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Christianity and animal rights

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Title: Christianity and animal rights  
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Subject: History of Christianity, Christian ethics, United Poultry Concerns, Vivisection, Humanitarian League
Collection: Animal Rights, Christian Culture, Christian Ethics, Christianity and Society, History of Christianity
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Christianity and animal rights

Depictions of Jesus have often shown him in terms of animal-related imagery such as that of the 'good shepherd', an example being this 16th century work by Philippe de Champagne.

The relationship between Christianity and animal rights has been a complex one that's varied greatly depending on the historical context, with different Christian communities in different nations coming to very different conclusions. The matter is closely related to, but still distinct to and broader than, efforts by Christian vegetarians as well as Christian environmentalists. Majority viewpoints in many nations have held that animals must be treated humanely beyond mere inanimate objects, yet the details of how exactly to do so have remained under dispute.

Many Christian philosophers and socio-political figures have stated that individuals should follow the example of Humane Society, have undergone religious outreach using such arguments.[1]

Nevertheless, general Christian attitudes held in the religious mainstream have been labeled as "amazingly callous towards animals" as well as "neglectful and dismissive".[2] Many Christians have asserted that animals are to be seen mostly as a means to an end, akin to commercial products or non-living natural resources, which people utilize in order to serve humanity's desires. Ideology plays a major role in this debate, as individuals from a politically right-wing, conservative background holding to traditionalist, fundamentalist, and/or evangelical Christianity tend to view animals more as mere resources. In contrast, those with centrist views or sympathies tending towards the left (associated with progressive Christianity and secularism) have been more supportive of animal rights measures. However, these broad trends have numerous exceptions.


  • Background and details 1
    • Biblical context 1.1
    • Christian perspectives 1.2
  • Secular responses and additional debate 2
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • External link 5

Background and details

Biblical context

This image shows the Book of Isaiah, written in its original Hebrew, on a scroll.

The role of animals in the Bible, and questions of the relationships between animals and people, is a complex one. As remarked by Christian writer Jack Zavada, "Most interpreters of the Bible assume that man’s likeness to God and animals’ subservience to man implies that animals may have the 'breath of life', nephesh chay in Hebrew, but not an immortal soul in the same sense as man’s." The book of Genesis describes humanity as being made in God's image as well as being given general dominion over the other beings of the earth. No mention is made of Adam and Eve consuming animal flesh, nor of them in any way harming animals through ill treatment.[3] The creatures co-exist in a relationship sense rather than an exploitative one.[2]

A variety of passages have been cited in support for caring about animal welfare in the broad sense, an example being how Proverbs 12:10 states that a "righteous man cares about his animal's health."

More specifically, meat-eating and other forms of using some animals for human benefit receive an explicit approval by God in the aftermath of the events from the expulsion from Eden to the end of the global flood. A Genesis 9:3 (NIV) section states: "Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything."[3] The general viewpoint among both Jews and Christians has long been that a clear distinction exists between people and non-human animals, and the former has control over the latter to enrich the former, though moral guidelines still remain to limit such actions.

In another factor as well, animal sacrifice plays a major role in many sections of the Bible, reflective of the practice's widespread nature in early Judaism. Specific instances include Leviticus 1:2 (NIV): "Speak to the Israelites and say to them: 'When any of you brings an offering to the Lord, bring as your offering an animal from either the herd or the flock.'"[3] A consensus viewpoint doesn't exist as to the exact meaning and reasoning behind said sacrifices, even if they have been interpreted as perhaps symbolizing the returning to God the sense of the 'power over life' in reverential tribute to how God served as the maker of creation to begin with. As remarked by theologian Rev. Dr. Andrew Linzey, "there’s no one view of animal sacrifices even by those who practiced it."[2]

In terms of the afterlife and the world to come, descriptions of heaven describe an existence without violence and strife either among non-human animals or in their relationship to people. For example, Isaiah 65:25 (NIV) states: "The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, but dust will be the serpent’s food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord."[3] The depiction of how God's ideal new earth will look like can be interpreted as a signal that human beings should minimize violence as much as possible in terms of all animals.[2]

Jesus Christ in the New Testament exists not just as the core theological figure in Christian thought but also as a moral icon to look to as an inspiration in terms of Christian ethics. Looking at the canonical gospels, Jesus did not directly identify being a vegetarian and did not act like one.[2] Biblical passages associate Jesus and his followers with fishing, which could be an implied support for meat-eating (at least of that type) specifically.[1] In the larger context of animal rights, though, the association of Jesus as a 'good shepherd' character, one taking things so far that "the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep", establishes a moral theme of those that are stronger and more powerful being willing to sacrifice for the weaker and less powerful, all out of love. This can be taken as inspiration for animal welfare advocacy by modern Christians.[2]

Christian perspectives

Leo Tolstoy, a Russian novelist regarded as one of the greatest writers of all time, has strongly influenced debates on Christian moral thinking, including towards animals.

The tradition of Christian vegetarianism has long been a minority viewpoint among Christian communities, though its history has gone back many decades in religious thought. Leo Tolstoy’s views, as expressed in things such as his famous 1909 essay about a slaughterhouse, have remained influential for years. Later writers that cite his comments on animal rights include Catholic columnist Mary Eberstadt.[1]

The Catechism of the Catholic Church takes the position that Christians are called to express kindness to the world's creatures in general, and people possess a moral obligation to avoid causing unnecessary suffering to animals. Meat-eating in the context of nourishment is permitted. Examples of Roman Catholic figures that have written in favor of animal rights and against factory farming, though not strictly being vegetarians themselves, include Fordham University professor Charles Camosy and the aforementioned columnist Mary Eberstadt. The former wrote the work For Love of Animals: Christian Ethics, Consistent Action on the subject, which the latter praised while writing for National Review.[1]

Opinions within the

  • Robert Wayner - "The Christian Basis for Animal Welfare and Vegetarianism"

External link

  1. ^ a b c d e f g Oppenheimer, Mark (December 6, 2013). "Scholars Explore Christian Perspectives on Animal Rights".  
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Berry, Rynn (February 1996). "Christianity and Animals: An Interview with Andrew Linzey". Satya. Retrieved October 6, 2015. 
  3. ^ a b c d Zavada, Jack. "Do Animals Have Souls?".  
  4. ^
  5. ^ "Professor David Clough".  


See also

[I]t’s right for animal rights people to be critical and judgmental of the Christian tradition. It has been amazingly callous towards animals. Christian theologians have been neglectful and dismissive of the cause of animals— and many still are. Christians and Jews have allowed their ancient texts— such as Genesis— to be read as licensing tyranny over animals... [and] animal rights people sometimes look on Christianity as though it was unambiguously "the enemy." I think it is wrong to write off Christianity in this way. All religious traditions have great resources for a very positive ethic in relation to animals. I would go further and say that however awful the record of Christianity has been, Christian theology has some unique insights fundamental to valuing animal life. From my perspective, without a sense of ultimate meaning and purpose, it is difficult, if not impossible, to justify any kind of moral endeavor... I’m one of those people who believe that morality really depends upon vision.[2]

The aforementioned Rev. Dr. Andrew Linzey commented in 1996 that:

Peter Singer has argued in publications such as his seminal book Animal Liberation, first published in 1975, that Christian thought has contributed to animal cruelty and suffering. He's cited commentary from figures such as Aquinas about humanity's innate right to control the natural world as holding back progress in animal rights. However, Singer later stated that he had changed his views in part given the complexity of different views towards animals among different Christians.[1]

Philosopher Peter Singer is pictured here at MIT's campus speaking in 2009.

Secular responses and additional debate

In terms of the Methodist tradition, figures such as University of Chester professor and author David Clough have held a respect for the rights of animals should exist given that, in Christian terms, God deliberately created the creatures of the world and proclaimed them all as good. He's written that how non-humans are "reconciled to God in Jesus Christ and will be redeemed by God in the new creation" accordingly creates duties for mankind. Besides serving as a Methodist pastor, he's President of the Society for the Study of Christian Ethics.[1][5]

In 1992, Anglican figures arguing in support of taking a stance against animal cruelty succeeded in having forty-one bishops signing a pledge not to wear fur because of the suffering inflicted, with the pledge getting some attention. However, the debate undertaken by the General Synod in 1990 about both hunting and factory farming practices done on Church-owned land ended with said practices being allowed to go on.[2]


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