Sunday, 20 April 2014

One Christian's Conscience on ~ Animal Welfare

This exchange took place on Snowbrush's blog and I decided I would respond. I can't speak for anyone but myself, obviously, but Christianity gets a bad rap and it is a pity because it is the Christians rather than the Christ who let the show down.
"This woman who tried to get her church people to help with 60 kittens and cats she found abandoned, and none would..."
"I've never known of a church to do anything to help animals. I think it safe to say that, as an entity, the church regards animals as unimportant, probably because they aren't perceived as having souls (and therefore emotions much like our own), and partly because the Bible describes them as being put here for the use of the human species. Help a person, and you might save a soul from everlasting torment (or at least oblivion). Help an animal, and it will be forever dead in 5-10 years anyway."
I believe that the church as an institution should primarily be busy with the concerns of humanity and that those needs are so extensive that we need to direct limited resources towards people. I don't believe that animals are unimportant, lacking in souls or immune to physical or emotional suffering, therefore it is the responsibility of all Christians, as private citizens, to be responsible for their own treatment of animals, both in their direct interaction with animals and indirectly through their spending habits. The bible is clear on it's instruction for us to be stewards of all we are given and it is also specific about the need to show compassion to our animals.

I learnt compassionate treatment of animals as a child in my parent's home, I very much doubt that Mum or Dad regarded it as a specifically Christian compulsion, more one of general decent humanity but of course, nobody can lay claim to Christianity if they are unable to achieve a life of basic decency.

As I have extended my awareness of all sorts of things I have realised that it is not just the animals I come into direct contact with that need my consideration but also the ones I am responsible for by way of how I spend. I can't say that every animal product I buy is completely ethical. I am aware, for example, that male calves born in the dairy industry are often quickly and wastefully disposed of, yet I continue to enjoy dairy products with (mostly) little thought of the calves. I ease my conscience on this matter by sometimes substituting dairy products with plant based alternatives and acknowledging that even small changes in habit are great when multiplied by repetition and lasting change is better achieved when one enters into it slowly but with full commitment.
I buy free range chicken at times and always barn laid or free range eggs, I also cook one or two meat free meals every week for the purposes of killing less animals, lessening our family's environmental impact by way of meat production and teaching my children to regard animal products more as a luxury than some kind of inalienable right. Now that my conscience has demanded these actions and believing that conscience is God's instruction, tailored to me personally, it becomes a sin for me to revert to any old habits.

I started this post by referencing sixty abandoned kittens and cats and while I have no inclination to add to our current menagerie, if I were faced with an immediate need like that one, I would have no hesitation in giving foster care to a homeless cat or two and would then try to rehome them myself or find a reputable shelter to leave them in.

Speaking of shelters, my charity dollar is sometimes directed towards animal welfare but with limited funds my donations are limited so I also use the commercial side of RSPCA operations as vet care providers for my own animals, that way an unavoidable expense has some value to an animal welfare charity. 

I would never buy an animal from a puppy farm or pet shop while there are shelters full of rescue opportunities and I regard the spay/ neutering of any animal I own as an essential part of responsible pet ownership.

You may argue that my efforts towards animal welfare are merely efforts at ethical behaviour, in no way related to Christianity and i would agree that I don't need to be Christian to have ethics, ultimately the difference is in accountability. If I am to identify as an ethical human being I am responsible to myself and the animals. As a Christian I am bound by my own conscience in tandem with written biblical instruction to be compassionate and a good steward, with these factors in mind I become accountable to God Himself for my actions in these matters. 


  1. Thanks Kylie.
    The followers and the interpretation lets a lot of religions down.
    Another non-believer here, but thank you for acknowledging that I can still have ethics (and morals), something I have been told that ONLY Christians have (see the preceding sentence).
    Life is a work in progress for me, and I battle some of the same issues you do. I don't eat meat, but my partner does and we both eat dairy products. With some soy for me.
    Some of my charity dollars also go to animal welfare (usually wildlife) and both our cats are rescue cats. A drop in the ocean, but the ocean is made up of drops...

  2. EC
    i thought of you as i wrote the post , i appreciate that you have such a differing view but dont find it neccessary to make a big deal of it.
    i'm thinking this could become a series so forgive me that :)

    i'm pretty sure a lot of Christians (like a lot of people in general) have inferiority complexes and they use their ongoing commitment to a life of religion (not true faith)as the factor that helps them to gain traction and feel momentarily superior. its not a pretty state of affairs but altogether human

  3. Both Strayer and Snow (both of whom I follow) have had a more direct and painful exposure to people wearing religious hats. I have largely flown under the radar, for which I am thankful.
    And it is your blog - so feel free to write whatever you want/need.
    I am quite often ashamed of our species. Religious or not.

  4. OK first off the first use of the word soul is in Genesis "...and God blew into their nostrils and man became a living soul..." That word soul in Hebrew is Nephesh and simply means breath life, in later places animals are referred to as being nephesh.

    My dog may not be able to do calculus but she certainly has the ability to think and understand.

    Ah then *religion* the word is never used once in either the old or new testament. There is a word in Hebrew that is used, I forget what it is right now but the basic meaning is as you have described Kylie religion is supposed to be a way of life that includes every action one takes during the moments of their life.

    That the church folks have no compulsion to care for one or two cats is not a moral lapse on their part, a lack of humanity possibly because most of those cats will be euthanized. But you said it perfectly correct sin is exclusive to ones spiritual choices and what is sin to me may not be sin to you.

    Paul points this out dramatically when talking about eating food sacrificed to idols. If you feel you are saving or changing your footprint of use of resources by going meatless then you are. Man will never be fully herbivore but I wonder if we were would we still look at animals as something we should breed and would we pollute our cops with pesticides as we do?

  5. Mark,
    My own lack of biblical scholarship lets me down when there is real knowledge needed so thanks for the added insight, i truly value it!

    I have to say that even if we were herbivores we would probably still arrogantly believe that we could breed companion animals or animals for entertainment.
    The state of our food supply is appalling and we are all the worse for it, spiritually as well as physically.


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