Nearly fifty years ago Richard Carrington wrote:
There is a terrible finality about the word extinction. The death of individuals, even of our own species, we have learnt to accept, comforting ourselves with the thought that our immortality lies, if not in heaven, at least in the vigor that we can pass on to future generations. But the death of whole races or kinds of animals inspires an altogether more melancholy emotion … If we are reflective people we must be saddened most of all by the thought that man himself has too often played a prominent role in the final tragedy.
Undoubtedly many people would concur with Carrington’s reflections about animal extinction, but sadly this concern has not and is not acknowledged by all individuals. 2 In the era of European colonisation of different continents, some species were utterly decimated. John Warwick Montgomery records two sad cases from the Nineteenth century and notes the part played by some professing Christians:
The quaggas roamed in herds of twenty-five to forty, often in company with the ostrich; they were described in striking terms by historians and travellers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries such as Sir William Harris (their “gay glittering coats … sparkle like mica”). While plentiful in the Orange Free State and the surrounding parts of South Africa in earlier times, the breed was totally exterminated by Dutch colonists in the nineteenth century. The Boers shot them indiscriminately to provide meat for their servants and a favourite style of shoe (velschoons) for themselves. On August 12, 1882, the last quagga died in the Amsterdam zoo … The wholesale slaughter of the passenger pigeon for food in the nineteenth century reached staggering proportions: one serious observer asserts that in the single year 1878 a million and a half were shot, or netted and clubbed to death, during the summer season alone. Now no living person will ever again see one of them — any more than our generation or its posterity will be able to appreciate the wild beauty of the quagga. And we could go on to mention numerous other animals in imminent danger of extinction through man’s greed and folly …By all rights, Evangelicals should have been the foremost opponents of irresponsible stewardship of God-given natural resources as decimated the quaggas and the passenger pigeons. But, in point of fact, many of the Boers who slaughtered the quaggas were orthodox Dutch Calvinists (“than which”—to paraphrase Anselm’s ontological argument —“no more orthodox can be conceived”) and not a few passenger pigeons met their fate at the hands of participants in the nineteenth century frontier revivals.
It is time for Christians to become “reflective people” with respect to the creation in its entirety and particularly with the plight of animals in diminishing feral habitats, intensive-agricultural, industrial-medical and domestic settings. Christians must redress this blight on the creation, and to rediscover a creation ethic that truly reflects their profession of belief in Christ as the Creator. Otherwise they will deserve the scorn and criticism of non-Christians — be they Pagans and Wiccans or non-theist animal activists and jurists.
In the biblical economy, history has a Christocentric-goal where all things are redeemed and consummated in Christ, and is envisaged by the language of a new heaven and new earth. Part of that purposive vision, which the prophet Ezekiel pointed to, is that animals are depicted as worshipping God both on earth and in heaven. Likewise the prophet Isaiah foreshadowed that the wolf and lamb shall lie down together in peace (Isa. 11:6-9; 65:25). In light of the future-oriented goal of the creation and history, what happens here and now has tremendous ramifications. Montgomery states,
The creation extends not only horizontally in terms of geography but also vertically in history For the rights of future generations extend to the very last moment of history, when Christ shall return and we shall all have to account to him for our stewardship of his creation.
Note: Excerpt from the Sacred Tribes Journal article entitled, “Animals Matter to God” by Ruth Pollard and Philip Johnson.