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Earth Ethics Fall 2004

"The resemblances between many animals and humans, not least in their dependency of food and air, have given to animals a special status in all religions." This is the first sentence from the entry on animals in The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions (1997). Yet species of wild animals are being driven to extinction at accelerating rates. Farm animals are being increasingly manipulated through factory farms and genetic engineering to enhance production. What do the religions of the world tell us of the purpose of nonhuman animals in the natural order and humans' moral responsibility to them? This issue presents excerpts from a few chapters in a forthcoming book, entitled A Communion of Subjects: Animals in Religion and Ethics. This issue also features some paper presentations and describes the activities of the Animals and Religion Consultation of the American Academy of Religion.

Animals and Religion, by Paul Waldau and Kimberley Patton. Waldau and Patton describe a new book entitled A Communion of Subjects: Animals in Religion and Ethics as a series of voices that invites us to meet the challenge of asking and answering how the two important topics of "religion" and "animals" are joined. This book arises from an event that took place in May 1999 at the Harvard-Yenching Institute, where scholars from all over the world converged to discuss the different ways in which religious traditions and their believers have engaged nonhuman lives in and around our human communities. This volume of edited essays reflects the many ideas discussed at the conference. The title has been taken from the insight of Thomas Berry that the world "is not a collection of objects, but a communion of subjects."

Hierarchy, Kinship, and Responsibility: The Jewish Relationship to the Animal World, by Roberta Kalechofsky. She discusses how Judaism with respect to animals is rich in laws governing the relationships between humans and animals. The Encyclopedia Judaica provides a good summary of these laws, beginning with the observation that "moral and legal rules concerning the treatment of animals are based on the principle that animals are part of God's creation toward which man bears responsibility. Laws make it clear not only that cruelty to animals is forbidden but also that compassion and mercy to them are demanded of many by God." She states that Judaism accepts a hierarchical scheme to creation, but hierarchy and dominion do not exclude feelings of loving kinship.

The Case of the Animals versus Man: Towards an Ecology of Being, by Zayn Kassam. Dr. Kassam summarizes the text of The Case of the Animals versus Man that she and her college students read in her Islamic philosophy course. The animals seek to improve their situation, and the text has a surprising conclusion.

The Tradition of Animal Protection in Jaina Religion, by Christopher Key Chapple. Prof. Chapple surveys various aspects of the relationship between humans and animals in the Jaina religious tradition. He describes two reasons why the Jaina theory of karma does not allow the killing of a suffering animal. Jainism sees animals as potential or former human beings, paying for past sins yet capable of self-redemption. According to Jainism, the best life pays attention to animals in a way that gives them the freedom to pursue their own path, to fulfill their self-made destinies, and perhaps enter themselves into the path of virtue.

The Subjective Lives of Animals, by Marc Bekoff. In this brief essay, Dr. Bekoff describes "minding" animals to mean two things. First, it refers to caring for other animal beings, respecting them for who they are, wondering what and how they feel and why. Second, it refers to the fact that many animals have very active and thoughtful minds. He states that the study of animal emotions is an important endeavor because it will allow us to achieve an understanding and appreciation of the lives of many of the animals with whom we share this planet and will help us come to terms with how we treat our animal kin.

All Animals Matter: Marc Bekoff's Contribution to Constructive Christian Theology, by Jay McDaniel. Dr. McDaniel's essay explores the implications of Prof. Marc Bekoff's writings for spiritually-interest seekers. The essay is divided into six sections: (1) Minding Animals, (2) Bekoff's Spiritual Outlook, (3) The Threefold Nature of Religious Life, (4) A Theology of Animal Minds, (5) An Ethic of Animal Protection, and (6) A Spirituality of Animal Connection.

Ecumenical Ethics for Earth Community, by Dieter Hessel. Dr. Hessel discusses the basic norms of eco-justice ethics and summarizes and defines them as solidarity, sustainability, sufficiency, and participation. Solidarity means strong, vibrant community concerned with individual and collective well-being and motivates acts of community-building. Sustainability means relating to the natural world so that its ecological health and beauty may be maintained and gives high priority to ecosystemic integrity, pollution prevention, and caring use of the natural world. Sufficiency affirms the moral imperative of social equity and insists that all human participants must be able to obtain sufficient sustenance. Participation highlights a dimension of right relationships and underscores the importance of democratic social organization and inclusive community-building behavior.

Animals Re-enter the Christian (and Interfaith) Sanctuary: Blessings of Animals in the U.S., by Laura Hobgood-Oster. Dr. Hobgood-Oster researches the ritual of the blessings of animals in the U.S. and raises the question: Does the ritual moment in blessing animals simply re-impose the animal as an object of the human gaze? She writes that blessings of the animals include those who are most often excluded, and asks, after the blessing, are they excluded as fully as they were before the blessing? She concludes that research into blessings of the animals is just beginning and that new theories and new ideas about why these blessings are reaching more people and animals each year will emerge as it continues.

Animals, Religion and the Environment: The Bible's Teachings on Protecting Animals and Nature, by Lewis Regenstein. Mr. Regenstein presents a thorough account of biblical scriptures that are filled with admonitions, commandments, and stories promoting conservation, respect of nature and the environment, and kindness to animals. He states that many of our modern day practices, such as factory farming, blatantly violate most or all of these biblical laws, causing massive damage to people, animals, the environment, essential natural resources and the air we breathe. Only by obeying the commandment to "replenish the earth" can we hope to save it.

Resources for Animals and Religion, by Richard Clugston and Heather Tallent.

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