The responsibility of Christians towards Animals

The "Animal Protection in the Classroom" project - an investment in the future
By Gerhard Berger (Lecture given at the EVU Congress in Widnau, 1999)
from European Vegetarian, Issue 2/3 - 2000

The "Animal Protection in the Classroom" project initiated by Charlotte Probst has been successfully carried out for years in all Austrian federal states, in Southern Tyrol and in some German federal states. It is deeply humane in character, not just in the sense of Magnus Schwantje, as it proposes the argument "The Protection of Animals is also the Protection of Human Life" to children. Graz ethicist Johann Götschl also takes note of the humanitarian significance of this project. He points out that this educational project passes on to the children the oneness of realization and humanity, and that its function is very much geared towards the future, as it provides the young generation with alternative options for the relationship between humans and animals. The project also has an ethical function, as every statement and valuation voiced about the animal kingdom is necessarily also a value statement regarding our human world. The project "Animal protection in classroom" guides young people towards the development of basic, intrinsic values - the fact that all living beings are closely related. (1)
This project in particular, says Götschl, demonstrates to the children that ethical standards are needed as a basis for every decision and value statement made. Animal protection is quite naturally an integral part of the educational mission of schools. In our time, not a square inch of this earth is not influenced by humans. In this time and age, in which civilization, culture and nature are so tightly interlinked, animals are an important part of life for children. The adult generation helps children - by means of education - to come to terms with and analyse an outdated culture. However, traditional ways of thinking and living must not be simply transferred to children, rather, these young people need to be allowed to question traditional ways of living. The development of the children's own values and decisions must be allowed for and accepted.
The fact that this project is even necessary is actually very sad - after all, the curricula of the different Austrian school types do list animal protection as one of the topics to be taught. However, this aspect is treated in a very superficial manner - at least from an animal rights perspective - usually, biodiversity protection is taught, but the really "hot" topics are often avoided. The "mortal sins" committed by our society towards animals are generally not discussed at all. The reasons for this are certainly (among other things): avoidance of real conflicts, anthropocentric interests, or simply lack of knowledge. Independent and specially trained animal protection teachers that come into the schools have more - and for some subjects, better - resources available, difficult situations are easier for them to handle.
In their work, they need to take into account the anthropogenic and socio-cultural conditions. This is also the reason why the responsibility of Christians towards animals is a topic dealt with in the training seminars. As animal protection teachers, these people need be knowledgeable about this type of topic if they are going do their work in a "customer-friendly" manner. About 80% of Austrians, after all, are still baptized Christians, most of them Catholics. The second-largest religious community is the Muslim community. Thus, we of course also need to take into account the positions of the Koran towards animals and ritual slaughter ("Halal").
St. Francis - Role model or a convenient excuse?
If you ask children in our schools what comes to mind when they think of animal protection and the church, St. Francis is almost always mentioned immediately. His name and burial day - October 4th - is World Animal Day. Just like non-believers today cannot refute that we share a common natural history with animals, even if millions of generations have passed between the first animals and the first steps man took on two feet, thus St. Francis believed in a common creation. (2) He based this belief on the bible. In the Genesis, it says that God first created the creatures of the water and then, on the fifth day, the animals living on land. Only on the sixth day did he create humans in his image. (3)
St. Francis considered humans and animals to be the offspring of a single father. Thus, he considered them his sisters and brothers. Although we cannot judge St. Francis by the knowledge, the options and the goals of animal rights activists today, he is certainly worth honouring as a symbol of animal rights. It is also typical of his mindset that he does not make any difference in the value of animals when caring for them. Thus, his first biographer, Thomas of Celano, movingly describes how St. Francis collected worms on the street so that they would not be squashed by passing humans. Thomas of Celano also tells of how he freed birds, fish, rabbits and other animals brought to him, and that he spoke of crickets and swallows as his sisters. He preached to the birds and the fish because he took seriously the mission Jesus gave in the New Testament. In the book of Mark, Jesus entrusts his followers with one last mission: "Go out into the world and proclaim the gospel to all of creation!" (Mark 16,15) St. Francis called all creatures his "brothers" and with the clear eye of his heart recognized the secrets of the creatures ... (4).
St. Francis died in 1226. Today, nearly 800 years after his death, the situation of animals still has not improved and it is certainly true that never before have so many of our fellow creatures been ill-treated, tortured, abused and killed as at the beginning of this new millennium. The egotist brutality of the human claim to power Drewermann so fittingly denounced has also asserted itself in Christianity despite Jesus' message of peace. And Drewermann justly criticizes that we cannot simply declare St. Francis the patron saint of the environment "without changing the anthropocentric thinking of Christianity as St. Francis intended on a fundamental level." (5) This, however, the new catechism of the Catholic church does not do.
The proscription of anthropocentric thinking in the new catechism of the Catholic Church
In a total of four paragraphs, the new catechism that shocked and so bitterly disappointed so many Christian animal rights activists due to the quantity and quality of its statements on animals deals with the "respect for the inviolability of creation." (6) The catechism also refers to St. Francis and demands the goodwill of man towards animals as creatures of God, but exclusively measures the dominance of man over animate and inanimate nature with regard to the concern for the quality of life of other humans, which also encompasses future generations. It says that man may use animals for food and in order to make clothes. Animals may be used for work and leisure purposes, medical and scientific experiments are acceptable. It is unworthy to make animals suffer senselessly or to kill them without reason. It is also unworthy, however, to spend money on animals, since this should primarily be used to ease human suffering. One is allowed to like animals, but not to give them the love that is only due to other men.
Suffragan bishop Christoph Schönborn, cardinal and archbishop of Vienna, today took a stand on these passages in a letter, in which he says (7): The severe criticism often voiced regarding the stance of the catechism on animals makes one sad, since the paragraph on the goodwill of man and the mention of St. Francis was for the most part ignored. Order and the right amount of love apparently constitute difficulties and what does constitute abuse is if a man loves his dog more than he does his wife. Of course one is permitted to also spend money on animals, but here, also the right measure needs to be found. Schönborn expressly states that the meat used for cat food comes from slaughtered animals and that according to the bible (Genesis 9,3) it is not prohibited to eat animals and to use them for the production of clothes. (Genesis 3.21). One can understand how someone who played a significant role in the editing of the world catechism like Schönborn will try to make an effort to salvage his work. His interpretation, however, only makes things more embarrassing, and also well reflects the way of thinking and the unlimited anthropocentric point of view taken by some church officials and many Christians. It is thus not surprising that the animal was allocated to the seventh commandment (thou shalt not steal) rather than the fifth (thou shalt not kill). Generally speaking, we would like to support the criticism voiced by artist and priest Rektor Josef Fink from Graz voiced at a discussion on animal rights. According to his point of view, it is significant that the "world catechism" has as little to say on animals as it does on feminist theology. "Roman theology is a century behind human studies." Roman theology has remained stuck in the human image of the 19th century and continues to consider man to be the summit of creation. (8).
Contradictory recommendations and permissions of the Genesis
In his defence of the catechism, Schönborn notes that the bible does not prohibit eating meat. God said - after original sin - to Noah and his sons "Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things" (Genesis 9,!!!2->3). If one likes, one can also read an alternative to eating meat for mankind from this passage - we are also given the plants as food. Carnivorous animals do not have this choice, humans do! At any rate, it is obvious that the oldest recommendation on the topic of nutrition and diet in the Old Testament is not aimed towards meat-eating but towards vegetarianism. It is also from the book of Genesis, is older and says: "And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat." (Genesis 1,29). Incidentally, hardly any Catholics seem to know this quote, although it is read on Easter Eve - or perhaps they "successfully" ignore it or don't take it seriously, as is often the case if something is perceived as being contrary to one's own interests. Personally, neither in our education nor in any sermon did we ever hear any pointer in this direction. In this context, we also never experienced that anyone basically questioned the right to kill animals. This is also not done, as has already been mentioned, by the world catechism, and it is significant for the catechism (and the comments on it) that the biblical recommendation for a vegetarian diet is ignored.
In the recommendation for a vegetarian lifestyle in the account of Jehovah in the bible, this hope for peace between man and animal is tangible. Today, this is a hope that still motivates many vegetarians. While meat-eaters live on the daily death of our fellow creatures, vegetarians try to avoid this dilemma. Being vegetarian is the visible effort to actually live solidarity with man and animal. Vegans are particularly consistent in this approach.
In this context, I should also mention that it has been proven that many early Christians were vegetarians. This aspect of their belief and their lifestyle, however, is not or is only marginally mentioned by their biographers. A typical example for this is Hieronymus. The holy man is considered one of the four main church teachers and became famous for his translation of the bible, the so-called ‚Vulgate'. There is an etching by Albrecht Dürer that not only shows the holy man at work, but also his dog and his lion in the foreground peacefully sleeping side by side. Hieronymus took the bible seriously and at it's word and became vegetarian. In the first of his three books against Jovinian, a propagator of false doctrine, he gives the reasons for his conviction: "Up to the great flood (diluvium), eating animal flesh was unknown. But since then, our mouths have been stuffed with the fibers and the stinking juices of animal meat - just as in the desert, quails were thrown to the discontented, material people. Jesus Christ, he who arrived when the time had come, again linked the end to the beginning (Genesis 1, 29), so that we are no longer allowed to eat animal flesh." (9)
Subdue the earth
The book of Genesis also contains that fateful phrase sentence about ruling and making the earth subject to man. After their creation, God blesses men and women and speaks to them "Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it!" (Genesis 1,28)
Günther Altner notes that this does not imply an attitude of despotism and exploitation versus our fellow creatures, and that the discussion of this topic could long be considered dealt with. (10) This may be true for specialists, however, that piece of knowledge is far from being of general validity, it is not accepted everywhere, is often withheld, and most importantly has not taken effect on a historical level.
The Hebrew words for subjection and domination are kabasch and radah (!) Kabasch, however, does not only mean to put down, to act violently towards, but also to step into the garden as a careful gardener does. Radah implies the notion of a shepherds domination over his flock, thus, care and responsibility are included in the concept.
What a people of shepherds considers to be the rule of a good shepherd is well documented in the book of Ezekiel. In his description of a good shepherd, among other things, he says about the animals"I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick: but I will destroy the fat and the strong; I will feed them with judgment." (Ezekiel 34, 16).
What a different concept of the responsibility of man and his superiority!
The image of the good shepherd is also found in the New Testament. Jesus said of himself "I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep!" (John, 10, 11)
The Swiss priest and writer Marti also leaves no doubt that the text of the Genesis certainly cannot mean limitless power of man over animals. He writes that the earth does not mean the world, but the soil beneath our feet. The Hebrew word "adam" is derived from "adamah", which means earth. "Adam, the man of the earth, is given permission and the task of working the earth." (12) Marti ascertains that the phrase to "subdue the earth" only gives us the permission to work the soil and the obligation to care for the animals in a responsible manner.
He who has ears to hear with ...
In both the New and the Old Testament, we find notes on utopian visions of peace, but also a sufficient amount of passages in which, for instance, the care to be given to an animal becomes evident. In his announcement of the Kingdom of the Messiah, the prophet Isaiah also includes animals in his vision of the last days. The image he uses is touching: "The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice' den." (Isiah 11, 6-8).
Jeremiah condemns fire sacrifices (Jeremiah 7, 22) and in the book of Mark, we have a passage that describes how Jesus overthrew the stands of the dove traders and the moneylenders and chased the traders and the buyers from the temple. (Mark 11, 15-19).
Mark also reports that Jesus retired to the desert in the society of animals and angels after baptism and before starting to teach: "And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan; and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto him (Mark 1, 13).
The evangelist Luke reports in connection with the healing of a woman that the rights of animals have precedence over the rule of the Sabbath. It is natural that ox and ass are taken to the watering place on the Sabbath. (Luke 13, 15). And he also reports that it is just as natural that the ox that has fallen into the well can be pulled back out on the same day although it is the Sabbath. (Luke14, 5)
That there are many things man and animal have in common is something David's son Koeleth (Ecclesiastes 3, 19-23) already surmises. Paul then writes that man has a special status because he has received the spirit that is to lead him out of bondage. This leads to particular responsibility of humans towards animals. "For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God." (Romans 8,19). Thus, if Christians - according to Paul - are the great hope for suffering creatures, then Christians have the obligation "to treat animals in such a manner that something becomes evident of the future freedom into which both need to be liberated." (14)
Without being utopian, as a Christian, I then need to ask myself how much I can allow myself take part in and supposedly profit from industrialized agriculture as a producer and consumer. Did it make sense that according to the church order of St. Hippolyte in the 3rd century, hunters had to give up their profession if they wanted to be baptized? To what extent do I directly or indirectly participate in situations where animals have to suffer for the sake of sports and entertainment? What am I doing to counteract laboratory tests on animals? What about my behaviour regarding food and clothing?
Theologian and biologist G. Altner encourages Christian moral philosophers "to unreservedly represent the potential utopia of overall peace amongst creatures entrusted to them." (13) The minimization of pain, destruction and death naturally also includes animals in its bio centric approach to ethics. We need to work on overcoming our anthropocentric (as well as the pathocentric) way of thinking.
Christian animal rights activists don't really need to search painstakingly for individual bible passages in defence of their concern. It is enough to understand and lay claim to the adherence to the elementary message of the New Testament. This is the message of love and the messages of blessing of the Sermon on the Mount, in which love, non-violence and peacefulness are required as the ideal and core of Christian belief.
We therefore welcome the fact that the first signs of a changing way of thinking are becoming noticeable. Thus, the Austrian Bishop's Conference under the chairmanship of bishop Johann Weber from the Steiermark in 1996 explicitly stated in its declaration on our responsibility for creation that "all creation has an intrinsic value desired by God and does not only serve the use of mankind ... one should take care to encourage development in the direction of environmentally-friendly production and natural animal farming.". Christians that take their responsibility for creation seriously, the bishops exhort, cannot be indifferent to the suffering of animals. (15). Austrian newspapers traditionally always report on the summary of the Bishop's conference. The same thing happened in 1996. However, only a single daily newspaper reported on the passage on responsibility for creation and natural animal farming. This is quite representative of the value placed on this aspect. Animal rights activists had to point out this focus of the declaration in order to ensure that this was not bypassed completely.
We interestedly await the time when actions are taken follow this request. On a positive note, half the environmental farms in the EU countries that also include natural methods of animal farming are located in Austria. Currently, there are about 20,000 such farms. On the negative side, there are unfortunately still far too many farms using the methods of factory farming. This also includes cloisters. One of them has in the meantime lost a case in court gains an animal rights group that had been pointing out the deplorable state of affairs regarding animal farming in this convent. Since 1998, Austrian courts have ruled that it is permissible to describe bad factory farming situations as an "animal concentration camp". This is a small step in the many efforts of animal rights activists for a new conscience towards animals, but one that is very important under the rule of law!
Animal Rights Teachers
In every culture, investment in education has proven to be an important investment into the future. In addition to traditional school curricula, it seems to be very necessary for animal rights groups to carry new incentives into schools as I have already mentioned at the beginning of this text. If young people are to have the opportunity to develop their own judgement on the situation of animals today, the project "Animal Rights in Classroom" is a secure investment for the justified interests of animals (and human beings) in the future. The specially trained teachers bring new aspects into the traditional field of school education. They break open closed systems of thinking and acting. These teachers work in a child-oriented manner and take into account the previous knowledge young people already have. This is also why the aspect of Christian responsibility was integrated into the training of animal rights teachers. Animal rights activists and vegetarians would be well advised to work together in the promotion of similar projects.
Dr. Gerhard Berger (b. 1940) has studied pedagogic and sociology. He is director of the Pedagogical Academy in Graz/Austria. Together with his wife DR. Berger has promoted animal protection for the last 20 years. Animal protection is the reason for his vegetarian lifestyle.
He has given numerous lectures on the subject at universities, academies and schools. He is lecturer in the seminars of the Austrian project "Animal Protection at School".
Gerhard Berger lives with his wife, son and daughter in law, two grandchildren in Graz/Austria.
For contacts: Dr. Gerhard Berger, Gritzenweg 12d, 8020 Graz, Austria; e-mai:
1. Univ prof. Johann Göttschl : "Tierschutz im Unterricht. In: Kain! Was machst du mit deinem Bruder? Der vernetzte Irrsinn. Sondernummer der Zeitschrift "Der Tierbefreier" von Charlotte Probst, 8030 Graz, Neupauerweg 29b, 2. erw. Auflage, April 1994
2. Ingrid und Gerhard Berger: Menschen und Tiere - Kinder eines Vaters. Erweiterter Sonderdruck aus "Vegetarier", Hefr 4/98
3. Bie Bibel. Altes und Neues Testament in neuer Einheitsübersetzung, 5 Bände von Miriam Prager OSB und Günter Stemberg. Andreas Verlag, Salzburg 1976, 4. Auflage
4. Celano Thomas von: Leben und Wunder des hriligen Franziskus von Assisi. Dietrich.Coelde-Verlag, Werl/Westf. 1988, ISBN 3-87163-169-8. Seite 80
5. Drewermann Eugen: der tödliche Fortschritt. Von der Zerstörung der Erde und des Menschen im Erbe des Christentums. Verlag Friedrich Pustet, Regensburg 1990, ISBN 3-7917-0857-0, Seite 109
6. katechismus der Katholischen Kirche. Deutsche Ausgabe:R. Oldenburg Verlag, München - Libreria Editrice Vaticana 1993, ISBN 3-7058-0095-7 (Veritas) Seite 609
7. Schönborn OP, Weihbischof P. Christoph: Ist Tierliebe verboten? In "Tierfreund", Dezember 1993. Seite 10 und "Tierfreund" 11/1993 Seite 5
8. Fink, Rektor Josef: Statement bei einer Tierschutzdiskussion. Zitiert aus: Kleine Zeitung vom 25. Juni 1997
9. Hieronimus: Adversus Jovinian, I,30. Zitiert nach: Skriver, Carl Anders: Der Verrat der Kirchen an den Tieren. Starczewski-Verlag , Höhr-Grenzhausen, 2. Auflage, 1986. ISBN 3-7981-0001-2, Seite 61
10. Altner Günter: Leben in der Hand des Menschen. Die Brisanz des biotechnischen Fortschritts. Primus Verlag, Darmsatdt 1998, ISBN 3-89678-077-8, Seite 29
11. Kirchhoff Hemann: Sympathie für die Kreatur. Mensch und Tier in biblischer Sicht, Kösel-Verlag, München 1987
12. Marti Kurt: Schöpfungsglaube. Die Ökologie Gottes. Verlag Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau, 1993, ISBN 3-451-08795-2, Seite 71

13. Altner Günter: Naturvergessenheit. Grundlagen einer umfassenden Bioethik. Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 1991, ISBN 3-534-80043-5, Seite 255
14. Vgl. dazu: Grässer Erich: Ehrfurcht vor dem Leben. In: Röhrig Eberhard: Der Gerechte erbarmt sich seines Viehs. Stimmen zur Mitgeschöpflichkeit. Neukirchner Verlag, Neukirchen 1992, Seite 101
15. Erklärungen und Stellungnahmen. Schöpfungsverantwortung - Artgerechte Tierhaltung. In Amtsblatt der österreichischen Bischofskonferenz Nr. 19 vom 20. Dezember 1996. Auch Internet: