About 10 years ago, Charles Camosy decided to give up eating meat. Camosy, an assistant professor of Christian Ethics at Fordham University, believed that this change in diet was necessary in order to be authentically and consistently Christian and pro-life.
In his new book, For the Love of Animals: Christian Ethics, Consistent Action, Camosy makes the argument that Christian ethics and doctrine require the moral treatment of animals, and are therefore incompatible with the consumption of meat. Using history and scripture, Camosy discusses the roots of this Christian belief, before examining how these ideas translate into everyday life. He asks questions regarding whether Christians should eat meat, and what sort of medical research on animals can be justified, in addition to considering the ethics of pet ownership and hunting.
This is not the first time Camosy has written about animal ethics: in his 2012 book published by Cambridge University Press comparing the views of secular ethicist Peter Singer with Christian ethics, he found many similarities between his own Christian beliefs and Singer’s stances on animal ethics.
In fact, though he found good reasons from his own tradition to have serious concern for animals, it was reading Singer that convinced Camosy that he needed to change his life, he explained.
“Despite my strongly disagreeing with him about abortion, infanticide and euthanasia (about which we have debated many times), I believe intellectual solidarity allows us to learn from our opponents, and this certainly happened with Peter’s work,” Camosy said.
For the Love of Animals was written for a broad audience, providing examples of the everyday application of the ethical principles rooted in Christianity. The book, which was published by Franciscan Media on October 4th (the feast of St. Francis of Assisi – one of the most famous Christian animal advocates), concludes with Camosy’s review of the most important Christian principles, and how one could apply them to the treatment of animals.
The following is an excerpt from the conclusion:
Consistent Application of Our Principles
Let’s do a quick review of our most important principles and how they might apply to questions about how we should treat non-human animals:
1. Imitating the love of Jesus means behaving in nonviolent ways
2. Imitating the love of Jesus means having a preference for the most vulnerable
3. Imitating the love of Jesus means resisting the love of money, profit, and consumerism
4. Human beings are called to be good stewards of God’s creation and to care for it with Jesus as our primary example of what good stewardship means
5. All creation is created good by God independent of the interests of human beings
6. Non-human animals are created by God to be our companions, not our food
7. “Need” is the only thing why justifies causing animals to suffer and die
Some of you will reject some of these principles, and thus will be riding a different kind of bus. But for Christians, and especially for Catholic Christians, these principles reflect the most important sources of moral truth in our tradition. It will not be easy to lay them aside without laying Christianity aside as well. And perhaps this leads us to another question that my readers will need to ask themselves honestly: when it comes right down to it, do the truths of the Christian tradition “trump” other values and concerns in our lives—or is it the other way around? Perhaps some of us need to ask whether we are on the Christian bus at all. Perhaps we don’t want to be. Whether we are talking about issues surrounding non-human animals, or another set of issues, the Christian bus isn’t an easy ride.
But if we truly are committed to these principles, then we need to take an honest and deep look inside ourselves and ask what this looks like in real life. Is factory farming consistent with our principles? Should we support factory farms by purchasing their meat? What about eating animal products (eggs, cheese, milk) from these farms? Is eating animals that are treated well and painlessly killed in a different category? What kinds of research on animals are acceptable and which are not? Should we support and benefit from unethical research? Should we hunt? Should we even own pets?
For many of us, merely thinking seriously about giving honest answers to these questions can be deeply disturbing. So many of our traditions, social structures, and even just everyday routines would likely be significantly affected (or even destroyed) if we consistently applied our principles. And this reveals just how dependent our culture has become on unjust treatment of non-human animals. It is also a classic example of why Christians are called to stand up for vulnerable populations; their dignity is often simply too inconvenient for the powerful recognize and respect. Therefore, our job as individual Christians is not only to passively refuse to be part of the powerful group which refuses to acknowledge the dignity of the vulnerable group, but also to imitate Christ’s love by actively working to change social structures and laws so that these populations are given a voice.
Dr. Charles Camosy is an assistant professor of Christian Ethics at Fordham University, and is a Center for Ethics Education affiliated scholar. He blogs regularly on Catholic Moral Theology, and you can follow him on Twitter via @nohiddenmagenta.
The excerpt from For the Love of Animals was reposted with permission from the author.
All posts and comments on the Ethics and Society blog are solely the opinions of their respective authors, and do not represent the position of Fordham University or the Center for Ethics Education.