C.S. Lewis’s theology of animals
In 1944, C. S. Lewis gave the Commemoration Oration at King’s College, London. Entitled `The Inner Ring’, it provides a significant insight into his understanding of theology, specifically moral theology. His starting point is taken from Tolstoy’s War and Peace in which Boris, a soldier in the Russian Army, discovers that there are really two kinds of rules: the ones laid down by army regulations-the written system-and also an unwritten system of rules dictated by an inner circle or ring.
Lewis takes this example as a paradigm of the Christian life. All of us, he suggests, want to be part of the Inner Ring-that group of people in any organization or institution who really organise things, get things done: the people who have power to make things happen. While the existence of such rings is not evil in itself, Lewis maintains that membership of a ring may require us to do something which otherwise we might regard as wrong. The following describes a membership invitation:
Over a drink or a cup of coffee disguised as triviality and sandwiched between two jokes, from the lips of a man, or woman, whom you have recently been getting to know rather better and whom you hope to know better still-just at that moment when you are most anxious not to appear crude, or naif or a prig-the hint will come. It will be the hint of something which is not quite in accordance with the technical rules of fair play: something which the public, the ignorant, romantic public, would never understand: something which even the outsiders in your own profession are apt to make a fuss about: but something, says your new friend, which “we”-and at the word “we” you try not to blush for mere pleasure-something “we always do”. And you will be drawn in, if you are drawn in, not by desire for gain or ease, but simply because at that moment, when the cup was so near your lips, you cannot bear to be thrust back again into the cold outer world.
It would be so terrible to see the other man’s face-that genial, confidential, delightfully sophisticated face-turn suddenly cold and contemptuous, to know that you had been tried for the Inner Ring and rejected. And then, if you are drawn in, next week it will be something a little further from the rules, and next year something further still, but all in the jolliest, friendliest spirit. It may end in a crash, a scandal, and penal servitude: it may end in millions, a peerage and giving the prizes at your old school. But you will be a scoundrel.
Lewis concludes: `The quest of the Inner Ring will break you heart unless you break it’. Again: `Until you conquer the fear of being an outsider, an outsider you will remain.’1
It is difficult not to sense some autobiographical relevance to Lewis’s narrative. The notion that Christian discipleship may, and sometimes surely does, involve standing out, even standing alone, was personified in his own life: Lewis was an outsider and, arguably, remained so until the end of his life. Although he held prestigious positions at Oxford and Cambridge, he was conspicuously the odd man out in the academic circles which he inhabited. Although probably the most widely read theologian of his time, he was not regarded as such by the Oxford theological community. More to the point: his very popularity as a Christian communicator aroused considerable jealousy among his colleagues. Even as he became an insider to the many who read or heard him-many more than was probably imagined even by his contemporaries-he remained an outsider to many of his closest colleagues.2
Being an outsider, not part of the Inner Ring, gave Lewis ironically a distinct advantage over other theologians. He was able to raise questions and issues that others took for granted. While many of the Inner Ring theologians of his day are now barely remembered, it is to Lewis that continuing generations of Christians (and non-Christians) have looked for inspiration and theological clarity. Lewis’s interest in, and concern for animals, regarded by many contemporaries as wholly or largely eccentric, is a prime example of his lasting legacy.
Aspects of Lewis’s Theology of Animals
Lewis’s theology of animals may be classed under four major headings: animal pain, animal resurrection, human superiority, and human cruelty.
Firstly, the subject of animal pain. What immediately distinguishes Lewis’s work is his frank acknowledgment of the reality of such pain and the profound problems it raises for belief in God. `The problem of animal suffering is appalling; not because the animals are so numerous. . . but because the Christian explanation of human pain cannot be extended to animal pain. So far as we know beasts are incapable either of sin or virtue: therefore they can neither deserve pain nor be improved by it.’3
Note the unmistakable sense of personal distress in the way in which he approaches this issue: ‘I know there are moments when the incessant continuity and desperate helplessness of what seems at least to be animal suffering makes every argument for Theism sound hollow . . .’. Lewis `turn(s) with distaste from “the easy speeches that comfort cruel men,” from theologians who do not seem to see that there is a real problem, who are content to say that animals are, after all, only animals.’ And why should animals present this difficulty? Chiefly because `pain without guilt or moral fruit, however low and contemptible the sufferer may be, is a very serious matter.4
When introducing the subject of vivisection, for example, Lewis insists that the evil of pain is a pre-requisite for discussion: ‘A rational discussion . . . begins by inquiring whether pain is, or is not, an evil. If it is not, the case against vivisection falls. But then so does the case for vivisection. If it is not defended on the ground that it reduces human suffering, on what ground can it be defended? And if pain is not an evil, why should human suffering be reduced? We must therefore assume as a basis for the whole discussion that pain is an evil, otherwise there is nothing to be discussed.’5
How then does Lewis account theologically for the existence of animal pain? In one sense, of course, he cannot-at least in a straightforward way-and hence its continuing problematical character. But he is adamant that we cannot excuse animal suffering by some of the usual theological routes, the `easy speeches of cruel men’. These fall into three categories: the first denies that animals suffer. Following Descartes, animals are viewed as machines with insufficient self-consciousness to undergo suffering, a view current in Lewis’s day and which counted among its supporters no less a theologian than Charles E. Raven. ‘(I)t may be doubted whether there is any real pain without a frontal cortex, a foreplan in mind, and a love which can put itself in the place of another; and these are the attributes of humanity’ wrote Raven in 1927.6
The second route is that while some suffering may be ascribed to animals, God is not actually concerned about their suffering. This line also has not lacked its theological proponents. `The Creator’s mind * . .’, wrote Peter Geach, `seems to be characterised by mere indifference to the pain that the interlocking teleologies of life involve. . .’.7 Lewis would have recoiled from such a view entailing as it does a Creator impossibly unjust. Neither does Lewis adopt the third conventional option that all suffering is the direct result of man’s fall from grace. Lewis does not rule out some kind of link between human sinfulness and creaturely corruption but, post-Darwin and the discovery of dinosaurs, it cannot serve as a complete explanation. As Lewis’s disputant, C.E.M. Joad, states: `The hypothesis that the animals were corrupted by man does not account for animal pain during the hundreds of millions of years (probably about nine hundred million) when the earth contained living creatures, but did not contain man.’8
Lewis then takes up what some might say is the most logical but also the most hazardous explanation, namely that ‘(s)ome mighty created power had already been at work for ill on the material universe, or the solar system, or, at least the planet earth, before ever man came upon the scene.’9 Because Lewis cannot resign himself to predation, carnivorousness and pain as the result of God’s direct will, he has no choice but to affirm that such things are due to `Satanic corruption’ or, as he later postulates, Satanic ‘distortion’.10 One consequence of this view is that humanity has a redemptive role or might have had one. `It may have been one of man’s functions to restore peace to the animal world, and if he had not joined the enemy he might have succeeded in doing so to an extent now hardly imaginable.’11 This is a view, incidentally, taken up and developed at length by T. F. Torrance who holds firmly to the link between human and creaturely corruption and who postulates that it is `man’s task to save the natural order through remedial and integrative activity, bringing back order where there is disorder and restoring peace where there is disharmony.’12
Secondly, there is animal resurrection. Lewis is keenly aware that even if animal pain can be explained by reference to the idea of Satanic distortion, the underlying problem of justice remains. Whether induced by Satanic forces or God’s direct allowance, the problem is not just how these things can be but also how God will ultimately resolve them-and still be judged as just, loving and holy. Lewis responds by offering-albeit speculatively-a theory of tame animals’ resurrection. A tame animal acquires a ‘self’ or ‘personality’ in relation to its human owner and therefore as the human subject is resurrected so will its animal companion. Note here that humanity remains the central place or focal point of resurrection. Lewis is anxious that talk of animal resurrection should not dislodge the central theological axis of human sinfulness and human salvation. `The error we must avoid is that of considering them (animals) in themselves’, he writes. `Man is to be understood only in his relation to God. The beasts are to be understood only in their relation to man, and through man, to God.’13
Two things should perhaps be noted about Lewis’s theory. The first is that he offers this view speculatively; not, of course, as doctrine. He is well aware of its difficulties not least of all in relation to wild animals-for which, incidentally, Lewis also had a keen sympathy. When pressed by Joad, his purpose is made explicit: ‘. . . to liberate imagination and to confirm a due agnosticism about the meaning and destiny of brutes.’ He continues:
I had begun by saying that if our previous assertion of divine goodness was sound, we might be sure that in some way or other “all would be well, and all manner of thing would be well.” I wanted to reinforce this by indicating how little we knew and, therefore, how many things one might keep in mind as possibilities.14
The key to understanding Lewis at this point is his emphasis on the imagination. If God is truly good, so that no suffering in creation is ultimately left unredeemed, we must be free to think and imagine possibilities concerning the eventual triumph of divine goodness over evil.
In this regard, secondly, we should recall Lewis’s view that the purpose of good literature is to arouse and satisfy the imagination,15 and if this is true of good literature, it can be no less true of creative theology. In The Great Divorce, Lewis gives imaginative expression to his thesis in the description of the love of a Great Lady whose very large family included not only many children but also numerous animals.
“What are all those animals? A cat, two cats-dozens of cats. And all those dogs . . . why, I can’t count them. And the birds. And the horses.”
“They are her beasts.”
“Did she keep a sort of zoo? I mean, this is a bit too much.”
And the reply comes that expresses Lewis’s conception of the fecundity and authenticity of God’s love mirrored through faithful human agency:
Every beast and bird that came near her had its place in her love. In her they became themselves. And now the abundance of life she has in Christ from the Father flows over into them.16
Lewis’s imagination concerning animals was concentrated on companion animals not, I think, in principle to the detriment of other species, but rather because he grasped the possibility that in their relations with humans, some animals could find their true (originally God-given) selves, with the corollary, though this is not explicitly acknowledged, that humans too become most authentically human when they reflect God’s redeeming purposes for other creatures.
Thirdly, we consider human superiority. Lewis, consistent with Christian tradition, regards humans as superior to animals. But he utilises this argument not as is usually done to justify the morally inferior treatment of animals but rather the reverse. His discussion of vivisection is illustrative of his method.
The only rational line for the Christian vivisectionist to take is to say that the superiority of man over beast is a real objective fact, guaranteed by Revelation, and that the propriety of sacrificing beast to man is a logical consequence. We are “worth more than many sparrows”, and in saying this we are not merely expressing a natural preference for our own species simply because it is our own but conforming to a hierarchial order created by God and really present in the universe whether any one acknowledges it or not.
Given his sense of the Satanic distortion of the universe and the potentially redeeming role of humanity in creation, it is not surprising that Lewis finds such an argument unconvincing:
We may fail to see how a benevolent Deity could wish us to draw such conclusions from the hierarchical order He has created. We may find it difficult to formulate a human right of tormenting beasts in terms which would not equally imply an angelic right of tormenting men. And we may feel that though objective superiority is rightly claimed for man, yet that very superiority ought partly to consist in not behaving like a vivisector: that we ought to prove ourselves better than the beasts precisely by the fact of acknowledging duties to them which they do not acknowledge to us.17
This neat reversal of the traditional argument from superiority may owe something to repeated exchanges with his colleagues at Magdalen College, Oxford, who were exasperated by his thoroughgoing anti-vivisectionism. In fact they form an integral part of Lewis’s worldview. Notice specifically how his conception of the cosmological hierarchy rules out ‘might’ constituting ‘right’; instead moral `greatness warrants noblesse oblige.18
Fourthly, the subject of human cruelty. Unsurprisingly Lewis is convinced that the infliction of cruelty on animals is a significant moral evil. If the existence of `natural evil’ is bad enough, it is much worse that humans use their free will to imitate Satanic corruption by themselves becoming tormentors. In this conviction, Lewis will brook no theological opposition. He is dismissive, for example, of the idea that we can be cruel to animals because of the supposition that they have `no souls’-indicating, once again, how the logic of the argument works as much the other way. `The absence of “soul” . . . makes the infliction of pain upon them not easier but harder to justify.’ He continues: `For it means that animals cannot deserve pain, nor profit morally by the discipline of pain, nor be recompensed by happiness in another life for suffering in this. Thus all those factors which render pain more tolerable or make it less totally evil in the case of human beings will be lacking in the beasts.’19
Lewis goes on to make his well-known argument against experimentation, namely that it is vivisectionists-not anti-vivisectionistswho are the real sentimentalists. Noting that most vivisectors (in his day) have no theological background and are mostly naturalistic and Darwinian in orientation, he claims to have discovered a `very alarming fact’:
The very same people who will most contemptuously brush aside any consideration of animal suffering if it stands in the way of “research” will also, in another context, most vehemently deny that there is any radical difference between man and the other animals. On the naturalistic view the beasts are at bottom just the same sort of thing as ourselves. Man is simply the cleverest of the anthropoids. All the grounds on which a Christian might defend vivisection are thus cut from under our feet. We sacrifice other species to our own not because our own has any objective metaphysical privilege over others but simply because it is ours. It may be very natural to have this loyalty to our own species, but let us hear no more from the naturalists about the “sentimentality” of anti-vivisectionists. If loyalty to our own species, preference for man simply because we are men, is not sentiment, then what is it? It may be a good sentiment or a bad one. But a sentiment it certainly is. Try to base it on logic and see what happens!
This reversal of the charge of sentimentality is coupled with a counter-charge that those who advocate experiments on animals logically imperil the status of human subjects as well. Lewis is ruthless in exposing the faulty logic of his antagonists:
(T)he most sinister thing about modern vivisection is this: If a mere sentiment can justify cruelty, why stop at a sentiment for the whole human race? There is also a sentiment for the white man against the black, for the Herrenvolk against the Non-Aryans, for “civilized” or “progressive” peoples against “savage” or “backward” peoples. Finally for our own country, party, or class against others. Once the old Christian idea of a total difference in kind between man and beast has been abandoned, then no argument for experiments on animals can be found which is not also an argument for experiments on inferior men. If we cut up beasts simply because they cannot prevent us and because we are backing our own side in the struggle for existence, it is only logical to cut up imbeciles, criminals, enemies or capitalists for the same reason.
What informs Lewis’s uncompromising critique is his utter rejection of utilitarian justifications for cruelty. Cruelty even to animals is ‘symptomatic’ of a modern failure to recognise moral evil and marks the acceptance of secular utilitarianism as the common standard of right and wrong. He concludes: `The victory of vivisection marks a great advance in the triumph of ruthless non-moral utilitarianism over the old world of ethical law; a triumph in which we, as well as the animals, are already the victims, and of which Dachau and Hiroshima mark the more recent achievements.’20
I now turn to consider some of the difficulties with Lewis’s theology of animals. The first concerns Satan and creaturely corruption. One of the reasons why Lewis’s speculations have been widely dismissed among academic theologians is his insistence on the reality of Satan or the devil. We know the dilemma only too well: if Satan is not a created being, then we have two gods, and if Satan is a created being who made him-or her? Indeed Joad understandably, if mischievously, characterises Lewis’s view of creaturely corruption as `Satan tempting monkeys’.21 The problem is perhaps more fairly stated by William Temple, himself a believer in Satan: `Shelve the responsibility . . . on to Satan if you will. . We still have to ask, Why is the Devil wicked?’22
In fact, Lewis comes to his view about Satan not only because it has some scriptural justification23 but chiefly because of his love of stories or myths: `If it offends less, you may say that the “life-force” is corrupted, where I say that living beings were corrupted by an evil angelic being. We mean the same thing: but I find it easier to believe in a myth of gods and demons than in one of the hypostatised abstract nouns. And, after all, our mythology may be nearer to the literal truth than we suppose.’24 Even if we maintain a modern agnosticism about supernatural evil (an agnosticism I do not fully share25), it is difficult to dispute Lewis’s underlying moral conviction that the `intrinsic evil of the world lies in the fact that animals, or some animals, live by destroying each other.’26
For many who have abandoned, or who no longer feel sure in the worldview of limited dualism, Lewis’s views will appear archaic, even medieval-a description which he would surely have relished. But the myth of Satan has enduring theological and ethical significance. If we close our minds to this imaginative possibility, we may be led to one indubitably worse, and sadly it is one exhibited by more and more ‘natural’ or ‘ecological’ theologians. It is that God really did make the world as it is with all its attendant predation, futility, cruelty, and waste and that consequently we ought morally to resign ourselves to it. This is what I have described elsewhere as the `Anti-Gospel of Jesus our Predator’.27 Either predation is or is not God’s will. If it is, not only does God become less praiseworthy and less good, but, as Lewis acknowledges, dire consequences also flow for humans from this perceived lack of divine magnanimity.28 It may be that without something like a limited cosmological dualism, it is impossible even to recognize it.
To give one recent example: Brian Home, in an otherwise sagacious and perceptive discussion, concludes that the discoveries of natural science force upon us a reconsideration of the nature of evil. `Modern zoology leads us to suppose that death and sickness, earthquakes and floods, have always been part of the structure of the planet . . .’. He continues that such a perspective `require(s) us to view pain and death not as evil and outrageous, arising out of some act in the distant past, but as plain and inescapable facts of biological existence. Physical and moral evil become separated.’29 The result is frighteningly reductionistic: we should learn to regard these `occasions’ in both the human and animal sphere as `occasions for love’, so that the worst that evil could do to such love `would be to provide it with fresh opportunities for loving’.30
But, if Lewis can be charged with solving one problem by creating another, Horne even more so. We may fail to recognise the face of Christ in a theory of a world created by God in which hundreds, thousands, even millions of years of sickness and death are experienced by animal creatures, and latterly by human creatures, simply to facilitate `fresh opportunities for loving’. What can we conclude about a kind of love which wants to perpetuate opportunities for itself, the whole possibility of which is itself predicated on the existence of a created world of gross unloveliness? For myself, I would rather embrace the myth of Satan, than worship a god whose love was so plainly callous and unjust.
The second difficulty concerns Lewis’s speculations about animal resurrection. We need to recall Lewis’s thesis that `The tame animal is in the deepest sense the only natural animal…’. At one level the thesis appears absurd. Why should animals need taming, let alone be more ‘natural’ for it? Why cannot animals be seen as natural in the state in which they appear in creation? Evelyn Underhill accuses Lewis of advancing an `intolerable doctrine’ comprising ‘a frightful exaggeration of what is involved in the primacy of man’. Her protest deserves a hearing:
Is the cow which we have turned into a milk machine or the hen we have turned into an egg machine really nearer the mind of God than its wild ancestor? This seems like saying that the black slave is the only natural negro. You surely can’t mean that, or think that the robin redbreast in a cage doesn’t put heaven in a rage . . . And if we ever get a sideways glimpse of the animal-in-itself, the animal existing for God’s glory and pleasure and lit by His light . . . we don’t owe it to the Pekinese, the Persian cat or the canary, but to some wild creature living in completeness of adjustment to Nature, a life that is utterly independent of man . . . Of course I agree that animals too are involved in the Fall and await redemption and transfiguration . . . And man is no doubt offered the chance of being the mediator of that redemption. But not by taming, surely? Rather by loving and reverencing the creatures enough to leave them free . . . your concept of God would be improved by just a touch of wildness.31
In the absence of an extant reply from Lewis, two things should perhaps be said by way of explanation and defence. The first is that Lewis, and Joy especially, always kept animals and had a clear fondness for them. Indeed the reference to the Great Lady in The Great Divorce who kept a menagerie of animals could have been a reference to Mrs. Moore (Lewis’s long-standing female companion) and latterly to his wife, Joy, both of whom enjoyed a variety of animal friends.32 The root of Lewis’s conviction about companion animals is therefore not difficult to discern. Almost all those who live in close proximity to animals quickly discover their innate capacities to relate and respond to the presence of their human companion. It is this discovery, I think, that fuels Lewis’s sense that human relationship with animals can be an ennobling, fulfilling experience-and not just for the human beings concerned. It is not surprising that Lewis should interpret such a relationship in theological terms sensing that human/animal interaction brings out latent potential in animals so that individual animals become ‘part’ of the life of the human partner and are therefore, in that sense, liberated to be more than what they once were. We see this idea played out, again and again, in Lewis’s fictional writings. In Perelandra-to take only one example-nonhuman terrestrial creatures are docile and kind, exhibit rationality, and are perfectly ordered to their human companions with whom they share a natural, joyful communion.33 (Incidentally, it is very doubtful that Lewis would ever have approved of caging wild birds or genetically manipulating dogs for their aesthetic appeal.34)
The second is that what underlies Lewis’s view of tame animals is his repeated caution about animal consciousness. Although he thought it more than reasonable to ascribe sentiency at least to the higher animals, he was reticent about the precise character of their consciousness. He doubts whether most animals can be self-conscious in a way that is true of human subjects. And if they have no sense of ‘self’, how can their ‘selves’ be redeemed? Animals cannot be ‘recompensed’ in a future life if there is no enduring ‘self’ to be so ‘recompensed’. He writes: `If the life of a newt is merely a succession of sensations, what should we mean by saying that God may recall to life the newt that died today?’35 Tame animals provide for Lewis an imaginative illustration of what could be meant by animal redemption, of how at least some animals acquire a sense of enduring ‘self’ through interacting with their human companions.
Although what Lewis wrote was probably bold and contentious, we can now see with hindsight that his speculations about animal consciousness were simply ahead of their time. So much work has been done over the last fifty years on the sentience and consciousness of the higher mammals that it is difficult to doubt that they are selfaware. Indeed one leader in this field, Donald R. Griffin, maintains that `The question of self-awareness (of mammals) is one of the few areas of cognitive ethology where we have some concrete evidence’.36 The case, therefore, for expanding the realm of self-consciousness in mammals makes Lewis’s case for including animals, whether tame or not, within the sphere of resurrection immeasurably stronger.
One disappointment must however be registered. Time and again Lewis indicates that the suffering of animals is in a special category: they do not sin and therefore cannot deserve pain; their suffering can bear no moral fruit because they are innocent. But the logic of his argument is to make the existence of such suffering more, not less, in need of theological soul-searching. It is precisely because animals are (at human hands) so often unprotected, undefended, vulnerable, and morally innocent that their misery should be deserving of special moral solicitude. Once realised, the question of justice for animals which Lewis raises, in ways in which few theologians have done either before or after, acquires an even greater urgency. Lewis argues that there is `no question of immortality for animals that are merely sentient’ that is, capable of feeling pain but not necessarily self-conscious at least in ways plainly analogous to human beings.37 But the issue of God’s justice cannot, I think, be so easily dispensed with. It should follow that God’s justice is such that each and every experience of innocent suffering, however incomprehensible to us, will ultimately be transfigured and redeemed.
The question is plainly stated and effectively answered by Keith Ward who maintains that if God is good it must follow that each and every sentient creature, human or animal, must have the possibility of `achieving an overwhelming good’ in terms that compensate for their earthly suffering. For `if one supposes that every sentient being has an endless existence, which offers the prospect of endless happiness, it is surely true that the sorrows and troubles of this life will appear very small by comparison.’ Ward concludes: `Immortality, for animals as well as humans, is a necessary condition of an acceptable theodicy: that necessity, together with all the other arguments for God, is one of the main reasons for believing in immortality.’38 Lewis, in my view, does not go far enough in defending systematically and theologically the imaginative vision of a re-created world which he envisages so clearly in his fictional works. “The beasts in your world seem almost rational”, comments Ransom in Perelandra. “We make them older every day”, answers the woman. “Is not that what it means to be a beast?”39
The third difficulty concerns Lewis’s view of carnivorousness and the potential role of humans as redeemers of the animal world. As we have seen, carnivorousness is perceived to be the result of Satanic corruption. God’s original will was that life should not eat life or, at least, sentient life. The corruption of animals is, according to Lewis, in one sense analogous with the corruption of humans. He writes:
For one result of man’s fall was that his animality fell back from the humanity into which it had been taken up but which could no longer rule it. In the same way, animality may have been encouraged to slip back into behaviour proper to vegetables.
Lewis offers a highly speculative theory to explain the relation between predation and fecundity:
It is, of course, true that the immense mortality occasioned by the fact that many beasts live on beasts is balanced, in nature, by an immense birth-rate, and it might seem that if all animals had been herbivorous and healthy, they would mostly starve as a result of their own multiplication. But I take fecundity and the death-rate to be correlative phenomena. There was, perhaps, no necessity for such an excess of the sexual impulse: the Lord of this world thought of it as a response to carnivorousness-a double scheme for securing the maximum amount of torture.40
Such an ingenious theory serves to indicate how seriously Lewis viewed the apparent need for animals to eat other animals in order to live and indeed for humans to eat other animals. Both, it should be stressed, are the result of a double-slip into sinfulness: as animals descend to their lowest possible nature, so also do humans. In the light of this, it is extraordinary that Lewis does not directly consider one obvious way in which humans can reverse the effects of their sinfulness by becoming vegetarian or at least by consuming as little sentient life as possible.
Lewis of course was no ascetic and would have reacted unfavourably to any notion of enforced religious asceticism by fiat. But this should not make us overlook the fact that Lewis’s theology does provide two rather neat grounds for ethical and theological-as distinct from ascetical-vegetarianism. The first is similar to his rejection of animal experimentation: the infliction of pain on animals in breeding, rearing, and slaughtering animals, especially in intensive conditions, causes animals some degree of suffering, sometimes intensely so. If there is a pina facie obligation to avoid the infliction of pain and suffering on animals, there is a corresponding obligation to avoid meat products which cause such suffering whenever we are free to do so.
In addition to this conditional argument, there is another which goes to the heart of Lewis’s whole system of thought. We are in a moral mess: humans as well as animals. By living and eating other forms of sentient life, we participate in a system that is fundamentally evil. This system is not wrought by God and exists at variance with the will of the Creator: creation will, in the end, be redeemed and transfigured. What better way can there be to oppose this corrupted order but by opting out, or at least opting out as much as possible, where we have the choice? Lewis may have replied that such is the present order of creation that, like it or not, we can only-this side of eternity-live with it. But the counter-question that must be posed is this: Why is it that having rejected theologically the system of predation as morally intolerable did he not also reject it practically by becoming an ethical vegetarian?
With hindsight, we now know in a way in which Lewis possibly did not that a vegetarian diet is both possible and even-in health terms-desirable. Lewis acknowledges that his concern for animal resurrection will put him `in company with the old maids’41-and he may have felt, defensively, that by becoming a vegetarian when his Lord was obviously not averse to fish, was simply one speculative step too far. Moreover, as a wine imbiber and pipe-smoker (as I am myself) Lewis probably felt uneasy with those who rushed with religious zeal into the field of personal asceticism (as I do myself).** Nevertheless, one cannot escape the fact that Lewisian theology is capable of appropriation in support of the vegetarian cause in a way in which Lewis himself might have found disconcerting.42
Lewis muses that humans might have had a redemptive role in creation if it had not been for the Fall. Indeed part of his speculation about tame animals’ resurrection is, as we have seen, spurred on by the notion that animals can be liberated to be themselves through human agency. Now if this is true, there is scope for human activity to help release creatures from premature death and pain by humans themselves taking active steps to desist from exploitation. Lewis, as far as I know, nowhere makes this connection directly but it logically follows from his overall theology. Humans can now make a difference in reversing Satanic corruption, by themselves electing to kill and injure as few animals as possible. We are thus able to see Lewis’s contention that animals can only be understood in their relationship to human beings as a deeper issue for practical theology. Humans are morally at the centre of creation: as their Fall affects the non-human world so too will their redemption. Since animals are involuntarily tied to human sin, the redemption of humanity matters to the animal world.
How then shall we judge Lewis’s legacy on animals? Not withstanding some difficulties, even inconsistencies, there are three ways in which his thought has been substantially vindicated.
Firstly, while Lewis was characteristically tentative in ascribing pain and especially self-consciousness to animals, he never let the problem get lost in a myriad of qualifications. Lewis frequently indicated the limits of our knowledge in trying to speak of animals, so to speak, from the inside, but not in such a way as to allow our unknowing to count decisively against them. The value of his work is that even at a stage when we know comparatively little about sentiency and self-consciousness in animals, he took the risk of facing the problem head on. The empirical knowledge accumulated over the last fifty years has demonstrated the range and complexity of animal awareness.43 What is impressive is the way in which his work anticipates an emerging contemporary sensitivity. The paucity of serious theological reflection about animals has become a moral scandal. Lewis addresses some of the issues that must, sooner rather than later, assume a much greater significance in the minds of contemporary theologians.
Secondly, however speculative some of his theories may be, Lewis has been right in sensing that a proper theodicy must take greater account of animals. The `easy speeches that comfort cruel men’ have come back to haunt them as those outside the Christian tradition have vigorously criticised its moral humanocentricity. But movements of ecological sensitivity, which otherwise Lewis might have supported, have shown themselves in reaction to be prone to the deification of nature in which, shorn of metaphysical notions, God becomes wholly identified with nature and thus predation itself is baptised as a new natural law.’ `Whole earth’ theologians have singularly failed to address the issue which Lewis squarely faced: the intrinsic evil of animal predation. This omission on the part of the most eco-theologians has compromised a proper regard for animal welfare, not to mention a doctrine of God who is just and holy. Lewis has kept alive a trinitarian tradition sensitive to issues of animal pain while others have ventured into pathways of pantheism and panentheism.
Thirdly, Lewis’s rejection of utilitarian justifications for cruelty constitute a high water mark in theological discussion of animals. Nowhere is this legacy clearer and his prophetic voice stronger than in his stand against animal vivisection, specifically his claim that arguments for experiments on animals also logically justify experiments on humans. He himself refers in this context to experiments performed by the Nazis-a hardly uncontentious thing to do in 1947.45 Since then, there has been a steady growth in human as well as animal experimentation.46 We now know that not only Jews but children, blacks, prisoners of war, mental patients and ordinary soldiers have been subject to experimental procedures without their full knowledge and consent. Indeed to complete the list, we must also add experimentation on embryos, now legalised in the United Kingdom up to fourteen days old. All these procedures are justified on the same utilitarian grounds which also justify animal experimentation.47 The acceptance of the argument for utility in the case of animals would, as Lewis correctly forecast, imperil human subjects as well. In short: a world in which cruelty to animals goes unchecked has turned out to be a morally unsafe world for human beings.
More than anything else, Lewis’s rejection of vivisection ensured his status as an outsider to the Inner Ring. His idea that the police should be called in to investigate what was happening to animals in laboratories48 could hardly have endeared him to his scientific colleagues. We need to recall Lewis’s words about the seductiveness of the Inner Ring: `Of all passions the passion for the Inner Ring is the most skillful in making a man who is not yet a very bad man do very bad things.’49 This passion is exemplified in the person of Professor Weston who stalks Lewis’s fiction as the representative human who thinks he may do anything-‘anything whatever’-so long as it is in pursuit of human benefit.50 Like Lewis Carroll51, he was deeply perturbed by the rise of a secular science which admits of no moral limits save the interests of the controlling species.
In defending the existence of Satan, Lewis encounters the objection that such a belief is contrary to the `climate of opinion.’ He replies: `Now I take a very low view of “climates of opinion”. In his own subject every man knows that all discoveries are made and all errors corrected by those who ignore the “climate of opinion”.’52 Perhaps the most important legacy of Lewis to theology is the realisation that its most creative work may be carried out by outsiders to the Inner Ring, those who have the tenacity and courage to grasp those issues not favoured by the current climate of opinion.’ Earlier versions of this paper were presented to Moravian College, Pennsylvania and to the C. S. Lewis Society at Oxford University. I am grateful to Michael Ward and Walter Hooper for encouraging me to publish. Responsibility for the views expressed remains, of course, my own.
C. S. Lewis, `The Inner Ring’ in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (New York: Macmillan, 1949), pp. 62-65.
Some account of his struggles is given in A. N. Wilson, C. S. Lewis: A Biography (London: Collins, 1990), esp. pp. 148ff.
3 Lewis, The Problemof Pain (hereafter PP) (London: Collins, 1940), p. 117. Lewis and C. E. Ivf. Joad, `On the Pains of Animals’, (hereafter OPA) The Month, vol. 3, no. 2 (February 1950), p. 98; extract in Andrew Linzey and Tom Regan (eds.), Animals and Christianity: A Book of Readings (hereafter AAC) (London: SPCK and New York: Crossroad, 1989), pp. 55-62.
‘ Lewis, Vivisection (hereafter ViV) foreword by George R. Farnum (Boston, MA: New England Anti-Vivisection Society, 1947), p. 1; my emphases; extract in AAC, ibid, pp. 160-164. Some people unaware of Lewis’s interest in animals wonder
how he came to write a major anti-vivisectionist tract. Apparently, the then ViceChancellor of Oxford University, Sir Richard Livingstone, drew the attention of his friend George R. Farnum, President of the New England Anti-Vivisection Society, to Lewis’s book PP, and Farnum subsequently wrote to Lewis. During their correspondence (sadly no longer in the NEAVS’ archives and presumably lost), Lewis was invited to write, or offered to write, the above essay. It was published as a pamphlet by a variety of anti-sivisection societies both in the United Kingdom and the United States, including the British Union for the Abolition of Viv-isection and the National Anti-Vivisection Society, until the later 1970s. Also collected in Valter Hooper (ed), Undeceptions: Essays on Theology and Ethics (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1952), pp. 182-186.
6 Charles E. Raven, The Creator Spirit (London: Macmillan, 1927), p. 120; cited and discussed in A. R. Kingston, `Theodicy and Animal Welfare’, Theology, vol. LXX, no. 569 (November 1967), pp. 482-88, and extract in AAC, ibid, pp. 71-78.
7 Peter Geach, Providence and Evil (Cambridge: CUP, 1977), p. 77; extract in AAC, ibid, pp. 52-55.
Joad, in OPA, ibid, p. 97; AAC, ibid, p. 59. 9 Lewis, PP, ibid, pp. 122-123.
10 Res,ised terminology in discussion with Joad: `Moral corruption is not the only kind of corruption. But the word corruption was perhaps ill-chosen and invited misunderstanding. Distortion would have been safer’, Lewis in OPA, ibid, p. 102; original emphases; in AAC, ibid, p. 62. Lewis, PP, ibid, p. 124.
12 T. F. Torrance, Divine and Contingent Order (Oxford: OUP, 1981), p. 130; my emphasis; cited and discussed in Andrew Linzey, Christianity and the Rights of Animals (London: SPCK and New York: Crossroad, 1987), pp. 35f.
13 Lewis, PP, ibid, p. 126; extract in AAC, ibid, p. 108. 14 Lewis in OPA, ibid, p. 95; AAC, ibid, p. 62; original emphases. 15Cited and discussed in Brian Home, `Seeing with Another Eye: Literature and Religion’ in Andrew Linzey and Peter J. Wexler (eds), Heaven and Earth: Essex Essays in Theology and Ethics (Worthing, Sussex: Churchman Publishing, 1986), p. 127. I am grateful to Home for this and other insights into the relationship between believing and the imagination.
16 Lewis, The Great Divorce (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1946), p. 99. The discussion is explicitly concerned with redemption: `Redeemed humanity is still young, it has hardly come to its full strength. But already there is joy enough in the little finger of a great saint such as yonder lady to waken all the dead things of the universe into life, ibid, p. 99. Lewis’s vision includes `planning Ghosts’ who want to make heaven like hell and therefore implore others to `cut doom the trees, kill the animals, build a mountain railway, smooth out the horrible grass and moss and heather with asphalt’, ibid, p. 71. More poignantly; hell is a shrunken state where wider sympathies are utterly eclipsed: `For a damned soul is almost nothing: it is shrunk, shut up in itself, ibid, p. 113.
Lewis, ViV, ibid, p. 3; original emphasis; AAC, ibid, p. 162. Molly Beer Kramer and Andrew Linzey ‘Vivisection’ in Paul Barry Clarke and Andrew Linzey (eds), Dictionary of Ethics, Theology and Society (London and New York: Routledge, 1996), p. 873. While Lewis clearly holds to a God-given order in creation, he everywhere assumes that this is a moral ordering involving humankind in the exercise of God-like care and compassion. In Lewis’s fiction it is the antiheroes who fail to grasp this moral dimension and assume that dominion means despotism. The fraudulent Ape King, for example, months conventional notions of human superriority: “‘I hear some of you are saying that I’m an Ape. Well, I’m not. I’m a Man. If I look like an Ape, that’s because I’m so old…. And it’s because I’m so old that I’m so wise. And it’s because I’m so wise that I’m the only one Aslan is ever going to speak to. He can’t be bothered talking to a lot of stupid animals. He’ll tell me what you’ve got to do, and I’ll tell the rest of you”‘, The Last Battle: A Stony for Children (London: The Bodley Head, 1956), p. 35. Lew’s would certainly have wanted no truck With contemporary claims for simple equality. either between humans and animals, or between men and women. Inequality for Lewis was a Godgiven state but he accepted the need for the `legal fiction’ of equality in order to restrain wickedness. IIe writes: `The authority of Father and Husband has been rightly abolished on the legal plane, not because this authority is in itself bad (on the contrary, it is, I hold, divine in origin) but because Fathers and Husbands are bad. Theocracy has been rightly abolished not because it is bad that learned priests should govern ignorant laymen, but because priests are wicked men like the rest of us.’ And he concludes: `Even the authority of man over beast has had to be interfered with because it is constantly abused’, ‘Membership’ in The Weight of Glory, ibid, p. 37.
19 Ibi:VW) ibid, p. 4; AAC, iid p 162.
Lewis, ViV, ibid, p. 6-8; AAC, ibid, p. 6-8; AAC, ibid, p.163-164. 21 load in OPA, ibid, p. 102; AAC, ibid, p. 62. 22 William Temple, Nature, Man and God, Gifford Lectures for 1932-1933 and 1933-1934 (London: Macmillan, 1935), p. 503.
Lewis cites Luke 13:16 where human disease is apparently directly attributed to Satan. For exegesis see, e.g. Everett Ferguson, Demonology of the Early Christian World, Symposium Series Volume 12 (Lewiston/Queenston/Lampeter: Edwin Mellen Press, 1984), pp. 12f. Lewis, PP, ibid, pp. 123-124.
25 My agnosticism has been challenged by the perceptive work of Michael Lloyd, see, especially his entry on `The Fall’ in the Dictionary of Ethics, Theology and Society, ibid, pp. 368-370, and his contribution, `Are Animals Part of Fallen Creation?’ in Andrew Linzey and Dorothy McCarthy (eds), Animals on the Agenda: Questions About Animals for Theology and Ethics, forthcoming. Following Mascall, Plantinga and Davis, Lloyd argues that only the thesis of an angelic Fall which predated the human Fall can give a sufficient account of the enormity of natural evil as well as the work of Christ in redemption: `disease, disorder, division and death are seen as being at variance with the will of God (hence the healing and nature miracles of Christ) and as being healed in principle by the Cross (hence the Biblical visions of a future in which the wolf lies down uith the lamb, and death and pain are no more)’, Dictionary, ibid, p. 370. Lloyd’s three-volume work on evil, providence and free-will will, when published. make a seminal contribution to theological discussion of this topic. Lewis, PP, ibid, p. 123.
27 See Andrew Linzey, `Hunting as the Anti-Gospel of Predation’, Chapter seven, Animal Theology (London: SCM Press and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1995), pp. 114-124.
28 Experiencing the depths of bereavement, Lewis confronts the horrible possibility of divine indifference to, even delight in, suffering, imagining the world in the grip of a `Cosmic Sadist and Eternal Vivisector, A Grief Observed (London: Faber & Faber, 1961), p. 32. Later, he specifically rejects the idea of creation as an `experiment’ and God as an experimenter, pp. 42f.
29 Brian Home, Imagining Evil (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1996), p. 130.
30 Home, ibid, p. 131.
31 Evelyn Underhill, Letter to C.S. Lewis, in Charles Williams (ed), The Letters of Evelyn Underhill (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1943), pp. 301-302. I am grateful to Duncan Forbes for this reference.
32 Even before she met Lewis, `Joy kept as many as fourteen felines on the premises at one time’, Lyle W. Dorsett, Joy and C. S. Lewis: The Story of an Extraordinary Marriage (London: HarperCollins, 1988), p. 64.
33 On encountering such friendly animals, Ransom notes that `the ferocity of terrestrial animals was, by cosmic standards, an exception . . .’, Lewis, Perelandra (London: The Bodley Head, 1943), p. 49. In fact, Perelandra is an Edenite paradise where non-violence and vegetarianism reign.
Indeed, Lewis is prescient about the dangers of genetic engineering for both animals and humans. The absolute conquest of animals and nature are precursors to the self-enslavement of humanity. His warnings-in the context of recent debates about genetics-have a contemporary ring: `For the power of Man to make himself what he pleases means . . . the power of some men to make other men what they please’, The Abolition of Man (Oxford: OUP, 1943; HarperCollins edition, 1978), p. 37 original emphasis.
35 Lewis, PP, ibid, p. 125; AAC, ibid, pp. 107-108, and discussion, p. 84.
36 Donald R. Griffin. Animal Thinking (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984), p. 249.
37 Lewis. PP. ibid, p. 126.
Keith Ward, Rational Theology and the Creativity of God (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1982), pp. 201-202; see also The Concept of God (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1974), p. 223.
39 Lewis, Perelandra, ibid, p. 72. 40 Lewis, PP, ibid, p. 123.
41 Lewis, PP, ibid, p. 124. He adds: ‘I have no objection to the company. I do not think either virginity or old age contemptible, and some of the shrewdest minds I
have ever met inhabited the bodies of old maids.’ Lewis also notes that John Wesley defended animal immortality; see Wesley, `The General Deliverance’, Sermons on Several Occasions, vol. II, introduction by John Beecham (London: Wesley,an Conference Office, 1874), pp. 281-286; extract in AAC. ibid, pp. 101-103. ** Professor Linzey has asked me to insert the following quotation: ‘. . . the world is in a bad wav, but we won’t let our pipes go out under any circumstances, ill we?’ (Letter from Barth to Bonhoeffer, 4 February 1933); cited in Eberhard Bethge, Bonhoeffer: An Illustrated Biography (New York: Harper & Row), p. 28. (Editor)
Lewis, to my knowledge, nowhere directly confronts vegetarianism as an ethical issue. Any incidental reference is usually less than welcoming. For example, Screwtape admonishes Wormwood to ensure that his patient dilutes his Christian faith hy becoming a `Christianity And’ kind of believer: `You know-Christianity and the Crisis, Christianity and the New Psychology, Christianity and the New Order, Christianity and Faith Healing … Christianity and Vegetarianism. ‘, The Screwtape Letters: Letters from a Senior to a Junior Devil (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1942; London: Fontana Books, 1955), p. 126.
43 See, e.g., Donald R. Griffin, Animal Thinking, ibid; Animnal Minds (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), and The Question of Animal Awareness (New York: Rockefeller University Press, 1981); S. Walker, Animal Thought (London: Routledge, 1983); and for a general introduction, see Marian Stamp Dawkins, Through Our Eyes Only? The Search for Animal Consciousness (Oxford and New York: NV. H. Freeman/Spectrum, 1993).
See, e.g., Anne Primavesi, From Apocalypse to Genesis: Ecology, Feminism and Christianity (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1991). She writes: `If Nature is seen as “not God”, then this licences human control over it’, p. 146; for a critique see my review in the Scottish Journal of Theology,1992, vol. 45, no. 2, pp. 265-270.
45 Ve all hear that Nazi scientists had done them. We all suspect that our own scientists may begin to do so, in secret, at any moment, Lewis, ViV, ibid, p. 11; AAC, ibid, p. 163.
46 In fact, unknown to Lewis and many others they had already begun, see, e.g., Susan El. Lederer, Subjected to Science: Human Experimentation in America before the Second World War (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995). Although not an anti-vivisectionist, Lederer shows clearly how the two causes were historically intertwined, pp. 27ff. Also she recounts grisly and utterly inhuman experiments on vulnerable human subjects including-to take only one example-‘a diagnostic test for syphilis, tested on orphans and hospital patients’, pp. 82f. For further discussion, see Michael A. Grodin and Leonard H. Glantz (eds), Children as Research Subjects: Science, Ethics and Lai (Oxford and New York: OUP 1994) and for a detailed account of the Nazi experiments and the development of ethical thinking, see George J. Ann.as and Michael A. Grodin (eds), The Nazi Doctors and the Nuremberg Code: Hum Rights in Human Experimentation (Oxford and New York: OUP, 1992). For my own critique of animal experimentation, see Linzey, `The Place of Animals in Creation-A Christian View in Tom Began ted), Animal Sacrifices: Religious Perspectives on the Use of Animals in Science (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1986), pp. 115-148.
47 R. G. Frey concedes that the benefits from experimentation logically justify the use of humans as well as animals: if securing the benefit licenses (painful) experiments on animals, it equally licenses (painful) experiments on humans since the ben
efit may be secured by either means’, Rights, Killing and Suffering: Moral Vegetarianism and Applied Ethics (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1983), p. 113.
48 Lewis concludes his essay on vivisection: `We must first decide what should be allowed: after that it is for the police to discover what is already being done’, ViV, ibid, p. 12; AAC, ibid, p. 164. 49 Lewis, The Weight of Glory, ibid, p. 63.
50 Weston’s original plan was to colonise other planets in the service of humankind; see Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet (London: The Bodley Head, 1938; London: Pan Books, 1960), pp. 29f. Subsequently Weston sees himself as the embodiment of the very Life Force of the universe: (To Ransom) “Do you see, you timid, scruple-mongering fool? I am the Universe. I, Weston, am your God and your Devil. I call that Force into me completely. .”, Perelandra, ibid, p. 109.
51 Of the thirteen `Popular Fallacies About Vivisection’ penned by Lewis Carroll (Charles L. Dodgson), it was the thirteenth that the practice of vivisection shall never be extended so as to include human subjects’ that earned his greatest mockery, (printed for private circulation, Oxford, June 1875), pp.14-16. 52 Lewis, PP, ibid, p. 122.
* Professor Andrew Linzey holds the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) Fellowship at Mansfield College in the University of Oxford.
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