And then we come to the churches. Where are they? The answer is that they are nowhere in this debate. With a few honourable exceptions – and I mean a very few – English archbishops and bishops haven’t even addressed the issue in the past decade or more. Almost all church leaders, who are normally loquacious in lamenting regressive social policies, can’t even register animal cruelty as a problem.
They talk airily of environmental responsibility, but, when it comes to confronting our specific duties to other sentient creatures, fall silent. What is true about the church’s teaching is even more true of the church’s liturgy. A prayer for the welfare of God’s other creatures is nowhere to be found in its liturgical offerings. And why is it that those Christian pioneers, like Arthur Broome who effectively founded the RSPCA, are not remembered in such hallowed places as this?
All this represents not just a failure in moral perception, but a fundamental failure in theology, much deeper and much more profound than is commonly appreciated. Ludwig Feuerbach famously argued that Christianity is nothing other than the self-aggrandisement, even deification, of the human species.6 Christian theology needs animals to save itself – and ourselves – from idolatry. By “idolatry”, I mean the attempt to deify the human species by regarding the interests of human beings as the sole or exclusive concern of God the Creator.
To avoid this charge, theology needs to show that it can provide what it promises – namely a truly Godward (rather than a simply anthropocentric) view of the world. Its obsession with human beings to the exclusion of all else betokens a deeply unbalanced doctrine of the Creator.
Christians haven’t got much further than thinking that the whole world was made for us, with the result that animals are only seen in an instrumental way as objects, machines, tools, and commodities, rather than fellow creatures. We just haven’t grasped that the God who meets us in Jesus is also the Logos through whom – and for whom – all creatures exist. To think that animals can be defined by what they do for us, or how they meet our needs, is profoundly un-theological.
The truth is that we are spiritually blind in our relations to other creatures, as blind as men have been to women, whites have been to blacks, and straights have been to gays.