Animals are not ours – Review
Animals are not ours (No, really, they’re not) – An Evangelical Liberation Theology, By Sarah Withrow King, July 2016. The Lutterworth Press, 187 pages, ISBN 9780718894481. RRP £15.00 (paperback)
In this genre defying book, Sarah Withrow King, of Eastern University, explores some very important and complex ethical issues. However, as the book’s subtitle indicates, this is more than an ethical discussion. She has the much more ambitious aim of articulating an “Evangelical animal liberation theology”.
King has a unique writing style. The book is easy to read, and her writing is characterised by honesty and passion. She does not pretend to be neutral or balanced. There is a great deal of autobiographical detail about her journey to become a vegan, and the development of her ethical and theological ideas in relation to non-human animals.
In Part One she explores biblical motifs and themes that are of relevance to the relationship between humans and other sentient beings. Firstly she discusses the concept of “dominion” alluded to in the Genesis creation narrative. King argues that dominion has largely been misunderstood historically, and should be replaced by a stewardship paradigm where humans have a responsibility to care for animals, rather than to dominate and exploit them as “resources”. Her exegesis of Genesis appears to assume that the narrative contains literal history, and she assumes that the reader will read Genesis in this way too.
King develops the stewardship model to some extent, observing “an implicit and dangerous hierarchy in the idea of stewardship as it is presented today” (p.25) which privileges humans over non-human animals. This is surely the most obvious flaw in the stewardship model. She also discusses this relationship using an eschatological lens, arguing that Jesus and Paul had a much broader vision of redemption and reconciliation, that was not limited to human beings, but encompassed all of Creation.
Part Two is more focused on ethical and philosophical questions. Drawing on her background as a former PETA activist, she graphically describes the suffering that animals experience via such practices as factory farming, slaughter and vivisection. For King the key question is: does the suffering of animals matter from an ethical perspective, or are they ours to exploit and abuse as we see fit? She also explores the consequences of these practices for the climate, and the use of limited resources such as water.
The final section is largely comprised of practical advice about transitioning away from eating animals, or otherwise contributing to animal suffering. This section is more subjective, and, I felt, excessively prescriptive, without always giving satisfactory justification for the practical changes she feels are necessary to facilitate a more just and humane relationship with animals.
The book is clearly written for a primarily Evangelical audience. Some may find her biblical hermeneutics to be inappropriately reliant on a literalistic reading of the text. Thankfully however, her comprehensive exposé of animal suffering, and the global impact of the meat industry is much more compelling. Ultimately, I cannot imagine many people reading this book and not reflecting more seriously about the impact of their behaviour on the environment and on the other creatures with which we share this planet.