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Ethical Treatment of Animals (July 2015): Religion

By Walter Hogan and Eric Owen


Complementing the many published works on animal ethics in the traditions of each of the world’s major religions, some studies combine perspectives from multiple religions.  Call to Compassion: Reflections on Animal Advocacy in World Religions, edited by Lisa Kemmerer and Anthony Nocella, is a collection of eighteen original essays in three sections titled “Religions of Asia,” “Abrahamic Traditions,” and “Ancient Indigenous Religious Traditions and Modern Wicca.”  Most of the contributors are scholars who are also animal activists outside the academy.  Similarly, Kemmerer’s solely authored Animals and World Religions surveys attitudes toward animals in major religions of the world, including a chapter on indigenous traditions.  Kemmerer seeks to demonstrate that all religions contain scriptural passages that support compassion and respect for animals.  Chapters on various religions conclude with an account of animal advocates who are motivated by their religious beliefs.

In her revised dissertation, Animals in the Qur’an, Sarra Tlili attempts “an eco-centric reading” of that text.  Tlili finds Qur’anic passages that could support animal welfare practices, and offers variant interpretations of passages that might seem to undergird harsh treatment.  Richard Foltz’s Animals in Islamic Tradition and Muslim Cultures takes a much broader approach, examining Islamic art, literature, law, philosophy, and science, in addition to sacred texts.  Foltz’s engaging study emphasizes the gulf between theory and practice, arguing that Islamic texts and Muslim traditions actually permit animals greater rights than do the Judeo-Christian equivalents.  Ordinary adherents, however, may not appreciate the textual subtleties that address these rights.

Studies of animals and Christianity are numerous and diverse.  Charles Camosy’s For Love of Animals: Christian Ethics, Consistent Action is unusual in the literature of animal welfare, which is often associated with liberal politics.  Camosy advocates for animals from a position of staunch conservative Catholicism, arguing that animal rights and vegetarianism are “pro-life,” and that those stances are morally consistent with his opposition to abortion and stem-cell research.  Nicola Hoggard Creegan’s Animal Suffering and the Problem of Evil seeks to reconcile animal welfare with Christianity.  The title refers to the massive suffering that necessarily accompanies “survival of the fittest,” with the vast majority of animals subject to predation and other unpleasant conclusions.  Creegan uses the parable of the wheat and the tares (weeds) as her model of life as a mixed environment, with both competition and cooperation, both violence and altruism.

Andrew Linzey’s Why Animal Suffering Matters: Philosophy, Theology, and Practical Ethics is devoted to case studies of three animal practices: fox hunting with dogs, fur farming, and commercial sealing.  In a thorough and straightforward book suitable for use as an undergraduate text in applied ethics, Linzey lays out the moral issues that call into question each of these practices.  Linzey’s arguments are grounded in traditions of Western philosophy, including Christianity.  A Faith Embracing All Creatures, edited by Tripp York and Andy Alexis-Baker, presents essays by fourteen contributors, each answering a question such as “Doesn’t the Bible Say That Humans Are More Important?” or “Didn’t Jesus Eat Fish?”  The contributors represent a variety of liberal theological viewpoints, and all of the essays encourage more imaginative readings of the Bible to discover humane perspectives that might not be apparent from a narrow, literal interpretation of some passages.

Works Cited