Symposium Introduction

I first encountered David Clough’s work while on a treasure hunt for books discussing animals and theology. There weren’t many books about animal ethics, and, apart from the various approaches that look at how animals are honored in indigenous spiritualities, there weren’t many considerations of how animals fit within any particular theology.

In On Animals: Volume I, Clough considers where animals fit within Christian theology as a precursor to thinking about animals from a moral perspective. He understands that a sound theological framework interpreting a place for animals within Christian theology is necessary in order to move Christians towards a praxis of care for animals. He frames theology as the starting point for offering a response to oppression and suffering. As a womanist theologian, I am aware of the importance of a theology that does not perpetuate the cultural production of evil played out in various forms of systemic oppression and suffering experienced by all of creation – including humanity, nature, and animals.

I quickly discovered the importance of questions in ethics in my quest to explicate the struggle to provide a hermeneutic of suspicion even within my own liberationist ethic of care for black women in society. How does human consumption of animals, hunting animals for sport, and killing of animals for consumer products limit our love for Christ? On Animals: Volume II: Theological Ethics is the first monograph of its kind systematically confronting theological ethics concerning animals. It reveals the many ways our fallen world inhibits us from seeing how we limit our love while refusing to limit evil.

Clough does not write with the objective to “flatten hierarchy” and accommodate the unrealistic desire for clearly delineated moral categories. Clough instead emphasizes that it is best that we consider our priorities and reflect on how we might perpetuate the same exact perspectives and characteristics we seem to commit our lives to dismantling. How do our tyrannical views line up with God’s commandment that we are to care for the earth and that we are made in the imago Dei? On Animals: Volume II is an excellent book that helps readers reckon with traditional ways of thinking about our relationship with non-human animals. It seeks to foster a robust ethic of care meant to improve both human and non-human welfare. The summation of Clough’s efforts is that “acknowledging that Christian animal ethics takes place in the context of a fallen creation means that ethical action in this realm – as well as others – will be provisional and partial, seeking to act responsibly in relation to animal creatures while recognizing that our relationship with them this side of the new creation will always be broken” (237).

What I enjoy most about On Animals: Vol. II is Clough’s graciousness as he engages the reader with chapters reviewing topics that are often far removed from the argument of animal cruelty or just scenarios necessary for human evolution: using other animals for food (ch.2), using other animals for clothing and textiles (ch. 3), using other animals for labour (ch. 4), using other animals for research, medicine and education (ch. 5), using other animals for sport and entertainment (ch. 6), other animals as companions and pets (ch. 7), human impacts on wild animals (ch. 8).

I first had the pleasure of encountering the responses by María Teresa (MT) Dávila, Jennifer Herdt, Darryl Trimiew, and Eric Gregory when they were originally given at the 2019 Annual Meeting of the Society of Christian Ethics in Louisville, Kentucky. Syndicate is making those responses available along with responses Dr. Clough has written for this symposium.

In the first essay, Davila focuses on how our conduct toward animals shapes us as persons. She engages Clough’s arguments about the consumption of animals for food and clothing, noting especially the challenge of reshaping our desires manipulated by corporate spending. (For example, McDonald’s spending on marketing rates at 1/6th of all marketing dollars around the world.) In the second essay, Herdt looks more deeply into questions about the justice of “owning” animals as pets. She concludes by suggesting three possible routes to discussing animals as “property” in our society. The third essay uses the Johannine story of Jesus cooking and eating fish after his resurrection to challenge aspects of Clough’s arguments. Tremiew shows how such a text might not only resonate with personal experience, but also challenge cherished childhood memories. One of his favorite memories of his father was the regular fishing excursion every Sunday afternoon. Tremiew’s response to Clough appreciates Clough’s concerns but asks whether it attends sufficiently to “the nature and place of death as a part of life,” to natural selection, and to concerns about limiting human population. Finally, Gregory’s assessment of the text admires Clough’s ability and ease in “showing rather than theorizing what ethics might look like when it takes theology seriously and what theology might look like when it takes ethics seriously.” Gregory asks broad questions about method, about hierarchy, about eschatology, and about compromise.

M.T. Dávila

Response

“Irreconcilable Conflicts”

Moral Lessons for Humans from Clough’s Animalia

Introduction

While I don’t personally work on animal ethics, I bring three foci that I think engage constructively with David Clough’s On Animals. First, I cannot do ethics that doesn’t stem from personal stories. And, after reading a number of vignettes about Cough’s family cat, and his encounter with different animals throughout the volume, I am clear that engaging a discussion on the ethics of some really troubling contemporary practices with respect to the treatment of nonhuman animals requires engaging with personal stories. Second, engaging in ethical reflection I often move from these personal stories to family and community life. Very honestly, I do Christian ethics from the perspective of a Christian mother trying to raise a Christian family. So all ethics has to make sense to me in that context. Third, this grounding on personal stories and the context of a Christian family means that I care deeply about consumption: of clothing, of natural resources, of political capital, of food, of medical resources, etc. I have studied and written about consumption in the United States for some time, and I think there are some interesting points of intersection between these studies and Clough’s central claims in his volume. And, finally, I am committed to writing and supporting the articulated goals of the New Pro-Life Movement, which seeks to address issues typically included in the “seamless garment of life,” and specifically elective abortions, through different language, strategies, and arguments than the traditional pro-life movement.1 I think some of Clough’s key theological and ethical arguments regarding what humans owe nonhuman animals can serve the purpose of transforming some of the conversations around what constitute pro-life issues, especially as we attempt to make a bold call for including things like climate change and mass migrations as key contemporary life issues.

For my discussion I would like to draw from Clough’s overall theological claim that other animals were “created, reconciled, and redeemed by a God who wills them to flourish, and in so doing glorify their Creator,” a claim that serves as the foundation for reviewing theological ethics on the basis of the ways in which human animals do or do not honor this holy created purpose of nonhuman animals. I will especially draw from what I think is one of Clough’s most keen ethical insights in the volume, that of irreconcilable conflicts as a category that helps us ponder where Christians ought to stand with respect to animal rights in general, but that I think is helpful in pushing Christian ethics to be more intentional about the grey areas of ethical conflicts, and on which perhaps we too easily yield to polarized and absolute conclusions. In the end, while Clough and I come to the same conclusions on the kinds of decisions Christians ought to make with respect to the treatment of nonhuman animals in food production, clothing, and research, I do not agree with his central premise that this is ultimately because of what we owe these creatures on the basis of their standing before God. This is not because it is not true theologically, but because I find it ineffective in ultimately shaping human behavior. Our best chance to achieve any sort of attitudinal change with respect to our patterns of consumption—which ultimately have to do with how we behave toward nonhuman animals—will require a human teleological argument about the kinds of persons we want to become, and how much blood we are willing to carry in our hands, or wear on our feet, or eat on our plates.

Can stories bring us a little closer to knowing who we want to become?

My stories, or really short vignettes, span from the more personal to the familiar. The first, I’ll call Bear, as this is the name of my dog—or perhaps taking a cue from Clough I should speak about him as the fur-bearing creature that currently resides in my home (xxiii). Bear and I talk a lot, and it’s quite easy with domestic animals dear to us to anthropomorphize their features and behaviors. It is no mystery to me, or my children, that Bear has a calming effect on me, therapeutic even, and that I for one am a much better human being to the non-fur-bearing creatures in the household because of the furry one’s presence. A recent discovery is that Bear actually wants to hear what I have to say to him. On occasion I’ve taken to whispering to him, quite low, and have found him drawing near to me, bringing his ear nearer to my mouth to hear whatever gibberish I am saying. Why would an animal that doesn’t understand draw closer to a whispering interlocutor, unless the animal sees it as a sign of friendship, that is, that they want to be able to make out whatever the friend is saying, even when it doesn’t make sense?

The second story is Blu. Blu is an emaciated cat that my children found in, of all places, Cancun, Mexico, two years ago. My oldest daughter heard mewing in the parking lot of our hotel, and she did not stop until she found the sad sac of bones that was trying to pass for a kitten. Clough brings up precisely this example in his book: the paradigmatic emaciated kitty (xx). The children took in Blu, feeding it cream containers from the coffee station, trying to hydrate it, as we searched the internet and consulted with vets in the United States as to what it would take to bring a cat across the border. Well, the experiment was brief, as that very day we were moving to the next location of our vacation to meet other families, and we worried about how we would explain to them that hosting us now also included a cat that might die at any moment, and who would definitely impinge on plans to leave to enjoy the sights for prolonged periods of time. In the end we convinced ourselves that Blu was a kind of Artful Dodger (if you recall from Oliver Twist), who looking famished would swindle unsuspecting and compassionate vacationers out of their cream packets or even more substantial morsels, only to return to its lair at the end of the day. And so we let him go.

The last vignette is really more of a shift that occurred this year in my home. I have been vegetarian for over twenty years now, moderately so I suppose, but have not made the entire household vegetarian. I have been ok with this until last year when it became clear to me that I was using the fact that I was buying “free range” eggs, and organic and other “free range” meats as an excuse to offer nonhuman animal related food at almost every single meal. The shift occurred when the mantra “we do not have to kill an animal every time we eat” took shape in my head whenever I went shopping or when I planned menus for the day or the week. This mantra is now said aloud periodically during the week, and seems to silence my family’s complaints when they see the crockpot and beans come out more periodically than they used to. “We do not have to kill an animal every time we eat.” No discussion, no protesting.

I take the luxury of sharing these vignettes with you because one element that is important throughout Clough’s book in addition to the theological claim of nonhuman animals being co-participants in Christ’s redemptive and reconciling work, is the role of emotions in our relationship with these creatures. All three vignettes play on human emotions (and perhaps nonhuman as well). Our fur-bearing residents become like friends wanting to share in our most intimate moments—even our whispering. An emaciated cat’s meowing tugs at our heartstrings to the point of forgetting all our plans for the day, making us care about this cat, at this time. And a shift in language—from calling a meal “vegetarian” to calling it a “no kill” meal—clarifies the moral import of the decisions we make when we eat.

To entertain Clough’s vivid descriptions of the treatment of nonhuman animals in food and clothing productions, and animal experimentation requires becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable. Indeed, his ethical claims on what is owed to animals heavily relies on the emotive effect of dark and gruesome stories of factory animal farming in order to make their case (for example, in his discussion on the conditions of factory farming for food, 35–48, or farming for clothing, 95–99). There is a manipulation of sorts that takes place in every chapter—completely justified—that primes the reader to be convicted, using the full meaning of the word, with the argument that animals ought to be able to lead lives of flourishing as part of God’s plan. Personal stories that connect people’s emotional core with the moral compass have a distinctively important role to play in our conversations about animal ethics that Clough doesn’t necessarily admit to in the volume, but which is very much already at play in its pages.

What’s ultimately at stake in consuming animals for textiles and clothing?

With respect to consumption of nonhuman animals for food and clothing Clough’s argument involves a two-prong approach. Theologically, he has made the case in volume 1 that we are to see animals as co-sharers in the promises of redemption witnessed to in the Bible. I had initially faulted Clough for flattening whatever creaturely hierarchy was available in the Bible that witnesses to human priority in the order of a redeemed creation (and said as much in a conference panel responding to the book). Upon closer consideration, I realize that Clough is not advocating for the flattening of creaturely hierarchies (as diverse as there are eschatological visions in Christian theology). Clough more specifically wishes to broaden visions of creaturely reconciliation and redemption that more honestly respond to the biblical witness. In turn these demand that we ask ourselves what we might owe other creatures by virtue of being beloved by the creator and made participants of the central promises of the Christian faith. This does not represent a flattening of priorities or hierarchies (if one wishes to sustain an Augustinian or Thomistic understanding of a hierarchy of created beings). It begs the question of whether sattisfying human needs must involve the killing of these co-sharers in the kingdom.

The second prong of Clough’s argument stems from the first, is there currently any real need to kill in order to satisfy our need for food or clothing. Clough’s meticulous descriptive work makes it clear that clothing humans no longer requires the skin of our nonhuman brethren in Christ, and neither is their flesh required to attend to humanity’s nutritional needs. To apply Clough’s ethical principle, there is no intractable or irreconcilable conflict of goals that would have us accept the tragic and massive use of animals for food or clothing. Synthetic and plant alternatives abound, with, according to Clough, quite similar (and in some cases less harmful) environmental impacts on water and ground resources. In this case I ought to expand my mantra “there is no need to kill an animal for this meal” to include “there is no need to kill an animal to clothe this body.”

But on both food and clothing fronts Clough only briefly addresses the market-driven dynamics of higher production with the highest profit. For all the detailed analysis of industrial farming for food and clothing, Clough doesn’t attend to analysis of why market forces and the shaping of desire (and even awareness) of capitalism push human beings to tolerate ever-increasing levels of cruelty to both human and nonhuman animals alike.2 I would push Clough to consider beyond market dynamics to truly analyze consumption as a social and moral phenomenon of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Consumption is a theological problem, one that shapes desire toward inordinate acquisition of goods. This includes clothing and food, among other consumer goods. And the shaping of desire, the multi-billion-dollar industry of advertising and marketing, benefits particular elements of our society. It purposely establishes barriers between the production of goods (workers, how raw materials are sourced, transportation of goods) and the consumer making it nearly impossible for consumers to easily access this information in order to apply their ethical values to their consumer choices. Production of goods and the market forces that shape entire industries and consumption patterns are not morally neutral, and have deep impacts for human well-being, and, add Clough’s argument, for all creatures. Just imagine that in the United States one out of every six advertising dollars in the restaurant industry is spent by McDonald’s.3 A sixth of all restaurant advertising. To be honest I thought this figure would be more. In the UK McDonald’s spends eighty-six million pounds in advertising.4 Animal and worker welfare and environmental concerns are not considerations in these companies’ bottom lines, let alone whether we might owe nonhuman animals some measure of protection for their flourishing (to use Clough’s language) due to their identity before a redeeming and reconciling God.

Deeper systems theory analysis of consumption would, I think, supplement Clough’s arguments, but also provide more balance as to how to make the fullest theological argument possible about not just the identity of all creatures before a reconciling and redeeming God who shares a plan of salvation for all creation, but of how profoundly sin impacts our ability to live into this eschatological vision, often in ways unbeknownst to us. Considerations of animals as “the poor” in the preferential option for the poor, for example, require that we understand the systemic forces that impact people’s lives, particularly consumption, who historically have benefited from these dynamics and systems, and who systemically get consumed.

Things we tolerate

We have come to tolerate a great many things as a society: child labor, abortion on demand, resource extraction at massive and irreplaceable scale, the gassing of humans at the border (between the United States and Mexico, but also along other contentious borders, such as Hungary’s). Any situation that threatens the systems set up by global capitalism (such as during the Occupy Wall Street and #BlackLivesMatter movements) is met with deep resistance by the powers that benefit from these systems, often employing legal and political avenues to block access to knowledge about their industry (such as gag laws protecting industrial farming) and the arm of the law to interrupt the momentum of these movements critical of networks of global capitalism.

The moral toleration of the cruelty and killing we enact on our brethren creatures, participants in the covenant of salvation according to Clough, is in part manufactured. And yet, it is one of the most powerful forces dominating the morality of consumption. It is not only that we ought to stop consuming animals for clothing and food, but that we ought to consider why we are consuming so much to begin with. Here is where a focus on the subject of consumption seems to me to be a first step, prior to theological reflection on the ontological nature of animals. Focus on a human subject ethics of animal care—about who we become as humans who consume—more readily asks the question of inordinate consumption than an animal ethic based on the identity of animals before God. The latter does not force us to question the role and hold consumption has in defining who we are.

But Clough is talking first and foremost to Christians. That conversation must admit that “the flourishing of animals matters to God, and Christians are called to conform their love to God’s love, and to care for those God cares for” (2). I especially appreciate the language Clough provides for negotiating seemingly irreconcilable conflicts among God’s beloved creatures, a key question in discussions on end of life ethics. Specifically, Clough proposes that “the place of animal creatures on God’s gracious acts of creation, reconciliation, and redemption, and the vocation of Christians to live lives that respond to this divine initiative, provide prima facie reasons to avoid causing harm to fellow animal creatures and to promote their flourishing” (9). “To avoid causing harm” to God’s beloved creatures reminds Christians that all are in a complex web of life—and, yes, death—intimitaly bonded to divine life. I am hopeful and excited about the possibilities that this conversation focusing on animal rights and flourishing can bring to the conversation on the flourishing of the life of unborn humans, as well as that of women in crisis pregnancies, people in various stages of terminal and challenging illnesses, and physical and mental impairments. These are conversations that in Christian circles have been stagnant for some time, made intractable by their political weight, that could greatly benefit from an infusion of new theological and ethical language that promotes the flourishing of all. Clough places the moral question of the consumption of animals beyond the irreconcilable conflict of requiring animals for clothing or food. Modern technology and agriculture allow this level of reflection. Conversely, his reflection could promote conversations on contentious end of (human) life ethics that had previously not been possible, and that consider what is owed to all life worthy of God’s creative, reconciling, and redemptive action. In my estimation this conversation becomes most fruitful when we begin and end with a discussion of the types of creatures we want to become, and the level of true harm and suffering we are willing to cause to other creatures beloved by God.


  1. https://thenewprolifemovement.com/.

  2. Authors such as William Cavanaugh, Daniel Bell, Keri Day, Willie Jennings, and myself have developed different arguments of how capitalism shapes desire in ways that alter our moral compas with respect to cruelty, violence, and the dehumanizing impacts of consumption on consumers, workers, and the environment. See, e.g., Bell, Liberation Theology at the End of History: The Refusal to Cease Suffering (New York: Routledge, 2001), and The Economy of Desire: Christianity and Capitalism in a Postmodern World (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2012); Cavanaugh, Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008); Maria Teresa Dávila, “The CHuck-E-Cheese CHallenge (Simple Living),” in Encountering the Sacred: Feminist Reflections on Women’s Lives, edited by Grace Kao and Rebecca Todd Peters (New York: Bloomsbury, 2018); and Day, Religious Resistance to Neoliberalism: Womanist and Black Feminist Perspectives (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016).

  3. Kim Bhasin, “How Much McDonald’s Tries to Entrench Itself in Everybody’s Minds,” BusinessInsider.com, March 14, 2012.

  4. Megan Tatum, “McDonald’s Is New No. 1 in UK Food and Drink Ad Spend,” TheGrocer.co.uk, March 31, 2017.

  • David Clough

    David Clough

    Reply

    Telling Animal Tales

    I’m grateful for M. T. Davila’s response, which helps me both to recognize the significance of some of what I’ve done and see some of what more needs to be done.

    Let’s start with the question of eating animals, which the book argues is the priority for action in a Christian animal ethics. I appreciate your mantra “we do not have to kill an animal every time we eat,” which captures two aspects of the book’s argument: a prima facie concern about killing as such in a Christian context, and the attitude to changing practice that starts from where we are rather than an ideal position. The mantra is an excellent example of a way to challenge the manufactured toleration of animal cruelty and killing you name so clearly in the context of our ordinary and everyday living captured in your stories. Here’s hoping the mantra finds devotees beyond your home.

    That brings us to stories. You have a much clearer grasp than I about the place of story in your ethics. Stories were not prominent in the theological ethics I was taught and studied, and I have not reflected much on how they function in my current work. One reason for the stories in On Animals volume 2 is that I had the strong gut feeling approaching the project that it would be improper and even irresponsible to attempt to write about human practice in relation to other animals without having seen it first-hand. I therefore determined to supplement the knowledge I acquired through researching the academic literature with visits to different farms, broiler chicken sheds, slaughterhouses, research laboratories, and racehorse stables. I didn’t have—and still don’t have—a good way of describing this research practice in the context of empirical research methodology, but having made these visits it was clear to me that my descriptions of practice needed to include some firsthand narratives in which I witnessed to what I had seen.

    Another reason for the stories in On Animals is my experience of being interrupted by the need to attend to other animals. Our cat Mitsy is now eleven years old, which is about the same age as the book project. I remember clearly the first time she came into my study while I was writing On Animals. I was grumpy about being distracted from my work, but quickly realized the absurdity of trying to write about attending to animals while being inattentive to this fellow animal creature. A little later I recognized that I should not merely allow Mitsy to interrupt my work, but that these interruptions needed to be written into the text in order to do justice to my subject. This happened once in volume I, but more frequently in volume 2, as I got used to the idea. When you are interrupted to stroke the tummy of a cat in the middle of writing about how we treat “fur-bearing animals” it would be strange indeed for that fur-bearing animal to be absent from the text. It’s not just Mitsy, either: the buzzing protest of a fly caught by a spider in my study window was another interruption that found its way into the text of volume 2. Your stories of Bear and Blu make clear the embedding of your response in your relationships with other animals in a similar way. For me, the relationship between writing about animals and attending to them is not just a one-way street: I’m convinced that in the decade I have been writing about animals I’ve become more attentive to the ones I meet.

    You note that one aspect of the impact of stories is that they evoke emotion, and that the way I tell stories in volume 2 is a sort of justified manipulation priming the reader to be convicted that other animals ought to be able to lead lives of flourishing. I think this is worth attending to. I have lost count of the number of times, explicitly or implicitly, I have been told that ethical arguments about animals in papers or lectures are rationally convincing, but that my interlocutors do not intend to do anything about it. I used to interpret that response as a lack of moral seriousness, but I’m increasingly seeing it as identifying an inadequacy in my argumentation. This makes me want to take on the challenge of what it would take to shift attitudes and practice, rather than merely construct valid rational arguments, and my increasing use of stories is significantly a response to that. When people say that they’ve been convinced by something I’ve said or written to change their practice, I’ll often ask them what it was that convinced them, and it’s often a story that comes first to their mind. The kind of ethics I’m interested in seeks to change attitudes and practice, so can’t ignore the role of stories and emotion in that process. As you say, I don’t admit to the strategy in the book, primarily because it has been an evolving writing practice, rather than a considered methodological move, but your highlighting my use of story encourages me to reflect further on the issue, both in my practice and for the methodology of Christian ethics in general.

    You note the need to go further than I do to recognize the way in which consumption of animal products is part of a much bigger consumption problem: the shaping of desire toward inordinate acquisition of goods. I readily agree: our treatment and mistreatment of other animals is connected in every direction with wider structures of our dealings with other humans and our environment. Situating our reflection on consuming animals in this broader context, as you suggest, enables us to recognize the systems and structures built to resist our becoming aware of the consequences of our consumption for fellow creatures, human and more-than-human, and the way in which consumption of nonhuman animals is connected to ways in which the poor are also consumed by economic systems. This is a further example of the additional detail and engagement with complexity that is required at every point to supplement the high-level survey of Christian animal ethics I’ve provided.

    Finally, you draw attention to the way that attending to irreconcilable conflicts between humans and other animals may also be fruitful for wider engagements with the flourishing of unborn humans, women in crisis pregnancies, people in terminal and challenging illnesses, and those with physical and mental impairments. I agree that we need to think well across species boundaries in all these areas, attentive to both commonality and difference. I’ll be delighted if the theological work I’ve done in attending to other-than-human animals turns out to be fruitful for human ones too. My framing of humans as fellow creatures with other animals leads me to expect this to be the case. Since completing On Animals volume 2 I’ve begun thinking, writing, and speaking more directly at the intersection between theology, race, and animals, which seems to me a crucial task. Beyond that, I’d like to give further consideration of how the theological and ethical tools I’ve developed for this project might be applicable to Christian ethics more generally, and I’m grateful for your help in that direction.

    • M.T. Dávila

      M.T. Dávila

      Reply

      Further thoughts

      David, thank you for your careful consideration of my reflection. This symposium comes at a particularly auspicious and urgent time coinciding with the anniversary of the release of Pope Francis’ Laudato Si: On Care for our Common Home (2015) on June 18, the most recent warning by Climate Change scientists alarmingly dates the decay of conditions sustaining human life to 2050, and the recent publication of a statement on the urgency of climate change by Ethicists Without Borders. The context in which you call us to reflect about the place of care for fellow creatures beloved and redeemed by God in the life of Christians is nothing short than apocalyptic.
      With this in mind, I consider that this conversation – and the actions that ought to follow – frustratingly swings between the poised and considered theological and ethical arguments made in On Animals Vol. II, and the fire-in-the-pants (and in the plains and valleys!) considerations of the imminence of the catastrophic impact of climate change. Lengthy sentence. A central task of On Animals is to push Christians to consider the implications of seeing God’s redeeming plans as revealed in Scripture as inclusive of all creatures. You navigate this with extensive responsibility, curiosity, faithfulness, and intellectual depth. And, as you mention in passing in your response, this journey has taken about 10-11 years.
      So, in a context where time is becoming much more precious than riches, when urgency must be the mode of churches, governments, civic groups, and pretty much all residents of this blue ball, how do we move this conversation into the realm of a requirement for people of faith, rather than an invitation to begin to move toward the kinds of practices you suggest? How do we make these theological and ethical insights, and the critiques of contemporary practices of consumption that accompany them, inform a truly Christian response at such a time as this?
      I guess what I’m admitting to right now is that I find myself in a place where theological and ethical reflection – the bread and butter of our careers – is running VERY short of time. I think St. Augustine felt this way too. So did Bonhoeffer, and so many others trying to inspire and impel the church into what was required of them in faith in a new age. How do we articular an animal care ethic in this urgent time? David, I’m taking this space to declare that I am both urgently terrified to say and do something of consequence, as well as absolutely stuck as to how and what.

    • David Clough

      David Clough

      Reply

      Do we have time for animal ethics, or academic work at all?

      Thanks MT. I feel deeply the force of this challenge. I contributed to the drafting of the Ethicists Without Borders statement making the case that Christians have cause to join the direct action challenging the status quo leading us to catastrophic changes in our climate, with its devastating consequences for most of God’s living creatures on earth. I support the work of Extinction Rebellion and Christian Climate Action to this end. I’ve been arrested and risked arrest in the past in Christian direct actions against nuclear weapons. But in the last few months instead of joining the Extinction Rebellion protests I’ve been spending time writing and lecturing seeking to persuade fellow Christians to attend to animal ethics.

      I think there are two questions here:

      First, do we have time for animal ethics? That’s a question I’ve confronted directly in my current speaking tour. I think the answer is yes, because what we’re doing to animals is a major cause of climate crisis and threatens human wellbeing, as well as being bad for farmed and wild animals. (This blog for ABC Religion and Ethics outlines the case: https://www.abc.net.au/religion/should-christians-eat-animals/11175238)

      Second, do we have time for academic work? Or given the climate emergency, is downing tools and sitting in the streets the best thing that academics can do? I think academics should be joining the protests, but I also think that all of us should also be using our particular knowledge, skills, and expertise in the cause of motivating wider action. That’s more direct in some disciplines than others. But for Christian ethicists like us, I can’t conceive of a more urgently needed task than seeking to make the case to fellow Christians as well as we can that urgent action in response to impending climate catastrophe is now a demand of faithful discipleship.

      I think this vocation means we shouldn’t just write books and articles and speak at academic conferences. That’s why I’m taking every opportunity I can for getting out and talking to Christian audiences outside the academy. That’s why I set up the CreatureKind project (http://becreaturekind.org) three years ago to engage Christians with animals as a faith issue. We all have limits on our time, of course, but engaging fellow Christians with action related in response to climate crisis must be something we all need to consider seriously.

      But in addition to our public engagement, this also has implications for our day-to-day academic work. We also need to be part of enabling the sustaining of Christian community in days like these, capable of reading the signs of the times. That means good theological education, which engages climate crisis, and working on issues related to the climate crisis from our academic specialisms.

      What do you think?

    • M.T. Dávila

      M.T. Dávila

      Reply

      The Non-Killing of Animals as Part of Urgent Climate Action

      Great response, David. Reflecting a little bit after posting, I think I was able to sharpen my thoughts a bit more. The key question is not “Is there time for an animal ethic in an era of climate urgency?”; but, rather, the statement (not the question) “The non-killing of animals is an essential element of urgent climate action.”

      I think about the descriptions of the early Christian communities in the Acts of the Apostles and in some of Paul’s letters, certainly in Hebrews and the gospel of Mark, where urgency and imminence of the end times demands an ethic particular to that time. In these writings followers of Christ are called to transform their daily lives in ways previously unheard of, because of the urgency of the times.

      What we are suggesting now is no different. Predictions of climate catastrophes in the not too distant future posit that Christians ought to live in very different ways than what has been accustomed until now. For me this is the place for the intersection of an ethic of the non-killing of animals in relation to the level of urgency of our current times.

      CreatureKind and other projects do a great job in establishing the links between the behaviors, patterns, cultural assumptions, and consumption practices that fuel the killing of animals on a massive scale and the current climate emergency. I think a challenge for me is more specifically to hone my tools of reflection, and expand the fora in which I share ideas, to include the kinds of rhetorical shifts I point out above, from questioning whether the non-killing of animals fits into reflection on the current climate crisis, to unequivocally stating that one is an essential part of the other.

    • David Clough

      David Clough

      Reply

      Citizen resistance to industrial animal agriculture

      Thanks MT. I’m just at the end of a week in New Zealand as part of a speaking tour. One of the most striking features of animal agriculture here is the shocking rise of dairy production, up 110% in the past 30 years and now causing serious problems for water quality. Animal agriculture now represents a whopping 50% of NZ greenhouse gas emissions. But speaking out against dairy is very costly here, because of the power of animal agriculture to silence dissent on the basis of their 45% contribution to export earnings. (I’ve written more on this here: https://www.facebook.com/652977591/posts/10156284274062592?s=652977591&sfns=mo)

      New Zealand dairy is a case-study of why the growth of animal agriculture is tolerated internationally. It’s making money for its owners, investors, and its contribution to national GDP means politicians prefer to ignore its problems.

      In response to your question: yes, we need to ensure that citizen resistance to industrial animal agriculture is a non-negotiable component of the rebellion movement Christians need quickly to join to make clear that business as usual is disastrous for creaturely life on earth. Who’s in?

Jennifer Herdt

Response

Companion Animals and the Question of Ownership

Human existence is deadly for our fellow animals, and needlessly so. The litany of our offenses, so patiently detailed by David Clough in chapter after chapter of this book, makes one redden with shame at our collective way of life, and the many ways in which it is predicated on killing and cruelty. It comes almost at a shock, arriving at chapter 7, to be reminded that alongside eating animals, dressing ourselves in their skins, and using them in many other ways as mere instruments for our own flourishing and amusement, we also live in intimate communion with them. We bring them into our homes and into our hearts, lavish care and attention on them, rearrange our lives around their needs, and grieve them when they are gone.

Reflecting on fellow animals as companions and pets offers a context in which the strengths of Clough’s approach are fully on display. Clough understands all creatures to have been created good in their own right, gifted with being through which they may glorify God in participating in God’s triune life. This theology of creation yields two core questions that must be brought to bear on our practices. The first, broadly Aristotelian question, asks about how various human practices support, or fail to support, the flourishing of our fellow animals. This requires attending to what it means to flourish as a member of a particular life form, with its characteristic capacities and vulnerabilities. The second question, yielded by a Christian understanding of animal life within the arc of creation, fall, redemption, and eschatological consummation, understands communion as creation’s eschatological destination. It holds current human practices up against fellowship with God and one another as the end for which we were created. For much of the book, this eschatological destiny is rather remote. When we attend to our forms of shared life with companion animals, however, it draws near. We have here, albeit in broken, slanted ways, to do not just with fostering the flourishing of our fellows, but with anticipating the shalom to which we are called.

This yields a robust yet flexible structure for thinking about human practices with regard to companion animals. Most fundamentally, it offers a reason to affirm in general the impulse to share our lives with fellow nonhuman animals, against those who insist that such relations are always forms of domination, with nonhuman animals made wholly dependent on human beings and subject to human whims. Clough rightly holds that any proper response to such concerns must begin by considering what it is to flourish as a particular life form. It is not sufficient to point to human affection for pets; affection can nonetheless be exploitative. More significantly, domesticated animals, most evidently dogs, can flourish in properly ordered communities of human and nonhuman members. Not only do dogs amply return the affection lavished on them, they enjoy mutual play as a form of rule-based encounter, and enjoy, too, working together toward with human partners toward shared forms of excellence, as in agility training. Wild animals typically cannot flourish in community with human beings, since their way of life is so other than human modes of existence that these cannot be brought together harmoniously: some creatures are naturally solitary, or require vast areas in which to roam. Yet against those who see in the practice of keeping companion animals of any kind, under any conditions, an impermissible exercise of power, Clough argues that these relationships provide a context for forms of mutuality and shared excellence that are genuinely good and that anticipate eschatological communion.

How, then, are we to differentiate between foretastes of the Peaceable Kingdom and vicious forms of overrealized eschatology? First and foremost, by attending to conditions for the possibility of flourishing as a member of a particular form of life. Forms of shared life that violate those conditions are to be rejected; it is not for us to transform carnivorous hunters into herbivores, or force companionship on the solitary. But let us linger a bit longer over one particular aspect of human relationships with companion animals that might seem to rule them out altogether: the fact that they are property relationships.

Clough argues against breeding practices that are harmful to animals, either because of the characteristics that are selected or because of the effects of inbreeding. He also notes that commercial facilities that supply pet shops rarely allow for creaturely flourishing, and condemns the capture of wild animals on the basis of the suffering and deprivations involved. He does not, though, himself examine the question of the ethical status of human ownership of companion animals as such, even though he mentions the fact that some do object to this relationship.

Is it permissible for human beings to own, and to be able to buy and sell, nonhuman animals as companions? Property rights have often been understood as absolute, that is, as granting permission to the owner to dispose of—to use, even to destroy—the property at whim. There are competing notions of property. Catholic social teaching, for instance, insists on the universal destination of goods; property rights are not absolute but are justified because property is an institution that better serves the common good.1 Property owners thus have a responsibility to keep the common good, the conditions for the flourishing of each member of society, in view. On this view, property ownership comes along with a special burden of responsibility. Yet the responsibility here is construed as responsibility to the common good. If the universal destination of goods is construed as a destination to the good of humankind alone, as it often is, then the responsibilities of animal owners are not to their animals but to their fellow humans. The ownership of some human beings by others was finally rejected as incompatible with the dignity of human nature, however mild and beneficent the form of ownership.

One might of course insist that property relationships give us ways of holding owners responsible for those creatures in their care. If I discover a house full of neglected and half-starved cats, I need to know who is to be charged with neglect. It is their owner who is responsible for their treatment. Yet much the same is true in the case of neglected or abused children. We do not, though, say that they are owned by their parents. We have other ways of tracking human responsibility relationships legally and socially, through the role of “guardian.” Seen through this lens, the language of “adopting” companion animals from shelters gains new resonance. To be sure, our legal system does not differentiate between companion animals who have been adopted and those who have been purchased; both are treated as property. Yet the language of “adoption” substantially reframes the relationship. One is not purchasing an item that might fail to live up to expectations and thus be returned for a refund; one is inviting an individual into one’s family. The role is that of guardian, not that of owner. An individual one adopts is a member of the community whose individual and communal flourishing is to be tended, not something to be merely used well in the pursuit of that end.

Clough argues, in this respect making common cause with animal rights approaches, that “something is due, morally, to non-human animals that have a sense of themselves as subjects of their own life” (11). Such creatures can be treated unjustly, not simply unkindly; they ought never merely be treated as means to the ends of others. These are not the only creatures that matter, morally, since “the source of the ethical demand is the status of animal creatures in God’s creative, reconciling, and redeeming purposes” (15), but he seems to concede that these sorts of animals lay us under a particular set of requirements of justice.

Of course, to insist that we stand in relations of justice with these creatures does not mean that they are bearers of the same set of rights as human beings. A right to vote makes no sense for a cat. A right to an adequately stimulating environment does. The development of a sound account of the rights of animals must attend to the particular capacities and vulnerabilities characteristic of their life form. We are thus returned to the question of what it means to flourish as an instance of this particular sort of creature. Children provide an illuminating basis of comparison, given that like companion animals, they cannot choose to live in human families, nor do they choose the particular families they have. While children are generally regarded, as affirmed by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1990), as having the same fundamental human rights as adults, some of these, such as the right to marry or vote, are dormant, and children have special rights that articulate what is owed to them as vulnerable and immature human beings, such as the right to be raised by parents in a family or cultural setting, insofar as this is compatible with the best interests of the child.2 Children are treated unjustly when they are treated as adults. They are also treated unjustly when they are not treated as on the way to adulthood. Defining the specific rights that they possess allows us collectively to articulate what is owed to them in support of their flourishing now and their path to flourishing in maturity. While children have a right to be cared for and a right to have their preferences taken into account, they do not have a right to personal liberty, a right to run away from home.

Companion animals, like human children, are vulnerable and dependent on our care. Unless they are capable of making a knowing, informed choice of life in the wild over life in human care, it does not make sense to regard them as having such a right of choice. When we go out in search of runaway companion animals, we are not violating their right to liberty but are recognizing our responsibility to care for those in our charge, ill-equipped to fend for themselves in an environment that most often is far from “wild,” and incapable of informed consent or dissent. It is we who have the responsibility to determine whether a life in companionship with human beings can be a genuinely flourishing one for these creatures, or whether they can flourish only when able to direct their own lives more fully.

I see three possible routes here for Clough when it comes to animals as property. The first would maintain the permissibility of property relationships while insisting on the responsibilities that attend ownership; property ownership is finally a form of stewardship; all that we own we hold in trust, to serve God’s purposes. The second would go farther, insisting that the property relation is impermissible when it comes to members of certain animal kinds, those who are characterized by having a sense of themselves as subjects of their own lives. The third option would go farther yet, insisting that no animals may rightly be reduced to property, since the source of the ethical demand lies not in animals’ own subjectivity but in God’s purposes. Since Clough does not articulate a stance against ownership, I assume that he comes down closest to the first option. We might defend it by arguing that the distinction between a responsible property relationship and a responsible guardianship is abstract; since nonhuman animals are not able to differentiate between the two, there are not (unlike human beings) harmed or violated merely by being owned. What matters is how they are treated. The right not to be owned is, on this view, a bit like the right to vote; granting it to nonhuman animals makes little sense. Yet the ownership relationship sits uneasily with the notion that anything is owed to that which is one’s property. Affirming that members of animal kinds that have a sense of themselves as subjects of their own lives may not be owned may be the only way to treat these creatures justly. Given a legal system that treats all domesticated animals as property, one is complicit in an unjust set of social practices. One may refuse complicity with this injustice by refusing to have companion animals, or one might choose to inhabit these practices in a transformative way. Arguably, the employment of the language of “adoption” by animal shelters is engaging in a small way in this sort of transformation of our collective imaginations and consciences.

Clough’s project is aimed at moving human practices in relation to our fellow animals in a positive direction, one in greater harmony with God’s purposes for creation. It is not aimed at resolving every refined and rarified question. Insofar as naming the fact that our moral concepts are ill equipped to work across the species divide can easily result in paralysis that effectively perpetuates the status quo, his approach is obviously the right one. I am hopeful that it will have a significant impact. Yet there is also a place for puzzling through the remaining theoretical difficulties, particularly since they bear on important practical questions—questions such as the legitimacy of owning animals, which I have taken up here, but also practices of euthanizing animals, of breeding animals who are members of threatened and endangered species, and more. We have our work cut out for us. Thanks to Clough’s On Animals, which so winningly invites us to find our proper place in the glorious creaturely chorus, we are well on our way.


  1. Catechism of the Catholic Church III.2.2.7, http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s2c2a7.htm.

  2. United Nations Treaty Collection, Convention on the Rights of the Child, https://treaties.un.org/doc/Treaties/1990/09/19900902 03-14 AM/Ch_IV_11p.pdf.

  • David Clough

    David Clough

    Reply

    Owning a Concern for Animals

    Thanks to Jennifer Herdt for this considered and careful response. I want to start where you do, with the recognition that human existence is needlessly deadly for our fellow animals, causing us to redden with shame at the ways in which our ways of life are predicated on killing and cruelty. My sense of this scandal; my lack of sense that this scandal is well-appreciated by fellow Christians, fellow theologians, or even fellow Christian ethicists; and my desire to prompt Christians to think and do differently in response to the scandal was my primary motivation in taking on the two-volume project of On Animals. One way of characterizing its object is to lay out as clearly and patiently as I’m able the case that Christians have strong reasons for being concerned about our mistreatment of fellow animal creatures and for changing their practice in response. I’m therefore delighted that you as one of its first readers share my conviction that I’ve succeeded in identifying a topic that matters, and that the book makes a helpful start in that task.

    I’m grateful for your framing of my project as driven by two core questions: the broadly Aristotelian one about how far our practice enables or prevents the flourishing of fellow animals, and the Christian one, holding up current practice against the standard of “fellowship with God and one another as the end for which we were created.” I think I’d prefer to characterize these as questions driven by the doctrines of creation and redemption, rather than naming the divide as Aristotelian and Christian, but I recognize the strong congruity of the way I frame the former with Aristotelian traditions. I hadn’t seen these two complementary questions so clearly before, and agree that they are fundamental to my ethical analysis and argument.

    And then there’s our relationship with pets and companion animals, the focus of your response. Early in the drafting of volume 2, I confess I had the anxiety that the topical chapters might turn out to be a little monotonous, as I churned through the task of evaluating particular areas of our practice in relation to other animals in the light of the Christian understanding of animals set out in volume 1. My experience in writing was quite the reverse: the work of trying to provide a good account of how we make use of other animals for food, textiles, labour, research experimentation, sport and entertainment, as pets and companions, and our impacts on wild animals, made clear to me the significant differences between these areas of practice, many of which are highly material to a Christian ethical analysis. There are concerns about our dealings with other animals that are applicable to domestication as a whole, but we very clearly need to think differently about what we’re doing when we raise a pig for food and raise a kitten in our homes.

    Animal ethicists sometimes try to get traction on the problems of farmed animal welfare on the basis of our affection for the animals we share our homes with. I’m not averse to all arguments of this kind, but it seems in danger of missing the profundity of the familial bonds of affection we develop with pets and companion animals. The reason we care for these cats, or dogs, or other creatures is not primarily because of their species characteristics but because they are members of our families. Suggesting that we should care as much about any other animal with a similar degree of sentience is as foolish as suggesting we should care as much about any human being as much as our nearest and dearest.

    I’m very aware that the high-level survey of our practice in relation to other animals in this book is in need of further work at every point, and I very much hope the book helps stimulate such work. The reflections you provide concerning how the concept of property relates to our keeping of companion animals, and how the comparison of guardianship of children and children’s right may be helpful, is an excellent example of where further work is obviously required. Gary Francione begins his animal ethics from the contention that animals are not property, and his radical challenge to current practice is derived entirely from that foundation. As you note, however, I don’t take a position on the question. You helpfully lay out three options: retaining the idea of property rights over animals interpreted as stewardship to serve God’s purposes, judging that property relations are impermissible when animals are subjects of their own lives (Tom Regan’s category), or holding that no animals may be considered property because the ethical demand lies in God’s purposes rather than their subjectivity. You interpret my lack of an articulated position on the question as support for the first stewardship position, but note that “the ownership relation sits uneasily with the notion that anything is owed to that which is one’s property.”

    You helpfully observe that in Catholic social teaching property rights are not absolute, but are justified as an institution that serves the common good, often conceived only in relationship to human good. A first remedial step in the context of my argument is that we would need to expand an account of the common good in this context to the good of all creaturely life. Pope Francis’s 2015 encyclical Laudato Si provides some useful foundations for such a move. We would then need to ask whether human property rights over other animals did in fact serve the common good of creatures. My initial judgment here is that this would be hard to answer positively, especially if the alternative was not the abolition of all relationships of humans and domesticated animals but the move to a relationship of adoption and guardianship you propose. The abolition of property rights and their replacement with guardianship responsibilities seems obviously desirable in the case of pets and companion animals. It would transform them, and would impose higher burdens of care on those choosing to keep companion animals, but this seems entirely appropriate to me.

    Beyond the context of pets and companion animals, the abolition of property rights in favour of guardianship responsibilities would clearly be much more radical. What kind of guardian raises their human charges to be killed for the benefit of others? Katzuo Ishiguru’s 2005 novel Never Let Me Go is a superb depiction of exactly this scenario. We need to take seriously the reality of the all-too-similar plight of many children in modern child slavery, but such practice is obviously unjustifiable within the context of Christian ethics. It is, however, the norm when we raise other animals for food or research experimentation. Perhaps if property rights were replaced by guardianship responsibilities in these and other contexts, we would be quickly led to the right kind of questions about whether these practices were compatible with guardianship of fellow creatures of God. This certainly seems to me a line of thought well worth pursuing further, and I’m grateful to you for the provocation to do so.

    • Jennifer Herdt

      Jennifer Herdt

      Reply

      Response to Clough

      David, I appreciate your willingness to think out loud with me about the question of the legitimacy of human ownership of animals.  I think that you are right—the first alternative I offered you proves to be unstable as soon as the common good is broadened to include the flourishing not just of human beings, but of non-human animals as well.  Since you have clearly argued in favor of this broadened conception of the common good, defending the ownership of animals must meet the high bar of serving their flourishing, not simply our flourishing.  Guardianship seems much more likely to do so, as you agree.

      It isn’t surprising that our current practices come closest to conforming to this vision when it comes to companion animals, for whom we care, as you say, “because they are members of our families.”  And yet, the fact that other animals are not members of our families doesn’t seem adequate justification for owning them, when their flourishing is so much more fully respected and promoted by a relationship of guardianship.  So I take it that the logic of your argument does naturally lead you to favor a truly radical stance, the abolition of human-non-human property relations, albeit perhaps only in a gradualist way—property relationships may be our only way at present of holding humans responsible for their treatment of their animal charges.  Further, whether adoptive or guardianship relationships would be appropriate to sustain in relation to animals formerly owned and used for labor would depend on whether they could truly flourish in our care—even as we bear responsibility for having destroyed natural habitats in ways that make it impossible for some animals ever to return to the wild.

      As we enter the Anthropocene, are we guardians of the whole earth, not just those animals who have become members of our families?  How are we to foster the flourishing of each and of all?  Even to contemplate the task seems an act of hubris, even as it is also a responsibility we cannot shirk.  Life feeds off death; carnivores need meat to thrive, even if human omnivores do not.  Preserving one sort of habitat may preclude preserving another.  As your exchanges with M.T. have already highlighted, we can’t focus simply on curtailing cruelty to animals and improving animal welfare; we must think about these challenges in tandem with thinking ecologically, thinking about populations and ecosystems and all of the intricate relationships that hang in the balance.  The wisdom of your book lies in its willingness to accept both that the way back to Eden is barred from us, and that we nevertheless can and must act—take baby steps forward, identifying immediate, manageable steps that will begin to remedy the scandalous character of our present ways of relating to our fellow creatures.

    • David Clough

      David Clough

      Reply

      From owners to guardians

      Thanks again, Jennifer. Yes: I think you’re right that I’m committed to the radical position of the abolition of human-non-human property relations, but a gradualist path towards it that recognizes that property relations may be the least-worse option in many current contexts.

      I think your challenge to think beyond this to consider what it might be to accept guardianship of all fellow creatures is an important one. Yes: it risks hubris but given the devastating scope of human impacts on fellow creaturely life, we seem to be confronted with the choice of being tyrants or guardians in relation to fellow creatures. There is no option to absent ourselves from relationship with fellow creatures: the only question is what kind of relationship we will have with them. The relationship is inevitably asymmetric in power, so my frequent recourse to describing the relationship as among ‘fellow creatures’ needs supplement in order to make clear the power imbalance, which otherwise might mask our responsibility.

      The problem with ‘guardian’ language, is that we are all too well aware in the intrahuman context that guardians often abuse their charges. Human guardians are all too apt to use the power asymmetry acknowledged in the term as opportunity to exploit those in their charge, rather than act genuinely in their interest. So taking up the term ‘guardian’ risks signalling effective permission for exploitation despite our best intentions. This seems to me closely associated with the literature objecting to ‘stewardship’ in ecotheological circles. It also relates to my concerns about using ‘Anthropocene’, which feels to me to have a shadow side that retains a heroic human role. I’m sure it’s this sense of risk that’s made me prefer a term like ‘fellow creature’ despite its failure to denote asymmetry in power.

      What do you think? Is guardianship the best we can find, so we just work on guarding it against misapplication? Or might other terms be more helpful in communicating the demanding asymmetrical responsibility for care of other creatures we seem to be agreed is required?

Darryl Trimiew

Response

On the Moral Problem of Killing Animals for Food and Sport

Confessions of a Species Bigot

 This reflection centers on chapters 2, 6, and 8 of the text. The areas for my discussion are on the killing of animals for food and sport. My reflection with some exceptions affirms most of the moral criticisms of this learned text. I wonder if my colleagues who gave me this assignment had seen on my web page a few of my pictures of a wonderful fishing trip I took with my son in which we went trophy bass fishing in Orlando, Florida—strictly catch and release. This trip was a traditional activity and pastime that I was passing on to my son as I received it from my father. My father loved to fish but only had the time to do so after church on Sunday. He was not much of a churchman but felt that his family should go to church and to fish. He got two clergy persons and lifelong fishing out of his efforts. He would not take us fishing unless we first attended church.

So, it is not surprising that after reading my assigned texts, I, a lifelong fisherman, with jaundiced eye, read my chapter on animal sporting in a begrudging fashion. Still even with a biased point of view I do not have a formal argument that adequately refutes Clough’s basic contention that fish and all animals are my co-creations all made by the loving hand of God. I share his theology that all creatures are made by God for his pleasure and under his will and protection. As such, fish and others cannot rightly be deemed to be my property or charge or even wards to be dealt with howsoever I choose. From a fish’s point of view, a fisherman must be considered to be like Satan in the first chapter of Job—one who has come into the presence of God and sought to test one of his creations. At best, unlike Job, God permits me to attempt to catch a fish, then to kill and eat him. This freedom is far more license given to me vis-à-vis the fish than God gave to Satan to plague Job. Job at least was guaranteed, from the beginning of the consultation to emerge at least with his life. For Christians, the book of Job poses a theodicy problem: How can this all-powerful, all-good, and loving God allow bad things to happen to ostensibly good people through no fault of their own? Job did not deserve what Satan did and the fish seems to also to suffer unfairly at my hands. Here I am not even a stand-in for God, but for Satan. Such a reflection gives me, a Christian, great pause.

In turning to Scripture for guidance I find the Gospel of John, chapter 21, verses 1–21. There I read about the disciples who, after Jesus’ crucifixion, turn back to commercial fishing on the Sea of Galilee. They fish all night to no avail. At dawn a stranger hails them from the shore. Jesus tells them to cast their nets to the right side of the boat—there they catch a huge load of fish. Recognizing this miracle, they realize that their fishing guide is Jesus, who tells them to come ashore. They join him ashore to a breakfast of grilled fish and warm bread. Whatever they discussed over breakfast I am fairly sure did not focus on fishing for food or sport, the welfare of the fish or any other animals. Jesus is there with them with his resurrected body a portent of the new heaven and earth that is to come. Yet even resurrected, Jesus eats as they do. The new heaven and earth are still to come at a later time. I take this passage to be a retelling of an actual meal with our resurrected Lord. Christianity is built on the historicity of the resurrection of Christ.

Accordingly, God watches them eat and fellowship. God watches as the load of fish die, God watches as others gut them and sell them at market: waste not want not. God does not intervene on behalf of the fish—they are God’s fish, precious to him, but they are not spared. His eye has also been on the sparrow. Jesus assures us of this care in Matthew 10:29, saying, Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them falls to the ground outside the Father’s care. . . . And you are worth more than many sparrows. So, God cares for sparrows and fish and disciples. And God also cares for Job and subsequently me and you. God is no respecter of persons but does seem to care more for people than other creatures. Animals may be as precious to God as people, but it is not clear to me that we should esteem them as highly and relate to them as we do to each other. I confess therefore to being a species bigot.

Now getting back to theodicy problems, I am not following Job and posing challenging questions to God as to theodicy issues, nor am I trying to utilize a “What would Jesus do?” argument to justify my “mistreatment” of fish. Bad things happened to them then and now, but our discussion cannot simply end with a lament for the fish. Though the fish die, they have glorified God in simply being themselves, in being fish. Clough maintains that animals do not have duties by which they obtain sacred value—they do not need to make claims, to be rational, to even be sentient, in order to be sacred. They merely need to be—their being glorifies God. What I would like to also suggest is that their lives glorify God—all of it, even including their deaths. In dying they glorify God and they feed me. Still, I could probably be as well fed eating a bowl of lentils.

Rather than be seen as Satan, however, I would prefer to be compared to a grizzly bear, patiently waiting by a river during a salmon run. Grizzlies also glorify God in their fishing and eating and they honor the fish in eating all of it and in killing it quickly so that it does not suffer. This fishing is very different than modern commercial fishing or fish farming. Clough makes irrefutable points in detailing the gruesome process by which we humans turn our fellow creatures into neat packages of flesh ready to be cooked and devoured. His detailing of the enormous misuse of water, land, energy, resources, as well as animals is telling and compelling. Clearly, we cannot rightly continue modern animal food production as we are doing now. The abuses to animals and the land, the thermal warming associated with the practice, the vicious castrations and slaughter of animals are repulsive and cannot be compared to even the industrial harvesting of plants that can also damage psychologically all in the chain of production.

For Clough, vegetarianism is a morally compelling response—along with massive changes in our food production processes. This he justifies well as a moral choice available to all. Yet to demonstrate that vegetarianism might be morally superior for some is not the same as saying it is morally compelling for all. Again, what Clough objects to is the fact that the killing of the animal causes it to suffer and cuts its life short. The actions of the food production, even before the slaughter, also interfere in the “flourishing” of the animal. These observations appear to be self-evident. However, if the trout do not bite my fly, they do go on to flourish another day. If the individual salmon who swims too close to the shore escapes the grizzly’s swipe it too flourishes. Still the salmon who swim upstream to spawn fulfill their destiny. Those who die after spawning fulfill their destiny do so as well as the ones who get taken by the bear. My question is how am I different from the bear? Of course, as Clough points out repeatedly, I have the choice of lentils or other nutritious foods. I would submit however that my killing of the individual salmon though hurting it as an individual animal does not necessarily harm its species as a species. Smarter salmon or trout pass on my fly, their lazy or less careful brothers do not. If fished properly I cull the herd, or I guess I should say school. Wildebeest cross rivers at certain migratory times each year. They do so knowing that there are hungry crocodiles in the water as well as waiting lions on shore. A certain percentage always make it through, and a certain percentage do not. Salmon have to swim, grizzlies have to eat. Gazelles have to cross the river, predators need gazelles. As the gazelle, in its last moment of life, feels the lion’s jaws on its neck I am sure that the last emotion/thought felt/expressed by the gazelle is not hallelujah, but, “Damn, why God? Why me?” Even so it glorifies God in its death. In particular, when the lion kills and eats the gazelle, it is merely also fulfilling its destiny and cannot be characterized as a sinner, since sin comes into the world by means of only one animal species—Homo sapiens.

In contrast to the lion, Clough details the martyrdom of Christians in the Roman gladiatorial contest, killed for the lustful pleasure of its jaded citizens.

What is odd about Clough’s text is the relatively little discussion of the nature and place of death as part of life. We all die, but it is a well-known fact that fisherman and hunters pay for licenses that are used to maintain wildlife and their habitat. True conservationists like birders do also and do so while not killing a bird. Thus, recreational animal killers, also known as hunters and fishermen kill some animals but also work and pay for their betterment in terms of habitat preservation. These efforts for a species serve to benefit the “sporting” animal directly and most other animals indirectly in that natural habitat and stocks are preserved. Consider, the wildlife officer that kills an urban coyote who has been snacking on pets. He has hurt coyotes as a species much less that the land developer who puts a new subdivision in a California canyon that is not fit for such use and which is on the coyote’s rightful territory.

Clough also oddly characterizes animals in essentialist terms and does not address the process of natural selection—evolutions seems to be a nonfactor. Nevertheless, the competition between animals can be of hoof and claw and usually we humans do not pick sides, though when we do, it is usually on behalf of the animal that is most useful to us or looks or acts the most like us. But Clough’s theology plays no favorites. Lion and gazelle both honor God. But is God disrespected if a species becomes extinct? Perhaps, but not necessarily so. The insanity of the mass killing of the passenger pigeons is indeed a human disgrace. But the disappearance of the saber tooth tiger or the mastodon has to be chalked up to the competition of other animals. Is it always God’s will when one victor emerges? And given the nature of natural selection, can any victory be considered permanent? Turning back to the production of food from animals the most disturbing facts must be faced. It is the massive and brutal unnatural selection that we human beings have accomplished over making wild animals into domestic ones and devouring them wholesale that constitutes Clough’s most persuasive proscriptions. Yet what most needs to be addressed is the reality that our abuse of animals is not generated by bloodlust, or cruelty, or callousness but is generated by our refusal to self-limit our populations. We refuse to limit our numbers. If we all evolved into adopting some form of plant-based diets, we still will have to check ourselves at some point: we would still be utilizing more than our share of the earth’s resources. Clough does not seem to address this issue well.

Still when Jesus grills, serves, and eats the fish—and miraculously directs more fish to the disciples’ nets—he participates in the already but not yet world that we all live in, a world which is fallen. Perhaps it is not a sin for Jesus to do so since he had paid for that sin already on the cross before that celebrated breakfast. We fisherman cannot make such claims, we have not paid for any of our sins—we are reliant upon Jesus to do so. And if we do take the life of a fish quickly and consume it gratefully, or release it carefully unharmed, cannot the blood of Christ pay for those sins? And also, for the sins of those who spay cats, and those who kill insects to protect their vegetables and also for those who convert meadows into gardens and keep rodents out? Clough is not hypocritical in absolving himself from participation in this fallen world. The world is quite difficult even in a non-industrialized system. But death comes to us all and if we are buried naturally, we too enter into the circle of life on behalf of the worms. This is not a pleasant thought, but the word humility comes from humus—the earth. From ashes to ashes and dust to dust we are all under the will of God. But Job got no reasonable and easy reply from Yahweh and if tragedy befalls one of our loved ones neither will we. Like the gazelle we may ask, “Why God, why me?” and, “Why now?” If God deigns to respond his answer might well be, “Why not you? And why not now?”

I close my reflection not in triumph but in humility and in a little shame. I could take up bowling and l Like to hike for recreation especially if it is to some new and fertile fishing hole—but seriously, I am probably not going to give up fishing. I will have to live with the guilt—but I have always respected the fish. Still I am reminded of the sinful haute cuisine of the French in dining on ortolan.

The customary way of eating ortolan, a delicate songbird, involves the diner covering his or her head with a large napkin. Tradition dictates that this is to shield—from God’s eyes—the shame of such a decadent and disgraceful act. (Henry Wallop, “Why French Chefs Want Us to Eat This Bird—Head, Bones, Beak, and All,” Telegraph, September 18, 2014.)

As we laugh at the French, foolish to think that God does not see them, eating the tiny bird, we laugh uneasily for we know that God’s eye is on the sparrow and we know he watches us as well.

  • David Clough

    David Clough

    Reply

    Fishing and What Follows

    I didn’t know you were an angler, Daryl, but am all the more appreciative of your gracious response on that basis. I’ve never been fishing, but I think I get some of the attraction. First, there’s lots that’s not about the fish. Part of what you describe is how fishing is constitutive of your relationship with your father and son, and connected with church, too. As with M. T. Davila’s response, your stories show that we cannot consider our practice in relation to other-than-human animals in isolation from our human relationships and other commitments. Fishing has been good for your family in enabling you to participate together in a practice requiring skill, passed down through the generations in a way that enables your being together. It’s easy to see why that matters to you. I wonder if you also appreciate fishing because it allows you to spend time aware of being engaged with the more-than-human creaturely world: it seems to me that fishing, whether from a boat on the sea or from a river bank involves a great deal of quiet attentive waiting, often in peaceful natural environments. Two days ago I was with my wife and daughter climbing a Welsh mountain. I love being in the mountains for its own sake, but also love having been given a love for mountains through walks with my father, and to have passed on both skills and enthusiasm for climbing mountains to my children. Perhaps mountain-walking for me is like fishing for you.

    Second, I recognize that even the part of fishing that is about the fish is partly about attention to and connection with the other-than-human animal world. Skilled anglers, like skilled hunters, need to know their quarry, understand their preferences and behaviour, and appreciate their strategies for evading capture. I encounter fish looking down into streams or pools or occasionally when swimming, but this gives me very little understanding about their lives in this foreign element. You have been trained in being attentive to the lives of fish in a way that I have not, and that knowledge and attention also seems to me a further valuable part of the practice of fishing.

    In addition to these points of common ground, I’m glad to find we’re in agreement that the costs of modern animal production to farmed animals, humans, and the environment are irrefutably beyond what we can justify. That’s the argument I see as most important in On Animals volume 2, so it’s good to hear you find it convincing. It’s very clearly a much more important priority for changed practice than reconsidering sport fishing. In comparison to the egregious wrongs done to other animals in industrial animal agriculture, and industrial methods of wild fish capture, the costs to wild fish of sport fishing are very much lower both in terms of scale, intensity, and impacts. If we agree, as I think we do, that Christians have reason to seek to avoid supporting industrial animal agriculture, that consensus judgment—with its radical implications for Christian practice and social action—is highly significant.

    But we also disagree, and it’s worth clarifying our points of difference. First, you say that I fail to appreciate that death is a part of life and give no account of evolution and species extinctions that are not caused by humans. I don’t think that’s right: I’m all too aware that we find ourselves within a groaning creation in which we find creaturely suffering and death on every side. Natural selection has been a powerful driver of evolution. We should recognize it, lament the creaturely suffering involved in the shaping of creaturely life, and also recognize other powerful drivers of evolution such as mutually beneficial relationships of coexistence between individuals and species, not least in the form of the multi-species community which we call a human being. This complex and compromised creaturely world is the unavoidable context for our theological labours, and any theologizing that fails to recognize this context is deeply flawed.

    I don’t think we disagree about suffering and death, but I do think we disagree about causing suffering and killing. In the midst of all this creaturely suffering and death I see Christian discipleship as witnessing to the inbreaking reign of God by caring for fellow creatures, human and more-than-human, seeking to image God’s love for them. We can’t by our efforts bring an end to the groaning of creation, but we can seek ways of living in ways that are more peaceable, that avoid being the cause of additional groaning insofar as we are able, that enable the flourishing of fellow creatures where we can. Avoiding killing fellow creatures where we can seems to me to be one part of this vocation. Avoiding being the cause of the suffering of other creatures where we can seems to me to be another. Sometimes we can’t easily avoid killing other animals—my eye is still sore from a gnat that flew into it this morning who I don’t think survived—but where we can, it seems to me that we should. Often, we can’t avoid causing suffering to other creatures—I think of the birds that occasionally fly into our house windows—but where we can, it seems to me that we should. We can’t escape our participation in the groaning of creation, but we can seek to live within the groaning in ways that witness to the loving care of the God who remembers even a single sparrow. Line fishing for food is much better than industrial trawling, but where there are available alternative ways of gaining the same nutrition from plants at less cost to animals and the environment, the latter seems to me to be preferable. Fishing for sport, I confess, still seems to be hard to justify once we’ve determined that it causes suffering and often injury to the fish.

    You note that I don’t address the limiting of human population. I agree that unsustainable patterns of human consumption of animals and most other things are close to the core of our problem, as M. T. Davila pointed out in her response, but I don’t think that human population growth is the core of unsustainable consumption. The places in the world where there is the highest per capita consumption are not the places with the highest population growth, so the current problem with consumption is the high per capita consumption in higher income countries rather than population growth in lower income countries. There’s a racial and gendered element here too, with a familiar pattern of white male environmentalists in industrialized countries locating the issue as black African women in poorer countries having too many children. It would be globally disastrous if consumption in lower income countries rose to the level of higher income countries, so the just solution we need is for higher income countries to consume less so that people living in lower income countries can have their share. Moving to a plant-based diet would be a big help here: releasing up to 60 percent of agricultural land (Hallström, 2015). Educating girls for longer in developing countries turns out to be both good for the girls and correlated with smaller, healthier, and better-educated families, which seems obviously desirable (Herz, 2004). I absolutely agree with you that we need to consider the limits of sustainable human consumption, but starting with population risks misdirecting attention.

    I appreciate your humility and confession of shame, though hope you recognize that I don’t do so from any position of claimed moral superiority. In response I make my own confession of a much greater failure to live in a way that witnesses to God’s loving care for all creatures. I’m currently particularly aware of how slow I have been to learn from you and other black theologians and ethicists about how race has structured Christian thinking and has made white scholars like me inexcusably inattentive to the oppression of black people and allies in the white supremacist project. But I don’t warm to the French tradition you conclude with of seeking to hide their cruelty towards the ortolan from God’s eye by placing a large napkin over their heads. I want instead to open my sinful action to the gaze of God and my fellow Christians, seek forgiveness, and try to amend my ways.

    Christians, it seems to me, have mostly not yet realized the need for a napkin in relation to their consumption of the products of industrialized animal agriculture. My hope is that On Animals volume 2 will help to widen the sense that this practice departs radically from the care for fellow creatures that follows from the worship of the God of all creatures, and then that we respond not with a napkin but with a commitment to change our ways.

    References

    Hallström, E., et al. “Environmental Impact of Dietary Change: A Systematic Review.” Journal of Cleaner Production 91 (2015) 1–11.

    Herz, B., et al. What Works in Girls’ Education: Evidence and Policies from the Developing World. New York: Council on Foreign Relations, 2004.

    • Darryl Trimiew

      Darryl Trimiew

      Reply

      Some Clarifications

      First, I thank David for his wonderful texts.  He has brought to our attention what we have known but refused to acknowledge—that we as a species are cruel—in general to other species.    He is correct in understanding that I agree with him on the moral indefensibility of modern industrial farming.  His response in part, of vegetarianism is certainly logical and justifiable.  I also appreciate his willingness to confess to some participation in the unavoidable killing of other species as well as in the rare infliction of avoidable pain(spaying or neutering pets).

      I come from a theological tradition of freedom of interpretation and freedom of conscience.  In the Disciples of Christ we agree to disagree but to do so agreeably—usually. Be that as it may,  what I still maintain is that David does not see natural selection and evolution and the circle of life correctly.  For several years, at Medgar Evers College I taught biomedical ethics.  One of the standard principles in this branch of ethics is that care givers have a strict responsibility to minimize unnecessary suffering,  but not necessarily to avoid the infliction of therapeutic pain.  The d entist who performs a root canal gives gas, or injections to minimize pain,  but if there is still some pain,  they proceed with the care to preserve and enhance the health of the patient.  Care givers are only bound to the maxim-first do no harm.  What must be made clear in the evaluation of acts and practices is the difference between hurt and harm.  Again a surgeon may well have to cut to save a patient—in doing so he/she may have to hurt them in order to save them.  This is unavoidable at this time.  I believe that David would accept this point in this context.  Transferring this context to my response is where some disagreement may arise.

      As I wrote in my response, I see myself as similar to a bear fishing in a stream for salmon.  The bear swipes a salmon who swims too close to the bank, or too slowly and in doing so both hurts and harms the individual salmon.  But the bear does not, in doing so, hurt or harm salmon as a species. The caught and eaten salmon swimming upstream to spawn does not get to do so and thereby does not get to pass on its careless or slow genes.  Other smarter salmon get by the bear and reproduce for the good of the species.  So also does the smarter salmon who passes on my fly placed to entice him to his doom.  Dumber salmon get caught by me or the bear, or a fishhawk or some other predator. Salmon as a species are not harmed by other animals—generally only by humans through our destruction of their habitat—firstly—and secondly by overharvesting.  Hence passenger pigeons are now extinct.

      Commercial fishing in contrast simply decimates species populations and falls under the well-earned criticisms of Clough.  Such fishing does not distinguish between species and individuals.  Clough acknowledges pain in his reference to the “groaning of creation.”  I agree with him that even creation cannot bring about new life without some pain.  As a fisherman,  I am eliminating a few “defective” fish.  To me this is similar to a dentist removing or correcting a defective tooth, or a tooth that has gone bad.  It is true that we do not all have to act as dentists—especially in the natural world. If I do not fish,  the bear, the osprey, or other fish will eat the “slower” salmon and benefit the species appropriately without my help.  My fishing is neither necessary nor sufficient to keep salmon stocks healthy.  Fish do not need me.  I need the fish.  Still, does an individual fish have a right to immunity from hurt and or harm—in the natural world?  Generally, in rights analysis, for humans we say that we each have both a right to an immunity from harm and a duty to refrain from harming others.  The duty and right to be realized must be reciprocal.  So also a right to life generates a reciprocal duty to abstain from the taking of life.  Many fish do not extend such rights to their own species let alone to the lives of other species.  Indeed many game fish are caught on lures that imitate living fish.  The fish that is caught had every intention of eating what it thought was another fish.  And most fish in attacking a bait or lure leave the protection of underwater cover or the safety of their school to kill and eat another “fish.”  Thus, the fish I catch are themselves predators— we do not call them immoral only because we do not assign morality to any of their actions. Morality is a quality reserved for humans.  In my native state of New jersey black bears were hunted into extinction.  As a direct result the deer population exploded with disastrous consquences.  In response, the dept. of fish and game had to import and nurture black bears from Pennsylvania in order to re-establish a black bear population.  In other words for the deer as a species to thrive, some of them needed to be killed by black bears. Yet each Bambi, in the instant before its death, by bear or human certainly felt that its death was somehow “wrong or unfair”.  But New Jerseyans harmed the deer and the black bears not by selectively hunting deer or black bears, but by over hunting the black bears.  I, myself have never desired to hunt, but this is my preference, not a moral condemnation.

      Clough correctly writes, “We can’t by our efforts bring an end to the groaning of creation, but we can seek ways of living in ways that are more peaceable, that avoid being the cause of additional groaning insofar as we are able, that enable the flourishing of fellow creatures where we can. Avoiding killing fellow creatures where we can seems to me to be one part of this vocation.”  As a general rule I agree with David,  I just see fishing as a moral exception to his suggested general rule.   As I said in my original response, however,  I am both biased and humbled by my position.  Thus I concede that fishing hurts the individual fish caught, but I contend may very well help the species.  The welfare of the fish as a species may be enhanced by fishing although of course the individual fish could never agree.

      As to vegetarianism, his arguments do seem to be morally preferable, while not being morally compulsory.  Vegetarianism is one good way to reject and resist industrial farming but not the only way. I stand by my remarks with regard human population.  I am not suggesting that we immediately start with limiting any particular human populations. I am asserting that we must be aware that we are in competition with other species for plants for food and that that competition at some point must be addressed if we are serious about caring about the welfare of other creatures.  As to lamenting suffering in the world I share Clough’s pain for creatures human and otherwise and again applaud his work, despite our minor differences.  I am happy that he understands my ortolan reference and the need for us to be aware that God sees all that we do.

    • David Clough

      David Clough

      Reply

      Evolution and ethics for humans and other animals

      Thanks Darryl for this further response. We definitely disagree about the implications of taking account of evolutionary theory in the context of Christian ethics. I agree with you that the elimination of the weaker members of a species is one factor in the evolution of species, but disagree with you that we should be active ourselves in this process. I think the root of my concern with your position is my judgement that the human/non-human binary we have often taken for granted in our thinking is in fact unsustainable. If that’s right, we cannot have one way of thinking ethically about humans and another entirely different way of thinking ethically about other animals. The social Darwinists thought across this boundary in a disastrous way by applying evolutionary insights to the human case to argue in favour of eradicating weaker members of the human gene pool in order to improve species fitness. Christians have very good reason to reject this appalling project and instead promote an ethic of unconditional care for all humans. My proposal is that we extend this ethic of care to our dealings with other animal creatures. That does not mean seeking to prevent bears eating salmon, but it does suggest that we have reason for a different kind of practice to that of bears.
      I think our point of disagreement here is about whether human/non-human binary in our thinking about creatures is sustainable. Most of my argument in relation to that is in _On Animals_ Volume I rather than this book, so we might well need a different online symposium to resolve it! I remain very grateful to you for your participation in this dialogue, and look forward to further opportunities for conversation.

Eric Gregory

Response

Animal Ethics in a Fallen World

David Clough’s On Animals: Theological Ethics is a fitting companion to the impressive doctrinal framework developed in On Animals: Systematic Theology. Taken together, it is a major intervention that deserves a wide audience. Each volume has its appropriate focus, roughly theoretical and practical in nature. But it would be a mistake to push this distinction too far given a tendency to caricature those tasks. Volume 1 locates nonhuman animals within God’s gracious work of creation, reconciliation, and redemption. Informed by this theological vision, volume 2 examines human use of other animals in a wide range of practices. It also places theological ethics in constructive dialogue with philosophical ethics without getting lost in abstract thought experiments. Happily, appropriate to his broadly Barthian sensibility, theology responsive to its canonical texts is not left behind in practical pursuit of ethical analysis. Indeed, the relation between the two volumes might itself be a topic of some interest given ongoing disputes about ethics conceived as a branch of theology. A virtue of Clough’s work is the way he shows rather than theorizes what ethics might look like when it takes theology seriously and what theology might look like when it takes ethics seriously. Or better put, without conflating them, he does theology in the doing of ethics.

Apart from the urgency of its concerns, however, Clough’s project is too important to leave to questions of method or disciplinary boundaries. By my lights, like issues of race, class, and gender, it is also too important to consign to a particular specialty within an academic guild. It challenges all of us to confront questions we might not otherwise be compelled to address, both intellectually and politically. It does so by laying out a series of concrete issues. My focus will be the opening two chapters, and chapter 4, “Using Other Animals for Labour.”

I read Clough’s charitable effort to advance an undeveloped aspect of modern theology as invitation more than polemic. I take comfort in this style, as I am no authority on “animal ethics” or “animal theology.” Clough shows how thinking about the fate of animals, and the very notion of animality, solicits questions that extend well beyond debates about vegetarianism or education in moral sentiment. The casuistry of the chapters is not put forth as a series of resolved puzzles. So I welcome this opportunity for mutual inquiry about topics that he rightly argues have been neglected and understudied. Moreover, I read the book not only as a helpful primer in animal ethics and its future, but a way of doing theological ethics which admits complexity within the “tension between creation as we know it and the new creation that God will bring” (80). I will return to the notion of complexity, but first a word about the theology.

I find the theology challenging yet inspiring. Clough emphasizes the creator-creature distinction in ways any Augustinian would appreciate. God, not humans, is at the center of a cosmic drama that draws all creatures into the praise of the Triune life. Many of our practices in relation to other animals fail to embody witness to this drama. In fact, our domination and oppression of other animals positively defy it. For Clough, all animals (including humans) are put on a somewhat even plane relative to God and the purposes of the Holy One of Israel. I see no issue with that fundamental move, though I am still not sure what it means for nonhuman animals to repent in their own way and participate in the work of redemption by transforming their predatory nature. That may reflect a limit to my theological imagination. My own view still wants to maintain all animals are not on an even plane relative to each other. I suspect this permits more of a creaturely hierarchy than Clough allows, though I am uncertain what criteria Clough might adopt to judge better and worse hierarchies (let alone good or bad ones).

Clough also tries hard to find common ground across religious and ethical traditions, embracing a methodological pluralism that is quite different than mixed proposals like “utilitarianism for animals, Kantianism for people” (to borrow a phrase from Robert Nozick).1 I confess, however, the ethics volume was more bracing existentially than the theology volume. It was a harder read, not because of the writing, but because of the horrific nature of its subject matter that raise familiar questions about the ethics of representing the suffering of others. Perhaps unjustified, the theology provoked intellectual wonder. The ethics, given Clough’s exquisite sense of the pain of fellow creatures, challenged the idolatry of my practical atheism in the way I live. It exposed my complicit ignorance and weakness of will in light of empirical realities such as the rapid industrialization of meat production and major shifts in intensive farming over the past half century. My own views, and practices, as President Barack Obama once put it about another issue, are “evolving.” In part, this is a result of trying to learn from someone I deeply admire, and also as parent of young children which has reawakened me to the lives of nonhuman animals.

Perhaps like a good preacher, or community organizer, Clough is gentle on those of us still on the way. His style is prophetic, but not in a way that positions a righteous purity against those of us enmeshed in cultures that make his veganism odd. Despite indicting moral laziness, he has what our teacher Margaret Farley would call “the grace of self-doubt.” He also admits the extent to which we are all complicit in wrongdoing, though in ways that try hard not to write tragedy into creation or endorse moral mediocrity in the face of sin. No one is exempt from the consequences of the fall in our treatment of animals as fellow creatures of God. Any mode of living responsive to God’s redeeming of the world can only be “provisional and partial” and “far from what we believe to be ideal” (22). That judgment reflects an overarching eschatological dimension in his approach to ethics. While clarity is a virtue of the work, including self-denying appeals to analogies with just war reasoning or concessions to certain regrettable features of mortal life under the banner of lament, it is still unclear at times where Clough stands on familiar questions about realized eschatology, interim ethics, and even the vexed question of supererogation (a concept strangely missing in this volume). How should we think about what might be good to do, what is permitted to do, and what is required to do, morally and strategically? Given the abuse of notions like prudence, necessity, and relative justice, it would be clarifying if Clough would more explicitly distinguish his realism from other strands in theological ethics. Complexity is a frequent term in the book, and he is sensitive to charges of making the perfect the enemy of the good (89). But it was hard to resist the feeling that its invocation for Clough was a sad prelude to the dangers of moral compromise under conditions of sin and finitude.

There is a history to morality in the book that calls for fresh thinking in light of new realities. Perhaps the most striking statistic is found at the very beginning of the book: domesticated animal biomass now exceeds wild terrestrial mammals by twenty-four times (1). Clough calls this reality a matter of exploitation. The spirit of the book is to identify ways to make our treatment of animals less “morally problematic” (124) and “more respectful” (67). On the whole, I find that strategy compelling: prioritizing the most unjust practices, and making relevant distinctions between forms of use (say, raising animals for luxury fur or amusement rather than companionship or cooperative forms of labor).

Clough never explicitly offers a theology of domestication, though he consistently argues that to resist domestication perpetuates its own kind of human-exceptionalism (126). By my lights, there will be no wild animals in heaven. This follows not only a vision of the Peaceable Kingdom, but because all animals (including humans) will be domesticated into the household of God (Eph 2:19). I am not sure if this requires a rejection of eating those animals that give themselves up as food. We will be eating one animal, an incarnate savior, it seems, depending on one’s view of the Eucharistic banquet in the messianic era. It also implicates a view of creation: whether, before the fall, all animals were domestic, named by Adam and responsive to one another in a garden not a wilderness.

In his opening discussion of Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse, Clough finds that care for the wounded animal is not justified by an equal demand on our care. It is because “this creature in need” confronts the soldier (xv). But is God species neutral? Clough denies, at least according to the sayings of Jesus, “a flat moral equivalence between humans and other animals” (xvii). He suggests a tension is only acute in situations of “irreconcilable conflict between human and non-human interests” (xvii). Clough consistently tries to push such conflicts, like feeding humans before livestock in cases of famine, to the margins, and calls for a moral imagination wherein compassion for nonhuman animals benefits all creatures. But he does seem open to cases of “regrettable necessity,” as in certain human communities where there is no alternative to subsistence hunting (72).

Jewish and Christian traditions have long distinguished what is owed near and distant strangers, without rendering the latter beyond moral concern. The same holds, as Clough notes, for the variegated taxonomy of biblical injunctions that map and construct relations of various kinds (29). Much of contemporary theological ethics is wrestling with how best to engage this legacy given extensive demands to expand the circle of moral concern (say, in debates about “global justice”) and tend to those historically misrepresented by Christian tradition. Care for nonhuman animals is part of this story. I occasionally wondered if Clough views moral demands in relation to nonhuman animals primarily in terms of claims of justice or compassion. Again, he might wisely resist a stark contrast here as well. But it would be interesting if animal ethics might be a way to trouble that familiar contrast, especially given the strong emphasis on duties of justice in contemporary ethics and political theory that might explain the relative neglect of nonhuman animals.

Trading on the parable of the Good Samaritan, and against trends in philosophical ethics, Clough holds to the moral significance of proximity. He also resists efforts to categorize who might be worthy of relationships of mutual recognition based on certain characteristics or capacities (such as rationality or capacity for a sense of justice). At the same time, however, much of the book relies upon descriptions of nonhuman animals that solicit recognition of them as worthy of a non-substitutable moral status. Passages on the cognitive capacities of fish (38) or the peaceful sociability of pigs (48) seem aimed (at least rhetorically) at situating nonhuman animals on a spectrum with human animals in thinking about our actions towards them. Nevertheless, that status is run through their relation to God rather than for their own sake. So I was a bit unsure how this squares with his claim that a theological view must be a “direct duty” view. Clearly, the ethical status of nonhuman animals is not derived from their relation to humans. But obligations seem always already mediated at least in relation to God “because the source of the ethical demand is the status of animal creature in God’s creative, reconciling, and redeeming purposes” (15). This position is not an indirect view that considers duties to nonhuman animals only in relation to humans. But it is not a direct moral duty in any straightforward sense. How might animal ethics help us think about the very notion of “intrinsic value” and God-relatedness?

Clough reserves for a lone footnote the question of our causal efficacy given contested claims about the sensitivity of the opaque supply chain within the industrial food system to individual consumer choices (67n158). He is not an act consequentialist, so it is not a pressing challenge to his theory. He seems agnostic on the question of whether or not participation in this system constitutes a formal or material cooperation with evil. But I think the question of market sensitivity does warrant more consideration given how demoralizing those claims can be, not to mention difficult questions about collective responsibility, moral agency, and individual obligations.2 Again, animal ethics here might offer insights into broader questions of the moral life.

Let me turn to chapter 4, which focuses on the labor of animals beyond their reproductive labor to the use of their distinctive skills and strengths. Clough begins by highlighting the use of animals that meet human needs, especially domesticated dogs (i.e., hearing dogs, search and rescue dogs, and police dogs) as well as those animals that provide other forms of assistance in therapeutic contexts.

Despite relationships of mutuality and care that often develop in these cases, he still finds them morally complex. He does not seem to endorse these relations as positive goods. He puts them on the spectrum of “less problematic” (130). The moral concerns are primarily about their sourcing, training, and treatment. The problem is the abuse of these animals, not their use even in dangerous work.

By contrast, he narrates the shameful history of draught labor, especially the use of horses and mules for agricultural machinery and transportation. It is a long history that still includes over three hundred million animals “over worked and poorly cared for” (120). Here, Clough notes studies that detail the overlapping strategies of treatment of human slaves and nonhuman animals (125). Again, however, he admits that “animal welfare is understandably a lower priority than human welfare” (120) at the subsistence level in which many animals are used, save exceptional cases like the miserable treatment of Asian elephants.

I take it that he does not oppose in principle the use of animal labor, even the use of wild animals. Clough notes examples of cooperative labor like gathering honey with African honeyguide birds or fishing with bottlenose dolphins. He also provides a telling example of a seven-year-old Belgian Malinois called Diesel that died raiding a home of suspected ISIS terrorists after the Paris attacks. Clough rejects the use of dogs in suicide missions, but he leaves open the possibility of exposing them to risks that human members of a team also undertake (128). I am not sure if the use of wild animals like dolphins for military purposes should be distinguished from domesticated animals like dogs. Interestingly, Clough (invoking Marx) denies a determinate role for appeals to freedom of choice in assessing the difference between human soldiers and nonhuman animals. But he calls for greater awareness of power asymmetries and the ways our use threatens the harmony of God’s creatures within a multi-species community.

Might Clough prefer the use of artificial intelligence to the use of animals as our co-laborers? That would be a revealing position. I take it some who train animals for labor view it as a case of “enoblement, in the development of the animal’s character and in the development of both the animal’s and the handler’s sense of responsibility.”3 Giving commands to labor together, like teaching my child to play piano or building a home with others, is here a sign of reverence rather than exploitation. It is not clear to me which side of sentimentality lies, or the gap between sin and authority, but with Clough I think we do well to place them within a Christocentric gaze. Difficult choices will need to be made as we face the challenges outlined in this book. Readers should be grateful that Clough does not make a choice between theology and ethics one of them.


  1. Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia (New York: Basic, 1974), 39. On this “hybrid-view” in contemporary ethics, see David Killoren and Robert Streiffer, “Utilitarianism about Animals and the Moral Significance of Use,” Philosophical Studies (forthcoming).

  2. See, for example, Andrew Chignell, “Can We Really Vote with Our Forks? Opportunism and the Threshold Chicken,” in Andrew Chignell, Terence Cuneo, and Matthew C. Halteman, eds., Philosophy Comes to Dinner: Argument about the Ethics of Eating (New York: Routledge, 2016), 182–202.

  3. Vicki Hearne, “How to Say ‘Fetch!,’” in Adam’s Task: Calling Animals by Name (New York: Skyhorse, 2007), 43.

  • David Clough

    David Clough

    Reply

    From Practice to Theory in Christian Animal Ethics

    Thanks to Eric Gregory for this appreciative and demanding response. I’m glad to hear your recognition of the merits of the core argument of the book: that Christians have reason radically to rethink our use of other animals, with our use of them for food the most urgent priority. I’m also struck by your point that I show rather than theorize “what ethics might look like when it takes theology seriously and what theology looks like when it takes ethics seriously.” I recognize and embrace this mutual-taking-seriously as central to my work. The questions you present at many points for more methodological and conceptual clarity seem to ask me retrospectively to theorize about what I have sought to show. At the end of this two-volume project, I’m convinced that there are lessons from this engagement with a theology and ethics of animals for how we do theology and ethics more broadly. I think the theorization you request is a key way in which these lessons may be learned. So I’m grateful for the provocation to theorize, but aware that I’m at the beginning of the task of reflecting on what I’ve done.

    You ask first about hierarchy, which M. T. Davila also mentioned, and state your view that all animals are not on an even plane relative to each other. Are we talking about ethics at this point, or other kinds of hierarchies? And are we talking about ideal ethical schemes, or practical realities? Comparison with the intra-human case is instructive here. There are all kinds of ways we arrange humans in hierarchical ways: by height, wealth, intelligence, political power, strength, social position, skin colour, sex, gender, sexuality, ability and disability, and so on. The Great Chain of Being interpreted some of these as positioning particular humans within a monolithic hierarchy of value, with white masters of more value than black slaves, and men of more value than women, for example. Most Christian ethical schemes now reject in theory such intra-human hierarchical ordering in favour of egalitarianism, though Christian practice very obviously perpetuates them. In volume 1, chapter 3, I make the case for abandoning chain of being hierarchies of creaturely value in the extra-human as well as the intra-human realm. It seems to me just as odd to believe there is a singular divine league table of the most and least valuable creatures as to believe there is such a table of the most and least valuable humans. If such a table were possible in either case, we might use it for making tough ethical decisions, but I think we’d be much more likely to use it as grounds for claims of superior status.

    To dismantle chain of being accounts of creaturely value, I draw on biblical and theological trajectories that affirm the value to God of every creature, such as we find abundantly in biblical Wisdom literature, Jesus’s teaching about sparrows, and Gerard Manley Hopkins’s affirmation of the “thisness,” haecceity, or non-substitutable value of each creature. This does not mean all creatures are equal, or that they are all on an even plane, but that they are each different, particular, and uniquely loved into being by their creator. To rush to questions of which of these creatures is more important is a spiritual malaise that substitutes profound awe at the diversity and intricacy of God’s magnificent works for sinful human status-seeking. Perhaps that’s why volume 2 ends with spirituality rather than ethics: my belated realization that unless we are capable of the fundamental shift of regarding ourselves as creatures among creatures and recognizing the absurdity of our preoccupation with our own self-importance, we will be unable to begin to do creaturely ethics adequately in a theological mode.

    The ethical question that follows this deconstruction of the chain of being is how we are to make choices in the inevitable cases of conflict within a fallen and groaning creation when not all creatures can flourish. What I experiment with in the introduction to volume 2 is to answer this question not by constructing a replacement hierarchy of value, but by appeal to Jesus’ command to love our neighbour. We could take Jesus’s statements that humans are much more valuable than sparrows and sheep as grounds for setting up a hierarchy of value, but I’d prefer to take them as reassurance to humans based on God’s care for creatures that seem less significant to us. We don’t need to ground our care for fellow Homo sapiens on supposed objective determinations of their superior value to God, any more than I ground my care for my children in an assertion of their superior divine value above other children. Instead, the command to love our neighbour is to care for to those we are brought close to. Species membership is one key dimension of this proximity, which is often compelling, and will cause us to prefer to save a drowning human infant to a drowning mouse in one of the awful forced examples beloved by certain moral philosophers. But the example I draw from Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse shows that we can be called to neighbour love when we are brought close to other-than-human creatures, too. I’m in full support that a Christian ethics demands radical loving care for fellow humans. I’m not saying that all creatures are the same, or are the same to God, or should be treated the same by us. Instead, I’m arguing that using hierarchies of value as the basis of Christian ethics is as unhelpful in thinking about our practice in relation to other animals as it is in the intra-human case.

    Additionally, you ask where I stand on realized eschatology, interim ethics, supererogation, realism, and regrettable necessity. We do our theology and ethics from the fallen middle of things where we find ourselves in the midst of groaning human and other-than-human creatures, seeking to find ways to witness to God’s redemptive and self-revelatory work in Jesus Christ, guided by what we can discern about what it would mean for the inbreaking reign of God to be made more fully present, recognizing that we are unable to inaugurate the new creation through our own efforts, and eagerly awaiting the release of creation from her bondage. The tension we need to maintain in a Christian ethic is between our realization that no action of ours can remain uncompromised by our fallen creatureliness, and an unflinching commitment to our responsibility for discerning and enacting faithful patterns of living in these days. I agree with Reinhold Niebuhr that we can’t live as if we were already in the new creation, but that doesn’t mean he’s right that the coming of God’s reign is irrelevant to Christian ethics. To take this latter view abandons the very project of Christian ethics, which orients itself in these dark days through the glimmers it discerns of God’s kingdom coming. I don’t have space for supererogation because I think we should all be straining to do all we can in our calling to care for God’s groaning creatures within our frail and finite creaturely limits. I see no moral compromise here: rather a recognition that our demanding call is to engage with the world as we find it, in all its beauty and tragedy, rather than as we would like it to be, and to work out what it means to be followers of Jesus Christ in the particular time, place, and creaturely relationships in which we find ourselves.

    My space is nearly exhausted, but your questions are not, so I must be brief. I expect that humans and other animals will be wild in the new creation, on the basis that being liberated to live truly as themselves is not incompatible with harmonious dwelling together. I expect that new creation to include a freedom not to live at the cost of others, so eating other animals will be no more. I think we have duties both of justice and compassion towards other animals, and these are direct in the sense of not being mediated by considerations of human well-being, but indirect—like duties to fellow humans—in the sense of being mediated by our relationship with God. I still see no real theological interest in the objection of causal inefficacy, finally on the basis that we are called to faithful action witnessing to God’s ways with the world and must therefore reject the tyranny of efficiency. Finally, I do not think other animals are ennobled by their collaborations with humans, but that we and they may discover delight and co-responsibility in such cooperation.

    I’m most grateful to you, and to Jennifer Herdt, M. T. Davila, and Daryl Trimiew for your appreciative and challenging responses, to Candace Laughinghouse for her excellent introduction to the symposium, and to Grace Kao for her initiative in convening it. I’m conscious that there’s much more to say at every point in relation to the questions that have been raised, and hope that our symposium may encourage other scholars to take up new constructive projects related to the many points my initial ground-clearing has revealed.

    • Eric Gregory

      Eric Gregory

      Reply

      Theory in the Fallen Middle of Things

      David, I am glad that you found my response appreciative and tracking the core argument of the book. As the other exchanges highlight, your book is important because it sets a practical agenda for a host of urgent issues that receive less attention in theological ethics than they should. At the same time, it offers a model of casuistry that seeks to change attitudes and practices without trading on all-too-familiar methodological camps that sometimes divide our field. What you call the turn to spirituality rather than ethics might be a belated one, but it speaks to the fundamental nature of your consistent effort to do “creaturely ethics adequately in a theological mode.” Reading your work, in fact, helpfully confuses the divisions of spirituality, ethics, politics, and theology by opening them to each other. So thanks for being a conversation partner in our faithful perplexity for over 25 years!

      Let’s see where some of that retrospective theorizing gets us. That said, I am not sure I was asking for more theory or theorization, let alone a method or ideal ethical scheme. My admiration for the showing is genuine. It would be ironic, and unhelpful, to demand more precision than possible or a formula to crank out answers to tough ethical decisions. But showing need not compete with conceptual clarity, just as human animals need not compete with non-human animals for divine care. For example, while questions about divine election would distract us for now, I share your rejection of a “singular divine league table of the most and least valuable creatures” for theological reasons. I also think we both agree about the pernicious ethical consequences of certain kinds of hierarchies and hierarchical thinking. It is hard not to be shamed by the Great Chain of Being interpretations you mention, especially the ways they serve “as grounds for claims of superior status.” Their legacy remains operative for intra-human and extra-human relations. In fact, as you indicate, much of modern theology and ethics seems to be trying to find ways to think about ontological relations and cosmological classifications without recourse to them (or other aspects of “most perfect being” theologies). This might involve abandoning essentialist ways of thinking altogether, or at least reimagining them along the lines you suggest after deconstruction in Volume 1. It may also demand a time of metaphysical silence, or at least circumspection. But I don’t think asking about them necessarily reflects a “spiritual malaise.” The opposite might be the case. Doing metaphysics can be one way of deepening the profound awe that you invoke rather than anxiously keeping non-human animals under our prideful domination. More controversially, I am reminded of Mary Douglas’s sociological concern that “flattening hierarchy” is not always liberative for everyone.

      In any case, you make explicit that not all creatures are “on an even plane” (I recognize the inadequacy of the language), and not “all creatures are the same, or are the same to God, or should be treated the same by us.” That doesn’t mean they have no value or do not reflect the glory of God in their own distinct ways. This beauty of the particular raises interesting intellectual puzzles in value theory, independent of pressing ethical questions. But those ethical questions come rather quickly given your interests in the book. I am attracted to your appeals to neighbor-love and proximity, even if they entail further difficult questions of their own in probing what it means to be “brought close to” in our global environment. I see the ways it avoids grounding ethics in a “replacement hierarchy of value.” I guess I still have a hard time seeing how, even implicitly, your actual examples don’t invite some determinations of value even if they are not the basis of ethics. We should not let “awful forced examples” bully us into bad metaphysics or ethics. But I thought some of your determinate moral judgments betrayed judgments of value. Maybe I still need help in seeing how we get from Gerard Manley Hopkins to ethics and politics.

      Your confessions of “fallen creatureliness” invited my laundry list of questions about realized eschatology, interim ethics, supererogation, and regrettable necessity. They are as much questions to myself. I share your concerns about Niebuhr and the “tyranny of efficiency,” though at times I thought you were more Niebuhrian than you might like to admit in “straining to do all we can” even knowing “we can’t live as if we were already in the new creation.” In response to Jennifer, you admitted to a more radical position, but opt for a gradualist path as the “least-worse option in many current contexts.” In response to Daryl, you again do moral triage by claiming the priority of modern animal production rather than sport fishing. You formally reject moral compromise and insist on witness as finite creatures. But you seem to characterize human life as always tragically compromised. Moral danger is everywhere, if not genuine moral dilemmas. Hence, what I described as a spectrum of things “less problematic” rather than positive or ennobling. I suspect that is because of your profound eschatological vision, groaning for the wildness of the new creation. I am still not sure I would characterize that freedom as wild or authentic domestication, but find it a revealing source of frustration that makes your writing a spiritual act of resistance. Distinguishing what we should lament from what demands repentance might be a good way to think about some of these issues. We long for that Sabbath rest with our fellow creatures. In the meantime, opening toward that future, there is work to be done with joy and sorrow, academic and otherwise. Maybe even some theory to help with the difficult habituation of the virtue of prudence in the time given to us to reason and act together.

    • David Clough

      David Clough

      Reply

      Spirituality, ethics, and politics

      Thanks for your response, Eric. I’m really grateful to you and other respondents for highlighting some of the characteristics of the method of Christian ethics I practise in this volume. The confusion you appreciate in the project of the divisions of spirituality, ethics, politics, and theology is one I’m happy to own. As I’ve said, I would welcome the contributions of others to re-examine particular features of the territory I’ve mapped here in much more detail and with more alertness to their connection with methodological debates. But I’m glad in this first survey to have attempted to give a Christian evaluation of the range of our practice towards other animals drawing on insights from all of those disciplinary specialisms, and more.

      I didn’t mean that the doing of metaphysics necessarily reflects a spiritual malaise, though we could talk about that! I meant that I discern something other than merely theological or ethical at play in the project of ranking creatures in order of importance, with a central emphasis on shoring up reasons for considering humans the most important of earthly creatures. In response to a sense of human lostness or despair, it is spiritually tempting to reach for the consolation of Psalm 8 and affirm our importance in relation to God’s other creatures. But it’s not good for us, or the other creatures. Again, the intra-human comparison is instructive. I need to resist the temptation to prop up my own sense of self-worth through comparison with other humans in relation to whom I can find reasons to judge myself superior. Much of our contemporary politics relies on people giving in to this temptation, and it’s clearly de-moralizing and destructive. I think the same is the case in the extra-human case. If we can avoid founding Christian animal ethics on the maintenance of this chain of being hierarchy, which is what I’m attempting, it seems to me we have very good reasons for doing so.

      The delight of Gerard Manley Hopkins in the selving of every creature is another point where spirituality enters my project, I now recognize. This insight seems to me to have revolutionary implications in relation to the Christian ethical task in this area, one that deeply informs my approach in ways that I haven’t reflected on or made explicit in my argument. But I’m sure much more metaphysical precision would be helpful in clarifying exactly how this connects to hard real-world questions about our dealings with other creatures. I’ve just returned from Aotearoa New Zealand, where the ecologically-driven orthodoxy is that all mammals — apart from, of course, the vast numbers of sheep and cattle, and perhaps domestic cats — should be killed in order to protect ground-nesting birds. I’m sympathetic to the birds, and to hard choices within a fallen creation of what needs to be done to protect them, but the collective enthusiasm for poisoning and trapping of unwanted ‘invasive species’ without regard for the particularity of their lives is, I think, at the root of my discomfort. This spiritual/ethical discomfort does have practical implications: a starting point would be more vigorous consideration of non-lethal alternatives. I was delighted to see a notice in the Te Papa Museum in Wellington about a Māori chief who had established a sanctuary for Pacific Rats, who came with the Māori rather than with the English colonists. You’re right that it would be helpful to take time to specify exactly how this kind of connection between spirituality, ethics, and politics might be worked out.

      I’m beginning to wonder about whether your concern about my Niebuhrian tendencies is about a difference between us in understanding the task of Christian ethics. My drawing attention to seeking to do the best we can within broken creaturely relationships is not because I don’t think Christian discipleship makes radical demands on us — in relation to hospitality to strangers, use of wealth, violence, and consumption of animals, to name a few — but because I’m trying to offer an analysis that might inform practical action starting today. The immediate abolition of all human property rights over other animals is very likely to be disastrous for many domesticated animals, as well as challenging to gain political support for, so a gradualist path starting with rethinking relationships with companion animals as guardianship as Jennifer suggests seems to me just to be common sense. And how can we avoid the triage involved in the judgement that it’s much more important to challenge the industrialized trawling of fish and industrial animal agriculture than Darryl’s practice of fishing with his son? To return to the beginning of this response, perhaps it’s my refusal to separate the tasks of ethics and politics at this point, that makes me look Niehbuhrian to you?

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