THIS is a remarkable book written by a remarkable person. Joyce D’Silva was the chief executive of the charity Compassion in World Farming and is now its Ambassador Emeritus. She has written extensively on animal-welfare issues, and this, her latest book, is the result of much detailed research, conversations with faith leaders, and personal reflection.
It examines the relationship between people and animals in the teaching and practice of the five great world religions, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism, besides looking at the beliefs and practices of Indigenous peoples from the United States and Australia, and at Jainism, Sikhism, and Rastafarianism.
Some 80 billion animals are killed for human consumption each year, and more than 100 million are used in research and product-testing. Many of the animals that we eat will have been reared in intensive or “factory” farms, where they are treated as commercial stock rather than sentient beings. More than 80 per cent of the world’s population claim to belong to a faith tradition; so the relationship between faith and practice is significant.
The great world religions call for compassion and care towards animals, with whom God created us to share this planet. This book quotes many of the sacred scriptures, texts, and sayings of respected religious teachers about what should be our attitude towards animals and our duty of care towards them.
This book is an easy and informative read for those with little or no knowledge of other faiths, but it is also an uncomfortable read in that it shows how the abuse of animals is on the increase. It looks at industrial farming methods, slaughter and sacrifice, hunting and sport, vivisection, experimentation and testing, and the impact on the environment. The gap between religious belief and practice is strikingly clear.
D’Silva does not claim to be a theologian, in which case she might have named the gap between faith and practice as sin, but she has clearly grasped the theological teachings behind the world religions in their attitude towards animals and the sometimes contradictory opinions that exist. The book is well referenced, and there is a useful glossary.
In her chapter on Christianity, the author reflects on the teachings of St Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, and Père Bougeant in seeing animals as simply serving human needs; but, on a positive note, she highlights the contemporary teachings of the Methodist theologian Professor David Clough, Pope Francis, and the late Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios. The reader is reminded that the RSPCA was founded by an Anglican, the Revd Arthur Broome, and the Anglican Society for the Welfare of Animals is mentioned.
This is an important book for people of faith, and a call for them to face the truth about their treatment of animals and the need to take a fresh look at how we shop, what we eat, and how to protect our environment. D’Silva extends an invitation to people of faith to put their faith into practice. She writes: “If caring for other sentient beings and extending a gentle spirit of fraternity towards them is something we can do, then let’s do it! We are all in this together.”
The Rt Revd Dominic Walker OGS is a former Bishop of Monmouth.
Animal Welfare in World Religion: Teaching and practice
Church Times Bookshop £26.99