The Bond: Our Kinship with Animals, Our Call to Defend Them
William Morrow, 2011
448 pp., $26.99
Karen Swallow Prior
Pacelle's retelling of his first meeting and subsequent relationship with the NFL star-cum-convicted dogfighter Vick is one of the most fascinating and insightful sections of the book. It opens with the startling declaration, "Michael Vick loves animals," and gets even more interesting as it goes along. (As it turns out, that assertion was Vick's own straight-faced claim.) What follows is a crash course in Sociology 101 (and perhaps Psychology 101) as Pacelle tries to unravel the Michael Vick knot and navigate the tricky territory of his own competing interests: partnering with the infamous perpetrator of the very acts of cruelty he has spent his life fighting in order to prevent future acts of cruelty. Pacelle's working out with Vick a proper definition of "love" for animals through their awkward dance on the anti-dogfighting platform makes for the most compelling reading in the book.
While The Bond is not explicitly Christian, nor is it addressed directly to Christians, it seems to speak with equal fluency to both the thoughtful Christian reader and the thoughtful citizen of no particular religious belief. Pacelle exhibits more than a passing knowledge of the Bible and biblical principles, with references to both woven throughout in an unforced fashion. He mentions key Christian figures who were pioneers in the animal welfare movement—people such as William Wilberforce and Harriet Beecher Stowe, who did not deem it unworthy or a poor investment of time to advocate for animals at the same time they were fighting the evil of human slavery. The Bond speaks to universal ethics as well, arguing that our treatment of animals is "a measure of who we are," a sentiment that echoes Proverbs 12:10, which declares that the righteous care for the lives of the beasts. Further, Pacelle claims, our concern for animals "defines our character, our moral progress, and our ability to look beyond self-interest." The solutions he offers in the last part of the book tap into cherished American values. Using the transformation of the whale-hunting industry of a previous age into today's whale-watching industry—a business not only compassionate and sustainable, but lucrative, too—Pacelle demonstrates how the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship can benefit human interests while creating a world more merciful to animals.
Even more arresting, particularly to conservative Christians, is the way in which Pacelle suggests that the claims of Darwinism, Skinnerian behavioralism, and biological determinism stand against animal welfare concerns. In fact, he goes perhaps too far in this direction. His portrayal of animals, especially in the first section of the book, is a bit more anthropomorphic than some readers will buy. I would also quibble with a somewhat sloppy glossing over of the important historical, theological, and philosophical distinctions carried by the terms "animal welfare" and "animal rights." Nevertheless, the religious and political conservatives who tend, generally, to dismiss or even actively oppose the animal welfare movement should note the strong connections the book makes between Darwinism and the sort of mechanistic reductionism that logically leads to disregard for animals. And this points to a question that seems to me to be a glaring inconsistency in the contemporary church: why have we not been the ones taking the lead on matters of creation care (which includes animal welfare) all along?
In its organization into three sections (on the human-animal bond, the breaking of that bond, and its restoration), The Bond reflects the biblical metanarrative of Creation, Fall, and Redemption. For whatever reason, God chose to place animals alongside us as fellow players in this grand story. This bond is of his design, not ours. Surely the way we relate to the animals God placed into our dominion reflects the way we view our relationship with the One who has dominion over us.
Karen Swallow Prior is chair of the Department of English and Modern Languages at Liberty University.
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