In his wonderful book, Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It’s So Hard to Think Straight About Animals, Hal Herzog compellingly describes the human-animal relationship. It’s complicated. Expect the future to bring an intensifying and polarizing acceleration on all three fronts of those human-animal relationships.
Let’s start with the easiest one: the future of humans eating animals. In the foreseeable future we will hear louder voices (i.e., vegan) rejecting eating meat for not only dietary but also for moral reasons. On the other end of the spectrum, new technologies and the affluence of the West will fuel the current uptick in gourmet and adventure eating. Ever watch the Food Channel?
More complex will be the trends toward the animals we hate. Few will mourn the battle against mosquitoes in the global war against malaria. But what about the trending antipathy against house cats? New Zealand, a very civilized and reasonable nation, in order to eradicate invasive species that threaten the island ecosystem, intends to destroy all feral cats on the island. And if you house a cat, as I do (note: no one “owns” a cat!), understand that our furry Instagram superstars are on the most wanted list of threats to the environment. Don’t believe me? Check out these mainstream titles: “Cat Wars: The Devastating Consequences of a Cuddly Killer” and “The Lion in the Living Room: How House Cats Tamed Us and Took Over the World.” There will be war between bird watchers and cat lovers — you heard it here first!
Finally, the relationship of humans loving animals will also continue to evolve and accelerate. People will continue to leave inheritance assets to pets. People will continue to study seriously various animal intelligences, and also foolishly to project human emotions and motives onto Rover and Mittens.
Most interesting in this, according to Alison Gopnik, psychology professor at UC Berkeley, is the unprecedented breakdown in the West of the so called “ladder of nature.” She says, “In the canonical version [of the ladder of nature], God was at the top, followed by angels, who were followed by humans. Then came the animals, starting with noble wild beasts and descending to domestic animals and insects. … The ladder of nature was a scientific picture, but it was also a moral and political one. It was only natural that creatures higher up would have dominion on those lower down.”
Well, that particular world view and biblical ecosystem is departing rapidly as a social contract. What that means for the church is that we will need to do some harder and better theological thinking about the animals we love, hate and eat.