God’s love for animals

Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
And I will try to fix you — Coldplay

Dur­ing the last few weeks, ani­mals have been very much part of our social envi­ron­ment. In the kitchen, the dogs had the best places near the stove. It was always nice (and warm) to sit with them and scrib­ble their ears. Mean­while, attempts were made to get some dis­ci­pline into the three kit­tens, who were run­ning wild but also liked to curl up on your lap. They were part of the fam­i­ly.

In this post I want to share some thoughts about my favorite top­ic: our rela­tion­ship with ani­mals. Specif­i­cal­ly, it is about veg­an­ism as an expres­sion of love and a type of non-vio­lent resis­tance. I take a Chris­t­ian per­spec­tive, but per­haps the sub­ject is uni­ver­sal enough for oth­ers.

Is it ‘sen­ti­men­tal’ to see pets as part of the fam­i­ly, or even go as far as not want­i­ng to hurt any ani­mal? The Oxford the­olo­gian Andrew Linzey does not think so. After all, the same might be said about Jesus; he did not respect the nor­mal bound­aries of con­cern but befriend­ed tax col­lec­tors and pros­ti­tutes:

To be unit­ed to Christ involves in our own day an expan­sion of moral sen­si­tiv­i­ty no less an affront or a threat to those in pow­er than was Jesus’ own com­pas­sion in his day.

Rainbow

God’s love is not restrict­ed to humans. God is a faith­ful cre­ator, and com­mits him­self to every­thing that he has made (Gen­e­sis 9)1. George Mac­Don­ald, a great inspir­er of C.S. Lewis, wrote about Gods faith­ful care of ani­mals:

Those that hope lit­tle can­not grow much. To them the very glo­ry of God must be a small thing, for their hope of it is so small as not to be worth rejoic­ing in. That he is a faith­ful cre­ator means noth­ing to them for far the larg­er por­tion of the crea­tures he has made!

God’s bound­less love for every­thing that exists is the basis of our faith and our love. Love always strives for uni­ty and whole­ness. Gand­hi2 talked about the law of love, just like Jesus taught in the two com­mand­ments: Love God, and love your neigh­bour as your­self (Matthew 22).

No swords allowedThe first Chris­tians believed that love and killing peo­ple do not go togeth­er, and refused mil­i­tary ser­vice. This changed when the Roman emper­or became a Chris­t­ian. Ulti­mate­ly, Augus­tine was the one who turned the doc­trine upside down and said that war was per­mis­si­ble if it was for a good cause and was car­ried out with the right spir­i­tu­al atti­tude. If you loved your ene­my, it was no prob­lem to kill him.

I can­not help but see a par­al­lel with the cur­rent atti­tude of Chris­tians towards ani­mals. We take good care of the ani­mals we have and do our best to be good stew­ards of cre­ation. But do we per­ceive the love of God that is present in every tree and every chick­en crawl­ing out of its egg? Do we base our deci­sions on God’s love in us or on our greedy ego?

Cat and chickens

By pos­ing these ques­tions I don’t want to judge any­one, or claim that my lifestyle is per­fect. The fact is that in order to live, we can nev­er avoid manip­u­lat­ing and thus dam­ag­ing nature. But the extent to which our soci­ety does this has run out of con­trol, and most of the con­se­quences of our con­sump­tion pat­tern are invis­i­ble to us.The ani­mals in fac­to­ry farms are but one exam­ple of this.

Love for ani­mals is not sen­ti­men­tal, but rather a sign of God’s King­dom. It is a force to be reck­oned with. In the first quote from Linzey, he men­tions that our com­pas­sion is a threat to those in pow­er. Not for noth­ing, the sub­ti­tle of Kurlansky’s book on non­vi­o­lence calls it “a dan­ger­ous idea”. Veg­an­ism is one of the ways to resist the pow­er of the food indus­try. This is done with­out hat­ing peo­ple, on the con­trary, by mak­ing friends and let­ting love do its work.

"I believe that the world was created and approved by love, that it subsists, coheres, and endures by love, and that, insofar as it is redeemable, it can be redeemed only by love." (Wendell Berry)

Foot­notes

  1. Of course God is not either male or female, but in this post I use the male form.
  2. More about Gand­hi and non­vi­o­lence in a pre­vi­ous post: The great lit­tle man. The six prin­ci­ples of Mar­tin Luther King Jr. are also inspir­ing.

Sources

  • Andrew Linzey, 1998. Ani­mal Gospel
  • George Mac­Don­ald, 1892. The Hope of the Gospel
  • Mark Kurlan­sky, 2006. Non­vi­o­lence: The his­to­ry of a dan­ger­ous idea
  • Wen­dell Berry, in: Llewellyn Vaugh­an-Lee (edi­tor), 2016. Spir­i­tu­al Ecol­o­gy