Confronting Strongholds in Animal Welfare

Sunset on Lake Michigan by Adam Major Compliments of CreationSwap

Sunset on Lake Michigan
by Adam Major
Compliments of CreationSwap

(For those who want to read the original article: Confronting Strongholds in Animal Welfare)

Confronting Strongholds in Animal Welfare

By Marcello Newall

 

1. Encountering Strongholds

Anyone involved long enough in even the mildest forms of animal protection can quickly become frustrated and crushed by the whole endeavour. The combination of the gospel and animal welfare can often make matters worse: the Christian animal welfarist, even though he/she can boast of a noble lineage,[1] is somewhat of an oxymoron in contemporary Christendom. Considered neither fully Christian by many churches and the promoters of a negative tradition towards animals by secular animal rights activists the believing animal welfarist can become stranded in a sort of no man’s land. Many, exasperated and disappointed, simply abandon the cause and head for greener pastures. The battle hardened veterans that remain in the movement often end up as John the Baptist-like figures crying out in the desert: their voices seem snuffed out by the cacophony of messages of contemporary preaching and by the calloused indifference of most human beings. I believe one of the errors we in the Christian animal welfare movement make is the idea that by simply informing people, Christians and non-Christians alike, of the facts of animal cruelty, the horrors of Factory Farming and the countless other monstrosities that currently curse our world, that they will change. While some human beings do actively promote cruelty, the majority are in reality enslaved to a false system of beliefs and behaviours and are unable to free themselves from the fallen traditions of their forefathers and the sinful inclinations of their own hearts. From the coronary heart disease sufferer who defiantly continues to eat cholesterol laden junk food to the Hollywood diva who knowingly persists in wearing clothing derived from cruel fur farms: both are trapped in a prison of contemporary worldly values.

The Apostle Paul spoke of archai,[2] principalities and powers, [3] that promote these values through spiritual processes of which we are not fully aware. These systems of thought, which Scripture calls ‘strongholds’, [4] can be particularly difficult to dismantle in that they are invisible and tend to pervade entire social structures thus influencing the behaviour of the individuals under them.[5] Various forms of spiritual warfare can and must be used against them.[6] I will try to address four main areas in which I believe false beliefs undermine Animal Welfare: History, Humanity, Redemption and most importantly our understanding of God himself.

  1. A False View of History

One aspect that I personally reflect upon quite often is the fact that most people do not seem to believe that any improvement is necessary or even possible. In the pagan worldview time and history continue relentlessly and there is no real movement towards a precise goal or meaningful purpose. What Nietzsche[7] called the “eternal return” was a cyclical vision of history that did not leave any hope for advancement.[8] The Apostle Peter quotes a similar view when he was trying to contrast the scoffers of his day who appealing to the apparent timelessness of natural phenomena ridiculed the possibility of Christ’s return: ‘They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.”‘[9]

In the same way when our interpretation of the gospel serves simply to reinforce the status quo it is no longer an authentic expression of the Christian faith. All human religions have served the main purpose of sacralising the social order of the societies that birthed them, in contrast the message of Jesus is a powerful polemic against every artificial construct that claims divine sanction and the eschatological proclamation of the coming Kingdom of God.[10] The Judeo-Christian vision of reality introduces an element of complete novelty: history had a beginning and will come to its ultimate fulfilment.[11] Moreover history is rooted in a unique historical event that forms the basis and criteria for all human activity and understanding: the cross of Christ.[12] The event of the cross and Jesus’ subsequent resurrection give the Christian animal welfarist hope that the present situation will not last forever but is momentary. Within this framework of hope, even though still momentarily present in creation, death, pain and suffering are transient realities that are already defeated. History began with a Sabbath rest and will end with a Sabbath rest in which all violence and striving will be done away with: ‘There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his.’

  1. A False View of Humanity

How many times has anyone interested in the defence of animals heard the catch-phrase similar to ‘animals were created for human beings’. In this view everything was created for man and mankind’s sake: yet this idea is actually profoundly idolatrous in that it places the human creature at the centre of creation in the place of God. [13] Scripture, in contrast, speaking of Christ affirms that everything was created for him and through him.[14] Animals and creation exist above all for God’s sake, for his joy and pleasure and as a manifestation of his goodness. While it is true that God invites humans into an intimate love relationship with him, thus receiving them into the centre stage of creation,[15] the process of sanctification[16] does not bring any form of equality.

In a more secular worldview based upon materialistic evolution human beings are competing with other species in a darwinian struggle for life[17] and the killing of ‘animals’ in this vision can be seen as evidence of man’s superior footing and success. This barren and soulless understanding of the world tends to pervade large portions of academic thought and seems to be the story within which many live their lives. In this conception of reality all is reduced to a ‘scientific’ understanding of the world, at times there may be the concept of generic progress but ultimately the universe is destined to expand until it slowly fades away and its heat dissipates. In this nihilistic nothingness a shattered Humanity not only is not called to manifest any particular role in creation but is itself lost and of no particular importance in an infinitely large universe.[18] This system of thought is a powerful witness to the darkness that fills the human heart.                    

4.  A False View of Redemption   

The secularist obviously has no concept of salvation in a truly spiritual sense whereas most Christians tend to have a deficient view of the extent of God’s salvation. Sadly as the gospel spread from its Jewish foundations into the Greek and Roman world in the 2nd and 3rd centuries elements foreign to its original message slowly became a part of Christian theology. Among these was the essentially Platonic and Gnostic idea that matter and creation are a prison to be escaped.[19] The soul was seen as being trapped in matter and forced to live momentarily in this material creation. Salvation in this view was when the psuché ψυχή[20] finally left the body and could find rest in a sort of ethereal realm, hence the common idea of ‘heaven’ being in the clouds. It might come as a shock to most Christians that these concepts actually constitute a form of heresy: the resurrection of the body[21] is one of the foundations of the Christian faith, and the Apostle’s Creed, what is considered probably the most authoritative of all confessions states: ‘I believe in the resurrection of the body’.[22]

In the Greek view the soul having being freed from the body and the empty husk of a material creation could finally enjoy endless bliss in the presence of the deity. In contrast in the biblical portrait of salvation we see all creation, including the animal kingdom, redeemed and purged of all the elements that had corrupted it and God coming down to earth to dwell with mankind.[23] In the Christian worldview there remains a deep sense of continuity with this present earth and our present body only that both will be perfected.[24]

Believing in the resurrection does not just mean assenting to a dogma and noting a historical fact. It means participating in this creative act of God’s […] Resurrection is not a consoling opium, soothing us with the promise of a better world in the hereafter. It is the energy for a rebirth of this life. The hope doesn’t point to another world. It is focused on the redemption of this one.[25]

  1. A False View of God

Perhaps one of the greatest falsehoods perpetrated upon the human race is a false view of God himself. Our image of God will impact profoundly our behaviour and beliefs. In terms of God’s benevolence, his goodness and grace so much could be said but I would like to focus on an aspect of his being that many seem to ignore: God hates violence.

The LORD tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.[26]

The violence you have done to Lebanon will overwhelm you, and your destruction of animals will terrify you. For you have shed human blood; you have destroyed lands and cities and everyone in them.[27]

Rescue me, Lord, from evildoers; protect me from the violent[28]

This aspect of who God actually is, is so biblical and yet so very radical that most Christians seem unable to fully comprehend it. God is life[29] itself and he is peace[30] itself. The fact that in his grace he is willing to put up temporarily with death and suffering in his creation should not for a moment make us adopt a laissez faire attitude towards these demonic aspects.[31] Jesus as God incarnate was willing to endure immense suffering, even death on the cross, for the joy set before him.[32] But God will not be mocked. We have to be careful as individuals and a society as a whole to not cross the invisible line in the sand, human beings and civilizations alike can reach a point beyond redemption and beyond the reach of God’s grace with the prospect of being completely and finally forsaken by God. ‘And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.’[33]  

6. Upholding the Gospel Story

The gospel is a story filled with beauty and wonder, believed and received it creates a horizon of expectation, an ethical framework and a life of purpose and meaning. Much of our success as Christian animal welfarists will depend on the degree to which we uphold it in a world where other narratives seem to prevail.  

[1] William Wilberforce was the co-founder of the SPCA (later RSPCA) the first Animal Welfare society in the world. William Booth, John Wesley and C.S. Lewis also spoke in defence of animals and against cruelty.

[2] Boyd Gregory, God at War: The Bible and Spiritual Conflict, InterVarsity Press 1997, USA. Pp. 270-273.

[3] Colossians 2:15, Ephesians 3:10.

[4] 2 Corinthians 10:4: «The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary they have divine power to demolish strongholds».

[5] Linzey Andrew, Why Animal suffering matters: Philosophy, Theology, And Practical Ethics, Oxford University Press 2009, USA, pp. 57-60

[6] Paul describes various aspects of spiritual warfare in Ephesians 5: they include prayer (2 Chronicles 2:17), believing the promises of the Bible, proclaiming the gospel and walking in righteousness. Fasting is also a powerful form of spiritual warfare mentioned in Scripture: Matthew 17:21, Jonah 3:5.

[7] Friedrich Nietzsche called for a return to a modified version of the classical cyclical view of history and the complete abandonment of the Judeo-Christian view.

[8] Löwith Karl, Meaning in History: The Theological Implications of the Philosophy of History, The University of Chicago Press 1949, USA, p. 214

[9] 2 Peter 3:4

[10] For this reason authentic Christianity always transcends all political, social and cultural categories.

[11] Löwith Karl, Meaning in History: The Theological Implications of the Philosophy of History, The University of Chicago Press 1949, USA, p 182-188.

[12]Moltmann Juergen, The Crucified God: The Cross of Christ as the Foundation and Criticism of Christian Theology, Scm Classics, UK 2011.

[13] Linzey Andrew, Animal Theology, University of Illinois Press 19954, USA. p. 24

[14] Colossians 1:16

[15] Ephesians 1:5-6

[16] Theosis: 2 Peter 1:4.

[17] On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life, 1859, by Charles Darwin

[18] Ecclesiastes 2:17

[19] Moltmann Juergen, The Spirit of Life, SCM Press 19992, London, Pp. 89-91

[20] Greek for soul or life

[21] 1 Corinthians 15:3-4

[22] Moltmann Juergen, The Spirit of Life, SCM Press 19992, London, p. 9.

[23] Isaiah 11:6, Romans 8:22, Revelation 21,22.

[24] 1 Corinthians 15:42-53, Revelation 22:3.

[25] Moltmann Juergen, Jesus Christ for Today’s World, First Fortress Press Edition, 1994 USA, p. 81.

[26] Psalm 11:5

[27] Habakkuk 2:17

[28] Psalm 140:1

[29] John 1:4

[30] Judges 6:24: Jehovah Shalom

[31] Death is called the “last enemy” in Scripture. In Revelation 21-22 we are told that suffering and pain will both be done away with.

[32] Hebrews 12:2

[33] John 3:19

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4 Responses to Confronting Strongholds in Animal Welfare

  1. Lois Wye says:

    Very interesting post, Marcello; thank you. Much food for thought and a source of hope. You are very right when you say trying to advocate for animals within the Christian community can so often feel like being on a treadmill – a lot of work and going nowhere. As Christians we are always called to hope and to persevere, and your post helps to explain why and how.

    Like

  2. Pingback: Interview with Kathy Dunn for ‘Shepherding All God’s Creatures’ a Christian Animal Organization #interview #nonfiction #animalrights #Christianity – Mandibelle16

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