One of the most confusing aspects for me as a Christian is to reconcile our attitude towards animals with God’s word and purpose, which I believe is for the whole of creation. There are many reasons why Christians may be ‘spiritually blind’ concerning this subject, one of which is uncertainty in interpretation of animal behaviour.
For instance, some scientists declare we cannot know for sure whether animals, such as pigs, feel ‘happy’ or ‘sad’, unless we can prove it and explain it in terms of human emotions. Therefore it is acceptable to keep pigs in ‘unhappy’ conditions, which are inhumane. The arrogance of this stance is responsible for animal suffering on an unimaginable scale. If we accept we are imperfect, surely we should accept our science is imperfect.
One of many examples of our imperfect science is revealed by the commonly used idiom: ‘He has a memory like a fish’. The belief that fish only remember for 3-4 seconds has exonerated us from keeping them in confined places where they may experience frustration and stress. It seems fish have good memories, according to one Cambridge researcher who describes them as ‘‘amazing and intelligent”. http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/memory-like-a-fish
Both modern scientific understanding and our own experience demonstrate that animals are similar to us in many ways. Some create valued, life-long, exclusive relationships with other animals, they protect what is important to them, they sacrifice themselves for their young, they think and feel, they experience pleasure and pain and mourn their dead.
OK, maybe we cannot be absolutely sure the caged animal suffers as we would; its ‘apparent’ dejected frustrated manner could mean something else. Surely the response to this uncertainty would be to give these creatures the benefit of the doubt and to ask oneself: ‘would I want to be treated like this? Would I let my dog be treated like this?’ Surely the answer would be ‘no’.
In fact, ‘’if one person is unkind to an animal it is considered to be cruelty, but where a lot of people are unkind to animals, especially in the name of commerce, the cruelty is condoned and, once large sums of money are at stake, will be defended to the last by otherwise intelligent people.” (Ruth Harrison, Animal Machines)
Of course, in the end, we are consumers responsible for our actions. If we choose to buy intensively farmed food, knowing how it is produced, are we not insulting God?
Pope Francis’ Encyclical Laudato Si has brought the problem of animal welfare into the public domain, and the Times reported in 2013:
‘There may be no other single human activity that has a bigger impact on the planet than the raising of livestock’.
Many believe the real solution to minimising human pressure on the environment lies in agriculture and reducing consumption of animal products, which will also result in better health as well as improving the lives of the poor in underdeveloped countries.
Maybe these concerns for humanity will challenge our ‘spiritual blindness’. But I wish we were motivated for the right reasons: that we acknowledge the cruelty and suffering we inflict on animals through our ignorance and apathy. Maybe all we have to ask is ‘what would Jesus do?’ and our duty of care would be revealed.
Creation Care Team