Rao, “Animal Rights and Animal Laws in the Bible: The Daily Practice of Reverence for Life”

This month, Edwin Meller Press published Animal Rights and Animal Laws in the Bible: The Daily Practice of Reverence for Life by Chilkuri Vasantha Rao (Andhra Christian Theological College). The publisher’s abstract follows.

What characterizes the proper ethical treatment of animals as outlined in the Old Testament? Animals play an important role in the Old Testament, and in particular the Pentateuch. Ritual sacrifices were a part of the ancient traditions, and there are rules written into the laws that pertain to this practice as well as the religious approach to animals and nature. In the oft quoted passage from Genesis the call is to not only be fruitful and multiply, but to reign over the earth and subdue it along with the animals that God created. The author explores the fallout of an anthropocentric way of approaching nature that he claims is a misreading of Genesis. Taken out of context this can seem as though ethics is arbitrary in the pursuit of such dominion, but in reality the Pentateuch shows a rather rigid set of laws revealing the careful treatment of animals as sacred beings necessary for the flourishing of human life on earth.

Berger on Ritual, Religion, and Institutions

Peter Berger’s blog is quickly becoming one of my weekly regular reads — and as he explains in this post, blogging is a weekly affair for him.  One of the most incisive points he makes is about the ritualistic qualities and regularized patterns of the institutions that we construct for ourselves — a point that has not gotten as much attention with respect to legal institutions as it perhaps deserves.   Here’s a portion on the relationship of habits, rituals, and institutions:

[E]very habit has the potential to become a ritual. Since ritual is at the very heart of religion, and since I have assumed the obligation to blog about religion at least most of the time, the topic is not out of order here.

Forming habits is a basic requirement if human beings are going to live in a society (which in turn is a requirement for surviving as a species). Society is only possible because its members share mutually predictable programs of behavior. We are different from even our closest zoological relatives in that our biological makeup falls far short of supplying the required programs. The social philosopher Arnold Gehlen interpreted our species as being instinctually deprived, a “deficient being”. [He could also have called homo sapiens a biologically under-equipped chimpanzee, but philosophers, especially German ones, don’t use such colorful language.]  Since our instincts provide us with only a few programs of behavior, we must invent such programs ourselves. These ersatz instincts are what we call institutions (Gehlen has built a very interesting theory on this phenomenon). Let us assume that Adam and Eve, when they met for the first time, did have a built-in program driving them toward each other. Beyond this primal interaction, nature did not tell them what else they should do with each other. Consequently human beings constructed these immensely varied and complex institutions, which provide programs for tackling the problems of sexuality, procreation, child-rearing, nomenclature, the rights of property, and so on. If these institutions—we commonly call them kinship—did not exist, the rules of engagement would have to be renegotiated every time a man was attracted to a woman, down to the property rights of great-grandchildren. This process of endless renegotiation would take all available time: Nothing else would get done, including such urgent activities as agriculture and warfare.

ADDENDUM: I was remiss in failing to note for readers that for further reflections of a similar nature, see Berger’s wonderful book from a few decades ago, The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion.

Food & Faith: Society, Meals, and Christianity

In December, Columbia University Press will publish Food & Faith in Christian Culture, a collection of essays edited by Ken Albala, professor of history at the University of the Pacific.

The centrality of meals in Christianity can be traced to the Passover Seder, celebrated to commemorate the events recounted in Exodus.  In the New Testament, Jesus arrives in Jerusalem for the week-long Passover festival; the Last Supper was a Passover Seder; and, ultimately, that meal became the basis for the Communion Sacrament.  Thus, food is demonstrably central to Christian narrative and 2000 years of Christian ritual and liturgy.

From these roots, Christianity and food have interacted in a variety of ways that touch upon socio-political issues, from the difference in diet between the Jewish underclass in Palestine and their Roman occupiers, early Christian agape meals, agricultural production through history, and contemporary questions regarding vegetarianism and the ethics of eating meat.  The essays in this volume explore these and a variety of related issues.

Proceed through the link to see Columbia University Press’ description of the collection.

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