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Humanity and the Animals

St-Francis-of-AssisiIt is often assumed humanity was created as the superior species with a divine right to dominate the rest of the animals.

Yet could it be that the true, Biblical dominion means for us to take our place as the servant species?

What Makes us Special?

For thousands of years humanity has pondered what it is that makes us special.

For Christians, bearing the Image of God has long been seen as the pivotal quality of that which is uniquely human.

Yet there has been much speculation through the ages as to what exactly the Image of God may in fact mean. Theologians have never come to a consensus as to an exact definition although most interpretations have sort to locate a naturalistic cause such as:Humans---What-makes-us-special

  • Rationality
  • Linguistic skills
  • Social interactions
  • Moral agency
  • Spirituality

Another key factor in determining the specialness of humanity is the notion of Dominion.

Although it is a Biblical concept, the commonly held perception of Dominion comes from the Aristotelian belief of there being a hierarchy within nature, with mankind ordained in a position of power over and above all other animals.

Image-of-God-in-the-BibleBiblical Dominion and Image of God

The Image of God is referred to only rarely in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, the phrase is used more frequently however gravitates not around humans, but Christ who is proclaimed as “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15, John 1:18, 14:8-9)

If Christ is the perfect Image of God, what might His model of Lordship teach us about true notions of Dominion and the Image of God?

We read in the Gospels of how Jesus is the Good Shepherd.

He was no hired hand who cared nothing for the flock but rather was the self-sacrificing servant.

In Christ we witness a God who defines Himself in and amongst the pain and suffering of fleshly existence in order “to reconcile all things to Himself” (Col 1:-2).

Servant-speciesThe Servant Species

The template for defining the specialness of humanity is modeled for us by Christ; namely the exercising of Lordship through service and the moral priority of the weak.

The ability to serve indeed sets us apart, but it does not follow that it set us above.

Rather human uniqueness is found in our ability to become the servant species through the embracing and reflecting of Christ’s love which is necessarily self-sacrificing.

In reflecting the love of Christ, humanity can participate in His redeeming work by bringing healing to suffering Creation and so witness to its divine origins.

The exercising of Christ-like Dominion necessitates us not to be merely passive spectators in the world but proactive in prayer and dedicated to the healing of creation.

Franz_Marc_020Living in Anticipation of the Kingdom Come

Christ-less dominion sees the world as a gift. A divinely hand-tied present offered to humanity to do with as it sees fit.

It believes animals to be but items on our menu, tools for our use or materials for our consumption.

Christ-like Dominion see humanity as the gift.

For our unique capacity to become the servant species, gifts healing and liberation to a world which “groans and travails”, awaiting its freedom from “bondage and decay” (Romans 8:21-22).

In turn, through choosing love and generosity over privilege and power, humanity sharpens its reflection of the Image of God, glimpsing a foretaste of the future, promised Kingdom where there will be no more killing, suffering or death.


Acknowledgements:

  • Alison Covey. Christianity and Animal Rights. Lecture at Regis College, University of Toronto. March 2014.
  • Andrew Linzey. Animal Theology. University of Illinois Press. 1995
  • Andrew Linzey. Why Animal Suffering Matters: Philosophy, Theology, and Practical Ethics. OUP USA. 2013.
  • Brian McLaren (Afterword), Tripp York (Editor), Andy Alexis-Baker (Editor). A Faith Embracing All Creatures: Addressing Commonly Asked Questions about Christian Care for Animals (Peaceable Kingdom). Cascade Books (9 Nov. 2012)
  • Matthew Scully. Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy. Souvenir Press Ltd. 2011.
  • Robert N. Wennberg. God, Humans, and Animals: An Invitation to Enlarge Our Moral Universe. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. 2002.