SERVICE TO CELEBRATE ANIMALS IN WESTMINSTER ABBEY

 

Our member Edna Mathieson was one of the QCA members who attended and offers this report, for which we thank her:

 Westminster Abbey was full to capacity: some had to sit on the ledge which runs full-length along each wall.  Once the congregation had settled, we were told that two police dogs were present along with the three dogs – Rex, Molly, Rim – who live at the Abbey.  This brought a smile to all, I think.

The first reading was:

“ God, you love all things which exist; and despise none of the things you have made, for you would have made nothing you did not love …”

Then Psalm 24:1 which mentions “other worlds sublime, that God has made .. earthworms burrowing in the ground: the world of skylarks soaring above .. the world of foxes playing around their dens”.

Sutton Valence School sang Psalm 104:24, 28b-30.  And the main reading followed, Isaiah 11:1-9 :    “.. The wolf shall live with the lamb; the leopard shall lie down with the kid…” A dramatic presentation of this followed given by children of Burdett Coutts School.

Another Reading, Romans 8:18-23 referred again significantly to “the WHOLE (my emphasis) of creation”.

The police officers presented their dogs and spoke about them; and Sutton Vallance School sang “All Things Bright and Beautiful”.

So the readings, hymns, presentations, predictably and of course, have at their core  respect, consideration, for all animals.  Perhaps more importantly that it would seem humans, particularly those who practise Christianity, have lost sight of this in their own belief system.  Andrew Linzey refers to this both in his book, Animal Theology, and in his Address which followed.

God made the whole of creation therefore animals cannot be seen as they usually are as a means to human ends; nor assume that the chief end of creation is man, or his salvation.  God’s nature is love which must therefore extend to all His creation.  There is, however, a strong tendency in systematic theology to assume that the non-human is worthless in the eyes of God.

Andrew Linzey also pointed out that there is no mention in the liturgy of animals – only human animals: indeed –  “… there is almost a deification of the human species…”   “…We have become blind in our relationship to other animals”.  As a student he had heard a well-known theologian say that it was a pity, “Linzey can’t forget about animals”.

Andrew Linzey went on to point out how, theologically speaking, the language of rights is no novelty.
To grant human rights is to accept that they may be wronged; equally, to grant animals rights is to accept that they also may be wronged.

Another hymn followed, the first verse of which points out that God made the seas, DNA, atoms, roses and chimpanzees; and “… to care for all his creatures, ‘til they share our liberty, He’s chosen you and me”.

The Blessing finished the Service – “God give you compassionate hearts and the desire to strive for a peaceable kingdom in which all creatures shall be free from pain …”

This is part of Andrew Linzey’s address:

Government and Church inaction over animal welfare compounds animal cruelty,  Professor Andrew Linzey, a theologian at Oxford University and the director of the  Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics,  claimed at a special RSPCA service for animals at Westminster Abbey on Sunday 2nd October.
Citing the failure of the Government to act on wild animals in circuses, plans for  “mega-dairies”, and the decision to kill badgers without sufficient scientific evidence, he argues that the Government has failed to confront the “multi-headed  hydra” of animal cruelty. “As one moves out, another moves in”, he says. “Having dismantled the worst aspects of factory farming, we now face the emergence of  “mega dairies” in which up to eight thousand cows are to be kept permanently inside factories devoid of natural light and pasture. Only a few days ago, we  heard of plans for “mega- piggeries” to house no less than 30,000 pigs. We are turning animals into food machines.”

Professor Linzey claims that “The underbelly of cruelty to animals shows no sign of diminishing” since complaints of cruelty investigated by the RSPCA have risen  year on year from 137,245 in 2007 to 159,686 in 2010. “Why is it that we cannot as a society see that animal cruelty, like cruelty to children, should not be tolerated?” he asks.

Andrew Linzey also castigates church indifference to animal cruelty. The churches “are nowhere in this debate. With a few honourable exceptions – and I mean a  very few – English archbishops and bishops haven’t even addressed the issue in the past decade or more. Almost all church leaders, who are normally loquacious in lamenting regressive social policies, can’t even register cruelty as an issue.
They talk airily of environmental responsibility, but, when it comes to confronting our specific duties to other sentient creatures, fall silent.”

The root problem, he says, is a failure of theology, especially the “idolatry” of thinking that God is only interested in the human species. “Christians haven’t got much further than thinking that the whole world was made for us, with the result that animals are only seen in an instrumental way as objects, machines, tools, and commodities, rather than fellow creatures. To think that animals can be defined by what they do for us, or how they meet our needs, is profoundly un-theological.”

“The truth is that we are spiritually blind in our relations to other creatures, as blind as men have been to women, whites have been to blacks, and straights have been to gays. Political sluggishness and church indifference only compound the problem of  animal cruelty.”

Professor Linzey concludes by arguing that “we worship a false God when we worship ourselves, or when we think only human beings matter to God, or when we think our power over animals is its own justification, or when we regard cruelty to any creature as a small, insignificant, matter, or, even worse, when we think God condones any infliction of suffering”.
The Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics, founded in 2006 by its director Professor Andrew Linzey, is an independent Centre with the aim of pioneering ethical perspectives on animals through academic research, teaching and publication. The Centre has more than 50 Fellows drawn from a variety of academic disciplines from throughout the world. For more information about the Centre and its Fellows, please see its website at www.oxfordanimalethics.com.

The Revd Professor Andrew Linzey is a Member of the Faculty of Theology, University of  Oxford. He is Honorary Professor at the University of Winchester and Professor of Animal Ethics at the Graduate Theological Foundation, Indiana. He has written or edited 20 books, including Animal Theology (SCM Press/University of Illinois Press, 1994) and Creatures of the Same God (Winchester University Press/Lantern Books, 2007), and Why Animal Suffering Matters (Oxford University Press, 2009). He is also co-editor of the Journal of Animal Ethics published by the University of Illinois Press.

The Centre is dedicated to the memory of the celebrated Catalan philosopher José Ferrater Mora. His prodigious scholarship is widely acclaimed, and the Centre honours his name because of his outstanding contribution to humanitarian thought, particularly in the area of animal ethics.

www.rspca.org.uk

 

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