Friday 4 November 2011

Animal Theology or Balaam's Ass?

Can't you just hear the sainted worthies of times past rolling over in their graves?

Now, Holy Saint Francis Batperson!, there's something called "animal theology."

I suppose it could have been bouncing around for a while, but I confess to have only caught up with the fact.

Maybe someone could design a nice logo... one of those cute renditions of Noah's Ark? Or even better, Balaam's Ass?

Does animal theology include cockroaches and intestinal worms?  There is the delightful story of 'Saint' Simeon Stylites the pillar-squatter who, having maggots feeding on his open sores, noticed one of the little fellows fall from his body. Gently the holy man picked it up, so the story goes, and replaced it with the words, "eat what God has given thee."

All very edifying - if you're a maggot. But how come no one is thinking about plant theology?  Or are they?

Anyhoo... from Independent Catholic News:
Oxford animal theologian Professor Andrew Linzey has been awarded a top university honour for his pioneering work.

The University of Winchester is to recognise Professor Linzey with an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree in recognition of his work in animal theology in a graduation ceremony on 9 November.

Professor Linzey, who is Director of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics, said: "I am delighted to accept this award on behalf of my colleagues at the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics, who are in the forefront of pioneering this subject internationally.”

“Animal ethics is now an emerging discipline with scores of university courses world-wide, and this is a tremendous boost to those working in this field.”

“Animal ethics explores the challenges that new thinking poses, both conceptually and practically, to traditional understandings of human-animal relations.”

Professor Elizabeth Stuart, Senior Pro-Vice-Chancellor commented: “At Winchester we value and celebrate those who champion the voiceless and challenge the dominant paradigms. We shall honour one of the animals’ most thoughtful and passionate champions, someone who I believe will be remembered as one of the most pioneering and influential theologians of his day.”

Professor Linzey was made an Honorary Professor of the University of Winchester in 2007, and in the same year his book Creatures of the Same God was the first to be published by Winchester University Press. He is also co-editor of the Journal of Animal Ethics published by the University of Illinois Press.

“Winchester has one of the most progressive departments of theology in the country, and I am delighted to be associated with it,” said Professor Linzey.
Okay, so I get the animal ethics thing.  Yes, it's important.  But "animal theology"?  How does that work?  Isn't the very term itself an oxymoron? What the heck have legitimate issues of animal rights and ethics got to do with some meddling theologian muddying the waters?  Yeah, I know, I sound like one of those reactionary old cusses on Grumpy Old Men, but, well, isn't this due cause?

"Winchester has one of the most progressive departments of theology" in Britain?  I wouldn't want to argue with that.  But maybe also one of the most irrelevant... Is 'animal theology' publicly funded? Will Prof. Linzey's next book be titled, Of Maggots, Mice and Men?

Then again, maybe this is horribly misrespresenting 'animal theology'.  Is there anyone who can provide some enlightenment on this 'progressive' branch of theology?


  1. Mikey for President is probably all you need to know.

  2. Who's a bit speciesist this morning? The donkey showed better common sense and a deeper appreciation of the sacred than Balaam did! OTOH what does "Animal Theology" mean? I suppose it's all anout those Egyptian gods with crocodile heads and such like?

  3. ...but animals don't have neshama, they only have nephesh...

    (Can't believe I had to look up neshama --- my memory is going, in my old age.)

  4. As the tomato would say, I once was green but now I'm red. When I became red I put away greenish things.


  5. This is what happens when churches start holding "blessing of animals" services.

    My city has a few which do -- but you never hear about them holding services to bless little children.

  6. GCI still has the Blessing of the Little Children, that Youtube video notwithstanding; they even did one at one of the three remaining Feast sites this year. One of the congregations I attends, does it whenever there is a request for one (which isn't very often, but it does happen). Other than that Youtube video, I haven't seen any "sprinkling" yet!

    BTW, GCI only changed its name in the US because apparently the American leadership was concerned that the Church was being confused with a US Pentecostal denomination that has CoG in the name as well. The UK still uses WCG, although they say "also known as GCI" on their websites. I believe the Phillipines / other overseas churches might be the same.