The New Testament on Animals - Can Anthropocentric Theology be Overcome?

Since BioLogos is changing it’s focus somewhat, towards creation care, I would like to start a discussion on the historical and scriptural hurdles which Christians environmentalists have to face.

I feel as though the Hebrew Bible is unfairly scapegoated for our western view of total dominion (indeed, it is rather cheaply scapegoated on many issues, “Old Testament” is synonymous with cruelty and wrath, possibly due to residual anti-semitism), when in fact, some passages in the OT, such as Isaiah 40:15 seem to reject the notion that the universe revolves around us, and the law of Moses includes what is likely the earliest legislation for animal welfare (Exodus 23:12, Deuteronomy 25:4). Indeed, Judaism has always prohibited unnecessary cruelty towards animals, going back as far as Philo of Alexandria, who interpreted the milk and meat prohibition as a prohibition against cruelty. The later Rabbis developed the principles of Tsa’ar Baalei Chaim (relieving animal pain) and Bal Tashhit (against waste), showing that concern for the non-human world is not a new development in Judaism.

So I feel as though the Christian New Testament is probably more to blame. The New Testament, especially the story of the Gadarene Demoniacs, and 1 Corinthians 9:9, seem to demonstrate a lack of concern for animals. Indeed, this is how virtually all Christians (with exceptions) saw things until the modern era. Augustine said that humans have no duties towards animals, whilst Aquinas thought we only had indirect duties to prevent cruelty to humans. Unlike in other religions, concern for animals seems to be a novel idea in Christendom.

It is true however, that when concern for animals did arise in the west, it arose primarily among the devout, particularly amongst English Puritans, who banned bear baiting, and later Evangelicals, who founded the RSPCA in the 19th century. This is a positive contribution of Christianity, but Christianity was still late to the stage compared to Judaism, and other religions.

I consider this to be a major shortcoming of Christianity, and one of the main reasons why I am not a Christian. How do ecologically minded Christians deal with these parts of the NT?

Time and context of event taking place. Maybe it wasn’t really much of an issue for the early church to think ecological in terms of animal care. That’s my spin on the whole issue. The whole “take care of creation” as we know it is a 20th century concept though I’m sure some early Christians did advocate for caring for the earth and animals but got drowned out.

I don’t think so. Quite the contrary. There is no animal sacrifice in Christianity which did not come from Judaism by the way, for it was a widespread religious practice all over the world. At that time the principle battle was against the practice of human and child sacrifice as well as against worshiping animals as if they were some kind of god.

To be sure animals are valued less than human beings in both NT and OT, where man is “very good” compared to “good.” But this is somewhat conditional on our choice of good over evil. God regretted creating man because of the evil of his thinking and God vowed never again to destroy all things as He did for our sake in the flood. We see this in the NT, not only in the Gadarene Demoniacs and 1 Cor 9:9 but also in Matthew 6:25-34.

But it is fair to say that the Abrahamic religions have swung us a bit too far to the opposite extremes compared to other religions, of not giving sufficient value and respect for the rest of life on the planet. But that I think this is ultimatly a problem of human nature that we are always swinging to extremes, and fighting against one evil, we slide into another evil. Finding a balance seems to be difficult thing for collective humanity to master.

But in this lies a warning against letting environmental concerns cause another swing to an opposite extreme such as we find in eco-terrorism. The biggest and best argument for environmentalism is in how it negatively effects human life. After all, there is little doubt that life and the earth will survive global warming, and the real question is whether humanity and civilization can survive the catastrophes which are coming.

First, isn’t Religion really about Deo-centrism?

Second, why would any person want to “overcome” anthro-pocentrism?

What’s wrong with people putting people first (noting the caveat of Deo-centrism)?

Caveats about people’s regard for the Gods they worship aside, what is wrong is that people are one but one thread among many in the complicated tapestry which is the biome of the planet we share. We have the most computing power but will we have enough to avoid unraveling that which supports us all. In giving man dominion over the rest of nature, was God handing us the key to a larder or charging us with a responsibility? Do you think God had any regard for other creatures or really only the one that bore his image? If only the latter that makes God seem quite the narcissist.

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It was an issue for the early rabbis

Where commands are repeated in Scripture, it typically means they are very important. Also, it is important to understand differences when content is left out of a repeated command. In Genesis 1, man was created and it was “very good”. God blessed man saying: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth, and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and the fowl of the air…”

Then sin entered the world. Note the difference between the blessing God gave men and women, and the blessing God gave Noah (Gen 1:9)
“Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth. An the fear of you and the dread shall be upon every beast of the earth…”

Notice men and women are no longer capable of subduing nature, only to create fear because of our sin.

Doesn’t change the fact that Christianity, in stark contrast to Judaism, has been very late to the stage in coming to the realisation that animals deserve welfare. They both use the same Old Testament, so why so different? The simplest answer is that the New Testament is the root cause of these differences

That is like saying that the NT is responsible for creationism because there are fewer Jewish creationists, which is absurd because Genesis is the basis for creationism not the NT. No, the real reason is that we just have this one highly reactionary head-blind sector of Christianity. You don’t see any resistance or even reluctance towards environmentalism in most of Christianity around the world.

By the way… pecentages which agree with evolution are (from Wikipedia)
Buddhist 81%
Hindu 80%
Jewish 77%
Catholic 58%
Mainline Protestant 51%
Evangelical Protestant 24%
Mormon 22%
Jehovah Witness 8%
The Jewish are closer to the Hindus and Buddhists than to even the Catholics. To be frank, a far far better hypothesis might be a simple measure of average intelligence (i.e. for support of both evolution and environmentalism there is more correlation with intelligence than with what scriptures they believe in).

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Maybe not the New Testament so much as the premillennialistic, rapture centric interpretation which is has an element of fatalism and hopelessness for the present creation, leading to an attitude of consumption and self-centeredness in Christian society.

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It is my understanding that except for orthodox (a minority I believe), jews do not emphasize either creationism or an afterlife (certainly not hell at any rate). I’d be interested in @Reggie’s take on what others have told me about Judaism, if it doesn’t take this thread on too great a tangent.

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Exactly… For those living near this one weird sector of Christianity their view of Christianity has become rather distorted.

from a BBC article

In 2013, researchers tackled that question by asking whether there was a relationship between a country’s main religion and the number of important biodiversity areas it contained. They found that Christian countries, particularly Catholic ones, tended to have more areas set aside for nature than other countries.

However, this does not mean White was completely wrong. Other studies suggest that conservative Christians really are less environmentally friendly than other denominations.

In a study published in 1993, priest and sociologist Andrew Greeley looked at how much Americans were willing to spend on conserving the environment. He found that Christian fundamentalists were less willing, and Catholics more willing, to financially support the environment. This suggests that it is not whether a person is Christian, but rather what type of Christian they are, that influences their behaviour towards nature.

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I guess that raises the question of what kind of ruler would God want us to be? Is a ruler entitled to subjugate and exploit the ruled? I don’t think you or I would call that good.

I agree with you in the current state if the church within Evangelical Christianity here in the USA. But some “liberal’s” like my self would be technically Premillennialist but am Historic Premillennialist and don’t think the church gets a “get out of jail” rapture card and think that the church will endure a brief period of tribulation. Most of it I feel will be also ecological due to climate change. The political side of Evangelical Christianity is very right-wing and betrays the Biblical foundations of taking care of the earth.