Blessed is the Stasis

“The quiet conscience is an invention of the devil,” Albert Schweitzer wrote, and it surely applies to religious institutions and followers whose indifference has enabled animal persecution and suffering for centuries. Author and activist Jon Wynne-Tyson places the ethical failures of the faithful even lower than those of stereotypical cold and calculating scientists, placing blame not so much on ignorance as on evil design.

Paradoxically, for all that science has enormously raised the incidence of inhumanity toward sentient life, some modern scientists and medical men have a better track record than most religious leaders for awareness of the need for more compassionate environmentalism. Most Christian clergy have shown almost total indifference toward infliction of suffering on other species. They have gone to great lengths to create dogma, and to find biblical texts, to justify our diabolical treatment of non-human life.[1]Jon Wynne-Tyson Ed., The Extended Circle: A Commonplace Book of Animal Rights (New York: Paragon House, 1989), xv.

History teaches us that populations have shown indifference to animals suffering through plain ignorance or through ignorance by design, driven by ignorant dogma. An example of the latter was pointed out by Reverend Holmes-Gore:

It is significant that those who champion the animals most wholeheartedly are those who understand their real nature, while the Church does not understand the nature of these other creatures. The Roman Catholic Church flatly contradicts Genesis 1:25-25, by asserting that they were not created by God. Thus we read in the Catholic Dictionary of 1897: “As their [the animals’] souls operate through matter so they spring from matter and perish with it. They are not created by God, but are derived with their bodies from their parents by natural operation … Hence, their soul is extinguished with the dissolution of the body.”

Such reasoning … is clearly prompted by the desire to “justify” man’s ill-treatment of nonhuman creatures. Thus it becomes abundantly clear that man’s cruelty to the other creatures is largely due to his failure to admit their true nature.[2]Quoted in Jon Wynne-Tyson Ed., The Extended Circle: A Commonplace Book of Animal Rights (New York: Paragon House, 1989), 125.

We have seen a church-blessed stasis of low ethical standards unshaken by harsher words than this, and it is certainly left undisturbed by the soft line of most religious animal advocates. It is still rare to see the faithful issue strong condemnations for cruelty or consistently appear at protest actions.

When the subject of animal welfare does come up, you get the examples of indirect, vague, and minimal concern for nonhuman animals found in religious scriptures—Christian and otherwise. However, they are easily open to interpretation and lack rigor and overall coherence:

The result, in the doctrines of so many churches, is an array of options without obligations, two worlds often bearing no relation at all to one another … there is this one world in which man made in the image of God affirms the inherit goodness of animals, feeling himself the just and benevolent master. And then there is this other world, the world of reality in which people and industries are left free to do as they will without moral restraint or condemnation, without reproach or even much in the way of self-reproach.[3]Matthew Scully, Dominion: the Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2002), 17.

Many of the faithful would consider animal welfare action to be little more than the blessing of animals during the annual Benediction of Beasts, a ceremony whose origins rest not so much in concern for animals but in concern for their continued health for continued usefulness.

Catholic countries are notorious for their poor animal welfare standards. While you might have had some individuals in the past with “cultivated sensibilities concerning beasts,” writes historian Gerald Carson, “the Neapolitan peasant, having learned from his parish priest that animals are not ‘moral persons,’ can go home after Mass and with a clear conscience give his donkey a thorough taste of the switch.”[4]Gerald Carson, Men, Beasts, and Gods: a History of Cruelty and Kindness to Animals (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1972), 17.

In a revised Catechism of 1994 the Catholic Church stated that “Animals, like plants and inanimate things, are by nature destined for the common good of past, present and future humanity” (2415). Though is not without moral imperatives, it does nothing more than reassert Thomist theology and claim all nature for human subjugation. If you want ethical concern and action, you will not find it readily in organized religions that have traditionally preferred stasis over change.

The Priory of Storrington

A classic modern example of moral stasis is the saga of the Norbertine Canons of Our Lady of England Priory, in Storrington, West Sussex and their veal calve operation. The priory’s monks ran a farm in which up to 750 calves were raised in conditions typical for veal calves, chained by the neck in narrow crates, on wooden slates, unable to lie down or turn around, and denied the roughage they crave. The calves endure this after having been taken away from their mothers shortly after birth, much to the anguish of mothers and calves. On the priory’s farm they were kept for six weeks before being loaded into trucks and sent on an arduous and stressful journey to the European continent, where they were subjected to further deprivations until slaughter.

Trouble began for the monks’ little business on the side in 1983, when Lesley Turpin, secretary of Compassion In World Farming (CIWF), led a protest outside a Storrington church. The protest included local residents including Catholics concerned for animal welfare, but the church’s congregation was largely unimpressed. Some agreed with Father Dominic Kirkham of the priory on the veal operation, who stated to the press that “on moral grounds, I cannot see any objection whatsoever.” Delving deeper into his reserves of ignorance, the Father Kirkham added that “you only have to look in the scriptures … there is talk of killing the fatted calf for festivals.”[5]From “The Other Side of Religion,” in Outrage!, November/December, 1983, reproduced at http://www.all-creatures.org/fol/art-theother.html. Father George Joy also defended the priory, saying that the farm conformed to Ministry of Agriculture’s regulations and had a high level of hygiene.

Because it conformed to typically low modern factory-farming regulations (which have little to do with moral standards), the Priory’s veal-farm manager was found not guilty of cruelty by a court of law. For the manager, Luigi Ruggiero, it was back to business: “We are going to carry on as before. Why should we stop? There is no cruelty in what we are doing.”[6]Jonathan Petre, “Canons innocent of cruelty to calves,” Catholic Herald, March 30, 1984, http://archive.catholicherald.co.uk/article/30th-march-1984/3/canons-innocent-of-cruelty-to-calves. This is the very same manager who in 1983 had told CIWF representatives that the operation was not profitable because “It costs a lot in drugs to stop too many dying”![7]From Ag. Scene, September/October, 1983, reproduced at http://www.all-creatures.org/fol/art-20120917-04.html.

Peter Roberts, the co-founder of CIWF, had led the CIWF’s prosecution of the veal operation. His statement on the Priory’s veal farm applies equally to all concentrated farming operations under which animals languish:

The monks of Storrington Priory in West Sussex do not keep a fatted calf; they keep 650 which they rear for white veal in narrow and barren crates.

It may be argued that God blessed the calves, giving them four legs and the good earth to walk upon, but the wooden crates that imprison them now do not permit the calves to walk, nor exercise, nor even so much as to turn round.

Do these monks worship the same God that made these animals ruminants, with four stomachs in order to break down fibre, foods, and implanting in them a craving for fibre? On their all-milk diet the only fibre they find is hair plucked from their own bodies, or splinters from their wooden crates.

Was it not the Creator of all things that decreed that they should be sociable and playful creatures? These calves will never play, and can scarcely see one another through the bars of their crates. The solitary confinement is a life sentence.

The monks say that the Scriptures allow them to do these things and that anyway animals cannot really suffer.[8]Jon Wynne-Tyson Ed., The Extended Circle: A Commonplace Book of Animal Rights (New York: Paragon House, 1989), 278.

In 1984 an ex-worker of the veal farm spoke out about cruelties involved, including the long transportation and inadequate care,[9]“Ex-worker speaks out on veal farm,” West Sussex County Times, November 23, 1984, http://www.all-creatures.org/fol/art-20120917-02.html. and the demonstrations continued long after the court case.[10]“Animal rights demo Police break up,” Catholic Herald, December 30, 1984, http://archive.catholicherald.co.uk/article/21st-december-1984/1/animal-rights-demo-police-break-up. Having defended another prosecution from the CIWF in 1985, been subjected to ongoing hostility, and with the threat of animal advocates storming the veal farm, the Storrington Priory monks closed down their veal operation and put the farm up for sale.[11]Kasia Giedroyc, “Monks of Storrington Cease Veal Production,” Catholic Herald, September 27, 1985, http://archive.catholicherald.co.uk/article/27th-september-1985/1/monks-of-storrington-cease-veal-production. The farm itself was closed in 1988, with a Pastor James Thompson remarking that because of the “heightening public indignation the case aroused, the monks had little option but to terminate the unit.”[12]From “The Other Side of Religion,” in Outrage!, November/December, 1983, reproduced at http://www.all-creatures.org/fol/art-theother.html.

The Storrington Priory episode was a case where the church hierarchy supported the veal farm, while a band of local parishioners—to their credit—protested against it, turning words into effective action. It was yet another example of what Paul Waldau observes:

the record of some religious institutions in defending animals is one of abject failure, often driven by extraordinary arrogance and ignorance. Yet at other times religious believers have lived out their faith in ways that have been fully in defense of nonhuman lives.[red]Paul Waldau, “Religion and Animals,” In Defense of Animals: The Second Wave (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2008), 69.[/ref]

Thankfully, not all religious followers are ignorant of the world around them, regardless of how deluded their spiritual beliefs and how mindless their spiritual leaders. All, however, ultimately yield to the same flawed foundations.

The Invariably False Foundation

There are those who, like Andrew Linzey, embrace the old notion that the proper treatment of animals, “in conformity to His own perfections,” as Cardinal Henry Edward Manning put it,[13]See Rod Preece, Awe for the Tiger, Love for the Lamb: A Chronicle of Sensibility to Animals (London: Routledge, 2002), 309. shows respect for God. There are others who are inspired by what they believed will be the “future manifestation of God’s will,” as Robert Wennberg describes,

participating in God’s redemptive work and being God’s people involves seeking to reclaim, where possible, what has been lost through the fall, .. seeking to secure in some small measure in the present age that righteousness that one day will be secured in its fullness.[14]Robert N. Wennberg, Gods, Humans, and Animals: An Invitation to Enlarge Our Moral Universe (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2003), 294.

And there are those who could never conceive of their beloved dog and cat companions not sharing in a heavenly afterlife. Friar Jack Wintz exclaims in I Will See You in Heaven: “It makes sense to me that the same loving Creator who arranged for these animals and other nonhuman creatures to enjoy happiness in the original Garden would not want to exclude them from the final paradise.”[15]Jack Wintz, I Will See You in Heaven (Brewster, Mass.: Paraclete Press, 2010), 20. Keith Ward, in Rational Theology and the Creativity of God, is more direct:

Immortality, for animals as well as humans, is a necessary condition of any acceptable theodicy; that necessity, together with all the other arguments for God, is one of the main reasons for believing in immortality.”[16]Keith Ward, Rational Theology and the Creativity of God (New York: Pilgrim, 1982), 201-2.

At least this kind of wishful thinking does not lead to the torture of baby animals.

But these views are simply dismissed or peripheral to the thinking of mainstream practitioners. Ultimately, the same old attitudes prevail and underlie what are considered normal behaviors in the treatment of animals. Take out the lip service that is occasionally broadcast and you see that little has changed over the 700 years since Aquinas. Here are more Catholic Catechisms that are as vague and open ended as ever:

2417 – … it is legitimate to use animals for food and clothing. They may be domesticated to help man in his work and leisure. Medical and scientific experimentation on animals is a morally acceptable practice if it remains within reasonable limits and contributes to caring for or saving human lives.

2418 – It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly. It is likewise unworthy to spend money on them that should as a priority go to the relief of human misery. One can love animals; one should not direct to them the affection due only to persons.

In other words, do whatever you like, when push comes to shove—nonhuman animals should be the last thing to consider, if at all, when it comes to human profits and self-interest.

So when “Green” Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew issued the Message for the Day of the Protection of the Environment, Prot. No. 758 in 2011, it contained all the usual nonsense, with the added irony of being a “pioneering” prayer that unwittingly speaks of the very things that led to so much insensitivity toward nature in the first place. Typically, Bartholomew recollects how God granted “humanity the gift of nature, which he preserves and sustains, as the most suitable environment for human beings to develop in body and spirit.” Humans were charged with consuming through the “proper exploitation of nature,” and “Animals have always been friends of humanity and servants of human needs.” Having little from scripture to draw from, Bartholomew then hauls out the childish legends of the animal-friendly saints for illustration.

Even Christian animal advocates maintain that the troubling, underlying attitudes in their religion cannot possibly bring radical change. And yet, they will then go ahead and demonstrate why. An example is the seemingly balanced apologist Robert Wennberg, who maintains the party line—that human flourishing is called upon by God and trumps all—and tempers it only by saying that it does not mean “anything goes.” Yet he insists on a “massive divide” between humans and the natural world, obviously agreeing with Peter van Inwagen’s view that “it is blindingly, boringly obvious that humanity is radically different from all other species”[17]Robert N. Wennberg, Gods, Humans, and Animals: An Invitation to Enlarge Our Moral Universe (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2003), 202, 205, 218.—yes, quite obvious, we can assume, to the blind and boring.

Wennberg cannot avoid thinking from the premise of a Chain of Being, framing life from the view that “humans are intrinsically more valuable,” or saying that world’s “wonderful things” are “worthy of the kind of respect and moral concern appropriate to their particular degree of intrinsic value.”[18]Robert N. Wennberg, Gods, Humans, and Animals: An Invitation to Enlarge Our Moral Universe (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2003), 55, 212. He then posits human difference as a matter of “religious capacity,” a capacity only a special species can have. But we know just how that happened: the human mammal arrives at the cognitive capacity to invent gods, announces how the gods speak to him via telepathy and magic, uses fabrications and delusions to then count himself radically superior to every visible thing—of course, it might also be propositioned that only a lower animal with flawed endowments could come up with such nonsense.[19]Robert N. Wennberg, Gods, Humans, and Animals: An Invitation to Enlarge Our Moral Universe (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2003), 208, 216.

Imaginary teleology and delusions of grandeur do not make humans special other than in a stupid kind of way.

Wennberg’s prattling illustrates the problem with even the most sympathetic of religious apologists to nonhuman animal causes. Here is someone who comes across as eminently rational and balanced, but underneath it all he, like all religious advocates, is incapable of seeing the world in other than Christian terms, which is to say falsely, invalidly—not in terms of what humans and nonhumans truly are, as products of evolution within an indifferent cosmos.

Even after reading about evolution, religious advocates still cannot fully grasp its implications, proceeding instead to offer up excuses and alternatives.[20]Robert N. Wennberg, Gods, Humans, and Animals: An Invitation to Enlarge Our Moral Universe (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2003), 215-217. Most modern religious animal advocates hold a similar position because of influence from doctrinal authority and the works of past apologists, such as C. S. Lewis, who served as a conduit for the same old fanciful ideas and demonstrated the same old antagonism toward nature.

Atheists naturally regard the co-existence of man and the animals as a mere contingent result of interacting biological facts; and the taming of an animal by a man as a purely arbitrary interference of one species with another. The ‘real’ or ‘natural’ animal to them is the wild one, and the tame animal is an artificial or unnatural thing. But a Christian must not think so. Man was appointed by God to have dominion over the beasts, and everything a man does to an animal is either a lawful exercise, or a sacrilegious abuse, of an authority by Divine right. The tame animal is therefore, in the deepest sense, the only ‘natural’ animal—the only one we see occupying the place it was made to occupy, and it is on the tame animal that we must base all our doctrine of beasts.[21]C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (London: HarperOne, 2001), 142-143.

This is plain crazy and must have taken Lewis a special depth of delusion to proclaim such drivel. Lewis did not think animals had souls either, and held the old-fashioned patriarchal view of power relations expression in his string of analogies, “God is to Christ, Christ to humanity, man to woman, head to body, so (mutatis mutandis) humans are to animals.” What Lewis believed is what most modern Christians believe, that “as man is to be understood only in his relationship to God, so animals are to be understood only in their relation to man and, through man, to God.”[22]Judith Wolfe, “On Power,” in The Cambridge Companion to C. S. Lewis (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 180. If anyone holds this religious view, they have a seriously misguided and false apprehension of the reality—clueless would be an apt description.

The misapprehension of reality, a worldview based on religion, is what invariable influences the religious advocate to hold back, to arrive at concessions, to say things like the “sacrifice” of an animal for food is an entirely fair price that animals pay for being brought into the world, having been given food and board, and raised a short while until fat enough, as Wennberg fancifully contends.[23]Robert N. Wennberg, Gods, Humans, and Animals: An Invitation to Enlarge Our Moral Universe (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2003), 197. The rule that applies with modern Christian apologists, with all their appearance of reasonableness, is the rule of what “is unjust in the least is unjust also in much.” We see this demonstrated time and again by the passivity of their approach and their meek admonishments, by their support for fabricated doctrine. All they do, though “in the least” compared with others, is allow the same blessed stasis of low ethical standards to continue.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Jon Wynne-Tyson Ed., The Extended Circle: A Commonplace Book of Animal Rights (New York: Paragon House, 1989), xv.
2. Quoted in Jon Wynne-Tyson Ed., The Extended Circle: A Commonplace Book of Animal Rights (New York: Paragon House, 1989), 125.
3. Matthew Scully, Dominion: the Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2002), 17.
4. Gerald Carson, Men, Beasts, and Gods: a History of Cruelty and Kindness to Animals (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1972), 17.
5. From “The Other Side of Religion,” in Outrage!, November/December, 1983, reproduced at http://www.all-creatures.org/fol/art-theother.html.
6. Jonathan Petre, “Canons innocent of cruelty to calves,” Catholic Herald, March 30, 1984, http://archive.catholicherald.co.uk/article/30th-march-1984/3/canons-innocent-of-cruelty-to-calves.
7. From Ag. Scene, September/October, 1983, reproduced at http://www.all-creatures.org/fol/art-20120917-04.html.
8. Jon Wynne-Tyson Ed., The Extended Circle: A Commonplace Book of Animal Rights (New York: Paragon House, 1989), 278.
9. “Ex-worker speaks out on veal farm,” West Sussex County Times, November 23, 1984, http://www.all-creatures.org/fol/art-20120917-02.html.
10. “Animal rights demo Police break up,” Catholic Herald, December 30, 1984, http://archive.catholicherald.co.uk/article/21st-december-1984/1/animal-rights-demo-police-break-up.
11. Kasia Giedroyc, “Monks of Storrington Cease Veal Production,” Catholic Herald, September 27, 1985, http://archive.catholicherald.co.uk/article/27th-september-1985/1/monks-of-storrington-cease-veal-production.
12. From “The Other Side of Religion,” in Outrage!, November/December, 1983, reproduced at http://www.all-creatures.org/fol/art-theother.html.
13. See Rod Preece, Awe for the Tiger, Love for the Lamb: A Chronicle of Sensibility to Animals (London: Routledge, 2002), 309.
14. Robert N. Wennberg, Gods, Humans, and Animals: An Invitation to Enlarge Our Moral Universe (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2003), 294.
15. Jack Wintz, I Will See You in Heaven (Brewster, Mass.: Paraclete Press, 2010), 20.
16. Keith Ward, Rational Theology and the Creativity of God (New York: Pilgrim, 1982), 201-2.
17. Robert N. Wennberg, Gods, Humans, and Animals: An Invitation to Enlarge Our Moral Universe (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2003), 202, 205, 218.
18. Robert N. Wennberg, Gods, Humans, and Animals: An Invitation to Enlarge Our Moral Universe (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2003), 55, 212.
19. Robert N. Wennberg, Gods, Humans, and Animals: An Invitation to Enlarge Our Moral Universe (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2003), 208, 216.
20. Robert N. Wennberg, Gods, Humans, and Animals: An Invitation to Enlarge Our Moral Universe (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2003), 215-217.
21. C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (London: HarperOne, 2001), 142-143.
22. Judith Wolfe, “On Power,” in The Cambridge Companion to C. S. Lewis (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 180.
23. Robert N. Wennberg, Gods, Humans, and Animals: An Invitation to Enlarge Our Moral Universe (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2003), 197.

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