Once upon a time, a long, long time ago … in the year 2003 … a book was published.
This was back in the days when our cell phones weren’t intelligent (heck, we were just happy they had become somewhat smaller and lighter than bricks) and many of us still had dial-up.
Vegetarians and those interested in animal welfare were considered extreme, radical, left-leaning liberals. (Vegans barely existed back then – they were a rare creature, as mythical as a unicorn.)
Conservative Republicans, of course, were way too sensible to get sucked into that sentimental, unscientific animal rights nonsense.
And while it might have been ok for Hindus and Buddhists, and, you know, those EASTERN people to be vegetarian, it was definitely not ok for Christians!
In fact, God himself gave Christians the right to eat animals, or do whatsoever else to them. It was not just a privilege or a right, but a DUTY!
God gave them dominion, dammit!
“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.”–Genesis 1:24-26
And then this book was published, and it was actually called Dominion.
And lo, it wasn’t about all-you-can eat hamburgers.
It was about “The Power of Man, The Suffering of Animals, and The Call To Mercy.”
Stranger still, it wasn’t written by one of those bothersome radical liberals.
No, it was written by – not just a conservative, not just a Republican, not just a Christian – but a very highly respected and regarded conservative Republican Christian. Someone who had served as George W. Bush’s special assistant and chief speechwriter for four years. Someone who would later go on to write speeches for other prominent, conservative Republicans like George Cheney and Bob Dole, and – infamously – Sarah Palin.
His name was Matthew Scully, and he turned the whole concept of Dominion on its head.
To Matthew, dominion meant responsibility. Stewardship. Caring and caretaking.
NOT cart blanche to do with the earth and its animals what we will.
“Animals are more than ever a test of our character, of mankind’s capacity for empathy and for decent, honorable conduct and faithful stewardship. We are called to treat them with kindness, not because they have rights or power or some claim to equality, but in a sense because they don’t; because they all stand unequal and powerless before us.”
Matthew covered a wide range of topics in his book – all from a conservative, Judeo-Christian perspective. All from the (ahem!) radical standpoint that God actually wanted us to take care of his creation!
“Canned” safari hunts. Sport hunting in general. Whaling. Animals in circuses (that were later sold to canned safari hunts). Fur. Research experiments. And of course, factory farming and slaughterhouse conditions.
And … “Because he’s one of US!” … many people were reading, thinking, and talking about these issues for the very first time.
Conservatives couldn’t just dismiss what Matthew said, the way they could that Paul “Pothead” McCartney or Ingrid “I like to go naked” Newkirk.
The book was on the cover of Time.
It was discussed on talk shows.
It was talked about in churches, and it was talked about at watercoolers.
Going veg and being concerned about animal welfare suddenly seemed a lot more … respectable.
A possible option for someone with a real job and without tattoos.
And even if many (ok, most) churches decided “dominion” meant continuing their annual BBQs and monthly fried chicken dinners, the ideas were still out there.
It helped that Matthew was an eloquent and powerful writer who wasn’t scared of kicking a little hypocritical Christian ass.
Acknowledging that at one time animals were a necessary source of food and clothing, he follows it up with:
“When you start with a necessary evil, and then over time the necessity passes away, what’s left?”
Or how about:
“Let’s just call things what they are. When a man’s love of finery clouds his moral judgment, that is vanity. When he lets a demanding palate make his moral choices, that is gluttony. When he ascribes the divine will to his own whims, that is pride. And when he gets angry at being reminded of animal suffering that his own daily choices might help avoid, that is moral cowardice.”
Yep, that book was a game changer. It proved that concern for animals was not a left wing nor a right wing issue. It wasn’t about being Democrat, Republican, Independent, or Libertarian.
And it argued that concern for animals (not consumerism) was a Christian responsibility.
Matthew even gives a nod towards the image of those who care about animals being … “not quite right”…
“Sometimes tradition and habit are just that, comfortable excuses to leave things be, even when they are unjust and unworthy.
Sometimes–not often, but sometimes–the cranks and radicals turn out to be right.
Sometimes Everyone is wrong.”
Wow – I really love this post – since I became a vegan it was clear to me that God doesn’t want any creature in this life to suffer. I’m glad that there are conservative Christians out there who think that too.
Thanks! I agree with you – I can’t understand how any spiritual person of any faith could possibly believe God wants animals to suffer. Matthew has also done a good bit of work with the Humane Society Faith Outreach program.
thanks for this insight on this book. I have not heard of it. I enjoy your posts!
Awww, thanks, Maureen!
I think the book has faded from radar in the dozen or so years since it’s been published. Veganism is much more mainstream, so it’s not nearly as radical now as when it was published. But as a PK’s kid living in the Bible Belt, it had a huge impact on me at the time. It really did go a long way towards changing the “image” of vegetarians and vegans.