Robin Blount: ecumenical notes, cruise ship chaplaincy and lots more

Animals are sentient beings

14 May 2021

Goodness, what a discovery! Animals are able to feel and express pleasure and pain. Of course anyone who has kept a dog or cat will know that already. This is hardly revolutionary news.

However, it raises an interesting question. Where does predation fit into this new legislation? What do we say about animals that hunt for prey to eat? If I think about that for too long, I am caught up in feelings of sorrow for the prey that is being eaten alive, and a measure of distaste that this scenario, which must happen every second somewhere, is built into the way the planet works. Around here, sparrowhawks in summertime eat mostly fledglings, which seems cruel but is their natural habit. And anyone who's watched Springwatch or any of the other three series will be familiar with such things.

The phrase "red in tooth and claw" is attributed to Tennyson but in fact is much older. It's one of those rather unsavoury facts of life that we might wish not to think about too much. After all, we are told in Genesis, the creation was harmonious and peaceful until human behaviour wrecked the divine plan. Even then, the imagery of Isaiah 11:6-9 paints a picture of contentment - "The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion together..." and so on. But this would mean that the very instincts of these predators would be completely altered - would a lion or a wolf survive without killing?

As I write, Israelis and Palestinians are threatening all-out warfare in that grievously troubled land. Human beings are perhaps the only species on the planet that deliberately sets out to inflict pain and death on fellow humans, for whatever reason. And yet we know what we are doing - it's not an instinctive act of self-preservation. Ultimately it's about power, greed and control.

And what of God? If we believe in a loving and caring God, a forgiving and gracious God, who created this world in love, how come some animals feed on other animals and cause pain and suffering in so doing? However, consider this, that God commanded Joshua to commit genocide when leading the wandering tribes into their promised homeland. And that provokes some more interesting questions about our belief in God - Isaiah 43 for example. "Do not fear, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name, you are mine."

No easy answers!

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