Continuing the series which I began September 17 . . .
In the book, Environmental Stewardship in the Judeo-Christian Tradition, I found the Jewish discussion the most provocative. In this first excerpt, the authors differentiate between rights and responsibilities, between Creator and created, between ownership and stewardship, and between humans and everything else:
The Torah unhesitatingly prohibits cruelty to animals. This is not because animals also have rights; it is because only human beings have obligations. In the Torah’s depiction of moral reality, nobody has rights – only obligations. Naturally, if everybody discharges their obligations, we all end up enjoying those things we vainly attempted to obtain by claiming them as our rights.More from the Jewish tradition in an upcoming post.
The animal rights movement can best be understood by viewing it as an attempt to undo the opening chapters of the biblical Book of Genesis. The Torah and its accompanying oral transmissions insist that Genesis describes more the beliefs underlying Creation than its facts. This is to say that the Bible’s central premise is that humans and animals are qualitatively different, a contention violently opposed by the animal rights movement. . . .
The Bible teaches that the human person is the apex of God’s creation and that all creation is there for the human person to develop and use as a responsible steward. The principle at work here is, of course, precisely the same biblical principle that prohibits self-maiming, destroying a rented apartment, or even having an abortion. This is to say that tenants do not have the same rights as owners. We, as humans, do not own the world, our bodies, or the habitations we rent. Thus, we may improve them but not destroy them. According to the Torah, not only do women not have the right to do with their bodies as they wish, but neither do men. Our bodies are given to us by a gracious and generous God so that we may occupy them for a certain period of time. During that time they are to be treated with the same deference that a tenant should employ in caring for his rented premises. Similarly, we humans are granted use of the world and all it contains. We may hunt animals for food or clothing, build homes out of the wood we cut from trees, and mine the earth to extract the minerals it holds. However, we may not wantonly destroy anything at all.
- pp. 20-21