Amazing Grace, Animal Welfare, Are chimps people?, Care of Creation, Image Bearers, Massive Identity Confusion, Mystery of having Value, Pets are People too?, Prevention of cruelty to animals., William Wilberforce
“Americans own almost as many dogs per household as have children, and actually own more cats per household than have children… More than 3 million pets are adopted annually in America—more than twenty times the number of children adopted each year” (Doug Ponder, of Re-source.org).
“There has been a meteoric rise in niche pet services like pet daycares, pet TV channels, pet costumes, pet clothing lines, pet fashion shows, pet dating services, and so forth.
The amount of money [spent] each year on our pets (61 billion dollars) is enough to feed, clothe, and educate more than 150 million children in poverty-stricken nations [of the developing world].”
While it is getting easier to enact legislation to euthanize humans, organizations like PETA and other animal rights activists continue to press for legislation that makes it harder to euthanize animals (I will not unbraid the Gordian Knot of human/animal ethics here).
What is happening?
In Canada, animal rights activists are fighting for an “Animal charter of rights and freedoms” that would recognize animals as persons in the court in order to “guarantee rights and freedoms that make life worth living.”
Take the case of activists arguing before a New York judge to rule on whether chimps are ‘persons’. The two chimps in question are being used as research subjects at a state university in New York. The activists hope a judge will rule the chimps be freed, allowing them to be taken to an animal sanctuary in Florida. Leaving aside for a moment the ethics of animal research, it is ironic that there is growing traction to accept pets are people, in a time when unborn humans are not – therefore making it easy to eliminate what is so un-euphamistically referred to as a “clump of cells.”
“There is a reason why we are valuing children (and all human beings) less and less, while valuing other things (like animals) more and more,” says Doug Ponder. What has happened is a shift – “a change in how we have to think about the value or worth of someone or something. In the current way of thinking, most people tend to estimate value or worth based on what a person or thing can “do for them.” In other words, instead of valuing something for what it is, we value it only for what it does—especially what it does for me. But when we begin to think of people in the same terms, we run into all sorts of problems. What if someone doesn’t benefit you? What if their existence is a nuisance to you? What if that person is loved by you? What if you are the unloved person?”
Ethics for Animal Welfare
Among the ironies of our time is the fact that we arrive at our modern day sensibilities for the welfare of animals by tracing its roots in the 200 year old evangelical movement of which William Wilberforce was a part.
“Amazing Grace,” a film biography of William Wilberforce, anti-slavery crusader and co-founder of the world’s oldest anti-cruelty society, captures Wilberforce’s deep devotion to animals and his determination to end the cruelty and suffering imposed upon them in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
For two decades, William Wilberforce (1759-1833) led the struggle in the English Parliament to abolish slavery, and it was his principal concern as a politician and a reformer. But he did not limit his vision of a better world solely to his fellow human beings. Wilberforce was also a founding figure of the animal protection movement, helping to found the first society for the prevention of cruelty to animals and providing essential support for the first modern laws on the subject.”
The Mystery of having Value
For animals to have value, we need not ascribe to them “person” status; we need only ascribe to Biblical values for the care of creation. After all, people who are actual persons are struggling to be valued; why would it surprise us that animals lack dignity in this cruel world?
To value animals as if they are persons is a symptom of our massive identity confusion. As image-bearers of the Creator God, human kind is not endowed with limitless and unaccountable power over creation – instead we are authorized with a profoundly humbling responsibility to care and “keep” the ecosystem in which we find ourselves. And more: we are to decipher the mystery of our worth – so that we would contribute to our neighbours being able to imagine theirs. A world confused about personal value, and locked in narcissistic pursuits is not capable of such a thing.