Is Christianity Animal-Friendly?

Kimberley C. Patton  

Read complete article at Harvard Divinity School.

In Review | Books The Friends We Keep: Unleashing Christianity’s Compassion for Animals, by Laura Hobgood-Oster. Baylor University Press, 230 pages, $19.95.

BUILDING ON HER RECENT Holy Dogs and Asses: Animals in the Christian Tradition (2008), which aimed to recover the lost history of animals in Christianity, Laura Hobgood-Oster in her new book, The Friends We Keep: Unleashing Christianity’s Compassion for Animals, offers a passionate call to Christians to attend to animal suffering. A religion and environmental studies scholar, Hobgood-Oster reminds the Christian world of the long-standing mutual relationship between people and animals, and seeks to broaden narrow views of traditional Christian theology that would limit God’s incarnation to Jesus alone—and his salvific regard only to human beings. “At its core,” she asks, “is Christianity only about human beings?” (168).

In extending the range of the Incarnation, Hobgood-Oster takes a different tack than others before her. For example, the British trinitarian theologian Andrew Linzey focuses on the imperative of imitatio Dei in Christ’s kenotic self-emptying for creatures lesser than himself; so we, following his example, need to serve animals. Animals, Hobgood-Oster says, have not only been chronic victims throughout Christian history, but have been a persistent presence in religiously meaningful ways, sanctified by divine regard. They are God’s creatures, and our friends. They are therefore worthy not only of pity or compassion, but of the religious attention that comes with theological standing. Christian political energies are therefore rightly directed in liberating them from present-day systemic forms of abuse, such as factory farming, meat-eating, hunting, product research, thoroughbred horse racing, puppy mills, and dog fighting. The rubrics of friendship and hospitality, informed by her own relationships with particular beloved animals and by her extensive work as a rescue volunteer for abandoned and injured animals are her main platforms, and they are compellingly presented.

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