In Which God made a covenant with the animals, and I read about it

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how we as lords of creation are to treat that creation, and animals in particular. I’m dissatisfied both with the typical left-wing animals-are-people-too stance and the typical conservative animals-are-a-resource stance. Neither seems to fit the dominion mandate delivered to Adam by Jehovah.

In order to keep from casting about at random, I thought I’d buy a book on the subject to bounce my ideas off of. The title of this one sounded promising. I’ve read the intro. list of quotes and the prologue thus far.
(Alas, these first few pages smell suspiciously like stock left-leaning undergraduate activism rather than honest exegesis, but I remember what Lavar Burton taught me, and I’m trying to withhold judgement.)

Something interesting I noticed in the opening list of quotations from Church fathers (and other assort religiousy guys) is that, as the quotes move past the 1700’s in date, they tend to focus more on the rights of animals rather than the duties of men toward animals (sorry, I mean ‘persons toward animals’).

How does this post-Enlightenment/French Republican focus on Rights instead of Duties change the nature of the debate? It seems to me that, for starters, it creates a negative, minimalistic and ultimately antagonistic approach to all relationships (human to human, human to animal, etc.). Duties are fulfilled for someone, Rights must be defended against someone. In this way, Duties may be presented more generally (fill, subdue, nurture), while Rights must ultimately be defined and delineated precisely in order to see just where the line is. Duties are fullness, Rights are essence. A Duty is what is given, Rights are what is to be grasped at, taken. The question is no longer how do we nurture and care for the creation over which we have been given dominion, but what inviolable “Rights” must we respect.

No longer must we decide how best to give: We must decide what we are not allowed to take.

11 comments on “In Which God made a covenant with the animals, and I read about it

  1. John says:

    I haven’t read the book you mention, but you might want to check out this one, which (I think) Jim Jordan mentioned to me recently, when we were talking about how all the animals are God’s pets. Haven’t read it myself yet, so you can be (if I may use the term in this context) the guinea pig.

    Jordan also talks about how the animals are “low images” of the Son, while man is the “high image.” Animals closely represent men who are in the image of God, and that’s why animals are used for sacrifices (representing us) and why Paul says that the animal laws in Scripture were written “altogether for our sakes.”

    Another verse that comes to mind is the one in Proverbs that says that the righteous man cares for the soul of his beast.

    One more random thought: did you see my blog entry on animals and the afterlife? I find C. S. Lewis’s comment about tame animals very intriguing.

    We’re told (by atheists, says Lewis) that tame animals are almost denatured and that seeing animals in the wild is the best way to learn what animals are supposed to be. But Lewis argues that man was intended to have dominion over the animals and that true dominion over animals — as seen in a loving relationship between a pet-owner and his pet — brings out and virtually creates the personality of the animal, making it more truly what it was meant by God to be.

    In other words, my cats’ true “catness” is enhanced, not diminished, by the fact that they are as tame as cats can be. The more they associate with us, the more they become … well, person-like and personable. And that’s their high destiny as animals.

    Anyway, some grist for the mill….

  2. John,

    Thanks for the thoughts. I read Lewis on the subject several years ago, and that started me thinking about this, actually. I’ll check out your post, and the book too. Did Jordan actually publish anything about this? I’m not sure that I buy the “high” and “low” images thing, but I’m willing to be persuaded. Thanks for the comments.


  3. Nathan says:

    I find this issue a fascinating one and am looking forward to your thoughts from your reading.

    (Side note: Jurgen Moltmann and his panentheism has some fascinating things to say about the curse, covenant, and recreation of all creation with practical implications in areas of letting the land / beasts rest on sabbath years, etc.)

    Ecothought: It seems that to use the terminology that is commonly associated with humans as the priests of creation cannot be avoided. While in some sense I agree with Richard Bauckham who sees the notion of considering humans as the priests of creation being unnecessarily hierarchical, maybe the pattern of New Testament elders is more appropriate. If shepherd elders of Christ’s church are servant leaders and under-shepherds under the Great Shepherd Jesus Christ, could not this understanding shed light on the traditional ‘lordship’ mentality that mankind has upon the earth? If it is true that elder-shepherds have authority granted for the edification of the church, could we not look at the authority of the cultural mandate to ‘have dominion’ in like manner? Elders are certainly sheep as well, but sheep who have been given specific instructional tasks, as iron sharpens iron, if you will. (See Bauckham Joining Creation’s Praise of God.)

  4. Nathan says:

    Another thought on tamed and wild beasts. The four headed/faced creatures that are always around God praising him have an interesting combination of faces. A lion is the king of wild beasts, wild an ox is the king of the domesticated land beasts. The eagle is the king of the air. Now while the man is the vice-regent over all God’s creation, in the case of his appearance on one of the faces of this constantly praising beast, man is placed along side of the other aspects of creation. Man is properly put in the realm of a beast from the dust.

    Random thought along a different line: sorry for the tangent, but this dust man thought has got me going. If man is made from dust and the Spirit is generally associated with water, does that mean that “fleshly” man is just dust but “spiritual” man is a mudman? Either way, man is a creation of both Father God and Mother earth (granted the mother was made by the Father, but just work with me here).

  5. John says:

    I don’t know if Jordan has published anything on this subject. He commented on my blog entry (or actually, on the e-mail to his mailing list that became my blog entry).

    The stuff about animals as “low images of the Son” comes from Creation in Six Days, though he may discuss it elsewhere, too.

    Just discovered lots of great stuff on the animals in Genesis 1 and their symbolism in his Studies in Food and Faith today, just in time for my sermon on the Sixth Day.

    I once thought I’d cover all the days of creation in two sermons. Ha! Now I’m up to seven sermons and I still have a couple more to go … and the challenge is constantly not to overload them.

  6. surplusvalue says:

    Speaking from what amounts to the opposite of that which you speak, is it not sufficient that if the non-human animal is sentient it deserves to not be treated as property, period?

    Almost regardless of what is taught within the Bible, how can a distinction be made between the suffering of one and that of an other?

    Further, why would God welcome the slaughter of animals (lives he created) when we are currently at a point in which it is not necessary, but rather, detrimental to do so.

    As well, “virtually creates the personality of the animal” – is that to suggest that I can create the personality of a human by killing them or exploiting them?

    By the way, fantastic comments on the opinions of those “leaning” in either direction; like it was actually relevant.

    I’d be interested to see how you define people if they are not also animals? A discussion of similarities and distinctions that are established can be read here.

    This comment will likely sound negative but some of the statements made were fairly absurd – hopefully no offence is taken.

  7. no offense at all. thanks for stopping by.

  8. Nathan says:

    “The wolf of Gubbio. He was the terror of the neighborhood. He ran at Francis with open mouth, but laid himself down at Francis’ feet like a lamb at his words, “Brother Wolf, in the name of Jesus Christ, I command you to do no evil to me or to any man.” Francis promised him forgiveness for all past offecenes on condition of his never doing harm again to human beings. The beast assented to the compact by lowering his head and kneeling before him. He became the pet of Gubbio.” (excerpt from Schaff’s History…)

    I was just thinking about the forgiving the sins of a wolf part. Had St. Francis taken the Mark 16.15 passage about going and proclaiming the gospel to the whole creation just a bit too literally, or was he onto something? What would you say the proclamation of the gospel to all creation should look like?

  9. […] Add to this John and Nathan’s comments here (particularly the bit about the Wolf of Gubbio) […]

  10. […] In the beginning Rights vs. Duties A Vegan Church? A Vegan Church? II Or Maybe a Vegetarian Church? […]

  11. […] Dominion Rights v. Duties I <a href=””&gt; Rights v. Duties II Apocalypse and Veganism I Apocalypse and Veganism II Veganism and the Fulfilling Lives of Chickens Veganism and the Fulfilling Lives of Cows I Veganism and the Fulfilling Lives of Cows II Paedobaptism and Coco the Talking Gorilla […]

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