Ethicist Makes Case for Animals

By Hanlon Rubio, Julie | National Catholic Reporter, March 28, 2014 | Go to article overview

Ethicist Makes Case for Animals


Hanlon Rubio, Julie, National Catholic Reporter


In this short, engaging book, Fordham University theologian Charles Camosy calls Christians to think harder about their relationship with animals. If we claim to be supporters of justice, nonviolence and environmentalism, can we still engage in common practices such as eating meat, owning pets and hunting?

Camosy roots his argument not in sentimental pleas to save cute animals, but in clear-headed claims about justice. He defines justice as a duty of "consistently and actively working to see that individuals and groups--especially vulnerable populations on the margin--are given what they are owed." He suggests that when we condemn NFL quarterback Michael Vick for his support of dogfighting, but continue to buy bacon made from pigs who are-at least as social and smart as dogs," we act inconsistently and unjustly. Though Christians did not invent the idea that human beings have the right to use animals as they choose, they have used the idea of "dominion- to justify mistreatment of animals. Camosy provides an alternate reading of the Genesis creation narrative, showing that "the world is not created for human beings. Indeed all creatures have goodness independent of human beings."

Christians committed to nonviolence seek a world in which "swords are beaten in plowshares" (Isaiah 2:4) and "The wolf shall lie down with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them" (Isaiah 11:6). Camo sy asks us to evaluate the consistency of our ethical decision making, not just for humans but for nonhumans. Even if the Bible recounts that God permits animal sacrifice and eating after the flood, Camosy, relying on Genesis and Isaiah, argues, "God's will for nonhuman animals is clear: They are to be our companions, not our food." He highlights the stories of saints and other great Christian figures (including J.R.R. Tolkien and

C.S. Lewis) who wrestled with the implications of the Christian vision for human and nonhuman animals.

Contemporary Catholic thinkers ask Christians to view environmentalism as part of their commitment to be good stewards of the Earth. In this context, we are called to live counter culturally, limiting travel, living with less stuff, using less electricity and natural gas, just to name a few examples. Camosy draws on publications of the animal agriculture industry to argue that the factory farms--where most of the meat we eat is raised--are not only engaged in animal cruelty, but are also major contributors to environmental destruction. One of the most significant actions Christians can take to lessen their eco-footprint is to limit their intake of meat, especially meat from factory farms. Care for the Earth, nonviolence and justice all seem to point in the same direction.

Camosy's argument will be controversial, even though he tries to head off major objections. (For example: Didn't Jesus eat animals? Don't humans need to eat meat?) The most serious questions are both theoretical and practical. At the theoretical level, we might ask if humans have a special place in creation that justifies some use of animals, even if we ought to treat them more justly. At the practical level, the question of balancing competing goods is key For most households, eating humanely raised meat will cost a lot more, even if they eat less. The duty to treat animals well can conflict with duties to give money to charity, buy fair trade and prepare meals that all family members can enjoy. …

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