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Home » The Groaning of Creation: God, Evolution, and the Problem of Evil » Chapter 7: “Ethical Proposals and Conclusion” – Part 1

Chapter 7: “Ethical Proposals and Conclusion” – Part 1








Q: In Section 7.2, do you agree with Southgate when he states that “if every animal that is born is loved, cherished, and suffered with God- and given by God, in this life or the next, full of opportunity for flourishing- then human breeding and rearing of animals can be seen in a more definitely positive light”? However, if there is no redeeming afterlife for animals, would it have been better for them not to have existed and suffered?  Or is there some intrinsic worth and meaning to their lives and existence, no matter how short and unfulfilled its existence may have been?



I can understand the idea that an afterlife can balance out suffering in the current life. On the other hand, without an afterlife, is live even worth it? Especially a life that has endless suffering.  This reminds me of the book Never Let Me Go– the movie version is now available on Netflix.  The book tells the story of a special boarding school where the children learn, play sports, grow up and fall in love.  The twist is that as adults they are used as spare parts to cure various ailments.  One question that is raised is, why even bother to give them a normal upbringing given their ultimate fate?



I could give another movie example, a prequel to a currently popular science fiction movie out now, but out of respect for those who haven’t seen it yet I will give another example from my childhood, the Smurfs.  The Smurfs were these little blue sprites that lived in the forest.  Some of their adventures involved their enemy, an incompetent wizard.  On time the wizard tried to use a magic potion to turn them to stone, but accidentally turned himself to stone.  The Smurf leader decided they needed to cure the wizard but this was not popular among the other Smurfs since they’ve been tormented by the wizard.  One of the grumbling Smurfs was sent out far away to retrieve an antidote, but became accidentally trapped in a fall.  Eventually, the others worried and went looking for him and rescued him.  The formally trapped Smurf finally understood why their leader was helping their enemy.  When trapped, alone and fearful he realized just how precious life was- all life – even the life of their enemy.



Life is a precious gift that we don’t always appreciate.  Ironically, sometimes it takes the losing of it to fully appreciate it and focus on the important things in life and disregard what isn’t.  Endless suffering with no joy is a bleak existence which may not be worth continuing.  Still, suffering alone does not make a life worthless.  Stoics don’t simply endure suffering, but learn to find joy and happiness in life regardless of suffering.






Q: In Section 7.2, is it possible to be in an “I-Thou relationship” with a farm animal (in particular those that are bred for consumption) as one would with a pet cat or dog? Or are these relationships fundamentally different?  What is an “I-Ens” relationship and what does it entail?  Is it possible to have a servant relationship with animals that one intends to kill?


In the footnote section of Chapter 7.2, Southgate illustrates a biblical example of an “I-Thou” relationship between a farm animal and human from 2 Samuel 12:1-6 where the prophet Nathan comes to King David and tells him a parable about a rich man who stole the beloved pet lamb from a poor man, killed it, and served it for one of his guests.  After hearing this, David gets incensed and declares that the rich man should deserve to die and that “He shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.” (v.6)  David feels rage against the injustice caused by the rich man because not only has he unlawfully seized the property of another person, but worse, he took an animal that was more than a commodity or piece of property for the poor man, but his beloved companion.  The concept of an “I-Thou” relationship was brought up by the Jewish German philosopher Martin Buber in his book Ich und Du (I and Thou) to describe how people relate with the world: there is an “I-It” relationship where one relates with the world of experience and sensation and thereby as discrete objects, whereas an “I-Thou” describes a living and spiritual relationship between the person and another object be it living or non-living (like the sky or even a cup).  According to Buber, eventually all our relationships will bring us ultimately into a relationship with the “Eternal Thou”, who is God.  Since God is always in our consciousness and present, we can be in a continual “I-Thou” relationship with God and relate directly with Him.  Southgate proposes a question on whether or not we can have an “I-Thou” relationship with an animal we intend to kill.


Animal rights activists will maintain that a cow, chicken, or pig that we regularly slaughter for food is no different from dogs or cats that we keep as pets (although there are other parts of the world that do eat dogs and cats regularly).  However, Southgate mentions Rosemary Radford Ruether’s observation that “those who do not farm can be misled here by their experience of relating to domestic pets…but qualitatively different from other types of relations with animals.”        I don’t think many people will think of how a pig had its throat slit, its belly sliced open and all its internal organs and blood spilling out on the floor when he or she is eating a hotdog.  We normally have an “I-It” relationship with pigs.  Those with pet pigs will claim that pigs have similar, if not, higher intelligences than dogs or cats, and can be quite affectionate, so it is very possible to have an “I-Thou” relationship with farm animals.  Of course, many Hindus in India revere cows and abstain from eating meat, and have a long-standing “I-Thou” relationship with many other animals that many in the West might find odd.  In the same way, those in India might not understand how many Westerners can have an “I-Thou” relationships with dogs or cats.  So there are heavy cultural and religious elements at play here.


Southgate introduces another type of relationship into the mix by mentioning H. Paul Santmire’s concept of an “I-Ens” relationship “that involves recognition of beauty and wonder, and connotes the need for humility and gratitude.”  Southgate illustrates this position as having a chicken farmer recognizing the uniqueness and individuality of each chicken he has in his farm.  It is not an “I-Thou” relationship he has with each of his chickens, but he at least acknowledges their individualities and not as commodities.  In an “I-Ens” relationship, Southgate argues that “there can be a strong element of service, and of respect, in the tending of animals.”


I must confess, that after having read the book that we are now currently reading, I have been more conscientious of the plight of farm animals, especially when I eat a burger, chicken sandwich, or hot dog and what each animal had to suffer through – though it hasn’t made me convert to becoming a vegan.  I understand how our overall treatment of farm animals and our “I-It” relationship with them bring about tremendous pain, suffering, and inhumane treatment.  One can make the argument that since we humans are at the top of the food chain and that by nature we are predators, it is OK to kill and eat them.  Of course, without cooked meat, our species may never have developed our highly sophisticated brains which require high amounts of energy.  However, since we have this higher cognitive ability this also entails higher moral cognition and therefore greater ethical considerations and responsibilities, thus we have philosophical issues concerning animal rights.  As spiritual beings, humans can transcend our biologies through our compassion.  Can we be more compassionate to farm animals?  Of course we can.  Scientists are developing synthetic forms of meat that do not require the slaughter of animals for consumption.  Perhaps human civilization will one day advance to a point where we do not have to kill other animals for food or pleasure (i.e. hunting/fishing) and we will all look the past and think how barbaric and primitive our human species was for eating meat.  But for now, having an “I-Thou” relationship with farm animals or even an “I-Ens” relationship with them seems like a long time away in our fast-food consumerist society, but it can be a launching point to be more compassionate to our farm animals and come up with more “humane” methods of slaughtering them.  But I must confess, that I am ignorant about such methods.




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