Factory Farms and Animal Cruelty
Imagine that Christ meant these words literally. Imagine that accepting Christ as your personal savior required lunching with him. Of course, if Christ were coming over today for lunch, you would probably dust, vacuum, adjust the pictures on the walls, pick your best outfit, comb your hair, jot down a few questions about heaven. But what would the two of you eat? Would you serve Christ fried chicken? How would you feel about setting a plate of steaming, sizzling pork chops in front of your savior? A few hard-boiled eggs wouldn't hurt, right? Maybe a glass of milk to wash it all down?
For many Christians, faith has little to do with what's in the fridge. Lunch with Christ would raise issues far more problematic than choice of food. However, I propose that if the above-mentioned foods came from modern factory farms, Christ would not eat or drink them. I will argue that Christians are obligated to be morally concerned about animals, and that this obligation brings Christians into moral conflict with modern factory farms. Furthermore, I will argue that Catholic Social Teaching (hereafter "CST") should emphasize a theocentric basis for such obligation and conflict.
Rethinking Aquinas: Why Animals Matter
Some Christians think the words "animal rights" smack of wacky liberalism or of sentimentality. Such thinking presupposes that animals are not proper objects of moral concern. After all, in Genesis God commanded Adam to rule over creation. God gave Noah "everything that lives and moves" for food (Gen. 1:28). Therefore, according to this way of thinking, animals exist exclusively as means to human ends.
This position, which I call the Utility Thesis, does agree with some traditional Catholic theology. Expanding upon Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas claimed that "according to the Divine ordinance the life of animals and plants is preserved not for themselves but for man [italics mine]. Hence, as Augustine says […]'by a most just ordinance of the Creator, both their life and their death are subject to our use'" ("Summa"). In other words, animals have utility value only.
Aquinas denied that animals are proper objects of moral concern for at least two reasons: (1) God made animals exclusively for human use; we ride, wear, work, and eat animals, and "there is no sin in using a thing for the purpose for which it is" ("Summa"). (2) Animals cannot reason. Since only rational beings are proper objects of moral concern, how one treats animals is morally valuable only insofar as such treatment affects rational beings. For example, one should not torture animals only because doing so may subtly influence one to torture humans, too. Points (1) and (2) are central to the Utility Thesis.
Although Catholic theology is indebted to Aquinas, I think there are good reasons to reconsider the Utility Thesis and points (1) and (2).
(1') If God made animals solely for human use, then God would care most about...