Editor’s Note: The following article is the introduction to Charles Camosy’s For Love of Animals: Christian Ethics, Consistent Action, and is reprinted with the author’s permission.
Every once in a while, a book comes along that does something few books ever do, which is to change something fundamental about the way you live your life. For some people reading these words, theologian Charles Camosy’s For Love of Animals will be that book.
And for good reason: because its subjects — the rights and wrongs of our modern treatment of animals, especially though not only mammals, and especially though not only the creatures of factory farms — are simultaneously morally urgent and widely ignored by many people, including and inexplicably by many well-meaning but under-informed Christians.
Professor Camosy has now remedied that defect with this lively, thoughtful, and utterly original book. It ranges widely but with a teacherly touch over subjects as diverse as the history of Christian vegetarianism; papal and other pronouncements about creation; the development of Christian theology concerning nonhuman persons, such as angels; the morality of dog-fighting; the relevance of laws against child labor; the question of pets; the truth about factory farming; and much more. Throughout, the author aptly convinces the reader both that our culture’s treatment of defenseless creatures is morally indefensible much of the time; and also that “those of us who follow Jesus Christ,” in particular, “should give animals special moral consideration and attention.”
For Love of Animals applies the specific lens of Catholic teaching about social justice, pointing out among other details that the Catechism itself says that animals are owed moral treatment. Its author is surely right to attribute the horrors of factory farming, in particular, to an ethic of feckless consumption according to which more is better, all the time. It is rampant and unexamined Western consumerism, more than anything else, that “disconnect[s] us from the process by which pig meat gets on our plate.” I would add to that analysis the friendly amendment that this same consumerism encourages the formation of a habit that is suspect wherever and whenever it appears, but that chronically gets a pass where animals are involved: i.e., a practiced desire to remain ignorant of those things about which we wish not to know.
Of course reasonable and good people will disagree about some of what’s discussed in these pages. Moreover, as the author emphasizes, fundamental cultural change takes time — lots of it. But surely every reader, Christian or otherwise, will agree upon putting down this book that in the matter of animals, lines ought to be drawn and distinctions ought to be made that aren’t currently part of our Western moral topography — and need to be.
The map toward a better kind of stewardship has many and varied roads, some of them personal. Like the author, I also gave up eating mammals and birds some time back after decades of itinerant vegetarianism; and for me, too, this was a gradual and parallel effort toward becoming “more authentically and consistently pro-life,” as he puts it in describing his own path.
In my own case, as it turned out, that change had less to do with philosophical questions about social justice than with more visceral things. In particular, I simply could not get around a question raised vividly in Matthew Scully’s seminal and perennially powerful 2002 book Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy: If I was unwilling to kill these creatures with my own bare hands (as I surely was, and am), then by what right or moral standard could I possibly delegate the brutal act of killing to others — especially to those poorer and darker and more desperate “others” who man America’s squealing slaughterhouses and shovel out its reeking chicken factories?
It took years and a number of other questions after that, but ultimately reading Dominion ended up having a decisive effect on my life; and the same will be true for other people in the wake of For Love of Animals.