Reading David Clough’s On Animals

Over the weekend, I started reading the British theologian David Clough‘s On Animals: Systematic Theology (Volume 1). Clough, who co-edited this excellent collection on animals and theology, writes that he had originally intended to write a book about animals and Christian ethics, but found that the doctrinal foundations for such a project were so underdeveloped that he needed to write an entire volume on doctrine before getting to the ethical implications! (Volume 2, as I understand it, will cover the ethical upshot of the doctrinal points developed in this volume.)

The book is organized around the themes of creation, reconciliation, and redemption. Clough argues that, when properly understood, traditional formulations of these doctrines have implications for the place of animals that are far different than usually assumed. For example, the first two chapters on creation (which is as far as I’ve gotten) make the case that creation is not for the sake of human beings. Many theologians have maintained just this, but that’s largely, Clough contends, because they uncritically adopted positions from extra-biblical sources such as Stoicism, Platonism, or gnosticism (in the case of several of the church fathers) or had absorbed secular zeal for mastery over the natural world (as happened among some early-modern theologians). A better reading of the Bible and Christian faith, Clough says, is that creation is for the sake of God’s fellowship with all creatures and that (non-human) animals have their own place and vocation before God that is not merely to serve humanity.

I plan to blog more about Clough’s book as I make my way through it. (And note that the hardcover is listed at $120, while the Kindle version is a mere $15.)

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8 thoughts on “Reading David Clough’s On Animals

  1. “(non-human) animals have their own place and vocation before God that is not merely to serve humanity”

    I think this must be true but I’ve never yet seen a theologian state it. Thanks 🙂

    1. Crystal,
      There’s actually a small, but significant, body of work on animal ethics from various Christian-theological perspectives. Andrew Linzey is undoubtedly the single most prolific theologian in this area, and much of his work aims at showing how the traditional and dominant view of animals among Christians (that animals are made to serve man) is not a properly God-centered view of reality, but is rather an illegitimately “anthropocentric” perspective, one which has no genuine theological currency. His work is very important, but many theologians have found his use of “rights” to be too rooted in enlightenment philosophies. I am excited about Clough’s book precisely because, having read some of his articles on the topic, he seems to circumvent this problem and re-situate the issue of animal ethics on a more properly theological basis.
      -Allen

      1. Agree that Linzey is the most prolific on the subject: in fact I’d go so far as to say he’s a one-man “first wave of vegetarian theology”. Also agree with your concerns about the language of rights: I believe that as the body of Christ the church is called to be a counter-cultural community in the world, loving the marginal members of society because God values them and they too will be restored come the eschaton. “Rights” don’t come into it; but if all creation is to be reconciled to God (Col. 1:20), then animals – truly marginal creatures – surely do.

        Allen, have you come across much by Rachel Muers? She’s my supervisor, so you could say I’m a little biased, but she is increasingly contributing to environmental and animal theology. Her chapter in “Creaturely Theology” (an anthology edited by David Clough and Celia Deane-Drummond) takes an angle similar to that of Carol Adams (feminist vegetarian thinker who has engaged with animal theology) in looking at the cyclical relationship between how we use animals and what we think they are.

      2. Matthew,
        I haven’t read anything by Rachel Muers on animal theology. I have read her chapter on “Feminism, Gender, and Theology” in the volume she co-edited with David F. Ford (The Modern Theologians: 3rd Ed), and thought it was great. I would love to read some of her work on animals. I have recently tried keeping a catalog (at my blog: grandampersand.wordpress.com) of all the books and articles on animal theology that I come across. Creaturely Theology is a great collection, but I haven’t read through all the contributions. I’m really excited to see a growing interest in this area!

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