As a former Californian—I just moved to South Carolina at the beginning of June, so the departure is still fresh—I try to keep up with what is happening there on a somewhat frequent basis by way of either Twitter or a quick internet search for “California News.” Typically, what I read about the most is either the recall election of Gavin Newsom or yet another drought. However, this past week I saw multiple news articles and tweets from political commentators ringing the alarm bells with essentially the same, heartbreaking, earth-shattering message: “BACON SHORTAGE.”
Granted, this shortage has yet to occur, but it seems guaranteed due to the passing of Proposition 12 back in 2018, which mandates that certain requirements be met by 2022 pertaining to the living standards of various farm animals such as pigs and chickens. If you would like to read more about the Proposition, and see arguments for and against it, you may do so here. As a result of those requirements, suppliers of eggs, ham, bacon, etc. must now make accommodations to their facilities and that will lead to a potential shortage as some farms will be unable to sell to California until the standards are met, and an increase in cost of pork products as the factory farms must now make up for the money they spent adhering to said standards. For example, an NBC news affiliate in Iowa, where many of the farms who supply products to California reside, estimates that pork products will see a 60% increase in price within the next year.
What has stood out to me the most as I have read numerous articles and tweets on this topic is the general feeling of annoyance that most people seem to share regarding the price increase/shortage, and the overall complacency or lack of care shown towards the conditions of the animals who are born, raised, and die at the farms where we all get our food. Even many Christian commentators, people who (whom?) I would say that I would agree with often on most social and political issues, seemed too focused on the financial aspects with no thought towards the moral. Now, it is entirely possible—and most likely probable—that I am simply not reading enough opinions or following enough people, but it was shocking to me that the first real pushback I saw against the “LOL hippy California and their sadistic obsession with costing themselves money” was from Comedian Tim Dillon:
I should clarify that just because someone voices an opinion on one thing—i.e. that Californians should not have voted for more government oversight and increased personal financial burden—does not mean that they do not have an opinion or that they hold an indifferent or opposing opinion about some other thing—i.e. the conditions of factory farms and how livestock are treated. However, the more I thought about it the more I realized how little I have heard from Christians within the United States concerning our stewardship and dominion over both the land that we live on and the animals that inhabit it.
That all led me to wonder: What does the Bible say about how we should rule over animals and the environment alike?
As I try to answer that question, I want to mention one of my favorite movies of all time: Hayao Miyazaki’s 1997 film, Princess Mononoke.
It is a fairy tale that has it all: gorgeous animation, wonderful characters, beautiful music, and a fully-realized world that you want to live in and explore for yourself. I really cannot sing the praises of this movie loudly enough so, if you think you will have any tolerance for an animated feature, please watch it immediately and beware of spoilers below.
One of the messages of the film, as is the case with a majority of Miyazaki’s work, is one of environmental awareness. While some of the human characters, chiefly the two protagonists Ashitaka (Japanese VA: Yōji Matsuda, English VA: Billy Crudup) and San (Japanese VA: Yuriko Ashida, English VA: Claire Danes), are painted as morally upright and aware of the impact of their actions on the world around them, the rest of the human characters are portrayed as power hungry tyrants who will stop at nothing to gain more influence and material wealth. Forests are destroyed, animals are slaughtered, gods are killed, and people are sacrificed all for the “advancement” of human flourishing.
The film shows that while mankind clearly has the willpower and the ability to lord over the natural world, humanity must also show restraint and compassion as it seeks to fulfill its needs rather than its wants. Unfortunately, mankind fails to display either with an alarming frequency.
John Wesley, the English theologian from the 1700’s, sums up man’s sinfulness and failure to properly live out his authority in the following excerpt from his sermon entitled, The Great Deliverance:
“And what a dreadful difference is there, between what they [animals] suffer from their fellow-brutes, and what they suffer from the tyrant man! The lion, the tiger, or the shark, gives them pain from mere necessity, in order to prolong their own life; and puts them out of their pain at once: But the human shark, without any such necessity, torments them of his free choice; and perhaps continues their lingering pain till, after months or years, death signs their release,” (Delivered on November 30, 1781).
One video that I think perfectly summarizes the proclivity of man towards cruelty with animals is this undercover video of a factory farm that is owned and operated by Christensen Farms, one of the largest pig breeders in the United States and a key supplier for retailers such as Walmart. While I cannot say that I fully endorse the organization that recorded the video, as I have not fully researched them, this video nevertheless brings some startling things to light. I must warn you: the video is not for the faint of heart. If you are sensitive to gruesome images, I would advise you to skip the video and continue reading the rest of the article beneath it. But, for those of you who do think you can stomach it, I highly recommend watching.
Luckily, this video resulted in the firings of the people in charge of the facility and reportedly led to changes in how business is conducted at Christensen Farms. Yet, one cannot help but wonder how the conditions are at other factory farms around the country or around the world. It is also saddening to think about how easy it is to turn a blind eye or live in blissful ignorance of business practices such as this within the United States.
That is why movies such as Princess Mononoke are so important. They can bring up topics in a way that allows for mass consumption and entertainment, while also granting the space to think deeply about something afterwards. The environmental sensibilities within Princess Mononoke are not strictly found in the film itself, or the Shinto beliefs which seem to pervade through much of Miyazaki’s work; rather, all throughout history and across all cultures, there exists tale after tale concerning personal responsibility in relation to the world around us. The ability to subdue the earth and man’s call to have careful oversight over nature is something that is expected of all of us, regardless of our cultural background.
The Bible serves as one such example of a call to action regarding man’s rule that transcends any and all cultures.
A verse in the Book of Genesis reads: “…And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiple and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth,’” (1:28, ESV).
Now, when we consider how to go about having “dominion” over the earth we must humbly submit to the fact that God did not just speak those words to Adam and then throws up His hands and say “Have at it lol.” Throughout the rest of the Bible, mankind is continually given instruction as to how to righteously live it out.
Two examples can be found in the Book of Deuteronomy. Chapter 25 verse 4 reads: “You should not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain,” (ESV). Multiple scholars point out that this verse is not simply a proverbial instruction applicable to human laborers, but is/was a divinely-given humane regulation relating to the treatment of animals. Sure, mankind has the right to use animals to achieve their own prosperity, but the needs and dignity of the animals must also be maintained. A similar call to humane treatment is seen a few chapters earlier: “If you come across a bird’s nest in any tree or on the ground, with young ones or eggs and the mother sitting on the young or on the eggs, you shall not take the mother with the young. You shall let the mother go, but the young you may take for yourself, that it may go well with you, and that you may live long,” (22:6-7, ESV).
In both instances, God is clarifying His declaration of mankind’s dominion over nature by describing how we are to go about subduing the earth. We are not to be needlessly harsh nor are we to be selfish. At all times, we are to consider the wellbeing of the animals and the world around us. This does not mean, however, that we are called to be vegetarians or vegans, as God explicitly grants us the authority and permission to eat meat in Genesis 9:3 “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything,” (ESV). What it does mean is that we need to go about hunting, eating meat, and so on and so forth in a God-honoring way.
So, how then are we as Christians supposed to live out God’s commands regarding the natural world around us, especially within the context of a two party political system?
Honestly, I do not know.
As of late, I find myself constantly confused by how to live within the current political landscape of the United States, where one party is essentially an outright mockery of the Christian faith while the other seems to actively hate it and try to destroy it. I have even gone so far as to register myself as an Independent, not that it will necessarily change anything, but, hey, at least it’s a symbolic gesture that makes me feel better (kind of). Personally, I prefer as little government intervention as necessary. I only want the government to be as big and powerful as it would be if someone I hated was in power. However, I also understand that mankind is sinful and will prioritize personal/corporate gain over individual–be it man or animal–dignity unless there is some sort of authority figure over them. Ideally, that authority figure is God and He is the one guiding mankind’s motives and thus their actions, but we live in a fallen world so that is typically not the case.
What I do know, though, is that God calls us to be personally more compassionate in how we live as the rulers of this earth.
Perhaps that compassion can be lived out through choosing to buy products that are ethically sourced. Companies such as Frying Pan Bacon provide pork products but with the guarantee that their pigs have access to the outdoors and sunshine and are never confined to farrowing crates. Maybe compassion can look like voting for policies that you think will benefit both man and animal alike. And maybe compassion can be enacted through prayer that other people will be able to financially or politically fight for the causes that you are unable to. After all, money can be tight sometimes and cheap eggs or bacon may be all that you can afford since other options can be pricey. So, prayer may be the only tool you have–and what a powerful tool that is!
With all of that said, I do not believe that we as Christians can live in blissful ignorance of the happenings in the world and merely accept the status quo, be it at a personal or societal level. Tim Keller, one of my favorite pastors (to put it lightly) has a saying that “the Gospel changes everything.” When we accept salvation through Christ’s sacrifice, we are called to “work out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling,” (Philippians 2:12, ESV). So if we are new creations in Christ, which we are (2 Corinthians 5:17), then we must find ways to live out our salvation in ALL aspects of our lives.
We must not simply “accept” salvation and then coast on personal eternal safety. We cannot piecemeal the Gospel and only listen to portions of the Bible. I cannot find any portion of scripture which says “listen to this first, and then m-maybe try this next… and, yeah, okay try to listen to this commandment after that! Stepping stones, take your time :)”
I do not know how you, dear reader, are individually called to work out salvation and apply it to your life, much in the same way that I barely know how to work out my own salvation on a day-to-day basis. But, at the very least, we need to always try to figure that out without compromise.
As I wrap up this article, I wanted to include one more verse that I forgot to include beforehand: “Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast, but the mercy of the wicked is cruel,” (Proverbs 12:10, ESV).
And, before anyone asks… I do not remember how I voted on Proposition 12 back in 2018. There’s a strong likelihood that I did not even vote.
I should work on that.