Towards an animal spirituality : an evaluation of the contributions of Francis of Assisi and Albert Schweitzer
Vestjens, Johanna Christina Louisa
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While throughout the ages prominent thinkers have denounced for various reasons mistreatment and killing of animals for food or sacrifice, the dominant western view has been that only rational beings merit moral respect and value. Augustine developed, from Aristotle‘s thought of a hierarchy of souls as well as from the Stoic concept of animals‘ irrationality, the idea that animals share no fellowship with humans and thus are to be excluded from moral consideration. In Aquinas‘ thinking the difference between rationality and irrationality became the difference between immortal and mortal souls. This view furthered the development of an instrumental view of animals. The perception that lower species are created to benefit the higher species has become a dominant part of western Christian thought. The main aim of this study is to investigate whether a respectful attitude towards animals, as lived by Francis of Assisi and Albert Schweitzer, has a mystical basis (following the model of Evelyn Underhill), and subsequently to consider whether and how mystical qualities as lived by Francis and Schweitzer may contribute to an animal spirituality. In this thesis I explore the moral valuation of animals in the Christian biblical and spiritual tradition, and further present the outcome of this exploration as an alternative to an anthropocentric tradition and as a contribution to contemporary protectionist approaches. Franciscan sources and Schweitzer‘s oeuvre have been examined while applying Underhill‘s concept of various characteristics and stages of the mystic way. I conclude that both Francis and Schweitzer in their own unique ways qualify to be categorized as ‗mystics‘. Not through rationality, but through experience and feeling, both have achieved real contact with other beings and attained to the Mystery of life. Through their purified view they have been able to perceive animals in a non-instrumental way and through their mystical experiences of union they have sensed the common ontological basis and kinship between humans and animals—our interdependency, utility, aesthetic value and theophany. On the basis of scrutiny of biblical texts which touch upon the relations of humans and animals with God I observe that an animal-inclusive moral concern, as demonstrated by Francis and Schweitzer, finds biblical support. Each creature, as created and animated by God‘s rûaḥ (‗Spirit‘) is transparent to God‘s glory and therefore able to reveal something of the Creator. The Bible proclaims animals as God‘s property, with their own relation with their Creator, not as created to satisfy human wants and wishes. A non-instrumental understanding of animals, as found in biblical texts and as realized by Francis‘ and Schweitzer‘s awe for life, has ethical implications for human-animal relations. Francis‘ and Schweitzer‘s views call us to question our use of animals as our property, therewith sacrificing animal interests for our own. A spirituality in which animals are contemplated as God‘s creatures, with their own worth and their own relation to God, may lead to a different attitude towards animals. To the various elucidated positions in the contemporary animal debate, with its emphasis on rights and reason, Francis and Schweitzer may contribute through their example of an approach calling for empathy, sympathy and compassion as an alternative point of departure.
- Theology