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