Philosophy - Index > General AR Philosophy
The Vampire's Dilemma: Animal Rights and Parasitical Nature
by Andrew Linzey
About the Author
Imagine that you are a twenty-five-year-old living in New Orleans, called Louis. The date is 1791. You suffer a terrible bereavement due to the untimely death of your brother -- a death for which you blame yourself. You spend nights drinking in New Orleans in a state of near despair. One night, just a few steps from your door, you are attacked by an unknown assailant. To experience family bereavement, to be consumed by guilt and remorse, to verge on the abyss of despair -- surely these are terrible things. Even more terrible when one is violently attacked -- without provocation -- to boot. And yet such is the way of life that as terrible things are happening to us, even more terrible things are just round the corner.
In the case of Louis, he woke up, not only battered and bruised, but bled -- almost to death. The assailant was not just an ordinary eighteenth-century New Orleans mugger, but a vampire, and what is more, a vampire-making vampire. Louis regains consciousness not as an ordinary mortal but as a member of an immortal species. Some of you of a more inquiring disposition may be curious as to how one vampire propagates its species. Alas, I cannot claim any expertise in vampirology, but I am led to believe that the process happens like this: the propagating vampire sucks the blood from his or her would-be progeny almost to the point of death, but then instead of letting him or her actually die, fills the person with blood mingled from his own. Looked at purely dispassionately, we could liken the process to a blood transfusion with a certain extra factor supplied. For ease I will refer to this in due course as the "X" factor.
Doubtless you will be aware that one salient feature of a vampire's existence is the need to kill for food, or, to be more precise, to suck blood. It is important to understand that this is no optional gastronomic extra but essential for vampire life. Indeed, technically, I was wrong to describe Louis as a vampire made so simply by the process of transfusion. Louis became a vampire only as he recognized the deep hungering thirst for blood and in particular learned how to kill. Lestat, his propagator, had to teach him. As the deep hungering thirst grew within Louis, he finally consented to drink human blood. A victim was selected, Lestat completed the preparatory work, and Louis was invited to drink from the victim's wrist. This is how Louis relates this first experience:
I drank, sucking the blood out of the holes, experiencing for the first time since infancy the special pleasure of sucking nourishment, the body focused with the mind upon one vital source.As Louis drew blood, he heard sound:
A dull roar at first and then the pounding like the pounding of a drum, growing louder and louder, as if some enormous creature were coming up on one slowly through a dark and alien forest, pounding as he came, a huge drum. And then there came the pounding of another drum, as if another giant were coming yards behind him, and each giant, intent on his own drum, gave no notice to the rhythm of the other. The sound grew louder and louder until it seemed to fill not just my hearing but all my senses, to be throbbing in my lips and fingers, in the flesh of my temples, in my veins. Above all in my veins, drum and then the other drum... I realized that the drum was my heart, and the second drum had been his.I venture to relate this first experience, not in any way for ghoulish purposes, but in order that we may understand Louis's predicament correctly. Those who are apt to be rather superior in their attitude to vampires frequently forget that sucking blood was no mere satisfaction of the appetite, rather it was a profound life-engaging experience involving not inconsiderable ecstasy.
Now I have called this paper "The Vampire's Dilemma." But some of you may legitimately query whether Louis's predicament should be classed in these terms. After all, a vampire is a vampire. He or she does what he or she does, notwithstanding mystical ecstasy, because of necessity. No food, no vampire. And yet Louis's experience is rather unusual in this regard. He certainly needs blood, indeed, without it he would die. He even craves for it, and, like all vampires, is physically distraught without at least one such bloodsucking encounter every day. And yet through some fortuity of circumstance, Louis is not happy about being a vampire. Not that he feels nostalgic for his mortal origins; after all, he was desperately unhappy, at least immediately prior to his vampirehood. Neither is Louis's unhappiness principally because of his lack of vampire colleagues. It is certainly true that his one close vampire acquaintance, even would-be friend, Lestat, is not always charming company, and yet solitude for a vampire may not be the grievous blow it is for us simple mortals. Vampire life, and especially its increased powers of movement, perception, sensibility -- not to mention flight -- does have some compensating factors. It would be wrong, as some high-minded vampire commentators have suggested, to suppose that immortality under such conditions is necessarily disagreeable.
Nevertheless, Louis is unhappy. We should allow him to describe his sorry predicament in his own words:
Am I damned? Am I from the devil? Is my very nature that of a devil? I was asking myself over and over. And if it is why then do I revolt against it ... turn away in disgust when Lestat kills? What have I become in becoming a vampire? Where am I to go? And all the while, as the death wish caused me to neglect my thirst, my thirst grew hotter: my veins were veritable threads of pain in my flesh: my temples throbbed and finally I could stand it no longer. Torn apart by the wish to take no action -- to starve, to wither in thought on the one hand; and driven to kill on the other -- I stood in an empty, desolate street and heard the sound of a child crying.For those who are already wondering what happened to the child and what Louis decided to do, I should report that Louis bled the mother of the child and made the child a vampire. Together they travel the world, ostensibly in search of other vampires who will help them to understand why they are as they are.
By now the point to which this elaborate metaphor is leading must be becoming increasingly obvious. But before I state the point or dilemma, I must acknowledge my debt to Louis and in particular his literary creator, Anne Rice. For it is from her book, Interview with the Vampire, that I have taken the basic plot. This book, I understand, is only the first of three volumes which explore the nature of contemporary vampirehood. I cannot claim to have read the other volumes, but it is clear from what I have read that the human species is in debt to Anne Rice's imagination. If, as Charles Morgan once remarked, there is no failure except failure of the imagination, Rice's work richly deserves both her reputation and her readership, the latter of which I am assured runs into tens of thousands.
The full extent of Louis's dilemma should now become clear. Should he go on living at the expense of other mortal creatures? Does it matter that he kills to live, and if it doesn't matter, why should he feel so stricken about it? Likewise we may ask: does it matter that the human species exists today only by the mass slaughter of billions of other creatures as food? Six to nine billion nonhuman animals are slaughtered in the United States every year; approximately 500 million in the United Kingdom. In comparison with this annual carnage, consumption even by the most rapacious of all vampires is rather slight. The average American eats more than the average vampire.
If we return to Louis's story for a while, we find that some features of his predicament show uncanny similarity to our own. In the first place, almost all Louis's fellow vampires do not see that there is a moral problem at all. When he raises with his propagator, Lestat, whether there might be something less than desirable about sucking blood, Louis is chided for his emotional immaturity. He was simply chasing the "phantoms of [his] former self." "You are in love with your mortal nature," argues Lestat. In other words, Louis had not yet grown up. He didn't yet see that the issue of killing was no moral issue at all. As Lestat puts it:
"Vampires are killers ... Predators whose all-seeing eyes were meant to give them detachment. The ability to see human life in its entirety not with any mawkish sorrow but with a thrilling satisfaction in being the end of that life, in having a hand in the divine plan."Although Lestat here seems to suggest that killing is actually to be commended theologically, I think it is fairest to characterize Lestat's overall view of killing as amoral. Since death for each mortal individual is inevitable, the process of hastening that inevitability is as devoid of moral significance as is the blowing of the wind or the pouring of the rain.
And it is this idea that brings us to the second, and by far the most significant, similarity between almost all vampires and almost all humans. Eating animals by humans is thought to be as natural as sucking blood is for vampires. The argument is quite explicit: "Do what it is your nature to do," argues Lestat. "This is but a taste of it. Do what it is your nature to do." This claim seems to sum up the dilemma of both vampires like Louis and mortal vegetarians like myself who would rather live without killing. Are we not simply opposing the nature of things as given, or indeed our own natures? Aren't non-bloodsucking vampires and non-meat-eating humans similarly anomalous in the history of our respective species? Is it not true that both are seemingly incapable of facing the world as it is without emotion or moral squint?
Considerations such as these lead Louis and his child colleague to a series of journeyings, one might even say pilgrimages, in search of knowledge -- both of how they came to be -- and more decisively still to the Creator of all things which be. In the middle of his European voyage by ship, Louis nurtures the hope that somewhere in this new continent he might find "the answer to why under God this suffering was allowed to exist -- why under God it was allowed to begin, and how under God it might be ended." In the same way that Louis was led to God in order to explain and understand the "X" factor that makes vampires bloodsucking, so too have many previously wrestled with the morality of carnivorousness in the sight of God. Louis is by no means alone in the history of moral deliberation. Plato seems to have envisaged a world, almost a Golden Age, in which all creatures lived harmoniously, and only after humans had been given God-like power over animals, did those harmonious relationships degenerate into strife and violence. Genesis 1 similarly depicts a state of perfect Sabbath harmony within creation where humans and animals are both prescribed a vegetarian diet. This fundamental insight that parasitical existence is incompatible with the original will of God has to be grasped if we are to understand the subsequent attempts in Genesis both to limit and accommodate killing. The Fall and the Flood are the great symbols of why humanity can no longer live at peace either with itself or with other creatures.
And yet the insight that parasitical existence is incompatible with the designs of the Creator still does not answer the problem of how vampires or carnivores must live today. If God can tolerate such a system, are we not in the end to resign ourselves to it, or abandon the notion of a holy, loving Creator altogether? Most humans have followed the reasoning of Samuel Pufendorf, who argued in 1688 that
[I]t is a safe conclusion from the fact that the Creator established no common right between man and brutes, that no injury is done brutes if they are hurt by man, since God himself made such a state to exist between man and brutes.At first sight, religious people would appear to be impaled on the horns of a dilemma. Either they accept that God did not ordain a just state of affairs, in which case we can no longer postulate a loving, just deity, or otherwise they have to accept that God is not -- as claimed -- the sovereign Creator of all things. But are Christians obliged to take either of these two options? I think not. There is a third and theologically much more satisfying option. It begins by asking us to consider that the world really is creation. It is the work of a loving and holy God, yes, but it is also creation, and not Creator. Because the world is creation and not Creator, it cannot be anything other than less than divine. To be a creature is necessarily to be incomplete, unfinished, imperfect. If creation was wholly perfect, it would have to be, like God, perfection itself. From this standpoint the very nature of creation is always ambiguous; it points both ways; it both affirms and denies God at one and the same time. Creation affirms God because God loves and cares for it, but it also necessarily denies God because it is not divine. It follows that there can be no straightforward moral or theological appeal to the way nature is. Note the way in which Pufendorf deliberately takes the state of nature as a yardstick or measure of what God wills or plans for creation. I argue rather that the state of nature can in no way be an unambiguous referent to what God wills or plans for creation.
The issue may be clarified by reference to the traditional theological notion of natural law. We turn to what has been one of the most enlightened of attempts to rehabilitate natural law theory. In his essay, "Rethinking Natural Law," John Macquarrie argues that it is essential to distinguish natural law as an ethical concept from any scientific law of nature: "The expression 'natural law' refers to a norm of responsible conduct, and suggests a kind of fundamental guideline or criterion that comes before all rules or particular formulations of law."
Now at first sight such a redefinition would seem to support Louis's position. After all, does not Louis experience a prerational, intuitive conception of what is right? Something parallel to what Macquarrie calls a "norm of responsible conduct" -- a "criterion" that comes before all formulations of law? The problem is, however, that Macquarrie -- like so many ethicists before him -- is unable to develop and justify such a notion of natural law without reference to what he calls the way things are. "Natural Law too claims to be founded in 'the way things are,' in ultimate structures that are explicitly contrasted with the human conventions that find expression in our ordinary rules and customs."
Again: "[Natural law] safeguards against moral subjectivism and encourages moral seriousness by locating the demand of moral obligation in the very way things are." In contrast, I suggest that if we can use the term "natural law" at all in this context, it can properly, perhaps only, be discovered not in the way things are but in the sense of what should be. In short, so much natural law theory rests upon an unqualified "naturalism." What we have witnessed almost by sleight of hand is a developing "naturalism" within moral theology which fundamentally limits the redeeming capacities of God to what humans perceive to be "the way things are" in nature itself. The result has been an almost total failure to grasp the possibility of redemption outside the human sphere.
One example must suffice. John Armstrong, in a sensitive and perceptive discussion of Hebrew attitudes to animals, nevertheless castigates the Isaianic vision of the lion lying down with the lamb as an attempt "to get rid of the beasts of prey or change their nature beyond recognition." He does not see the point of Isaiah's vision, which is not that animality will be destroyed by divine love but rather that animal nature is in bondage to violence and predation. The vision of Isaiah is directly relevant here: It invites us to the imaginative recognition that God's transforming love is not determined even by what we think we know of elementary biology.
If there can be any rehabilitation of natural law, we must reiterate that we are speaking neither of "law" nor "nature" in any recognizable sense. There is nothing in creation which of itself can give us an unambiguous understanding of the moral purposes of God. To return to Louis's dilemma for a moment, I am suggesting that he is right to be vexed and troubled. He is right to rail and thunder against a kind of nature which forecloses on the moral option. Louis is right to seek a way out; even against all appearances of necessity, he is right to go on searching, and not least of all, he is right to place the question mark at God itself. Louis's deep, prerational, intuitive sense that sucking blood is not right is what we should call not "natural law" but rather "transnatural moral imperative." To have grasped such an insight is an implicitly theological act. The world does not explain itself; either there is explanation outside creation or creation remains enigmatic and inexplicable.
But if it is right that Louis should strive, even against all odds, to realize this moral imperative, even more should the human species seek to live without killing to eat. This is the obvious point of this paper. The vampire has a dilemma because it seems -- at least at present -- that he cannot choose to live without recourse to blood, but we humans do now have such a choice. Whether humans have always been so free is something which at worst I am doubtful about, at best I have an open mind. When theologian Dean Inge, deeply committed to animal rights as he was, argued as recently as 1926 that we could not give up flesh because "we must eat something," I do not believe that he was being disingenuous. Inge really believed, as did many of his compassionate forebears, that one could not live without eating animals. Rumors of vegetarians existed, but like the rumors themselves did not -- it was thought -- persist. Most people until comparatively recently were incredulous that real vegetarians both existed and prospered. Despite all the vegetarian literature produced by George Bernard Shaw, popular commentators still claimed that only secret consumption of liver kept him alive. Again only comparatively recently have dietitians accepted that vegetable protein is, like meat, "first-class protein," and even now it seems there are some nutritionists determined to expose what they see as the dangers of veganism. For the first time in the history of the human race, vegetarianism has become a publicly viable option -- at least for those who live in the Western world. This is not of course to overlook all the many pioneers and prophets, but all of these have been just that: pioneers, protesters and prophets against the stream. But that mainstream has now to contend -- in the United Kingdom at least -- with something approximating four million vegetarians, demi-vegetarians and vegans. For humans there is now no dilemma compounded through ignorance. We can live free of meat; there are now numerous examples of people who do so and who are alive and well. When we know that we are free to do otherwise, eating meat constitutes what Stephen Clark calls "empty gluttony."
To this conclusion, I anticipate four objections. The first argues that my insistence upon the "fallen" nature of creation, and its inherent ambiguity, mitigates against contemporary environmental ethics and with it an increased respect for animals in particular. After years in which nature and materiality have been devalued within Christian theology, do we not need a new theology of the inherent goodness of all creatures? Was Gerard Manley Hopkins wrong when he claimed that the "world is charged with the grandeur of God"?
It is certainly true that in recent years observers of the theological scene have witnessed the growth of a body of writing concerned to reestablish what is called the "sacralization of nature." Such writing must be construed as a valuable protest against the kind of unqualified appeal to human supremacy articulated by, for example, Charles Davis, in 1966. Davis argues that nature is no longer regarded by "scientific man" as "sacred and untouchable," and he proclaims that such a view of nature is in full harmony with the Christian faith, indeed required by it. "Any other view of nature is, in the light of Christian teaching, idolatrous, superstitious or magical." Davis may well have reason to regret his utterances at a time when it is precisely unremitting human domination of the earth that seems to threaten even human survival. It is not difficult to see how, in the light of contemporary environmental destruction, individuals want to posit a relocation of value which includes all natural objects. Slogans such as "the world is all good" or "the earth knows best" are quite understandable as protests to the massive contemporary devaluing of creaturely life.
And yet, understandable as this protest is, when it is combined with a view that all "natural" structures of life are themselves good or perfect in every way, the whole possibility of a theological ethic is eclipsed. Certainly we need to recover a sense of the original blessing of creation, but if we suppose that all in creation is indiscriminately good, then we have no room left to establish the best. One may be forgiven for thinking that the task left to humanity is -- on some ecological accounts -- simply to emulate the structures of parasitical existence. We are supposed to glory in the economy of existence whereby one species devours another with consummate efficiency. It may not be surprising then that some recent commentators have seen a potentially sinister relationship between far right philosophy and some forms of green political theory. Whether such a connection can be responsibly made is a matter I cannot pursue here, but it cannot be doubted that an appeal to pure "naturalism" opens up a pathway to a rebirth of brutalism in which humans are invited not to morally transform the cosmos but to imitate its worst manifestations. If the legacy of Genesis is sometimes thought to be disadvantageous to animals, even more so the contemporary legacy of Darwinism.
And yet some may surely question whether we now have gone too far on the other side. Are we not to celebrate the life of creation with all its beauty, magnificence and complexity and therein with Hopkins to perceive signs of the grandeur of God? Is not the biblical material right to point us to the ways in which some animals at least appear to provide moral examples for our own behavior? Isn't the story of Balaam's ass a sign of how morally advanced are the beasts compared to the mindless Balaams of our world? I have no desire to deny the force of any of these arguments. Theologian Karl Barth is right to speak eloquently of how creation should be construed as "justification," that is, as divine beneficence, benefit, grace. That there is beauty, value, goodness in the created order is judicious Christian doctrine; that the whole creation is right as it is, or in the way it is -- that it is in no way incomplete or unfinished -- is not. To maintain that creation is all alright is to make God the Redeemer redundant. In short: "the earth is all good" slogan fails to recognize the X factor.
The second objection is that Jesus was -- as far as we know -- no crusading vegetarian. While there are no precise biblical accounts of him eating meat, the canonical Gospels leave us in no doubt that he ate fish. And if this is true, on what grounds can we claim him as the revelation of an alternative nonparasitical existence?
At first sight this appears a pretty cast-iron objection. As Stephen Clark asks: "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" There seem, however, to be two principal grounds on which this argument founders. The first is in its implicit assumption that the demands of contemporary Christian discipleship can be met simply by the imitation of the Jesus of first-century Palestine. If this is really taken to its limit, there would be hardly any scope for moral theology at all. The purpose of ethical reflection would be invalid. Ethical striving would simply center upon the need to imitate Jesus as he then was in that situation. In contrast, what Christian discipleship requires is summed up well by John Macquarrie:
The Christian ... defines mature manhood in terms of Jesus Christ, and especially his self-giving love. But Christ himself is no static figure, nor are Christians called to imitate him as static model. Christ is an eschatological figure, always before us; and the doctrine of his coming again "with glory" implies that there are dimensions of christhood not manifest in the historical Jesus and not yet fully grasped by the disciples. Thus discipleship does not restrict human development to some fixed pattern, but summons into freedoms, the full depth of which is unknown, except that they will always be consanant with self-giving love.The second way in which this argument founders is in failing to grasp the necessary particularity of the incarnation. To be God incarnate as a human being does not mean being some kind of Superman. The traditional affirmation about Jesus is not that he is God, but that he is God and human. The point is no mere technicality. God incarnates himself or herself into the limits and constraints of the world as we know it. It is true that one of the purposes of the incarnation was to manifest something of the transnatural possibilities of existence, but no one human life can demonstrate, let alone exhaust, all the possibilities of self-giving love. To those who argue that Jesus was deficient or limited either in his lack of crusading power for feminism, for the abolition of slavery, or for veganism -- not to mention home rule -- miss the central point that to confess Christ crucified is to confess a Christ inevitably and profoundly limited by the fact of incarnation. To be in one place at one time means that one cannot be everywhere.
In the light of this, it is all the more significant that early reflection upon the work and person of Christ is determined to spell out its eventual cosmic dimension and meaning. The line from Ephesians expresses it well: "[God] has made known to us his secret purpose, in accordance with the plan which he determined beforehand in Christ, to be put into effect when the time was ripe: namely that the universe, everything in heaven and on earth, might be brought into a unity in Christ."
And likewise in Colossians, where God chose Christ "and through him to reconcile all things to himself, making peace through the shedding of his blood on the cross -- all things, whether on earth or in heaven."
This concept of cosmic reconciliation provides the framework in which we may grasp the transnatural moral imperative glimpsed in the actual historical life of Jesus. For the revelation of God in Jesus is such as to intensify rather than diminish the puzzle of the created order. For Jesus stands against as much as for the order of nature as we now know it. The natural processes of sickness and death and disease, even indeed the vagaries of the weather, are subject to the power of God in Jesus Christ. If we follow Jesus, we are set upon a course of transnatural transformation whereby the sick do not suffer and die but are healed and restored; the poor are not downtrodden but become the first among equals; and even the winds which blow us to the four corners are gathered together. The so-called "nature miracles" of Jesus are signs among many that in Jesus is a birth of new possibilities for all creation. I suggest that what we have in Jesus is a model not of the accommodation of nature but rather of the beginning of its transformation. Not that all things were transformed by Jesus, nor that all of his life in every aspect was so transforming, nor that every part has even yet been transformed, but that to follow Jesus is to affirm, and seek to actualize, the fundamental possibility of world transformation.
The third objection to my thesis is that even if eventual peace and harmony is God's will in Christ for all creation, we can't achieve it now. Humans do face a dilemma. Even if there is no natural law requiring us to eat flesh, there is a psychological one, humans cannot be expected to forego the enormous pleasures of consuming flesh. Gluttony it may be, but we humans can do no better. As vampires need their mystical fix of blood, so we humans need our finger-licking good chicken or juicy steak.
Some may think that I have already caricatured this objection, but I have put it in such a crass form because in this way it expresses well a fundamental kind of despair about moral self-improvement which is a great deal more widespread than is often supposed. There are all kinds of reasons why Christians should be wary of schemes for moral perfectionism. Grandiose moral and social hopes often create incapacitating disappointment when it is discovered that they cannot be realized. In particular it follows from my overall argument that humans are themselves simply creatures: limited, finite, incapable of seeing things whole, incapable indeed by themselves of becoming whole. Moral burdens incapable of being relieved can create anger, frustration, even violence. We do well to realize what a frail and limited vessel the human creature is. If we cannot prevent greed, stupidity, cruelty, deceit, violence, envy, hatred, culpable acts of wickedness performed by members of our own species against other members of our species, what chance can we have of behaving any better to other, nonhuman, creatures? It is worth noting that Karl Barth opposed vegetarianism on the grounds that it represents "a wanton anticipation of ... the new aeon for which we hope." Not that living nonviolently in peace with all creation was not God's will -- rather that this vision of peaceableness could not be even approximated now.
Those of us who may sometimes feel encouraged to an optimistic view of life need to take cognizance of the lyrical protest of political philosopher William Godwin:
Let us not amuse ourselves with a pompous and delusive survey of the whole, but let us examine parts severally and individually. All nature swarms with life. This may in one view afford an idea of an extensive theatre of pleasure. But unfortunately every animal preys upon his fellow. Every animal however minute, has a curious and subtle structure, rendering him susceptible, as it should seem, of piercing anguish. We cannot move our foot without becoming the means of destruction. The wounds inflicted are of a hundred kinds. These petty animals are capable of palpitating for days in the agonies of death. It may be said with little licence of phraseology that all nature suffers. There is no day nor hour, in which in some regions of the many peopled globe, thousands of men, and millions of animals, are not tortured to the utmost extent that organized life will afford. Let us turn our attention to our own species. Let us survey the poor; oppressed, hungry, naked, denied all the gratifications of life and all that nourishes the mind. They are either tormented with the injustice or chilled into lethargy. Let us view man writhing under the pangs of disease, or the fiercer tortures that are stored up for him by his brethren. Who is there that will look on and say "All is well; there is no evil in the world"?Notwithstanding the beauty and goodness and magnificence of the created world, no sane person, it seems to me, could simply say "All is well; there is no evil in the world." And I agree with Godwin that the "creed of optimism," as he puts it, "has done much harm in the world." But it seems precisely because one cannot say in truth that all is well with the world, and further that the creed of optimism speaks truthfully of how the world is, that the case for believing in world-transforming Christian theism is so strong. The choice is clear: Either there is at the heart of being unredeemed or unredeemable suffering and misery and death, or there is actually a pattern of transformation, glimpsed in Christ, which is actually capable of bringing about a new world order.
Now there can be little doubt that such a perception is demanding and burdensome and itself flies in the face of not inconsiderable evidence. But it should be clear that such a perception is consistent with, even required by, Christian faith. To the objection that this invites otiose, even harmful, perfectionism, there can only be one answer. The God who demands is also The God who enables. Even by the power of the Holy Spirit it may be that the world cannot be made well at a stroke given the necessary self-limitations imposed by the Creator. Nevertheless, it is possible and credible to believe that by the Power of the Spirit new ways of living without violence can be opened up for us, even within a world which is tragically divided between the forces of life and the forces of death. We should celebrate the possibility that through the Spirit we can today live in some way freer of the X factor with regard to animals than many of our forebears. Optimism may well be facile; despair, however, is not a Christian option.
The fourth and final objection questions the rational and theological basis for obeying this prenatural intuition in what I have called the "transnatural moral imperative." Is it self-evident that we should live in peace, or that peace is itself better than violence? Can anything be self-evident in our confused and contradictory creaturely world? I do not suppose that my own tentative answer will satisfy all, as explanations of moral imperatives seldom do. But I suggest that there may be one sense in which the notion of so-called natural law can help us. It is found in the notion of Heraclitus that "all human laws are nourished by the one divine law; for this holds sway as far as it will, and suffices for all and prevails in everything." This law is identified by Heraclitus with the logos, "the primordial word or reason in accordance with which everything occurs." Before it is protested that I am merely returning to a notion of natural law previously rejected, let it be clear, as one commentator makes explicit:
A "law of nature" is merely a general descriptive formula for referring to some specific complex of observed facts, while Heraclitus' divine law is something genuinely normative. It is the highest norm of the cosmic process, and the thing which gives the process its significance and worth.It will not be overlooked that the concept of logos, here defined in a Greek context, has obvious affinities with Jewish and Christian ones. It is, I suggest, in the doctrine of Christ as the Logos that we are given the revelatory principle that peace is better than violence and that reconciliation is better than disintegration. The Cosmic Christ through whom all things come to be is the source and destiny and well-being of all creatures. To affirm the Cosmic Christ is to embrace a new possibility of existence within our grasp now. It will be clear that this view gives a high place to humans in nature; not because they are so worthy in themselves but because they are -- as no other species, as far as we know, at least -- capable of focusing the forces of life and death, of being vampires or vegetarians.
It is for this reason that I also want to conclude that vegetarianism, far from being some kind of optional moral extra or some secondary moral consideration, is in fact an implicitly theological act of the greatest significance. By refusing to kill and eat meat, we witness to a higher order of existence, implicit in the Logos, which is struggling to be born in us. By refusing to go the way of our "natural nature" or our "psychological nature," by standing against the order of unredeemed nature, we become signs of the order of existence for which all creatures long.
I end as I began, by asking you to consider the plight of our morally stricken vampire called Louis. I am sorry to say that I cannot report a happy ending. Despite his searches all over the world and his encounter with fellow vampires older and wiser than himself, and despite all his moral strength, he is unable to free himself from his own parasitical nature. There is one saving grace for Louis, however. His story will not have been told in vain if it has helped us to recover a sense of the responsibility of our own moral freedom.1. Anne Rice, Interview with the Vampire (New York: Ballantine Books, 1976) pp. 19-20.
2. Ibid., p. 83.
3. The other titles are The Vampire Lestat and The Queen of the Damned, both published by Ballantine Books.
4. Rice, p. 83.
5. Ibid., p. 88.
6. Ibid., p. 169.
7. Plato, "The Statesman," in Harold N. Fowler and W. R. M. Lamb (tr.) Plato (London: Heinemann, 1925) 271d-4c; extract in P. A. B. Clarke and Andrew Linzey (eds.) Political Theory and Animal Rights (London and Winchester, MA: Pluto Press, 1990), pp. 53-55.
8. See Gen. 1:29.
9. Samuel Pufendorf (1632-92), The Law of Nature and Nations (1688) trs. C. H. and W. A. Oldfather (New York: Oceana, 1931) Vol. II, pp. 530-1, extract in Clarke and Linzey (eds.), Political Theory and Animal Rights, pp. 116-119.
10. John Macquarrie, "Rethinking Natural Law," in Three Issues in Ethics (London: SCM Press, 1970), p. 92.
11. Ibid., p. 97; my emphasis.
12. Ibid., p. 110.
13. John Armstrong, The Idea of Holiness and the Humane Response: A Study in the Concept of Holiness and Its Social Consequences (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1985), p. 44. I make the same point in my Brother and Sister Creatures: The Saints and Animals, forthcoming.
14. W. R. Inge, "The Rights of Animals," in Lay Thoughts of a Dean (New York and London: The Knickerbocker Press, 1926), p. 199; cited and discussed also in my Christianity and the Rights of Animals (London and New York: SPCK and Crossroad, 1987), p. 145 f.
15. Stephen R. L. Clark, The Moral Status of Animals (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1977), p. 83.
16. Gerard Manley Hopkins, "God's Grandeur," in Andrew Linzey and Tom Regan (eds.), The Song of Creation: An Anthology Of Poems in Praise of Animals (London: Marshall Pickering, 1988), p. 119.
17. Charles Davis, God's Grace in History (London: Fontana Books, 1966), p. 21f; the reference to Davis is lifted from my Animal Rights: A Christian Assessment (London: SCM Press, 1976), p. 16.
18. Karl Barth, "Creation as Justification," in Church Dogmatics, Vol. III/1 (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1960), p. 348 f.
19. Clark, The Moral Status of Animals, p. 196.
20. Macquarrie, "Rethinking Natural Law," p. 109.
21. Ephesians 1:9-10 (REB).
22. Colossians 1:20 (REB).
23. Karl Barth, "The Command of God the Creator," Church Dogmatics, Vol. III (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1961), p. 256.
24. William Godwin (1756-1836), Enquiry Concerning Political Justice and Its Influence on Modern Morals and Happiness(1798) (London: J. Watson, 1842), pp. 216-18; extract in Clarke and Linzey, (eds.), Political Theory and Animal Rights, pp. 132-4.
26. Werner Jagger, The Theology of the Early Greek Philosophers, trans. E. S. Robinson (London: Oxford University Press, 1967), p. 36 and pp. 115-16. The translation from Heraclitus is from Jagger, cited and discussed in Macquarrie, "Rethinking Natural Law," pp. 93 f.
Good News for Animals? Christian Approaches to Animal Well-Being
Charles Pinches & Jay B. McDaniel, editors
Orbis Books (1993)