nvironmental issues are attracting more and more attention. Deliberation, however, often remains focused on human life. Western thinking has valued primarily—if not exclusively—human life. Arguments for nonhuman life rest on their contribution to humanity.
More recently, there has been an effort to extend moral thinking beyond human beings. Moral philosopher Tom Regan argues that any being that has an emotional and perceptual life, including pain and pleasure preferences, plus the ability to pursue actions and goals with a significant degree of independence, should be included within one’s moral horizon.1
Environmental ethics now defends the inclusion of large communities of animals, plants, rivers, lakes, mountains, and valleys, referred to as ecosystems, “biomes,” or “the natural environment.” Ecosystems are associations of species, from microbes in the soil to forests and animals that live together in countless numbers as citizens in a community. Ecosystems are not alive, but they resemble living things closely enough to allow for some valid comparisons. For example, ecosystems can be ill or well, assessed by diagnostic tests that resemble medical examinations, including monitoring “vital signs” and identifying “risk factors.”
Adventists and the Environment
Though slow to defend the environment, Seventh-day Adventists believe that the world has exalted standing from its divinely created status, and that the scriptural assignment of dominion is a stewardship ethic. From the first chapter of Genesis to the end of the book of Revelation one finds an impressive doctrine of life.
In the opening chapter of Genesis, as God creates, each day He exclaims “good” or “very good.” Both animals and human beings were created by God from the “dust of the ground” and given the “breath of life” (Gen. 2:7, 19*) and identical blessings (Gen. 1:22, 28). This implies, at the very least, divine appreciation of them all. Humans and animals are given a vegetarian diet (Gen. 1:29, 30).2 The subsequent Fall also affects all creation (Gen. 3:14-19).
Later, Noah is told by God to take his family and animals into the ark “to keep their kind alive on the face of all the earth” during a global catastrophe (Gen. 7:3, NRSV†). In the midst of the deluge “God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and all the domestic animals that were with him in the ark” (Gen. 8:1, NRSV). After exiting the ark the animals are explicitly included in the divine covenant: “Then God spoke to Noah and to his sons with him, saying: ‘. . . Behold, I establish My covenant with you and with your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you’” (Gen. 9:8-10; cf. Gen. 9:12, 15, 17).
Later the children of Israel are led to the Promised Land and carefully instructed on creation care. They had an obligation to be kind to their animals: one must help a donkey when it has fallen under a heavy load, even if the animal belongs to an enemy (Ex. 23:4, 5; Deut. 22:1-4); large work animals were not to be muzzled while working, that way they could eat while doing the heavy work involved in agriculture and enjoy the harvest they were helping to reap (Deut. 25:4).3
The Mosaic laws include the protection of nature, outlawing destruction of fruit trees to aid a military campaign (Deut. 20:19). Humans and animals along with the land are included in the stipulations for the weekly Sabbath and the sabbatic year (Ex. 23:10-12, cf. Ex. 20:8-11; Lev. 25:6, 7; Deut. 5:12-15).
God’s providence for all life inspired many of the prayers and hymns in the Psalter, expressing how this reveals God’s glory (see Ps. 148:7-13). The wisdom books invite appreciation for nonhuman life: “Go to the ant, you sluggard! Consider her ways and be wise” (Prov. 6:6).
The prophets instruct that if God’s covenant is broken and the responsibilities of stewardship are neglected, deterioration and pollution of the earth will be the result (Isa. 24:4-6). Again and again God laments the broken ecosystems of creation, repeatedly reminding that His concern includes all the created order (see Hosea 4:1-3; Joel 1:15-20; Zech. 7:8-14; 11:1-3).
Hosea promises that ultimately the original perfection of creation will be restored (Hosea 2:18). Within the promises of the final removal of sin and the restoration of Eden perfection, the animal kingdom is pointedly included: “The wolf will dwell with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little boy will lead them. . . . They will not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain” (Isa. 11:6-9, NASB‡).
In the New Testament
This “theology of life” is found also in the New Testament. Jesus speaks of His affection for animals, stressing that even the lowliest of creatures is loved: “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight” (Luke 12:6, NRSV).
Jesus illustrated an essential environmental lesson when, after miraculously feeding thousands with five loaves and two small fish, He commanded that all leftovers be carefully gathered up “so that nothing is lost” (John 6:12).
In the final book of Scripture, the entire created world is dramatically encompassed with divine judgment (Rev. 7:1-3). After the seventh trumpet sounds in Revelation 11, the 24 elders cry out against those who have wreaked havoc on creation: “You should reward Your servants the prophets and the saints . . . and should destroy those who destroy the earth” (Rev. 11:18).
The Apocalypse concludes with the resplendent restoration that Old Testament prophets promised earlier, reminding again that redemption involves the renewal of God’s original creation. Throughout Scripture we are never allowed to forget the profound value that God places on creation.
What Do Others Think?
Environmentalists outside the Christian tradition often have been unsuccessful in arguing for such high worth. Secular materialists believe the world unfolds in an endless process. Pantheists suggest God is eternally emanating with this world. Atheists think the world evolved out of matter by chance. New Agers worship the earth as divine. Buddhists and Christian Scientists believe the world is an illusion.4 By contrast, Adventists believe God created this world with lavish care, declaring it “very good” (Gen. 1:31), and ever since is a concerned “landlord.”
Only in the twentieth century did environmental thinking slowly begin to broaden beyond human concerns. Biblical writers express concern for creation much earlier. Creation and Christianity have one God. Thereby it should not be surprising that environmental issues are embedded in Scripture.
For example, the vegetarian diet has recently been linked to environmental concerns. Philosopher Stephen Webb writes: “The book of Daniel, for example, tells the story of how Daniel and his friends refused to eat the impure food of Nebuchadnezzer, the Babylonian king. Instead, they ate only vegetables, and ‘at the end of ten days it was observed that they appeared better and fatter than all the young men who had been eating the royal rations’ (Dan. 1:15 [NRSV]). It is tempting at this point to argue that even the Bible understands that eating less meat is better for one’s physical as well as spiritual health.”5
The Issue of Meat
When a fourth-generation cattle rancher6 and a Mennonite hog farmer7 ceased raising animals for slaughter and became vegetarians, they pointed to the critical ecological issues involved in eating flesh meat: the wasteful “funnel effect” of many pounds of grain fed to a single steer, the same amount of grain feeding far more people; the huge amount of water used to grow fodder for feeding animals for slaughter. The same amount of water could serve a much larger community of people.8 Some studies even show that not only is our water supply slowly being depleted on this basis, but also our deep underground water aquifers are being polluted by the seepage from immense amounts of cow manure resulting from present methods of the animal “industry.”
Moreover, until recently, animal protein was considered of paramount importance for optimum health. What we presently know of human physiology yields irrefutable evidence that protein and other nutritional needs can be ensured without meat consumption. In fact, the optimum diet for human beings includes little if any meat. Many experts confirm this, including the World Cancer Research Fund (www.dietandcancerreport.org, then see their dietary recommendations in chapter 12 of the Second Expert Report). Those who eat meat are but eating grains and vegetables secondhand, because the animal receives from these things the nutrition that produces their growth. Humans receive it secondhand by eating the dead animal flesh.
Cruelty to Animals
These are but a few of the serious ecological issues related to the meat industry, let alone the frightful cruelty to animals involved, including the transport to slaughter and the horrifying slaughtering process itself. Common practices certainly do not model the biblical directive for a quick and painless slaughter out of respect for the animal. Very few have any conception of the violence and brutality that are inflicted on animals in order to gratify a carnivorous diet.
Furthermore, many animals display high intelligence. They see, hear, love, fear, and suffer. They manifest sympathy and tenderness toward their companions in suffering. Many animals show an affection for those who care for them far superior to that exhibited by humans.
Isaiah reminds us that the original diet of Eden will be restored in heaven (Isa. 11:9), but even now we can live within these beneficent principles, appreciatively caring for the created world we share with all life. Christians don’t even have to solve the debate on global warming. Scriptural motives for creation care, grounded in thankfulness for the divine gift of life in all its forms, are far advanced of contemporary environmental ethics. Creation care isn’t just good stewardship; it is being everything God hoped we would be. Instead of being human-centered, animal-centered, or environmentally-centered, we will be divinely-centered, singing the doxology with that vast creation chorus: “Praise Him all creatures here below.”
*Unless otherwise indicated, all Bible texts are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright ” 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
†Bible texts credited to NRSV are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright ” 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission.
‡Scripture quotations marked NASB are from the New American Standard Bible, copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
1See Tom Regan, The Case for Animal Rights (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1983).
2Charles Pinches and Jay B. McDaniel, eds., Good News for Animals?: Christian Approaches to Animal Well-Being (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1993), p. viii.
3Josephus, Against Apion 2:210-215, trans. H. St. J. Thackeray, vol. 1 (London: Heinemann, 1956).
4Stephen H. Webb, The Divine Voice: Christian Proclamation and the Theology of Sound (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Brazos Press, 2004), p. 40.
5Webb, On God and Dogs: A Christian Theology of Compassion for Animals (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), p. 22.
6See, for example, Howard F. Lyman with Glen Merzer, Mad Cowboy: Plain Truth From the Cattle Rancher Who Won’t Eat Meat (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001).
7Gary L. Comstock, “Pigs and Piety: A Theocentric Perspective on Food Animals,” in Pinches and McDaniel, pp. 105-127.
8It takes approximately 14 trillion gallons of water annually to water crops grown to feed livestock in this country. As much as 4,500 gallons of water are required to produce just a quarter pound of raw beef. Just to irrigate hay and alfalfa, it takes more water than that required for all vegetables, berries, and fruit orchards combined.
Joann Davidson, PH.D., is an associate professor in the theology and Christian philosophy department at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary in Berrien Springs, Michigan.