One of the most important ideas to examine when describing the relationship between us and the world around us is the idea of stewardship – a notion that prevails throughout the western religions and their respective sacred writings. In Genesis 1 and 2 we see how God created the world but has offered it to mankind to look after. This places human beings above the rest of creation possibly due to our sense of morality and capabilities to change what happens in the environment around us.
An example of this power and dominion over plants and animals is that of giving each part of creation a name (Genesis 2: 19-21). Naming things has long been regarded an aspect of this power and dominion. It is our responsibility to look after the world God has made. The creation of the world is a subject that had baffled human beings ever since we became aware of our surroundings and developed the ability to question our existence. The first books of the Christian Holy Bible relate to the creation of mankind and the rest of the universe.
It says God created the world in six days (these may not refer to six 24-hour periods but could relate to six ages or eras, though a fundamentalist Christian would follow these words literally) and that Adam and Eve were created together. It is irrelevant whether these stories are actually (scientifically) true but a liberal Christian would say that what the stories represent and what they stand for is far more important. They underline the ideas of stewardship and emphasise the importance of human free will and choice.
For most Christians, the actual way in which the world was created was unimportant as far as the Bible is concerned and it is far more important to obtain lessons from the stories rather than say that they are factually correct. With respect to the question, it is the feeling of many Christians that we are far more important than animals as we have responsibility and values to adhere to and each one of us has our own personal ideals of what the world should be like and can therefore input to the preservation of the environment.
This belief is confirmed a number of times throughout the Bible: “You appointed him over everything you made, you placed him over all creation” – Psalms 8: 6 Christians have also studied this important aspect of creation, the animals and our relationship with them, but it is hard to say what conclusion the ideas have reached as they can be interpreted in many different ways. The Bible says that we can eat the animals but any used for work must be sufficiently rested and fed. As for animal rights however, nothing has been specified in the Bible.
It really depends upon the individual’s ideals and the society they have been brought up in to make a decision. Catholic Theology does not accept that animals have rights but they say that it is our obligation as human beings to regard their welfare and to oppose animal cruelty. On the other hand, Catholics have no mention of animal testing except that it is allowed provided “it remains within reasonable limits” and helps human beings in some way or has the potential to save human life.
It seems that these values come from an idea that it is morally wrong to destroy something if it hasn’t done anything wrong and has no reason to die. To understand further how Christians should relate with the rest of creation we might look at how the ancient Bible can relate to the modern person. It could be argued that many people have the view that the story of Adam and Eve is fundamentally true and we have therefore inherited their responsibility to look after the world we live in.
A more liberal Christian might believe in a different kind of truth. Instead of the empirical view that Adam and Eve were the first two human beings, they believe in the religious truth that Adam and Eve are metaphors for the whole of humanity and represent all of humankind from the beginning to the present day and that the ongoing process of creation means we have a responsibility, not as Christians, but as human beings to preserve our world for future generations.
One could also argue that modern people rely far too much on science to provide all their answers when really they should look at the world around them and decide what the stories represent. Modern society is far more inclined to be influenced by what we see on our televisions. Pierre Tielhard de Chardin, a Christian, tried to connect religion and science totally. He viewed evolution as God’s way of making man more like him and that we should look after things in the world, and that all life is evolving to become more and more (over time) like God.
Therefore, in conclusion, Christianity teaches that humans are somewhat higher than animals because of our moralistic values, etc. and that all creation is a gift from God and we must look after it as stewards. As for the treatment of animals, there are some basic Moral guidelines but issues such as animal testing are generally up to the individual to make their own decisions.