A while back, Rusty Pritchard of the creation care group Flourish sent me a few questions on hunting and fishing for a writing project he was working on. Since the Fall hunting season is underway, and we're going to share some posts on the topic, I asked if I could develop our Q&A to help introduce a subject which Christian sportsmen and animal advocates often disagree on. Rusty graciously agreed ...
Rusty - Is there diversity of attitudes toward hunting and angling among animal welfare advocates?
Ben - Some groups, often those that take an animal rights perspective, are strictly against all forms of hunting and fishing. Others, such as the Humane Society of the United States advocate for more humane hunting and fishing, and fight against the worst and most unsportsmanlike abuses, such as captive hunting and wildlife poaching, and unnecessarily cruel practices such as contest killing and dove shooting. For a good introduction to some of the differences between sportsmanlike and unsportsmanlike hunting, and an ethical hunter's code of conduct, see Michael Markarian's post at Humane Society Legislative Fund.
Rusty - Do you think there's any inherent paradox or tension in hunters and anglers working to conserve the species they "harvest?"
Ben - From a strictly pragmatic perspective, there doesn't seem to be. I can understand how hunters and anglers would want to assure that the wildlife populations from which they harvest are healthy and not endangered. Those who harvest for food out of genuine need, sometimes referred to as 'subsistence' hunting or fishing, are naturally even more concerned about this, and like native Americans can be the most respecting in their relationship to the animals. Wildlife conservation is a valuable goal in any case, but it strikes me as even more noble when pursued for the sake of the animals themselves, and the delight and praise they bring to their Creator.
On the other hand, hunters, and perhaps anglers as well, also argue that harvesting is necessary to legitimately control the populations of some wildlife, with deer being a leading example. In cases like this, I would love to see more life-affirming ways of population control continue to be developed and utilized. Certainly a modernized society can improve in this arena, and not resort to killing as our only means of population control, especially when we have taken so much of these creatures' land and resources to begin with.
Rusty - Clearly there is a spectrum of hunting practices, which have a difference in their impact on individual animals. Is subsistence hunting different than sport hunting? Is it possible to be a "compassionate" hunter? And do you think the Bible, or Christian tradition, has anything to say about modern hunting?
Ben - I agree that there is a spectrum. Those who genuinely need to hunt to survive are certainly entitled to do so, the Bible affirms this as a form of God's provision for humanity. I do think, though, that this pool of people, while larger in third world and developing countries, is relatively small in our own country and other parts of the western world. As I mentioned above, some approaches to hunting are more sportsmanlike and concerned about not letting the animal suffer any more than necessary. These include making sure one is a good and true shot, tracking wounded animals to prevent them from being in indefinite agony, and perhaps even avoiding the use of bow and arrows which more frequently than guns wound without killing.
As for hunting for sport in principle, this is something I personally can't affirm. As followers of Christ, we are witnesses to the beginnings of a redemptive, nonviolent way of life which God intends to fully bring about (see Romans 8 and Revelation 21, and Old Testament passages such as Isaiah 65 and Hosea 2). We should make an effort to honor and preserve all of the life God has created as we're able, to appreciate its beauty and vitality as lovingly brought into being by the Creator - not gratuitously remove it from existence. There are other, much more life-affirming sports and hobbies we can choose from and enjoy immensely, with wildlife watching being a prime example. Dean Ohlman of The Wonder of Creation has a wonderful personal reflection on this, "Conversion of the Birdslayer." We'll be sharing more from Dean on hunting in the coming days.