Practical Issues > Things to do > Religion and Animals

How Do Old Testament Religions
(Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Mormonism)
 Affect Animal Rights?

The Reverend Teresa Corrigan, B.A., M. Div.

It is often assumed that Christianity is not concerned with the well being of non-human animals, and it even justifies cruelty with doctrines and beliefs. This assumption would probably be, for the most part, historically correct. The Christian tradition has largely held that God was concerned with only the human species of animals.

Today however, there are growing numbers of Christian theologians who question this assumed relationship to the other beings on earth. These theologians are pointing out that there is support in Christianity for the rights of non-human animals. This is important because the debate about animal rights is, in some cases, colored by a whole range of deeply rooted religious justifications for animal abuse.

One person who is leading this new wave in Christian theology is The Reverend Dr. Andrew Linzey, the British chaplain and Director of Studies at the Centre for the Study of Theology at the University of Essex. One of the most comprehensive works in this field of animals and religion is Linzey's work, Christianity and the Rights of Animals. In this book, Linzey tries to understand the thousands of years of Christian thought regarding animals. He notes that while he began this endeavour expecting the worst, he discovered in Christianity some of the best arguments for respecting non-human animal life, and for taking seriously animals as partners within God's creation.

In his book, drawing upon Biblical thought, tradition, and theological argument, Linzey offers a reinterpretation of traditional Christian assumptions about non-human animals. For example, he looks at the well known passage from Genesis 1:26, where God is reported to say:

Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness, and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the animals of the earth, and over everything that creeps upon the earth.

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), and many others, took this passage to mean that we humans had a complete, tyranical right over the other species of animals. However, LInzey points out that this responsibility of dominion or stewardship.

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