Book Club Channel
Compassion for Animals: An Interview with Laura Hobgood-Oster
I don't think I would claim that meat eating is un-Christian, though there are some who do claim that. I will claim, however, that eating meat produced in the horrible, terror- and torture-filled confined animal feeding operation system is un-Christian. I just can't imagine Jesus walking into a factory farm and saying that it's okay! Remember, in Luke 12 he says that not one sparrow is forgotten by God. I wonder what he would say about the 8 billion chickens killed in factory farms last year in the U.S.?
You don't speak to this in your book per se, but an issue that's important to a lot of pet-owners is whether animals go to Heaven. Do you have an opinion on that? What might the Bible suggest about meeting up with our animal companions in Heaven?
The question about Heaven is a difficult one for me because I'm not so sure that I've come to any conclusions about what, where, or when Heaven is, much less whether or not animals are there. But, if there is a place or a condition that is Heaven, then I can't imagine it without animals. It would be boring, lonely, and wouldn't make sense. A Heaven without animals seems to me to be Hell!
Also, images in the Bible of the future Paradise include animals. The wolf and the lamb together, the shepherd and the kid, the lion and the calf are laying down together in paradise. So I'm assuming they will be there!
I imagine many Christians would agree that animal advocacy is important, but maybe not as important as "people advocacy"/social justice issues, such as adoption/foster care, homelessness, issues of poverty, discrimination, etc. What do you say to those people? Is animal advocacy a lesser cause?
I don't think we can really rank compassion and justice. It's also important for us to realize how many of these issues are connected to each other. So, for instance, dog fighting is closely connected to issues of race and class and violence in many communities. The process of factory farming creates a food system that is unhealthy for everyone. It means some people will starve because so much grain is being used to feed animals in factory farms. It also means that antibiotics that could be used to fight disease in humans are being overused in these confined animals, then those antibiotics become less effective. It's all connected when we come right down to it.
Your book provides an extensive resource section including organizations that advocate for animals. It's a great source for individuals and church groups that may want to get involved in any number of issues you raise in your book. (As an aside, I think animal-care issues could provide wonderful intergenerational opportunities for service in churches!) What are some of your favorite organizations?
I've recently worked closely with the Humane Society of the United States. They have a growing faith-based outreach program that I think is very important. It is already having a big impact and I think it will have an even greater impact in the future.
I also think that people who are interested and passionate about animals need to be involved locally with real animals—volunteering at animal shelters, educating people about the food they are eating and how those animals were raised, helping educate about wildlife and creating wildlife friendly spaces wherever appropriate. All of those ways of being engaged locally are so important.
So, I have to ask—how many animals do you have at home? I also know you're involved with a local rescue shelter, as well. What is your role there?
Deborah Arca joined the Patheos team after more than ten years managing programs for the Program in Christian Spirituality at the San Francisco Theological Seminary. Deborah has also been a youth minister, a director of Christian Education and music/theatre programs for young people and has served as a music director for worship and special retreats.