Christianity and Animals
Rachie Ross, Christian vegan and environmental campaigner, reflects upon her relationship to animals, food and faith.
Though generally lauded by Catholics, Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si’ (henceforth, LS) was dismissed by some who saw its environmental call to arms as theological novelty. It’s no surprise then that, when a lightshow of wildlife was projected onto the façade of St. Peter’s basilica in 2015, quite a number of these same voices condemned the display as pagan, blasphemous, and even demonic. What these critics did not always recognize, however, is that a transformation in Catholic teaching about plants and animals has been underway for a while now; it did not begin with Francis. Vatican II initiated the environmental revolution, so to speak, and successive popes have furthered it. Not without reason did PETA deem Pope John Paul II a saint to animals or environmentalists nickname Pope Benedict XVI the “green pope.”
As we all seek to further animal concerns on the fronts of industry, law, and social practices, let us not forget the essential and foundational role of prayer in any Kingdom-bringing endeavor. Yes, pray for reform in farming practices; yes, pray for laws to be written and enforced; yes, pray for God’s supernatural intervention to minimize animal suffering and to meet animal needs of all kinds. I actually have written Liturgical Prayers to add to Morning Prayer to address each of these prayer-needs.
If hot dogs were made of dogs, would you still eat one? If you’d asked me that question seven years ago (when I still ate meat), I would’ve answered with a firm (though puzzled) ‘no’. My previous answer fascinates me now because it highlights that our beliefs about what is (and is not) acceptable to eat typically derive from our cultural inheritance, rather than any Biblically informed ethic. After all, if, as we Christians might initially be tempted to think, it is okay to eat lambs and pigs because humans were given dominion over God’s creation (Genesis 1:26-28), then it will also be okay to eat cats and dogs, for nothing in Genesis (nor any other book in the Bible) suggests that lambs and pigs are for eating while cats and dogs are for cuddling. Yet most of us find the idea of eating cats and dogs horrific.
I must have been about nine when I saw the sheepskins hanging over the abattoir (slaughterhouse) wall. I’d turned vegetarian at the age of eight, after realising that what-was-on-my-plate was who-was-in-the-fields, and I remember feeling embarrassed for the grown-ups, visiting family in Leeds, who’d taken a wrong turning on our Sunday walk. I shouldn’t be seeing this, was my thought.
When I tell church friends that I work in animal theology, I am often met with puzzled looks: ‘Do you mean animals go to heaven?’ Animal theology certainly includes such questions, but has wider concerns: What is animal creation for? To what end did God make them? How are humans supposed to treat them?
Thomas Jay Oord, renowned theologian, philosopher and author, reflects upon the iconic verse John 3:16 and the meaning of God’s love for the whole of creation.
Professor Ryan McLaughlin, lecturer of theology at Siena College, New York, explains how the biblical concept of “dominion” necessitates eating a meat-free diet.
David Clough, Professor of Theological Ethics at the University of Chester, argues that concern for animals is a fundamental aspect of Christian discipleship.