We saw in the previous post that Southgate thinks humans should play an active role in “healing” the creation by ameliorating some of the negative effects of the evolutionary process. And we’ve also seen that chief among those effects, in his view, are the problem of animal suffering and the problem of extinction.
Turning to matters of practice, he discusses our relationship with the animals we raise for food and the question of what our response should be to the extinction of species. In this post I’ll discuss the first issue, leaving the discussion of extinction for the next one.
With respect to food animals, Southgate considers Andrew Linzey’s proposal for what Southgate calls “eschatological vegetarianism.” In Linzey’s view, animals have God-given rights (he calls them “theos-rights”) to live lives according to their kind. Further, he argues that vegetarianism is a way of living in anticipation of God’s peaceable kingdom where there will be no more killing or exploitation between species.
Southgate reads Linzey as saying that predation is inherently evil and due to the fall of creation, but I’m not sure this is entirely fair. Linzey does flirt with the idea of the cosmic fall, but he allows that the story of the fall may be an imaginative picture that gives us hints of what a redeemed creation will look like, but does not necessarily depict an actual historical state of affairs. (See, for example, the discussion in chapter 3 of his Animal Gospel where he talks in terms of an “unfinished” creation; Linzey seems rather close to Southgate’s own position here.)
That said, Soutgate agrees with Linzey that the biblical vision of a redeemed creation also condemns many of our current practices toward animals, in farming, science, and industry:
[…] the great proportion of current killing of animals is not reverent but casual, the final act in a relationship with confined animals who know no freedom to be themselves, or healthy relationships either with each other or their human owners. And “owners” is the key word here, because much of this problem stems from the reduction of animal nature to a mere commodity, which in its rearing and killing alike must be processed as cheaply as possible into products. (p. 118)
However, Southgate thinks that some forms of farming–of the pastoral, free-range variety–can create a flourishing life for animals and genuine community between animals and humans. If we were to stop breeding these animals for food, he contends, this valuable form of community would disappear. He’s therefore unwilling to categorically deny that killing of animals for food can sometimes be done reverently.
Nevertheless, he recognizes that vegetarianism might still be a sign of kenosis, a self-limiting for the sake of the other. In particular, he says, Christians might feel called to abstain from meat that has been “sacrificed” to the idols of mechanized efficiency and profit that our factory farming system serves, and to avoid animal flesh that wasn’t humanely raised and slaughtered (which would be nearly all of it).
Southgate’s and Linzey’s positions actually seem rather close here. Both oppose the practices of factory farming and would see free-range alternatives as vastly superior. Moreover, Linzey acknowledges that there are people living today who have to eat meat to survive. Where they may differ is in evaluating the goods of pastoral farming–the form of community it makes possible–and whether that good justifies rearing animals for slaughter when doing so isn’t required for human survival and flourishing. It’s also far from clear whether a large-scale shift to humane animal husbandry could meet current (and future) demand, especially in the context of the current environmental situation, in which case vegetarianism might be embraced by some as a special vocation, even if not a duty.
Index of posts in this series is here.