Then God said, “Let the waters teem with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth in expanse of the heavens.” God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, with which waters swarmed after their kind, and every winged bird after its kind; and God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures after their kind: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth after their kind”; and it was so. […] God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
Genesis 1:20 – 25, 27 – 28
This excerpt from the beginning of the Bible has stirred much controversy in Christian circles. Conservative Christians argue fervently that God made the world exactly as the Bible describes, in seven literal days. Other Christians take these verses more metaphorically, understanding that Moses, author of Genesis, was making the point that God did indeed make everything. In either case, Christians agree: one way or another God created the world and all that is in it, and He mandated that Christians care for (“subdue” being another term for intense debate) the world He created. I think of this in terms of a loan. If you let somebody borrow your car indefinitely, they know it’s not theirs. They’re going to take good care of it, maybe better care than if it was their own car, knowing that in the end you’ll be back to claim your vehicle again. If the person you loaned it to wrecked it and repaired it with duct tape, you won’t be happy with them. In the same way, God has given people the world and all that’s in it as a loan, but one day He will return and hold us accountable for how we treated His creation.
As Christians, we’re commanded to take care of our pets and love them. We take them into our homes and into our hearts—they seem so human. Animals fall into the “God’s creation” category, which means that they are on loan to us just like the environment and our own bodies. God created animals for people, to help them work—oxen to pull plows, horses to carry people around—and to provide joy, which is the realm of pets. Dogs and cats become highly beloved in families, particularly families lacking children; we give them names, even amending our last names to theirs: “Carmel Sullivan,” “Makayla Ferguson,” and so forth. We talk about them being happy, smiling at us, feeling sorry for us, missing us, wanting an event (dinner) to occur, and most of all we talk about their personalities. Animals can be good-tempered or bad-tempered, they can disobey when given a command, they can act pleased to see you when you get home from work (because you feed them), but does that mean they have a personality? When you talk about an animal having a personality, you’ve almost granted them a step towards humanity and the rights that are inherent to being human.
But where do we draw the line between human and animal? Humans are physically animals, comprised of the same basic building blocks as everything else in the universe. So we have to rule out the easiest idea, that humans are inherently physically different from all other animals. If this was so, we could simply test a creature, determine its physical makeup, and say “Human” or “Non-human.” Then perhaps it is intelligence, “the ability to understand or deal with new or trying situations: Reason; also, the skilled use of reason” (M-W.com). Many animals have been found to display creativity in solving problems, but does that constitute intelligence? Some apes have learned to communicate with people using sign language, showing the capacity for expressing themselves, learning advanced concepts, and almost the ability to reason. What else is there? Humans live in houses, but so do dogs, cats, and numerous household pets. Other animals make burrows or dens for themselves. People clothe themselves, partly from shame and partly from necessity, which animals don’t do. Is this solely because they haven’t needed to (I’m excluding those pampered dogs whose owners buy them sweaters and booties)?
I think that the line between animal and human can be drawn thus: people—humans—have souls. They are created in God’s image and are His children. Animals, wonderful though they may be, are soulless, put here not for God’s glory but for people’s enjoyment. We cannot begin treating animals as people because they inherently are not people, regardless of how similar to people, sweet, or intelligent they are. It’s wrong to mistreat animals for the same reason it’s wrong to waste the environment: because God created them both for humans, have given them to us on loan, and will one day hold us accountable for all our actions. But we’d be wrong to call animals human and begin granting them rights that only men and women, created as God’s special children, can claim. And above all, we shouldn’t begin squabbling over animals as if they’re our children because, in the end, animals are replaceable where no child—born or unborn—ever is.
– KF –