Environment Health Spirituality

“Human beings are not the master species but the servant species”: says Andrew Linzey, Oxford animal theologian

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The Revd Professor Andrew Linzey, PhD, DD, HonDD is the world’s leading animal theologian, who lectures on ethics at Oxford, where he is attached to St. Stephen’s College. The Angelican priest, 63, is a highly intelligent and articulate proponent of the theological case for more compassionate treatment of his fellow creatures. He is the founder and director of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics.

“What is the Linzey doctrine?” Linzey was asked by an interviewer.

“The advocation of progressive disengagement [from cruelty]. If God so loves the world, non-rational creatures must have a look-in too. Human beings have a responsibility of a kind that mice or giraffes don’t. We are not the master species but the servant species. Our power should be exercised in looking after creation,” Linzey answered.

Linzey proposes the establishment of a body called AAA: “Animal Abusers Anonymous. We’re all guilty either through products we use, food we eat or taxes we pay, so I think self-righteous zeal is entirely inappropriate. When there were protests against the animal laboratory in Oxford I didn’t participate because there was violence and illegality.”

Aa an outspoken opponent of seeing animals as “meat machines”, he says he takes encouragement from the increasing disquiet aroused by slaughterhouses, factory farms, and killing for sport.

When asked the peculiar question of whether a prawn can sin, Linzey replied, “Absolutely not. But beings with the capacity to suffer have the capacity to be wronged. They also possess some degree of cognitive ability and some sense of self awareness.”

Linzey believes that the mainstream church, he argues, will slowly become more active in its opposition to what he sees as institutionalized cruelty.

“I am not a starry-eyed idealist. We’re experiencing a gradual paradigm shift from the idea that animals are commodities to the idea that, as sentient creatures, they have dignity, value and rights. The Christian church has made similar shifts on the rights of women, and gays, and of the child. Things advance. This is where somebody like Richard Dawkins, say, gets religion so terribly wrong. He doesn’t understand that the church is like a river and changes, much as science moves on. He dwells on the worst of its history. That’s like judging secularism by Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot.”

“Humans have “dominion” over animals. But that “dominion” (radah in Hebrew) does not mean despotism, rather we are set over creation to care for what God has made and to treasure God’s own treasures,” Linzey has said.

Linzey, who is a vegetarian, believes that the Bible’s message is clear in regards to eating meat. He told the BBC:

“People always remember that we are given dominion over animals in Genesis chapter one, but they forget that two verses later we are given a vegetarian diet.”

Linzey refers to Genesis 1.29, which says God gave mankind “every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.”

Linzey said: “The important point is that the original diet given by the Creator is vegetarian. Although we live in a world that is fallen and alienated, we should try to at least approximate God’s will by going veggie.

“Animals have their own lives given by God, their own value and dignity. Where we see meat, we should be seeing a sentient creature loved by God,” he added.

“We can’t change the world for animals without changing our ideas about animals. We have to move from the idea that animals are things, tools, machines, commodities, resources here for our use to the idea that as sentient beings they have their own inherent value and dignity,” Linzey shared.

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““Human beings are not the master species but the servant species”: says Andrew Linzey, Oxford animal theologian”