Taking the Adventure: Faith and Our Kinship with Animals

Taking the Adventure: Faith and Our Kinship with Animals

Eugene, Oregon: Resource Publications, 2014. 236 pp.,
paper, $21.60.

In 1906, with the publication of Upton Sinclair’s novel The Jungle, the American public was appalled to learn that its meat industry was a filthy and cruel enterprise. Jonathan Safran Foer’s recent Eating Animals shows that little has changed since then. Other books, such as Diet for a Small Planet and The China Study, present compelling evidence that a carnivorous diet is unhealthy for both us and the planet. Yet we continue to consume everincreasing
amounts of animal flesh, approximately 125 pounds per person annually in the United States.

In Genesis 1:28 we read the cultural mandate familiar to many: “And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth” (King James Version). Does this mean that mankind has the God-given right to enslave, torture, and slaughter all nonhuman beings of the earth as it sees fit? Or does it mean that we are to cherish, love, and respect all of God’s creatures?

Through a deft interweaving of thirty short essays, author and educator Gracia Fay Ellwood strongly asserts
the latter interpretation. 

Calling upon diverse sources from literature, philosophy, behavioral science, and religion, Ellwood argues that there is no one single answer to the question of why we continue to eat more and more animal flesh, but that there are several psychological, cultural, religious, and economic factors that must be taken into consideration. One is the psychological gap that separates humans from animals. In chapter 2, “The Great Wall,” she likens contemporary society to a medieval walled fortress, with humans on the inside and animals on the outside:

What, after all is it that makes us human beings think ourselves to be the sole bearers of intrinsic value, distinguished as the only proper inhabitants of the charmed circle? . . . Animals have central nervous systems; they show signs that they dream; they communicate by sounds and gestures; they suffer; they enjoy. When we perceive that the wall was not created by God or Natural Law, but by human beings, it follows that to confine, harm, or destroy the bodies of creatures that have these capacities—that have their own point of view—is real violence against them. From their point of view it is slavery and murder. They have opinions which deserve to be heard and weighed.

The reader is then introduced to another key player in the game: the unquenchable greed of the corporate farming industry and its necessary by-product, forced ignorance on the part of the consumer. Brand names like "Sunny Farms" and "Orchard Gardens" and terms such as "cage-free" lead us to believe that we are purchasing cruelty-free, earth-friendly products, when in fact these labels are as misleading as the signs above several of the Nazi concentration camps that read "Arbeit macht frei" ("Work makes free"). We are led to believe, by slogan and by cutesy drawings, that by spending a few pennies more we are contributing to a sustainable, compassionate world, when in fact these designations are as chimerical as their names are fanciful. In chapter 10, "The Foul Stable," we read:

Many readers will already be aware of how much worse the situation is in present-day animal-slave operations:crowded reeking mega-sheds virtually never cleaned out, imprisoning thousands or hundreds of thousands of wretched, immobilized chickens and pigs and calves with ammonia-burned lungs, never free of pain and never seeing sunshine until they are dragged out to be killed.

Ellwood’s Taking the Adventure: Faith and Our Kinship with Animals draws heavily upon parables of ancient and modern worlds to illustrate her invitation to veganism. From the Bible and the writings of Lucretius to The Hobbit, A Christmas Carol, and The Chronicles of Narnia, among many others, the author invites the reader upon a great adventure. Not merely the adventure of giving up meat in our daily diets, but to the greater adventure of realizing that all beings, both animal and human, are imbued with the Divine Breath of God. As Annie Besant wrote: “O hidden light, shining in every creature. . . . ”

It is an adventure well worth taking.

Paul Topping 
The reviewer is a linguist and language researcher residing in New York City, where he leads the local TOS Animal Healing Circle. He is vegan.