The National Catholic Review
Kate Blake
Our Responsibility to All Creation
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When it comes to animal welfare, the average Christian often displays a staggering lack of Christian values. Most Christians will say they love animals and wish them no ill; yet when addressing basic questions of animal welfare, they do not give the answer that Christian faith demands, but rather an answer born of the disordered, excessive culture in which we live, one shockingly unimpeded by the checks of religion: I’m at the top of the food chain. I’ll eat what I want to eat. What do I care if they live in cages? They’re just pigs. A majority of Christians may even suspect that concern for animals as a part of God’s creation is akin to idolatry and that to care for creation is somehow to displace God.

It is not, however, a displacement of God to concern oneself with the just treatment of what the Creator has made. In fact, it dishonors the Creator when one ignores the welfare of what has been created. In taking the time to fashion every last being in its rightful place and in attending to detail in placing each one just so, God demands that we who are blessed with a capacity to harness the earth’s resources do so responsibly. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it, “Use of the mineral, vegetable, and animal resources of the universe cannot be divorced from respect for moral imperatives.”

Yet few Americans acknowledge any moral imperative beyond the maximum economic value of a resource. Rather, the feeling is that all of creation is ordered to our use, and that the only question we need consider is what that chicken or calf or rabbit can do for me. Creation, then, is seen as having no purpose beyond the serving of our needs. We forget we ourselves are a part of creation. So we do our best to keep it from encroaching on our mechanized lives.

Who Is the Master?

Few want to be reminded that we live within nature. We shield ourselves from the things that nature does, harboring the feeling that when nature does what it is supposed to do, such as rain or snow, it is inconveniencing our civilized way of life. Yet our place in creation is not that of master. The natural world is given to us by God in exchange for our responsible occupation of it. As the catechism puts it: “Man’s dominion over inanimate and other living beings granted by the Creator is not absolute...it requires a religious respect for the integrity of creation.” Creation owes us nothing. Rather, we owe creation reparation.

What many Christians fail to recognize is that most violations of the integrity of creation stem from a continuing desire to reorder creation in the way we would like it to be. So we genetically engineer crops to operate according to our demands, and we treat animals as if they have no right to fresh air and grass. In winking at questions of animal welfare, in stating that we are masters and that animals are at our disposal, we continue egregiously and willfully to commit that same first sin.

It is not the consumption or use of animals that constitutes the problem but the methods used to treat them. In his book Love and Responsibility, Pope John Paul II wrote: “Intelligent human beings are not only required not to squander or destroy…natural resources, but to use them with restraint.... In his treatment of animals in particular, since they are beings endowed with feeling and sensitive to pain, man is required to ensure that the use of these creatures is never attended by suffering or physical torture.”

Down on the Farm

In all likelihood, though, we seldom give a thought to the means by which Sunday dinner arrives at our table. One Web site (www.factoryfarm.org) explains: “While many of the techniques utilized on factory farms were developed to make production more profitable, other techniques were implemented to increase efficiency and safety. However, these practices often cause discomfort, pain, and stress to animals, while inhibiting their natural, instinctual behaviors.”

According to the Web site, pigs, weighing 500 pounds fully grown, are born and raised in spaces only 20 inches across. They have no room to turn or lie down. They are forced to defecate in this same space; and contrary to expectation, animals do not defecate where they eat and sleep when they have a choice.

In nature, pigs root, forage and build nests; in the modern factory farm, they have nothing but a concrete floor. Tumors, sores and legs fractured from lack of movement are common. Chickens face a similar fate. They are crammed into cages so small they cannot extend their wings and are housed in buildings without windows, depriving them of sunlight.

Such conditions are widespread. In a paper entitled “Farm Animal Health and Well-Being,” prepared for the Minnesota Planning Agency Environmental Quality Board, Marlene K. Halverson relates: “All farm animals except pastured species and those in enriched, extensive confinement are denied the possibility of performing species-specific natural behaviors, such as dustbathing (an important grooming activity for chickens) or nest-building (an important maternal activity for sows).”

When an animal is denied an opportunity to act or behave in the ways God created it to do, it is no longer living in natural conditions. That is a violation of the harmony of creation. Our attempt to circumvent nature and God’s creation is nothing less than the sin of pride.

Our Christian Duty

Though it should be evident that none of this activity is in keeping with God’s intentions for creation, for many Christians it remains a nonissue. Why? If, as the Bible tells us, not even a sparrow falls to the ground without God’s knowledge, how can we justify contempt for that sparrow? Animal welfare and questions of ethical farming practices cannot be dismissed with charges of idolatry. More to the point, when one person chooses to abstain from meat derived from animals raised in unnatural conditions, while a second demands to be served only the tenderest, juiciest cuts of sirloin, it is not the first who is raising up idols.

As Pope John Paul II stated in his encyclical Centesimus Annus: “Instead of carrying out his role as a cooperator with God in the work of creation, man sets himself up in place of God and thus ends up provoking a rebellion on the part of nature....” That stark observation should prompt in us a renewed sense of commitment to God’s creation and a soulful consideration of our relationship to it.

Kate Blake is a senior at the University of Alabama at Huntsville.Catechism of the Catholic ChurchLove and ResponsibilityCentesimus Annus

Comments

JoAnne Hughes | 8/23/2009 - 6:37pm
My dear daughter,
In the article by kate Blake that your father sent you and which you shared with me, this is  my response.
Your father "submitted it without comment" in the typical modest and humble   family fashion. However, as a Welsh Hughes who believes that conversation and the use of words is a great gift to humanity I wish actually  to SAY something. The exhcange of ideas in living language is the champagne that gives a bubbling energy to human interaction.
  In this article, which, as I read it, felt so reassuring and kind and all around wonderful, I read this statement.  The"use of the mineral, vegetable, and animal resources of the universe cannot be divorced from respect for moral imperatives."   The word " Resources" itself poses a problem. It implies substances to be USED. But not to knit pick , I want to  go on to ask," Isn't one of the ten commandments  Thou shalt not kill?" Isn't that a moral imperative one of the great commands of all history?.   The writer decries the attitude of humanity at the present time. She says "the feeling is that the only question we need to consider is what the chickken or calf or rabbit can do for me". This is lovely, very true,all well and good.  She continues in this vein on page 14.
     The writer says, quoting the catechism, "man's dominion over inanimate and other living beings granted by the creator is not absolute...it requires a religious respect for the integrity of creation"
  This is just wonderful! And it comes from the best possible source, the chatechism.
   But I have to ask,, " is it respectful to kill and eat and use the body parts of a living being?"
   At this point I began to wonder "where the writer was going".  Then the answer came. The writer says "it is NOT the consumption or use of animal that constitutes the problem but the methods used to treat them."
 
      There it is! Once, very long ago, I questioned  my young husband about the morality of killing and eating meat.  The cows looked so beautiful grazing with their big soft eyes the grass on the hillside. His answer was that they would not have any life at all unless we were raising them for meat. We, in fact, godlike, are giving them the opportunity to live so that we can eat them and that is doing them a favor because we are letting them be alive in the first place.  As a young,twenty something girl being told that by the husband that I thought was right in all things, I set it aside without further questioning but couldn't help but remember it, because it didn't sound quite right to me somehow.
 The conclusion I drew from thhis conciiatory and very comfortable article is that it is perfectly okay to kill and eat animals as long as we are nice to them while they are alive and kill them mercifully.
Well, I must say that would be an improvement over what humanity is doing now, but I still don't see where the "moral imperative" is being obeyed here.
It sounds to me as  a kind of "I was right all along and I never did anything wrong in eating meat. Also, I will continue to do so because I  eat meat  only from organic farms where the animals are treated well.
It is so nice not to think we have ever been wrong and need to change ourselves or change our ways. "I was always right And I am still right! and that allows me to enjoy my tastes and feel good about myself at the same time".
Antonio and I often speculate on the way the human race is going to feel when people find out, as they surely will not too long from now, that animals understand, feel, think, and love in ways far beyond anything we human beings know anything about. When people discover what  cannibals and torturers  they have been in doing  these things to these amazing beings, people will have to pay "reparations", as the writer of this article says near the beginning.  Those reparations will be the terrible sorrow and horrible guilt humanity will have to experience at  having been so egregiously wrong for so many millenia.
People have a great talent for finding all kinds of very clever ways of avoiding the truth in order to do what they want, which in this case is to "enjoy the taste" and to feel righteous and to blame others for their own complicity.  "I don't kill them myself, somebody else does that for me, so I don't have to watch it." They do all kinds of things, "turn a blind eye", engage in crass ignorance  which is intentionally  to refuse to learn the truth in order to maintain comfortable illusions, refuse to admit their own mistakes, lie to themselves sayiing that animals don't feel pain,and other mental gymnastics. 
It is the worst kind of moral weakness not to be able to admit one's errors and to continue comfortably to stroke one's ego all the while blatantly looking in the mirror at the face of the truth and refusing to see it!  
The article, which starts out sounding and feeling so good, finished by telling the reader that the animals are OURS to OWN and to USE, to KILL and to EAT, As long as we are nice to them in the process. A friend of mine asked me if it is okay to kill and eat your wife and kids as long as you arre nice to them while they are alive? The issue rests on the conviction that human beings are the only creatures who possess  immortal souls. They used to maintain that  people of African descent had no souls and were "only animals" ,when they wanted an excuse to keep them as slaves! Even given that argument regarding animals, is it acceptable to kill and destroy living creatures whether they have immortal souls or not?
Thank you for listening to your Mom's thoughts put into spoken words!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The truth is often very uncomfortable,worse than iodine, but it is the world's greatest medicine. It the balm of reality. It heals all illnesses of the body and the soul. After all Reality is GOD.  Truth, life, and love are all of the nature of GOD.
 Love from Mom
C BASTIEN | 3/24/2009 - 1:00pm
I think I already know the answer, but doesn't Cardinal Comastri have anything better to do?
ROGER FELDMAN | 3/19/2009 - 3:17pm
Thank you for the "Animal Welfare" article by Kate Blake and the "Church Writings on Nature" insert included in the magazine and the 'cover', all of which support her position concerning our stewardship for animals and our place within creation. Vegetarianism is the logical outcome to any in depth study of the conditions that occur on "factory farms". Not only are animals subjected to cruel, abusive treatment, the negative impact on the environment resulting from live stock agriculture has also been documented by numerous studies. However, with issues like respect for life, moral values, war, poverty, human relations and probably several other issues that are a priority, I am not surprised that people are still ingesting animals and processed foods with ingredients lists that can barely be pronounced. I think most folks just shrug and keep munching. Jesus probably ate meat and fish but he didn't have the other nutritional means available that we have two thousand years later. We in industrialized society have so many comforts available for convenience and enjoyment including a vast array of grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, etc. There is really no justification for producing food from animals as we do currently. "I like the taste" somehow doesn't suffice to justify the problematic issues. We certainly have many nutritional alternatives available. Why not be a healthy, nutritionally viable vegetarian. Try it, you'll like it.
michelle benedict | 3/15/2009 - 7:30pm
Thank you for this article. I also agree with the author and hope that readers will take her words to heart. I'm a strict vegetarian and while I hope but don't expect others to follow my path, I hope that all animals will be treated with kindness and compassion and cared for as G-d's creatures. Anyone disputing that we should treat them as well as all natural gifts from G-d with care and love, who may feel this some how is sacrilege, should consider the life and words of St. Francis who loved all living creatures. Peace to all.
Keyran Moran | 3/15/2009 - 4:22am
Bravo! I am stunned that such a sensible and warm-hearted piece is allowed! Or is it compensation for the poverty of feeling and insight in the ideology. But let us be positive: Let us all take the leap from power to service and God. But the first step is the hardest...to service to all suffering creatures,
Lori Hurley | 3/13/2009 - 8:20pm
I very much agree with the writer, and find her article supportive of my own attempts to wean myself "off the grid" of the industrial food complex, especially where it comes to colluding in systems that brutalize animals. We cannot escape our connection with creation.