Editor's Note: This article was originally published at Animal Liberation Currents.
I said in my heart with regard to human beings that God is testing them to show that they are but animals. For the fate of humans and the fate of animals is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and humans have no advantage over the animals; for all is vanity. All go to one place; all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again. Who knows whether the human spirit goes upward and the spirit of animals goes downward to the earth? 1
That Ecclesiastes 3:18-21 seemed to pop out of nowhere — that I never heard it preached in a sermon or during Sunday School — testifies to the church’s widespread inattentiveness to other animals and our shallow knowledge of the Bible in general. Even when Christians do notice texts like these, we tend still to distort their meaning. As Rachel Muers notes, Ecclesiastes 21 “has been read as emphasizing the difference between humanity and ‘the beasts that perish.’ In context, however, it makes more sense as a reminder of how questionable the dividing line is between us and the ‘beasts.’”3
An extensive, scholarly examination of Scripture as well as church history, hymnody and other Christian artifacts reveals that mutuality, sameness and interconnectedness between humans and other animals are strong vibrant themes within the faith. Indeed, these themes are more prevalent than our contemporary readings allow us to see, shaped as we are by legacies of the Enlightenment and industrial revolution, by antiquated ideas about human and animal biology, and by anthropocentric philosophies and technologies. Since becoming vegan, a journey that began and crystallized while I attended seminary, I have become increasingly aware of biblical texts and trajectories that decenter humanity and undermine support for dominating other animal persons. These alternative streams interrupt the prevailing narratives of God-ordained exploitation that comprise so much of Christian discourse, practice and belief. Yet they usually go unnoticed, not only by Jesus followers but by our critics as well.