- Christianity and the Rights of Animals by Andrew Linzey
Why review the reprint of a book first published as long ago as 1987? In this case there are two very good reasons. The first is an entirely positive one in that the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics and this journal only came into being because Professor Linzey brought animal ethics into being as a distinctive academic discipline, through this book and many others. The concept of animal rights, the subject of this book, follows from it, although as Linzey stresses in his new foreword, creaturely rights are based on the prior right of the Creator—what he terms as "Theos-rights."
The second reason why the republication of this important work is timely is less happy, less congratulatory, but more urgent. The abuse of other animals is still too often ignored, or even encouraged, by countless humans (some of whom describe themselves as Christians), and in some industries, such as intensive farming, fishing, and animal experimentation, such cruelty is increasing. It is justified by the instrumentalist assumptions that animals lack souls, were made for human use, and, that in any case, do not feel pain. These ideas came into Christian discourse through the rediscovery of Aristotle and spread into Christian teaching through the writings of Thomas Aquinas in the Middle Ages, and, in more recent times, through René Descartes and the "Enlightenment."
Against such a background, Linzey's work is revolutionary. It relies fundamentally on the biblical premise of Christianity, and indeed of Judaism, that the Creator has the right to have creatures treated with [End Page 82] respect. Thus, to take a point briefly examined toward the end of the book (p. 143), Linzey shows that "humane slaughter" is a contradiction in terms, and this applies not only to Jewish and then Muslim religious killing (believed in earlier times to be a "humane" method) but to all killing. Indeed, this is startlingly reinforced by a recent statement issued by 74 rabbis, led by Rabbi David Rosen, formerly Chief Rabbi of Ireland, which concluded that
Judaism's way of life, its dietary practices, are designed to ennoble the human spirit. It is therefore a contradiction in terms to claim that products that come through a process that involves inordinate cruelty and barbarity toward animal life can truly be considered kosher in our world. In our world today, it is precisely a plant-based diet that is truly consonant with the most sublime teachings of Judaism and of the highest aspirations of our heritage.(Jewish Vegetarian Society, 2017)
This of course takes us back to the covenant of Genesis 9, to the belief expressed in the law that any action that causes pain is wrong and to the hope of ultimate salvation expressed in Isaiah 11. The great strength of Linzey's book is the intelligent manner in which its theological underpinning is tied in with the humane and practical concerns of other, secular, studies.
The first and second chapters establish the covenanted nature of the relationship between God and the creation. However, too many theologians have been ready to accept human "dominion" over animals as a licence to coerce and subdue, which can only be a form of tyranny. This might seem to be justified by the prevalence of sacrifice, the theme of the third chapter, which is certainly deeply rooted in religious practice through much, but by no means all, of the Hebrew Bible. As an archaeologist, I do not find this surprising because animal sacrifice was prevalent throughout ancient cultures. But it should be noticed that there was also a parallel movement among the prophets toward the rejection of animal sacrifice, with God requiring mercy rather than blood, which takes on a particular meaning with the sacrificial self-giving of Jesus (pp. 42–43). Linzey incidentally takes up hints in the Gospels that Jesus himself rejected traditional sacrifice. The true telos of the church was the establishment of the peaceable kingdom, and...