Why the ‘least of these’ includes animals
Providence professor named Fellow at Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics
OTTERBURNE, MB—Recently appointed a Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics, Michael Gilmour is one of only a few faculty member of a Canadian university to receive the appointment that brings together scholars from around the world.
“The appointment was by invitation and it certainly caught me by surprise,” says Gilmour, associate professor of New Testament and English Literature at Providence University College. “I have tremendous respect for those involved in the organization and I am honoured to be associated with them.”
The Centre includes scholars from countries including Spain, South Africa, the United Kingdom and United States. Together they represent a wide cross-section of academic disciplines and religions traditions working together on behalf of animals.
“There seems to be no limit to humanity’s capacity to inflict pain on the world’s most vulnerable creatures,” Gilmour says. “To be part of a group like this reminds me that humanity’s capacity for compassion and generosity is also limitless.”
A passionate advocate for animal rights, and a teacher of animal ethics, Gilmour’s on-going study of animals in Christian moral discourse has positioned himself at the head of his field in Canada. His latest book, Eden’s Other Residents: The Bible and Animals, published June 2014, looks carefully at Scripture’s view of animals in its diverse teachings.
He points to Deuteronomy 24 and 25 as an example, where Israel is called to be generous toward the vulnerable and less fortunate in their midst, a category that includes not only the poor and widows and others in need, but also labouring animals: “You shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain” (Deut. 25:4 NRSV).
“Animals are part of the community, and among those who need the most help,” Gilmour says. “The non-human world is just as much part of God’s creation as we are.”
Our human-centred reading of the Bible often ignores God’s concern for Eden’s animal residents, he says.
Gilmour first came in contact with the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics after giving a presentation at the Centre's summer school. He also serves as a consultant editor for the Journal of Animal Ethics and he will support the Centre’s future research initiatives. Recently, Gilmour added his name as a signatory to the Centre’s report on the use of animals in experimentation.
Gilmour is currently working on a new book, looking at animals in the writings of C.S Lewis.
“Not everyone is aware C. S. Lewis was a vocal opponent of vivisection, and that he wrote often about human responsibility toward animals from a theological perspective,” Gilmour says, adding the book examines Lewis’s views on animals throughout his diverse writings.
The book will be a part of the Centre’s series on animal ethics published by Palgrave Macmillan.
In the end, Gilmour hopes to change perspectives on Eden’s other residents, and see animals as God sees them.
“I think there is something intuitive above animal justice. That is likely why abattoirs and intensive farming operations and laboratories with animals as test subjects are hidden away from most,” Gilmour says. “If people actually saw how animals were treated in such places, they would be horrified.”
“I hope my writings encourage people to stop and consider the ways animals live and die in our world,” he says. “And to consider ways they might help limit creation’s groaning.”
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