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The human animal and other species

23 September 2009


From Mary Roe

Sir, — My eye was drawn to the letter last week from my near-namesake, Mary Rose Roe (I am Mary Primrose Roe). I share her obvious concern for the welfare of all living creatures, and I agree that we do not readily express our gratitude for the animals that provide meat for those of us who are not strict vegetarians.

I do not think, however, that we are on the right track when we try to blur the distinction between human beings and other sentient, clearly intelligent animals. We Christians believe that we are made in the im­age of the Triune God, and our hu­man imagination, which mirrors the Spirit, is what enables us to en­vis­age what a cat, a dog, a cow, or any other familiar animal may be feeling. That is not present in any other animal.

I have had pets who have been very sensitive to my mood, and have tried to offer what comfort they can, but they cannot begin to imagine why I am worried about a child who is being bullied at school, for ex­ample. An animal’s devotion and sensitivity is undoubtedly God-given, and has a large part to play in our experience of eternal life: the joy they have given remains part of us long after their lives have ended.

Nevertheless, the properties that separate human beings from other life-forms, such as language, im­agination — our soul — do not make us superior to them, or give us the right to exploit or abuse them, but quite the opposite, because we can foresee the effects of all that we do, and can acknowledge when we have done wrong.

Our faith is expressed in the creed: God, the creator of all things, visible and invisible, became incarnate in human form. We cannot escape our calling to live as the Body of Christ by denying part of our humanity.

1 The North Lodge, Kings End
Bicester, Oxon OX26 6NT

From Dr Martin Henig

Sir, — I agree with Mary Rose Roe that, as Christians, we should never forget that God created all animals. Mary Roe does not go far enough, however. Is it really Christian to “enjoy eating meat”? The cruelty to animals, mental as well as physical, inherent in abattoirs — mothers dragged from their offspring, and the ever-present stench of death — haunts my mind as entirely counter to the self-denying love preached by our Lord Jesus Christ.

By the same token, I am certain it is wrong to practise vivisection. As a member of Voice for Ethical Research in Oxford, I have been examining the issue from an ethical and Christian perspective; there (at least) I know I am treading in the footsteps of eminent Tractarians, including John Henry Newman.

It is certain that spirituality is not confined to one species (primates, elephants, and dolphins have all been proved to have complex emotional lives). In consequence, we as religious people have a solemn duty of care for the rest of creation.

Surely our Lord asks us to be radical. Loving the whole of creation is a good place to start.

St Stephen’s House
Oxford OX4 1JX

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