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.