07 October 2015

Whimpering Commands We Must Follow

by F.X. Turk

In my family, we own two dogs.

This is Annie.  She is completely and utterly in charge of the house, trumping even my wife, and the reason is obvious.  That much cute in one body is actually immoral and a tool of the devil.  It up-ends the economy of our home so significantly that I really just don't want to talk about it.  We spend more money on her grooming than on mine in any given quarter, and often she has bows in her hair.

This is Tugger.  In spite of his charming exterior and athletic good looks, he is a natural-born killer.  He is the singular reason our home has never been broken into in spite of a rash of crimes in our neighborhood, and he is also responsible for the deaths of all the arrogant squirrels, chipmunks, and rabbits which have thought it was a good idea to try to steal our vegetables and strawberries (and also 2 copperhead snakes).  He is also more effective than an alarm clock to get me up to exercise every morning at 5 AM (more like 4:30 most days) as he is far more committed to running for 30 minutes than I am.  However, his efforts have helped me lose 20 lbs this past summer, and for that he is worth his weight in gold.

Having met them, let me explain one other thing about them before I get to the real reason for this blog post.  If we calculate what it costs to keep them up, and observe the amount of medical care they receive annually, and add in the dollars that my family spends to care for them when we travel and they cannot join us, I think it is entirely safe to say this: compared to most people ever, they are better fed; they have better physical health; they are more often warm when it is cold and cool when it is nekked-hot in Arkansas than most people who have shuffled off this mortal coil.  To say they are beloved members of our family is probably an overstatement, but not by much.

I break my hiatus to bring it up because something happened last week which, frankly, shouldn't surprise anyone but it did surprise me: a moral crisis was ginned up by the evangelical conscience-builders regarding the ethical treatment of animals.  I actually "got into it" with my internet foil Karen Swallow Prior, and the amount of venom I received in return (not from her, but from others who follow her on twitter) was also not surprising but still surprised me.  Maybe in spite of being 20lbs down I am out of fighting shape for the internet.  That's probably a good thing, but that's also a digression.

To further my surprise about this, something else happened in parallel a few days later. Al Mohler weighed in with this:
This statement achieves a very important balance, stating that we have a responsibility to the creatures that God made for his glory. That we have a responsibility to animals, but the first responsibility we have is to understand that human beings are not mere animals. That there is a distinction between human beings and other creatures that is not merely of degree but of kind. We come to understand that that is rooted in the fact the human beings and human beings alone are made in God’s image. But we have also come to understand that the animals are not evolutionary accidents anymore than ourselves. And we come to understand that God the creator, takes delight in these animals and that he created them for his glory and he created them for his pleasure. But he also created them for our use and they are as Scripture says, given unto us, for that use including explicitly for food. But even as we understand there is this categorical distinction between the human being and other creatures. We also understand that as we are given the responsibilities of stewardship and dominion in Scripture, we are given a responsibility to prevent cruelty to animals.
And it seems pretty hard to argue with that sort of semantic and theological fire power, yes?  What probably ought to happen at this point is that I ought to simply rethink my own biases here whenever the words "animal rights" come up because Al Mohler is Al Mohler.  Unfortunately for everyone, that is not what is happening, and here we are.

First, let me flash you back to 2009 when the Manhattan Declaration was originally proffered, and which Dr. Mohler signed.  I offered this response to the whole affair, Dan offered his 18-point assessment, and ultimately R.C. Sproul (not due to our involvement, but on the same page) had a few things to add which are probably worth your time.  At the root of it, the major failing of that document was that it made a big wind when it came to the clarity of the Gospel, and it was because it confused co-belligerence with Gospel partnership.  That's one kind of error that these sorts of declarations make, but fortunately for the "Every Living Thing" crowd they are all (at least at first glance) Evangelicals, so the words they use are probably not entirely confusing words.  They avoid the problem of confusing the Gospel by being on generally-evangelical soil for their declaration.

But as I read it, and I have my big dog at my right hand and my fluffy white dog on a throne above us all whimpering commands we must follow, I find myself facing another objection to such a thing: moral seriousness.  I honestly don't want to make too much of this, but let's for a moment shake off the disorienting exhilaration of falling down the cliff over which Western Civlization has been pushed: by a long shot, "Every Living Thing" is an incidental white paper and "animal rights" (or if we are fair, "creation mandate" maybe is how they would say it) is the least of our problems.

If we are anywhere right now in the neighborhood of that issue, it is here: we think we are completely in charge of nature and have the authority to say whatever we want about it.  That problem doesn't get us to the place where we are commonly making the lives of our pets and cattle hard: it is where we are calling what is in a human woman's womb a commodity which has a market value, and we justify the transaction as a "donation" on both sides.  We are at the place where there are a variety of ways to deny that boys will be boys and girls will be girls (it's a mixed up, jumbled up, shook up world, after all), but the only one which doesn't just indicate medical treatment but requires it is when someone says their mind is right but their body is wrong -- and we need to start cutting until we find the real body meant for that person's mind.  We are now remaking the family into something so unfathomable that it soon won't even be called a family anymore because why bother.  Not only are we content to do what seems right in our own eyes, we are in fact ready to rename everything in a grotesque burlesque of Gen 2:15-20, not because God asked us to but because we are ready to say to God, "hey: who asked you?"

In that world, signing a piece of paper that says sad puppies need love too seems a little small and short on sobriety (no matter how rhetorically and theologically gilded the language is) to be something the leaders of Christendom ought to be promoting.  Especially, I will add, when most pets in America live better than mine, and my pets live better than most human beings who ever lived.

You know what?  Nevermind.  I'm supposed to be on hiatus.  The people who don't get tired of telling you what's best next and don't go on hiatus have told you what they think is most important, and who am I to say they have lost their ever-lovin' minds if they think they can march out the weiner dogs of war against the moral zombie apocalypse we are facing today.  They must know something I don't know.

"nekked-hot" is a term invented by by son when he was 2 or 3 after we moved to Arkansas. It is when it is so hot that he would rather be nekked than wear anything if he has to be outside. It does actually get this hot in Arkansas, but we have all grown out of succumbing to being "nekked-hot." I know you are greatly relieved.


Frank Turk said...

For those dying to say something, I will be travelling most of today and tomorrow, and due to the way Canada runs itself, there's no way I'm going to pay $2 for 1 MB of data on my smart phone. Be patient and I will get to your comments as I am able.

J♥Yce Burrows said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
donsands said...

"We are now remaking the family into something so unfathomable that it soon won't even be called a family anymore because why bother. Not only are we content to do what seems right in our own eyes, we are in fact ready to rename everything is a grotesque burlesque of Gen 2:15-20, not because God asked us to but because we are ready to say to God, "hey: who asked you?"'

Thanks for the terrific hard work post; with a incredible and original aroma:- As usual Cent.

"Amazing Grace how sweet the sound!"-John Newton

Aaron Snell said...

Frank just Doug Wilsoned his hiatus. Well done Frank.

Merrilee Stevenson said...

It sometimes seems like our collective evangelical population has determined that we all are running for office and we all must pass the litmus tests on certain issues if we want the rest of the population to vote for us. And if we don't get enough votes, we don't have their permission to share the gospel, and it's about the gospel, after all, isn't it? Not to be confused with a popularity contest, of course.

"Wiener dogs of war against the moral zombie apocolypse" wins the internet.

Daniel said...

The bible tells us explicitly that Jesus ate fish and lamb - even multiplying fish for the purpose of human consumption.

Anyone who signs a document that vilifies our Lord, doesn't practice "biblical" (i.e. theologically sound) Christianity.

That's my two cents.

Hey Frank - Good to see ya. Going to T4G this year?

Daniel said...

I was a little pithy in my previous comment, so let me add that most of us agree already, without having to sign a document, that going out of our way to cause (or through negligence allow) suffering to an animal while it is within our care flies in the face of the stewardship that mankind was given by God.

My main concern regarding "animal stewardship" is that some would inflate their definition of stewardship beyond what the bible informs, and then bind the consciences of believers to this inflated definition.

Prior to the fall, Adam was given dominion over the earth, and all that lived in it, to subdue it. After the fall, God Himself was the first to kill an animal - and He did so to provide clothes for Adam and Eve to wear (made from the skins of the animals God slew for that purpose.

Whatever the bible means by subduing the earth, and having dominion over it - it is clear that this "dominion" cannot be described in terms of unilaterally preserving the lives of all those creatures under our dominion.

I don't hesitate to swat a mosquito, or to exterminate pests such as lice, bedbugs, termites, or rodents. They may live elsewhere unchecked, but when they encroach upon me they die without mercy, because I have been given dominion over them - I do no wrong in exercising that authority.

The bible deals with cruelty to animals in several passages already, so whatever this authority looks like, it isn't cruel. I can take the eggs from a nest for my food, but I cannot take the mother and leave the eggs, that would be cruel. I can eat lamb, but it would be cruel to boil that lamb in it's mother's milk. Etc.

Any theology that

Frank Turk said...

Unless it is required by my elders, prolly not.

Michael said...

That statement, which I signed, never calls for an end to eating animals. Or an end to exterminating pests in the home. But there are folks who are so knee jerk against anything that smells of liberalness they attack people who don't want unnecessary excessive pain inflicted on animals as either insincere hypocrites playing to the worldly to be liked (lol) or as attacking Jesus (!) or the Bible. Nothing written in the comments above has anything to do with the statement. Frank, even though liberals seem to care more for animals than babies, a true Christian does not have to choose between those two things for their attention. I bet Mohler will not be seen speaking before an animal care rally on the Mall anytime soon.

Frank Turk said...

Michael said:

a true Christian does not have to choose between those two things for their attention

That prolly has a lot to do with why most of this post is about me and my two dogs. And: why the linked statement is incredibly unserious: which Christian does anyone know who is actually unkind to animals? There's simply nothing in that statement which will make the non-Christian go, "oh, THAT'S what it means to be a real Christians," or the actual-Christian to say, "wow - I better stop making these poodle meatballs."

Michael said...

Well, you did spend most of your writing about pets. The statement is not about pets. Certainly it doesn't envision eating one's dog. I would also say that our Gospel mission has nothing to do with animals. But treating food animals like they were beets is serious business. It's about efficiency and profit. There are issues that Christians happen to care about that are not specifically Christian, conservative and liberal. I am not in any way playing the social gospel card. However, Christians with a conscience about this shouldn't be belittled for it. Not even for coming up with a "statement" and soliciting signatures. You think it's silly, fine. But I don't understand coming out of hiatus for it. But I still love you!
Mike Rudnick, btw

Frank Turk said...

Hi Mike -- Long time no see.

You say:

Christians with a conscience about this shouldn't be belittled for it.

I think what I have rather said is that the Christian conscience should not be made into something little. We shouldn't make spectacular gestures for next to nothing. And the reality check is this: given the spectacular failure of the Manhattan Declaration, why play the same card in the same trick here for puppies and bunnies -- especially when the puppies and bunnies are not languishing under the whips and chains of indentured Christians service? I promise you: there are no Christians doing what the "Every Living Thing" document decries. Nobody is accusing us of it. But here are these people who are, I think, honestly our friends in Christ wasting moral gravitas on it. It makes us look like we are simply unable to see the moral landscape.

Michael said...

If you read that statement as a "treat pets nicely" manifesto then of course it's kind of a waste. But since it's about much much more, it's a great starting point towards dialogue. Industial farming and animal processing, cosmetic and other household product testing, zoos and circuses. This isn't about one's own pets and I'm certain most signers aren't against sustainable hunting practices.