Navigation: This page '' ---> New View Overview ---> New View Main Page ---> abxn Main Page. About This Page. Contact.

On Animals and Plants

Tonight, Prof. David Clough of the University of Chester spoke on how it was Christians of Methodist and Evangelical persuasion who were most active in the 1800s against animal cruelty, but that now such Christians pay little attention to this issue. That, however, is a concern for individuals and David mentioned two other levels are areas, to give three areas of concern:

The Challenge

Christians (of an evangelical persuasion) worked in the first 150 years ago; see see Phil Sampson's YouTube on 'Evangelicals and Animals'. Some Christians are working in the third today; for example the Faith in Scholarship FISWES group is applying Christian ideas to reconsider the notion of ecosystem services (no web page available). However, few or no evangelical Christians have worked in the second area, about species. Furthermore, there is very little discourse between the groups working in the first and third - and sometimes even disdain.

In the churches, there is very little teaching on any of them. Probably, this is because the theological treatment of any or all of them is still too weak and uncompelling. We do not even know what the theological issues are in each area, or know only partial sets of issues.

The challenge we face as Christians is:

How should we stimulate active exploration of issues
in all three areas?

How should we stimulate discourse
between those involved in different areas?

Can we Address the Challenge?

The importance of each area cannot be readily seen from the perspective of the others. Nor can the issues in each area. For example, from an ecosystem perspective we might decide to trap and kill grey squirrels near Formby in order to protect the struggling colony of red squirrels, or we might tap and kill mink in order to protect water voles (two examples given by David Clough). But doing this means that the individual grey squirrels or mink suffer or have their right to life ignored. What should we do? From a species perspective, we might distort the ecosystem and kill individuals in order to protect a rare species. From an individual perspective, when ecologists with to cull cats that are harming bird life, we are concerned about the suffering of those individual cats.

It might be an answer to refrain from killing and merely transport the individuals to places where they are appropriate. Some will protest at the costs of doing this, but I ignore those protests because history shows us that when we do the right thing, even against received financial indicators, then things flourish in ways we did not expect. It is as though God had woven into the fabric of creation many surprises that await those who risk doing the right thing. (See 'God's Ways Work'.)

However, that does not solve our problem. We still need a sound understanding of the three areas - their issues and the basis of their importance - and of the relationships between them. We need a basis for approaching this.

A Different Approach?

The reasoning above is about trying to balance the 'harm' suffered by individuals, species and ecosystems. I prefer not to try to reason like that, partly because it depends on wide agreement over a long period on how we might 'measure' the value of things in each area and 'balance' one against the other. I believe that any quantitative measure of such things is not only meaningless but misleading.

Instead, I prefer to think differently. Perhaps the principles of what I have so far called the 'New View' will help us. They are:

Some Specific Questions

So, when faced with the question of individuals, species and ecosystems, it may be that we can find useful questions to ask ourselves from the above principles:

These questions are more precise than questions of trying to balance value, and they are also more varied, so that they offer the chance of what some researchers in the social sciences call 'triangulation'.

Note: the questions are intended to help us think through what God intended, before trying to make sense of what actually occurs at present (with the evil mixed with good). If we consider the latter first, we are left rudderless in the ocean; the former is our rudder and compass.

Starting Work

So perhaps we can begin work on these questions in order to we can work on so as to think out the issues involved and the relationship between the areas in God's eyes. Perhaps they can guide research (and provide basis for bidding for funding for research!). And perhaps we should be bold, in following the questions where they lead, rather than curbing them when they begin to challenge our lifestyle or expectations or aspirations.

Let me end with what Gus Speth once said,

"I used to think the top global environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. ...
I was wrong.
The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy
- and to deal with these, we need a spiritual and cultural transformation ..." [1]

Much of the debate, and much Christian disinterest in these issues, is predicated on our living for ourselves rather than fulfilling our mandate to be good shepherds. Did not Jesus call us to 'lose' our lives for his sake and the sake of the Father's kingdom?


David Clough, Professor of Theological Ethics, Dept. of Theology and Religious Studies, University of Chester.

Note 1. Gus Speth, Common Cause Newsletter.

This page is offered to God as on-going work in developing a 'New View' in theology that is appropriate to the days that are coming upon us. Comments, queries welcome.

Copyright (c) Andrew Basden to latest date below, but you may use this material subject to certain conditions.

Written on the Amiga with Protext.

Created: 14 October 2015 quickly after David Clough's talk. Last updated: 15 October 2015 extended the questions.