- The Routledge Handbook of Religion and Animal Ethics ed. by Andrew Linzey and Clair Linzey
Some find the pairing of religion with animal ethics an uneasy fit. Not only is the former inescapably anthropocentric, being humanity's search for and contemplations of the divine, but there is also much in religious thought and praxis for advocates to detest. Hierarchical presumption, blood sacrifice, tyrannical "dominion" over all, a sense of entitlement justifying wanton consumption, and evasion of anticruelty laws under the guise of religious freedom all run counter to humane agendas. This Routledge Handbook confronts—often acknowledging, sometimes reframing, always contextualizing—these and related concerns, scouring a wide range of faith traditions to illuminate what they say and what they do not say about animals and humanity's duties toward them. As the editors observe at the outset, the animal-friendly tradition of ideas has more to it than Bentham, Mill, and Singer (p. 12). There is much here for advocates to explore whether or not they are interested in religion and for religionists to explore whether or not they are interested in animals.
The volume includes 35 chapters across two sections, the first surveying the place of nonhumans in 15 representative world religions, the second treating particular issues grouped under the headings "Human Interaction with Animals," "Killing and Exploitation," "Religious and Secular Law," "Evil and Theodicy," and "Souls and Afterlife." The book resembles in scope Lisa Kemmerer's helpful survey Animals and World Religions (Oxford University Press, 2011), though the multicontributor format allows a deep dive into the subject matter by authors who are both specialists and practitioners of the religions examined (p. 16).
The book is wide-ranging, but it coheres. The editors identify seven proanimal ideas emerging from these studies: the good beyond the human, our relatedness to fellow beings, the experience of reverence for life, the intrinsic value of each sentient being, [End Page 91] sensitivity to animal suffering, selfless living, and future or eschatological anticipation (pp. 2–9). If there is an eighth to add, I suggest it is the connection between animals and human flourishing. Whereas cruelty, indifference, self-absorption, and exclusion of other created beings are detrimental to spiritual well-being, respect for other animals is life-affirming and enriching. The language of several theologies seems to incline toward triadic clusters, suggesting the harmonious interplay of the sacred with humanity and animals as a component of enlightened and robust spirituality. Indian theistic traditions, to illustrate, offer a vision of yogic perfection bringing together "celebration of the divine, the sustenance and liberation of the human, and the protection of the animal dimensions of being" (Kenneth Valpey, p. 78). Nature is the "essence of religion" in indigenous American cultures and remembrance of a time when animals and humans lived together peacefully "is shared by many tribes" and is indeed "the purpose of physical existence" (Sidney Blankenship, pp. 118–19). Vespers prayers in Orthodox Christianity recognize "the companionship of the animals fills our hearts with warmth and hope" (Kallistos Ware, p. 128). For Rastafarians, "animals are links between the Creator and humans; that is, our relationship with the divine is fleshed out in a dedicated stewardship over what the Creator has so lovingly entrusted to our care" (Adrian Anthony McFarlane, p. 137). Humanity's tendency to disrupt the triad, through cruelty or thoughtlessness, is a self-inflicted wound.
Animal advocates ought to take these ancient wisdoms seriously if only because religions hold the allegiance of the vast majority of the world's population. As the editors argue, it would be strategically naïve "to overlook the sheer numerical force of religious believers today" (p. 14). The most logical way to persuade adherents is to use their language. To show them what their own scriptures and what their own exegetical traditions say about animals matters far more than any purely secular, philosophical arguments that do not reflect their worldviews.
To be sure, there are ambiguities in religious studies approaches to animals. Contributors...