- Animals in Tillich's Philosophical Theology by Abbey-Anne Smith
Abbey-Anne Smith's new book, Animals in Tillich's Philosophical Theology, is a welcome addition to the burgeoning field of animal ethics. Since the book deals with both Tillich's theology and animal ethics, it really can be seen as two books in one. For the reader who craves a well-rounded presentation of Tillich's theology, Smith does an excellent job of laying out his basic theological (and some philosophical) concepts. Then, by applying these concepts to his treatment of animals in relationship to both human ethics and theology, she helps us see the strengths and weaknesses of Tillich's thought as it relates to our evolving views on animals in the modern world.
Since I published a related book on Tillich's relevance to ecophilosophy and environmental ethics in 2009—now updated and retitled as Faithful to Nature: Paul Tillich and the Spiritual Roots of Environmental Ethics—I am aware of, and in much agreement with, Smith's criticisms of Tillich. Though I approach Tillich primarily from the perspective of his philosophy, while Smith focuses more on his theology, we share similar goals regarding humanity's ethics toward animals: a basic acknowledgment of their intrinsic worth such that we no longer use them as unnecessary objects of a human diet, for entertainment (circuses, marine "parks," bullfights, rodeos, dog races), in unnecessary and cruel scientific research, or as objects of human vanity (furs, leather coats, shoes). [End Page 93]
At the core of her book, Smith deftly addresses the nagging issue we both seemed to grapple with regarding Tillich's placement of animals in his thought; namely, how he can speak so precisely of humanity's sinful and rapacious use of nature and the moral "perfection" of animals and yet fail to apply these insights in specific ways to the development of an animal ethic. In light of his incessant condemnation of the human tendency to commodify nature, Tillich must have been aware of the depth of animal suffering—since they are the most sentient nonhuman beings in nature. So why he didn't speak about them in a more systematic way will remain somewhat of a mystery, especially since Tillich acknowledges the profound impact Albert Schweitzer's "reverence for life" had on the development of his own life philosophy. Though Tillich does sometimes mention nonhuman animals quite sympathetically, Smith correctly observes that he really only goes so far as to imply that we should see animals as beings and not things.
Smith does give her insight into why Tillich seems to have largely left animals out of his philosophy and theology. Like most theologians and ethicists of his time, he remained in the grip of anthropocentricism, giving almost exclusive theological signifi-cance to humans. Tillich's high ontological valuation of humanity rested on the fact that we have an advanced rationality, as well as a sense of history—meaning we possess the intellectual capabilities to purposively transform the world we see and comprehend. For Tillich, these characteristics seemingly make only humans ultimately significant to God, or the Ground of Being. And for Smith this is a problem, because it means Tillich "sees the world from a humanocentric perspective, rather than a theocentric one, and this leads him back to a hierarchical vantage point with humans placed firmly at the top of the order" (p. 155). She answers this limitation of his by proposing that, instead, we should base "our sense of worth on our faithfulness to the instructions of our Creator to protect and value the rest of the created order, rather than to base our worth (and that of every other species) on ontological attributes, and specifically, intellectual capacity" (p. 155).
Tillich's persistent focus on humanity would seem to limit his relevance to environmental and animal ethics. But, as Smith admits, it's a bit more complex than this: "At first glance, Tillich's highly abstract Systematic...