelian idea – embraced by Aquinas and some Reformed Protestant writers – of an unmoved mover: a static God who is unaffected by, and not strictly speaking related to, any creature or creaturely occurrence.
By contrast, relational theology, in taking love to be one of God’s primary characteristics, envisages God as being dynamic, loving and responsive. Dr Kevin Lowery, lecturer of ethics, philosophy and theology at Olivet Nazarene University, applies this relational understanding of God to ethics:
No matter how we describe and systematise ethics …, it always aims at relationship. … Theologically speaking, ethics is relational, because God is relational. Ethics recognises the connection between our relationship with God and our relationship with one another. … Love for God and love for neighbour go hand in hand”
(Kevin Lowery 2012: 90–1).
But what is love? What is it to love? Oord, who has written several books on the subject, suggests the following:
To love is to act intentionally, in sympathetic/empathetic response to God and others, to promote overall well-being”
(Oord 2010: 17).
Let’s unpack this a little. Oord uses the term ‘well-being’ to capture a number of biblical ideas: benefiting, helping, or doing good towards someone; it is meant to capture Jesus’s idea of “abundant life” (Oord 2010: 17). Oord includes the term ‘overall’ to remind us that, while it is often right to direct our love exclusively towards particular people (e.g. close family members), this should not “undercut the good of the whole”. We can’t do good to some if we are “unnecessarily unfair toward the many or the few” (Oord 2010: 19). It is in this way that justice is seen to be an aspect of love.
Oord’s definition applies most directly to the love that humans display toward God and other humans. Nevertheless, writers in this tradition have shown that the above understanding of love can provide a basis for the care of creation. Dr Sharon Harvey, author and lecturer on environmental science at the University of Idaho, writes the following:
Relational theology says that God relates to the world as one intimately connected with all creation. God is involved with the world, experiencing the world in ways like we experience it. Because nature affects God, it really matters to God’s experience”
(Harvey 2012: 114).
This provides a general basis for the care of all creation. But it is, if you like, an indirect view of the value of creation: creation is valuable, and to be valued, because God experiences how creation is treated. This basis for creation care already includes, of course, a reason to be concerned about how non-human animals are treated, for such animals are an important part of God’s creation.
Happily, relational theology has much more to offer when it comes to the care of animals. Here’s why. The central insight of relational theology is that relationships are valuable because they allow love to be expressed. But it is not just any kind of relationship that facilitates this. The relationships that relational theology takes to be central are what we often call personal relationships: relationships between two conscious people, who recognise each other’s needs, experience each other, respond to each other, communicate, and so on. This kind of relationship is qualitatively different to the way in which I might relate to the night sky, or the way in which an insurance claim relates to an accident.
Now, it is a hotly debated topic in science, philosophy and other fields, whether any non-human animals should be counted as people. The good news is we don’t need to settle that question in order to apply the insights of relational theology to the care of animals. It’s clear that many non-human animals are sentient, conscious creatures who feel things, desire things, and have rich mental and emotional lives. As experiencing subjects, non-human animals enter into relationships with each other and humans. These relationships are clearly much more like the personal relationships humans have with one another than they are to the relationship an insurance claim bears to an accident.
We could call relationships between two sentient, conscious individuals, experiential relationships. The personal relationships that we humans value so highly could then be seen as a type of experiential relationship.
Why is this important? Because the considerations that lead relational theologians to focus on personal relationships also apply to the wider category of experiential relationships. Anyone who has had, say, a pet dog, will be able to attest to the depth and quality of the relationship that we humans can have with non-human animals. Such animals can play, seek companionship, come to another’s aid, and so on. Animals, in short, have a well-being – and it can either be frustrated or promoted. Relational theologians, then, have an excellent reason to understand ‘the other’, not just as other humans, but as other sentient, experiencing creatures.
Making this move leads naturally, I think, to embracing a plant-based diet. That’s because in our current context, the vast majority of non-human animals consumed by humans are subject to horrific conditions in industrialised farming systems. Here is one example: British egg production requires around 40 million hens each year. The hens are bred in hatcheries which, having no use for the male chicks, “dispose of them” soon after hatching. Healthy, living creatures “disposed of” – killed – as if they were rubbish: 40 million per year in the UK alone. It is impossible to think that such a system promotes the flourishing or the well-being of these chicks. It exists for one reason only: to produce eggs at an extremely low price-point. The conclusion is clear: we cannot consume such eggs while also loving the chickens involved in their production; more generally, we cannot consume produce from industrialised farms while also loving the animals who are farmed to make it.
Harvey, S.R. (2012) ‘God’s Relation to Nature’, in B. Montgomery, T.J. Oord, K.S. Winslow et al. (eds.) Relational theology. A contemporary introduction.
Kevin Lowery (2012) ‘Ethics as relational’, in B. Montgomery, T.J. Oord, K.S. Winslow et al. (eds.) Relational theology. A contemporary introduction.
Oord, T.J. (2010) The nature of love: A theology . St. Louis, Mo.: Chalice Press.
Oord, T.J. (2012) ‘Introduction’, in B. Montgomery, T.J. Oord, K.S. Winslow et al. (eds.) Relational theology. A contemporary introduction.
With Veganuary in full swing, a record number of people in the UK are trying out the vegan lifestyle! The Veganuary campaign encourages people to go vegan for at least January, the month most commonly associated with resolution and change, and ideally for the rest of the year.
With a record 50,000 people having signed up, Veganuary is proving highly popular and has been featured in newspapers, magazines and on television, as well as benefitting from countless celebrity endorsements including Sara Pascoe (comedian), Sarah-Jayne Crawford (TV presenter), Peter Egan (award-winning actor) and Anthony Mullally (international rugby league player).
Yet, despite all this fame, why should people of faith consider embracing veganism? We spoke to Christian leaders across the country to discover why they chose to go vegan!
Showing “love for all God’s creatures” is important to The Revd John Ryder, vicar of All Saints, Godshill. Nonetheless, he also highlights the benefits for both humanity and the environment:
A meat (and dairy) based diet is also totally inconsistent with concern for the poor and for the environment. I take delight in the fact that the diet commanded in Genesis 1 is today scientifically proven to be the healthiest, the best use of land and water to feed a burgeoning population, and the best for the environment.”
The Revd David Goss, of St Aidan, Wheatley Hills, agrees that there are significant benefits for human health, the planet and animals, and credits the positive influence his family has had on him choosing to go plant-based:
For a long time I have been somewhat conscious of the various ethical issues around the food we eat – and also health issues… But then the really big factor was when one of my daughters went vegan, followed a little while after by both of my sons.”
Positive influences came in another form for The Rev Dr Paul Overend, who is soon to be Canon Chancellor at Lincoln Cathedral, who commends the students he taught at Cardiff University for challenging him to go vegan:
I was vegetarian at the time and my undergraduate students challenged me by saying that animals who were farmed intensively (e.g. shed cows and caged chickens) suffered more than a wild animal that was shot (e.g. pheasant or deer). They were quite right, and taught me their tutor at least one life-transforming lesson. It brought me off my moral pedestal as I realised that I caused more animal suffering as a vegetarian than some meat eaters who ate organically farmed free-range animals. I had then to respond to this insight that grieved and compelled me.”
Also moved by the plight of animal suffering is Anna Czekala, Project Leader in Youth Engagement at Trinity Church in Inverness, who examines the ethical and spiritual implications of our food choices:
Being vegan is not only about food, it is also a philosophy. That philosophy encourages us to ask questions around ethics and spirituality, and this deepens faith… I think it is important for the church to acknowledge animal cruelty and consider its impact on spirituality.”
Anna’s colleague at Trinity Church, Young Persons and Family Worker David Lynch, also highlights the importance of tackling animal abuse and showing compassion to animals as pivotal factors for him choosing to go vegan:
I find it hard to reconcile a Jesus of peace, justice and freedom with an industry that is devoid of all those. From the animals to the workers to the abattoir neighbours, I just cannot see the Kingdom of God being a part of it.”
For The Revd Chris Moore, vicar of St Cross Church, Clayton, going vegan was the logical conclusion of a lifelong love of animals. Growing up on a farm in rural Staffordshire, Fr Chris shared his childhood days with all manner of animals including dogs, cats, horses, cows, goats and chickens.
There is, in me, unsurprisingly, a strong inner conviction that dissuades me from simply accepting that any of the life-giving animals that came and went throughout my childhood counted for nothing… just as soon as I had left home, I decided to reject the diet I had been brought up on and became vegetarian. More recently, I adopted a fully vegan diet”
The Revd Stephen Potter, senior leader of Oasis Elim Church, Portsmouth, also developed a deep love of animals as a child and, from an early age, felt a deep unease about eating animals. However, the penny dropped one fateful day:
I took a packet of bacon from the fridge and felt it ‘squish’ in my hands and decided that I would never eat meat again… I later became fully vegan because I began to understand that the dairy and egg industry was as cruel as the meat industry.”
A similar light bulb went off for The Revd Lauren Lisa Ng:
I chose to stop eating meat when I made the connection that I was being hypocritical in treating some animals as companions while consuming others… If there will be no destruction on God’s holy mountain when Jesus returns, why on earth would I contribute to that destruction in my life now? Especially when I am privileged to have access to so many alternatives.”
The reasons for and benefits of going vegan are numerous, and an ever-increasing number of Christians are leading the way in choosing to exercise compassion on their plates. If you consider the food on your plate to be a matter of faith and wish to explore veganism, there is no better time to start! If you want to take up the Veganuary challenge, Jane Land, Founder of Veganuary, offers help and support:
It’s free to sign up to Veganuary. Register today and get a copy of our celebrity e-cookbook together with a month’s worth of support emails. From shopping lists to meal plans, with an eating out guide and nutritional advice, Veganuary will hold your hand and guide you in through trying vegan for 31 days. Everything you need is here“
The mental capacities and social lives of farmed animals is explored by Professor Barbara J King who uncovers what modern science teaches us about the minds of animals, how the issue of animal sentience is regarded in society and what practical steps people can be take in favour of animals.
How have recent scientific advances helped us to better understand the minds of animals?
The questions scientists ask about how big-brained social mammals think and feel have been the leading edge of a revolution in animal-behavior science. Recent work shows the complexity of cultural traditions in the ocean among whales and dolphins, for instance. Populations of whip-smart orcas differentiate themselves by what they select to eat to the extent that researchers refer to their “cultural identities.” Chimpanzees, to take another example, cooperate in solving tasks when tested in the appropriate way for their species: the old saw that humans work together well and chimpanzees just can’t overcome their competitiveness to do the same is quite wrong. We scientists are getting really good at expanding the depth and scope of our questions, focusing now too on birds, octopus, and even insects — after all, we can only uncover what we first think to ask about!
How do know that farmed animals can suffer and grieve?
I love this question because it brings together the two projects I’ve been working on for the last five years – reflected in my two most recent books How Animals Grieve and Personalities on the Plate: The Lives & Minds of Animals We Eat. The criteria I use to assess the expression of grief in animals are an altered behavioural profile from the typical, that is, a surviving animal expresses distress through facial, vocal, or postural signals; social withdrawal; and/or altered sleeping or eating. We can’t assess the presence of grieving just through a photograph or short video clip. It’s clear that dairy cows, for instance, may emotionally suffer— they tell us this clearly through some of the signs I’ve noted—when they are repeatedly separated from their newborn sons and daughters (the former to be sold off for veal, the latter to become milk producers themselves). Pigs, ducks, and chickens may mourn when their friends die. And of course, we have known for quite a while that factory-farm situations cause great suffering through crowding, other poor conditions, and slaughter sites where the animals are too often not properly stunned before they are killed. (I’m not saying that smaller-farm slaughter is necessarily humane— that’s a question I think about a lot because animal lives are cut drastically short even on “kind” farms.)
What do we know about the mental capacities and social lives of farmed animals?
Attention to farmed animals’ lives (aside from how to manage them as commodities) is much more recent but thankfully this is changing in a big way. One of my favourite studies shows that pigs who learn to distinguish between blocks of wood cut in X versus O shapes transfer their learning when next presented with two-dimensional X and O symbols on a T-shirt. That’s not an easy cognitive feat: it involves a complex cognitive transformation, using symbols imported from the human world. I have already mentioned the octopus, who are unfortunately becoming more and more popular to eat. They are brainy invertebrates who use coconuts shells on the seafloor to shelters (that’s tool use) and flash their moods by colour changes (a red octopus is an aroused, excited, attentive octopus). So many compelling examples exist: fish who signal each other while hunting, goats with amazing memories, chickens with all kinds of different personalities.
Why are concerns surrounding the sentience of animals bred or caught for human food not addressed more openly in our society?
It may be really uncomfortable for us —I include myself here because while I eat a lot of vegan meals I am not fully vegan—to reflect on how our behaviour causes harm. No one enjoys feeling guilty and it is guilt that often results when we connect the dots between farmed animals’ thinking and feeling, and what we put on our plates. Here’s a more hopeful outlook though. Vegan meals are ever more mainstream— after all the food really is delicious! Promising new technologies are in development for clean meat grown from cells without animal slaughter. The reducetarian movement is on fire in the best way, showing that all of us along the vegan-vegetarian-omnivore spectrum committed to eating less meat and fewer animal products are a collective force!
Do you believe that discoveries in regards to animal sentience necessitate a response from faith communities?
Much of the work on behalf of animals coming from faith communities is inspiring. One of the most moving experiences I’ve had was to attend and write about the Blessing of the Animals ceremony at the magnificent Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York City. I will never forget the reverend’s words to the animals in attendance: “Live without fear; your creator loves you.” Still, we know that animals—hunted or dealing with extensive habitat degradation in the wild, confined for our entertainment, slaughtered for our food– have much to fear from our species. Aren’t all of us, the faithful, the agnostic, and the atheist together, morally compelled to respond? When faith leaders and people who serve their church, temple, or mosque speak and act against animal suffering, it’s social-justice work and a beautiful thing.
How can people respond to the plight of animals and take practical action in their daily lives?
Here are a few ideas: Speak out, in letters to the editor, on social media. and in person against animal cruelty where you see it locally, nationally, or internationally. (Join me on twitter at @bjkingape). Work to ensure that adopted pets, including those living with people without lots of financial resources, are spay-neutered. Refuse to give your money to “entertainment” activities that exploit animals, including poorly managed zoos and theme parks, even films or shows that use live animals on set. Volunteer time or money to animal charities (Animal Charity Evaluators is an excellent resource). To the extent you are able, make a commitment, for animals or for your health or to combat global warming or for all three reasons, to eat less (or no) meat and fewer (or no) animal products. It’s incredible what good we can accomplish at mealtimes each day.
Barbara J King is emerita professor of anthropology at the College of William and Mary and a freelance science writer.
Shared with her husband, Barbara’s cat-rescue work brings her happiness every day.
For more information about Barbara and her work, please see her website.
Professor Robert Garner, lecturer of political theory at the University of Leicester, considers how the objectives of animal advocates might be politically implemented within contemporary society.
Many animal advocates have spent a great deal of time talking and thinking about how we should treat animals. By contrast, they haven’t spent as much time engaging with how their desired objectives are going to be achieved. This latter task necessitates thinking about democracy, since democracy is almost universally regarded as the most just and fair way to make collective decisions binding on individuals.
Democracy, as it is presently constituted amounts to a counting exercise. That is, after a free and fair debate, the outcome which gets the most support is the one that is translated into a law or a regulation. The problem for animal advocates is that this means they will often be unhappy with the outcome of a democratic vote. That is, the relationship between democracy and the achievement of more stringent protection for animals is a contingent one. It might be that concern for animals is widespread, and that this concern is reflected in the decisions made. More likely, though, animal advocates are going to be frustrated at the lack of interest their fellow citizens have in ensuring the well-being of animals.
So, what should the response of animal advocates be to this contingent relationship between democracy and animal protection? The obvious response is to simply say that this is the price that has to be paid for living in a democracy. If we lose a battle, we get up, brush ourselves down, and try again.
It is easy to see why many advocates of animal rights are unlikely to accept this. Imagine that there was a referendum in which the electorate voted by a majority to support the use of humans with red hair in, sometimes painful, scientific experiments. Obviously, there would be a major outcry at the very prospect of holding such a referendum, on the grounds that it involves the infringement of basic human rights. For someone who holds that animals, too, possess basic rights, it is similarly not acceptable for these rights to be overturned by a democratic vote. In many political systems across the world, basic human rights are protected against democratic majoritarianism. The same could be envisaged for the rights of animals.
I suspect many animal advocates would, at this point, challenge the democratic credentials of our political system in any case. Few animal advocates think, for whatever reason, that their views are adequately represented in the political process. They may have a good case too. Sometimes, majority support for a measure protecting animals is translated into legislative protection, as was the case with fox hunting. More often than not, though, the political power of those, usually economic, interests with a vested interest in the continued exploitation of animals is a clear obstacle to the fair and effective representation of the views of those with an interest in the protection of animals.
Given the suspicion that those concerned about the well-being of animals are not given a fair hearing in the political process, whatever democratic rhetoric proclaims, we might focus on reforms that would make the protection of animal interests more likely.
I suggest two such reforms here. The first is a radical step. Consider again the referendum that I mentioned above. Leaving aside the monstrous nature of the proposal being voted on, it can at least be said that those with red hair get a say in the decision. By contrast, humans make life and death decisions about animals, and yet there is no procedure whereby the interests of animals are represented in the political process. Isn’t this a flaw in our political system? Indeed, doesn’t it reveal a democratic deficit?
The second, and perhaps more realistic, reform proposal revolves around the promotion of deliberation. What we have now is a form of aggregative democracy. What elections or public opinion polls do is to measure pre-existing preferences. The problem with this, however, is no attention is given to the way in which preferences are arrived at in the first place.
It goes without saying that most of the ‘debates’ about animal use are not of the deliberative kind. They are usually structured in a way that favours the interests of those with a vested interest in continuing to exploit animals. Likewise, resources are often unequally distributed in debates about animals. The high status of science and scientists, for instance, is always likely to skew a debate in favour of animal research. Most debates about animal exploitation are also adversarial, degenerating into slanging matches where there is more heat than light on display, and where pre-existing preferences are rarely challenged.
A deliberative model of democracy offers an alternative. This model holds that the outcome of a debate is only legitimate if it is a product of reasoned and detailed discussion. What matters is the quality of debate. In deliberative forums all points of view are represented, an equal chance to participate is offered to all of those who are present, and detailed, comprehensive and accurate information is available to the participants.
I would suggest that a deliberative form of democracy is more likely to produce outcomes that animal advocates want. Its outcomes are likely to be more informed, and ultimately more just. The economic interests of those who exploit animals will be less influential. If animal advocates are convinced that their case is right, then they should have nothing to fear from a genuinely deliberative debate. Deliberation increases the possibility that existing preferences will be challenged and even transformed.
Robert Garner is professor of political theory at the University of Leicester. He specialises in animal rights, focusing on animal protectionism and the political representation of non-human interests.
According to the Vegan Society, the number of vegans in Britain has risen by 360% in 10 years. This astonishing rise has sadly been accompanied by many myths surrounding the nutritional benefits of plant based diets.
In order to dispel misleading myths surrounding veganism and discover how to thrive on a plant based diet, we spoke to Ginny Messina MPH, RD, a vegan dietitian of over 30 years’ experience, in order to tackle ten of the most commonly asked questions about veganism.
To say that Dr. Melanie Joy is a key influencer in the animal rights movement would be a massive understatement. Known for coining the term carnism, she is a psychologist, speaker and author of three best-selling books including Strategic Action for Animals (2009), Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism (2011), and her most recent, Beyond Beliefs: A Guide to Improving Relationships and Communication for Vegans, Vegetarians, and Meat Eaters (2017).
He Waits For Me
… and other ways my dog reminds me of God
Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show mercy to you. …blessed are all those who wait for him.” Isaiah 30:18
I grew up in the great state of Texas and dreamed of being either a cowboy or a country-western singer. Instead I became an Anglican priest. It’s been more fun than a barrel of communion wine! For 10 years, I was blessed to live in paradise, on the “garden island” of Kauai in Hawaii. I dreamed of being a surfer or a hula dancer. Instead, I got a dog.
With the astonishing growth of veganism in the UK being driven by young people, how are Christian students responding to the increased awareness in animal issues and plant based diets? Tim Lornie, recent graduate from Cambridge University recounts his experiences of becoming vegan, student attitudes to animal advocacy and Christian faith.
Dr Kris Hiuser, discusses his new book Animals, Theology and The Incarnation which explores how the life and work of Christ applies to non-human animals and humanity’s relationship to the rest of creation.