In Genesis, man was given dominion over the animal world, a position that speaks of stewardship. But modern consumerism turns a blind eye to, for example, the horrific conditions of meat processing.
Blessings will be bestowed on animals on Oct. 4, the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, the Catholic patron saint of animals. One doesn’t have to be religious to know the blessings of four-footed companionship. But people of faith must extend their concern beyond beloved pets, according to author Laura Hobgood-Oster.
Her new book, “The Friends We Keep: Unleashing Christianity’s Compassion for Animals,” is set for release on Oct. 1 and it shares how God’s mandate of kindness and care for the less fortunate includes the animal world.
We reap what we sow. Consider the ecological degradation caused by monoculture fish farming when badly practiced. Likewise, inhumane animal treatment inside ‘factory farms’ and slaughterhouses affects consumer health. The disappearance of animal habitats and rain forests is a global scourge.
?At the heart of this is the mistreatment of animals. Hobgood-Oster poses that Christianity offers moral guidance to address these issues. Why a focus on Christianity? As the largest religious tradition, with two billion practitioners, Christians can affect change by applying the workings of their faith to voice concern and take action.
Laura Hobgood-Oster is a professor of Religion and Environmental Studies at Southwestern University in Texas, and she has a long-time involvement in animal rescue. The treatment of animals (thoroughbred racing, dog fighting, puppy mills, factory farming or hunting for the kill) is a matter of conscience for everyone. The concept of relationship forms the heart of her book.
In Genesis, man was given dominion over the animal world, a position that speaks of stewardship. But modern consumerism turns a blind eye to, for example, the horrific conditions of meat processing. Chickens are de-beaked to prevent them from pecking during a lifetime in tightly packed cages. Teeth are removed from pigs to stop them from gnawing in frustration the iron bars of their tiny metal crates, in which they must lie immobile without fresh air or straw.
According to the EPA, there are 17,000 large “confined animal feeding operations” in the United States. This cruel but highly efficient system of industrial farming, perfected in America, is now being exported to China and India. Is this how God meant creation to be handled?
A more merciful handling of animals that provide our food supply should be an aspect of Christian practice. Another example is horse racing. Hobgood-Oster wrote, “Horses thrive on running. Whether or not horses love to run is not the question in thoroughbred horse racing. The problem is with the conditions under which they are compelled to run: their physical makeup, their genetics and the pressure imposed on their bodies by their owner and trainers, as well as by all the spectators and gamblers.”
Hobgood-Oster believes the presence of animals in the Bible denotes divine favor. Jesus is born in a stable among sheep and cattle. God made special provision for the saving of wildlife on Noah’s Ark. The lion, ox and the eagle symbolize the gospels of Mark, Luke and John. In Matthew 6:26-27, when Jesus advises that trust in God will trump worrying, he said, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”
Modern-day rescue stories, the role of animals in the lives of saints, scriptures and scientific research all bolster Hobgood-Oster’s premise:
“Thinking about animals as only and always mere symbols is a way of escaping our responsibility to real animals. It serves to reinforce human superiority and dominance over compassion and connection.”
Nowadays, with the exception of family pets, distance from the animal world grows ever greater. What children learn about the wild kingdom mainly comes from watching television. The farther we drift from a connection to the natural world, the less we care about what happens to it.
For those who would heed scriptures, “The Friends We Keep” makes a compelling case that God created all living things to exist in relationship to humankind. We have a moral responsibility of kindness and concern to non-human beings. In turn, animals sustain our existence, both physically as food and emotionally as companions. Turn a blind eye to their plight and we underwrite our own undoing.
Email Suzette Standring at email@example.com or visit www.readsuzette.com.