David Clough, Professor of Theological Ethics at the University of Chester, introduces his new ground-breaking two-volume work On Animals: Volume I Systematic Theology (2012); Volume II Theological Ethics (2019).
I’ve spent most of the past decade writing these two books, and much of my time since Volume II was published in January travelling in North America, Australia, and Aotearoa New Zealand to speak about them. The response I’ve had from audiences has been really encouraging: there is strong and widespread agreement for my argument that Christians have strong faith-based reasons for caring for animals and that this challenges us to rethink our use of animals for food. This response makes me hopeful that the books may help to establish a new awareness among Christians of the need to recognize animals as fellow creatures of God who merit our compassion and care.
On Animals Volume I: Systematic Theology asks where animals belong in a Christian understanding of God and the world. Part I asks about the place of animals in a Christian understanding of creation, arguing that creation is not ‘all about us’, that humans and other animals are often considered together in biblical texts, and that there are problems with some of the ways humans have understood themselves to be different from other animals. Part II considers whether Christian understandings of the incarnation and atonement are relevant for other animals, and suggests that they are, as we can see when John states that it was God’s love for the whole cosmos that motivated the incarnation (3.16) and when the opening of the letters to the Colossians and Ephesians emphasise that God reconciled all things in heaven and earth in Jesus Christ. Part III discusses where animals feature in the Christian doctrine of redemption, showing that there are good theological reasons for affirming the place of all creatures in a peaceable new creation. The conclusion of Volume I is that Christians have strong faith-based reasons for caring about other animals.
On Animals Volume II: Theological Ethics asks what this Christian understanding of animals means for an ethical evaluation how we are currently making use of them. I take time to describe the impacts of human practice in making use of other animals for food, textiles, labour, research experimentation, sport and entertainment, pets and companion animals, and human impacts on wild animals. All of this merits our attention, but I conclude that our use of other animals for food should be a priority concern. One illustration of the urgency of acting on this issue is that by the year 2000, the biomass of domesticated animals outweighed that of all wild land mammals by 24 times! If we continue to expand the numbers of farmed animals as is currently projected, we will both increase the numbers of animals living cruelly impoverished lives in industrial animal agriculture, and this will continue to be a major factor in the human-caused extinction of wild animals. Once we recognize that animal agriculture as currently practiced is also disastrous for human and environmental wellbeing, as well as for animals, the case for change is unanswerable.
It seems to me that our use of animals for food is an urgent ethical challenge that Christians have particular faith-based reasons for taking note of. My hope is that the argument I develop in these books may help to convince fellow Christians of the need for radical change, so that churches and Christian organizations quickly come to recognize their obligation to reduce consumption of animal products and move to higher welfare sources for remaining animal products.
To purchase On Animals Volume I: Systematic Theology or Volume II: Theological Ethics, visit this page at the Bloomsbury Publishing website. Volume I is available in hardback, paperback, or eBook formats; Volume II is currently available only as hardback or eBook. You may also be interested in visiting David Clough’s CreatureKind project, which offers a free six-week small group course on Christianity and animals among other resources. Also check out David’s DefaultVeg project, which offers any organization doing events catering a simple and cost-free policy change to reduce consumption of animals.