Dominion over wildlife?
DOMINION OVER WILDLIFE?
An environmental theology of human-wildlife relations
By Stephen M. Vantassel
Resources Publications. 208 pages
Stephen Vantassel dedicates his book to sport hunters, including fur trappers, a group of people he believes to be unjustly misrepresented by what he terms ‘CAR (Christian Animal Rights) activists’. His main focus is hunting, although he often strays into general denunciations of vegetarians.
Vantassel collects together as ‘CAR activists’ a wide variety of authors, ranging from the distinguished theologian Andrew Linzey (‘the leader of the movement’) to the conservative writer Matthew Scully. He sets out their scriptural, ethical and scientific arguments, criticising and rejecting each in turn. His summary of the CAR position is fairest where he focuses on one author, but becomes a misleading stereotype where he lumps them all together. ‘CAR activists’ is so broad a grouping that it would certainly include John Calvin, C.H. Spurgeon, and the majority of Puritan authors.
He believes that his own position of ‘Dominionism’ represents the traditional, historic view of the church, which, he claims, has not seen ‘the issue of animal pain as a significant moral issue’. Even while giving a sickening account of the injuries caused by trapping, he questions ‘whether the problem of animal suffering is even a problem’.
Whereas dominionism believes ‘in dominion as conquest of nature’, CAR activists argue that ‘God’s grant of dominion to humanity was not for exploitation and domination, but for a caring role of trust and leadership’. Vantassel advances the image of humanity ruling ‘the earth just as a corporate president rules the janitor at the bottom of the corporate ladder’.
Although he identifies himself as an evangelical, Vantassel relies heavily upon Roman Catholic teaching. A major weakness of the book is that he neglects the historic evangelical tradition altogether, with devastating results. For Vantassel, his perspective has the ‘added bonus’ ‘that it avoids the problem of adding to the difficulties of the problem of evil, as it removes the issue of animal suffering from the debate’. By contrast, our evangelical forbears, such as C.H. Spurgeon or William Wilberforce, saw animal suffering as one of the consequences of human sin, a biblical insight which spurred them to work for animal welfare reform. Indeed, an essential role in the history of reform was played by Reformers, Puritans, evangelicals and Methodists1.
Vantassel’s book is far outside this evangelical tradition. If you are concerned about this subject, read the CARs instead. Matthew Scully’s book Dominion is a good place to start.
Dr. Philip J. Sampson,
author and lecturer who has previously written for EN