Animals and Us: Creation Corner Column for November 2016
Because all creatures are connected, each must be cherished with love and respect, for all of us as living creatures are dependent on one another. Pope Francis
We all, no doubt, consider ourselves as "humane." Over a hundred years ago, after the socialist newspaper "Appeal To Reason" published Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, a public outcry over the horrid meat-packing industry practices, for laboring workers and the meat-processing, led Congress to pass the 1906 Meat Inspection Act.
In 2016 an international outcry took place over the killing of a protected African lion, Cecil, in Zimbabwe.
We do have moral/ethical concerns. But do we compartmentalize them away from our consumer habits? Might we be "positioning ourselves as consumers first and moral beings either second or not at all?", asks George Monbiot in a recent (Sept. 23-29) article in The Guardian Weekly. Might the feared extinction of species be "simply the consequence of our uncontrolled consumerism"?
So we need to ask ourselves: Might we tread more lightly on God's earth? Eat less (or no) meat? Question "factory farms"? Refrain from big game trophy hunting, and wearing furs. Can we speak up about the importation and sale of endangered species parts, often secured from poaching?
Are there groups worth your supporting---Christian Vegetarian Association, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS has a Faith Advisory Council), the ASPCA, PETA, etc.?
For a recent view of the theology of animals see the July issue of Sojourners (sojo.net).
To understand what less animal cruelty means, read Wayne Pacelle's The Humane Economy.
Re: animal rights, see the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM.org).
Also see the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF.org). ALDF has an Animal Bill of Rights petition to the U.S. Congress. The preamble notes our belief that animals, like all sentient beings, are entitled to basic legal rights in our society. Deprived of legal protection, animals are defenseless against exploitation and abuse by humans. As few rights now exist, legislation could be passed in support of the following basic rights for animals:
The right of
...animals to be free from exploitation, cruelty, neglect, and abuse;
...companion animals to a healthy diet, protective shelter, and adequate medical care;
...wildlife to a natural habitat, ecologically sufficient to a normal existence and a self-sustaining species population;
...animals to be free from cruel and unnecessary experimentation and testing;
...animals to have their interests represented in court and safeguarded by the law of the land.
Internationally, there is an effort on behalf of non-human animal rights, represented in the western hemisphere by AFADA (the Spanish acronym for the Association of Officials and Lawyers for Animal Rights), and, in the U.S. by the Nonhuman Rights Project. Extending the status of "personhood" to sentient beings, non-humans, such as apes, is a goal, as reported in "The Battle for the Great Apes" cover story by George Johnson in the Nov./Dec. issue of Pacific Standard (psmag.com) . Just as corporations have "been considered 'juridical' or 'artificial' persons with some of the rights and obligations of people" (being able to 'sue and be sued and have rights to free speech as in Citizens United'), religious expression has also been considered a right of corporations, as in the Hobby Lobby case.
So animals, as nature itself, both long-regarded as "things", are now being recognized as being bearers of legal rights, albeit limited. Of course there are century-old animal welfare laws and ordinances, but have they been enough? Stay tuned in. The law evolves. Slaves were once considered possessions, then came abolition and emancipation. Less than a century ago in the U.S., women gained the right to vote. While non-human species have no capacity to argue for themselves, might Homo sapiens do it for them?
Mr. Ochs initiated and then co-led October weekly sessions in the Williamsport PA area Lutheran School of Religion, sponsored by the Lutheran Shared Ministry https://www.facebook.com/LSMLutheranSharedMinistry/. Course materials were the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's "Awakening to God's Call to Earthkeeping" http://www.elca.org/en/Resources/Caring-for-Creation .