This article was written by The Revd. V.A. Holmes-Gore, Anglican Priest (1909-1952) and is excerpted from a work called Those We Have Not Loved.
The Saints who loved non-human creatures were not typical of Christianity as a whole, and we have seen that they have had no influence on Church teaching or Christian practice. In more recent times the really humanitarian movements have been unorthodox and have encountered opposition from the Church authorities.
Although it is true that the efforts of a London vicar (the Revd Arthur Broome) to prohibit cruel sports led to the establishment of the Royal Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (R.S.P.C.A.) lately, most of the work of anti-vivisection and vegetarianism has been done by those whose religious beliefs are considered to be unorthodox.
It is significant that those who champion the animals most wholeheartedly are those who understand their real nature, while the Church does not understand the nature of these other creatures. The Roman Catholic Church flatly contradicts Genesis 1:25-25, by asserting that they were not created by God. Thus we read in the Catholic Dictionary : "As their [the animal's] souls operate through matter so they spring from matter and perish with it. They are not created by God, but are derived with their bodies from their parents by natural operation. Hence, their soul is extinguished with the dissolution of the body."
Such reasoning—apart from resting upon false premises—is hard to follow and is clearly prompted by the desire to "justify" man's ill-treatment of nonhuman creatures. Thus it becomes abundantly clear that man's cruelty to the other creatures is largely due to his failure to admit their true nature.
That animals are not things should be obvious even to persons of the lowest intelligence. They are highly sensitive beings—capable of intense feeling and affection and, what is more, they are (like ourselves) creatures of our Heavenly Father.
If we consider the testimony of those who understand the nature of animals from a higher standpoint than the merely scientific one, we shall find that they all agree that they have souls that survive physical death. If it is objected that it is impossible to prove this, we would reply that it is equally difficult to prove that human beings have immortal souls.
Yet in both human and nonhuman beings we can point to things which support such a belief in immortality. Just as there are desires implanted by God, in man, that can only be satisfied in a future existence, so there are traits in the character of animals which by their very nature, are eternal. Thus the self-sacrificing love and trust that a dog has for its master and the sorrow that it feels over the loss of a friend are qualities that are not only human, but also divine.
The belief in a soul for all creatures has been held by the Egyptians, the Hindus and the Buddhists. It was once to be found in Persia, in Greece and Italy. The Druids, the Welsh bards, the Norsemen and the Germans once had the same belief. It can be traced among the natives of Mexico, the tribes of Africa and America. The idea may take different and strange forms, but it is found throughout almost the whole world except where Christianity holds sway.
It is largely because they are believed to be soulless that animals are treated so callously, for if it were admitted that they had souls it would become obvious that they had rights. But this is just what both Catholic and Anglican theologians deny.
It is a terrible tragedy that those who claim to follow the Master should have done so much to repudiate a belief that would have done so much to alleviate the suffering of all animals.