In her invitational essay for PSCF's special issue on "The Image of God and Lab Rats," Keri McFarlane writes, "Across the extraordinarily diverse natural world, our strongest association has always been with animals... our story is largely told through our interactions with them--in agriculture and medicine, as companions, as food. These creatures are more like us than any other (e.g., plants, fungi, or prokaryotes). We belong taxonomically within the same group (Domain Eukarya, Kingdom Animalia), and yet we set ourselves apart."
And yet we set ourselves apart. I think McFarlane is right in putting some pressure on long-held assumptions regarding human exceptionalism. The question, I think, of how much or even if we should set ourselves apart from animals is one we can't ask enough. This edition of God & Nature follows on the heels of the PSCF dedicated journal with a collection of essays and poems that highlight, celebrate, and complicate our unique relationship to the animals we love, hunt, raise, butcher, experiment on, keep as pets, photograph, and about whom we can simultaneously feel both a strange kinship and surprise at their other-ness.
How much like us are animals, and in what ways do they, too, bear the image of God? McFarlane reminds us that, "Many of the abilities once thought to be uniquely human have been found, in varying degrees, in a range of animals. The debate about animal rationality and consciousness is an important one if any of these properties form the basis for characterizing humans as distinct from other animals." The more we know, the harder it becomes to draw simple boundaries between "us" and "them" — and by extension, the should's and shouldn't's of how we treat them.
Join us for a rainy afternoon at the end of spring for an alternately light-hearted, thoughtful romp through the menagerie of ways we can consider, and perhaps recover, the truth about animals, humans, and the image of God.