10 Essential Books on the Theology of Animal Care

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Essential Books on the Theology of Animal Care

Your approach to animal care can often define your life: what you believe about what you owe wildlife will influence your diet, affect what you teach your children, and guide your worldview. There’s a growing movement in animal care circles that explores the theology of human-animal relationships, as well. The goal is not merely to work toward a better understanding of how to treat animals, but to discover the spiritual reasoning behind caring for them, not to mention the spiritual benefits of keeping watch over the world’s wildlife. For those looking to deepen their religious understanding of animal life, there’s a fantastic and growing body of literature available to shed light on the subject and help them wrangle with the questions that inevitably arise when you start to re-examine your beliefs.

  1. The Friends We Keep: Unleashing Christianity’s Compassion for Animals, Laura Hobgood-Oster: Laura Hobgood-Oster is a professor at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, where she focuses on Christian history, ecology, and the relationship between animals and religion. She’s written several books exploring the theology of animal care, including Holy Dogs and Asses: Animals in the Christian Tradition. In The Friends We Keep, she speaks plainly about the role animals have played in Christian scripture, using this to argue that caring for animals isn’t just a byproduct of faith but one of its central components. A fantastic read for animal lovers, pet owners, and anyone who wants to learn more about being a responsible steward for other living creatures.
  2. Creatures of the Same God: Explorations in Animal Theology, Andrew Linzey: Andrew Linzey is one of the leading lights in animal theology, with the education and experience to back up his writing: he’s a member of the faculty of theology at the University of Oxford, where he held the world’s first academic position devoted to theology and animal welfare. He’s been writing thoughtful, persuasive books about animal theology since the 1970s, and he’s so prolific that he cracked this list twice. Creatures of the Same God is a collection of sharply written essays in which Linzey argues that animals are just as important as people are to God, and that in order to fulfill our spiritual purpose, we need to recognize that and extend to them the same care and respect we give humans.
  3. God’s Covenant With Animals: A Biblical Basis for the Humane, J.R. Hyland: J.R. Hyland was an evangelical minister who became a vegetarian in the early 1970s after she witnessed inhumane animal experiments in a college laboratory. She used her Christian faith to explore the true meaning of love for animals, arguing that scriptures have been used for centuries to cruelly mistreat creatures that we’re called to love. Her treatise The Slaughter of Terrified Beasts was reissued in 2000 as God’s Covenant With Animals, and the book earned praise for its earnest call for peace and kind treatment of all creatures. Hyland never attempted to force her vegetarianism or other choices onto others; rather, she let her arguments do the talking.
  4. On God and Dogs: A Christian Theology of Compassion for Animals, Stephen H. Webb: Stephen Webb has been teaching religion and philosophy at Wabash College since 1988, and in that time he’s written about everything from the politicization of religion to the proper role of animals in a Christian lifestyle. A co-founder of the Christian Vegetarian Association, Webb writes in On God and Dogs about how the human-pet relationship can be a building block for responsible care for all animals. His argument is that the concept of grace isn’t just observable in our relationships with other people, but in the way we care for the animals that depend on us for their lives.
  5. Is God a Vegetarian?: Christianity, Vegetarianism, and Animal Rights, Richard A. Young: Richard Young’s scholarly argument for vegetarianism isn’t based in pop culture or modern trends, but in his lengthy exploration of biblical teachings and his efforts to interpret scripture to learn what a proper human-animal relationship looks like. Young’s intellectual honesty is refreshing: instead of mining scripture for passages to back up his beliefs, he builds from the ground up and tries to determine what the right behavior will be. As a bonus, each chapter includes a pair of vegetarian recipes for readers looking to try a simpler lifestyle.
  6. Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy, Matthew Scully: Matthew Scully is, for many people, the last guy you’d expect to write a book about animal theology. Scully was a speechwriter for George W. Bush during the 2000 presidential campaign and worked for Bush until 2004. He was also the main consultant and writer for Sarah Palin’s galvanizing acceptance speech at the 2008 Republican National Convention. Yet the man who crafted words for proponents of “drill, baby, drill” is ardent defender of animal rights who argues that it’s our duty to treat them with respect and dignity. His vegetarianism makes sense in light of his blunt examination of man’s ability to abuse animals. The book is often a harrowing one that can’t help but spur people to give better consideration to the creatures sharing our space.
  7. The Great Compassion: Buddhism and Animal Rights, Norm Phelps: A leader of The Fund for Animals, Norm Phelps’s The Great Compassion is a fascinating examination of the history of Buddhism and its multiple teachings on the topic of animal treatment. Phelps recounts the treatment of animals on farms and delves into the biological sources of pain that are universal across all life, then attempts to reconcile those with the teachings of Buddhism. A great primer on Buddhism for those who aren’t familiar with it, and a wonderful look at the spiritual truth beneath animal care.
  8. Of God and Pelicans: A Theology of Reverence for Life, Jay B. McDaniel: Jay McDaniel’s slender volume Of God and Pelicans marries his love for the environmental movement with his devotion to God, generating a theology of animal care that’s both reverent to the planet and respectful of its many different peoples. Definitely a book worth checking out, whether you’ve been in the movement for years or are just starting to get your feet wet.
  9. God, Humans, and Animals: An Invitation to Enlarge Our Moral Universe, Robert N. Wennberg: The title makes it clear that Robert N. Wennberg is not going to beat around the bush. God, Humans, and Animals tackles big questions about animals and our moral duty to them, with Wennberg spending a lot of his time investigating why religious communities seem to care less about animal welfare than secular ones. He examines Christian and Jewish scripture and tradition to build a case that it’s not just our responsibility to care for animals, but that doing so is an essential part of our humanity.
  10. Why Animal Suffering Matters: Philosophy, Theology, and Practical Ethics, Andrew Linzey: Andrew Linzey’s latest work is everything you’d expect from one of the leading thinkers of animal theology: a smart, well-reasoned, and passionate call for people to change their worldviews and meditate on the meaning of existence for other creatures. This book collects essays and speeches Linzey delivered between 2002 and 2007, and in them he makes the case that no animal should ever have to be killed or even harmed by people. Linzey’s writing is passionate and extreme, and though there’s room for others to disagree with him, you can’t say Linzey isn’t one of the best writers in the field. His energy is enough to persuade almost anyone to think differently about the animals in their lives.
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