On "Inside the Minds of Animals" from TIME 8/16/2010
I have always enjoyed Saturdays. Saturdays usually mean second sleep, waffles, college football in the fall, less of a schedule, and a long quest for stuff. Only on a Saturday can you be satisfied with spending half the day looking for a deal on a chair, or a shovel, a rake, or an aquarium. Saturday is a weekly celebration of doing and buying miscellaneous stuff. I have only recently added another glimmer of hope to my Saturdays with a subscription to TIME magazine. TIME magazine assures me that I get some piece of Saturday mail that is not a bill or some stupid ad for a car lot with the winning key attached. I subscribed to TIME for two reasons. 1) I need to be more current. 2) I wanted to know what people who are nothing like me think about. According to the cover of this week’s TIME magazine, people nothing like me are currently thinking about animal intelligence.
When I took my Saturday walk of hope to the mailbox, pulled out the current issue of TIME, saw an ugly dog on the cover and read the headline “What Animals Think”, I thought, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” I even showed it to my neighbor Chuck as we contemplated Saturday stuff like trampoline enclosure nets, and quipped, “With all the stuff happening in the world right now, this is the best we can come up with?” Some of the other stuff is in there, but at some level the folks at TIME thought that knowing what animals would think would be a bigger draw for the newsstand customer than a rapper running for President in Haiti, corruption on Capital Hill, or the weekly TIME update on life and times of the Clintons. The Clintons are TIME magazine’s reality show.
For this series of blogs About TIME, I have chosen to respond to the cover story each week with the exception of one. When I saw the doggie on the cover this past Saturday, at the moment it was a no brainer. There was no way I would write about what animals think. But I have obviously reconsidered. I engaged in this assignment About TIME to not only help me become a better and more current communicator, but also to help others see that the Bible relates to every issue of life. For the most part people who believe the Bible are losing their seat at the round table of ideas. We are being categorically ignored. I am not sure how well I am helping our camp get an invite back to the table, but I do intend to crash the party, stand in the back of the room and boogie to the music everyone else is listening to. Maybe if others see that I am having a great time they won’t kick me out and others may even join my awkward dance.
If I could quickly sum up the argument in Jeffrey Kluger’s article it would be that since animals are smarter than we think, we should probably rethink not only the way we treat them but also reconsider their place in life and society. Kluger calls attention to the 1975 book, Animal Liberation by Peter Singer. According to Kluger this book launched the modern animal-rights movement (I learned something new here). “The ability to suffer, he argued, is a great cross-species leveler, and we should not inflict pain on or cause fear in an animal that we wouldn’t want to experience ourselves.” Kluger documents startling research that shows that animals can not only communicate, but form societal bonds, solve problems, and use tools. He even asks the controversial questions of, “Can they feel? Do they experience empathy or compassion? Can they love or care or hope or grieve?” Again, the answers to these questions along with the consideration of the research, raises the question, “What does that say about how we treat them?” Kluger does mention the Bible in his article, “For many people, the Bible offers the most powerful argument of all. Human beings were granted ‘dominion over the beasts of the field,’ and there the discussion can more or less stop.”
My interpretation of Kluger’s statement on Scripture, coupled with findings of Science, is that the Bible offers an archaic view of animals that leads to uncontested abuse, but science is helping us find our way into a more ethical view of animal life. The fallacy here is that science is actually saying something new that the Bible does not say. If the issue is primarily how we treat animals, the Bible answered this long before a monkey invited Kluger over for coffee (see the opening paragraphs of the article). The idea of human dominion over animal life was never an endorsement of barbarianism toward the beasts of the field. The idea of Scripture is for humans to subdue the earth. God brought about creation from chaos. Without His “images” or “agents” who carry out His will working to subdue created life, creation would descend again into chaos. Like God, we are to be creative, life giving. The idea actually implies that if people did what God sent them here to do it would benefit not only human life, but every form of life including plant and animal life. The Bible teaches that God is aware of and cares for animals (Matt. 6:26, 10:29). God commands people to care for animals (Prov. 12:10, 27:23). One should consult the laws concerning livestock in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy to see that God requires compassion for animals and renounces cruelty. Even the animals get a Sabbath (Exodus 20:10). The message is very symbiotic, you need them to live and they need you – get along!
As far as animals being marvelous and intelligent, again, science is saying nothing new. God directs us to marvel at the efficiency of the ant (Prov 6:6-8), and to learn from the fish and fowl (Job 12:7-10). The eagle and the lion are often used as teaching metaphors for theological truths about God. Even Jesus is a lion and a lamb. And lest you thought it was only the monkeys that talk, in Revelation 5:13 some translations read “talk” others read “sing”, but all the living creatures speak praise to the one who sits on the throne. Kluger shouldn’t have just asked Kanzi the bonobo for coffee, he should have asked him for a song.
Somewhere the message of Creationism has been misconstrued. By default most people believe that creationists do not care for animals like evolutionists. Somehow creationists are excluded as legitimate environmentalists. It appears to me that unless one sells his soul to the animals in such a way that elevates animal life and demonizes human life, that he cannot possibly care anything about the planet. I would contend that the Biblical position of exercising dominion over the animals and subduing creation in order to better facilitate human life is a greater benefit to the animals than simply allowing chaos to run its course. The Biblical position is not one of destruction or unbridled consumption, but of management. I would call attention to the fact that the Christian church does need to have a greater conscience when it comes to animal cruelty, especially when it comes to pets and livestock. There are practices within both industries that are cruel to animals and hazards to human health. In observing the strict practices of sacrifice and animal consumption in the Old Testament we would find not only a much more ethical treatment of animals, but also, in time, a more fit and less diseased human population.
Where I, and most Christians, find disagreement with the prevalent ideas of the animal rights movement as demonstrated in Kluger’s article, is that it is not necessary to equate animal rights with human rights in order to find a more ethical treatment of them. Let’s be honest. While Kanzi the Bonobo’s use of 384 words and his invitation to Kluger for coffee is impressive, it is not the same as human intelligence. If Kluger had stumbled into a remote part of the jungle and found a pack of monkeys sitting at a table, percolating coffee in a machine, making espresso, and debating the ethical treatment of the orangutan, I would have been impressed. That would be something new! Yet the fact remains, animals use tools, but have yet to adopt the combustion engine or find ways to harvest energy. They do not write op-ed pieces about animal rights. There is no organization amongst the Lions for the Ethical Treatment of Gazelles (LETGo). Yet there is a PETA – that fact alone, ironically enough, demonstrates we are not animals and animals are not the same as humans. This is where the Bible is clear. Human life is infinitely precious. There is no contest. Animals are not to be abused, neither are they to be deified, worshipped, or elevated beyond what they were created to be. In a culture that misses the Biblical ethic of life one can legally abort a human baby, but will go to federal prison for breaking the egg of an eagle. We should appreciate animal life and conserve it. We should honor human life and protect it. We should not forget, monkeys could care less that it is Saturday. Perhaps the things we do with Saturdays alone are enough evidence that we are very different creatures indeed.