Church must tackle ethics of fox hunting
Hunting with dogs is in the same moral category as rape, child abuse and torture, and church leaders and representatives need to consider the ethical dimension of the debate with a sense of urgency according to a well known theologian.
The incendiary claim, which brought immediate condemnation from pro-hunting groups, has been made by Andrew Linzey, professor of theology at Oxford University and a recognised authority on morality and its effects on people's relations with animals.
In a report to be published by the Christian Socialist Movement (CSM) in the next fortnight, Linzey will argue that there is no moral defence for hunting as sport and that it should be completely banned.
"Causing suffering for sport is intrinsically evil," he says. "Hunting, therefore, belongs to that class of always morally impermissible acts along with rape, child abuse and torture."
Supporters of Linzey said he could not be dismissed as a crank. In 2001 he was awarded a doctorate of divinity degree by the Archbishop of Canterbury in recognition of his 'unique and massive pioneering scholarly work in the area of the theology of creation, with particular reference to the rights and welfare of God's sentient creatures'.
The doctorate is the highest award the Archbishop can bestow on a theologian and it was the first time it has been awarded for work in animal welfare.
"All acts of cruelty to animals are of a kind," Linzey said. "They diminish our humanity and offend."
"Despite considerable media attention there has been little serious focus on the ethical aspect of hunting with dogs. The Government commissioned a report chaired by Lord Burns on the subject, but its terms of reference oddly excluded consideration of the ethical issues, and (to my knowledge) none of the Burns Committee has qualifications in moral philosophy or theology."
"This omission needs to be rectified. Specifically, church leaders and representatives who have a long history of engagement with moral issues need to consider the ethical dimension of the debate with a sense of urgency."
Graham Dale, the head of the CSM, said Linzey was a highly-respected theologian who had become irritated that some bishops had not taken a stronger line on hunting. "I think he wants to rectify that failing,' he said. "These are powerful and tightly argued views."
Pro-hunting organisations reacted with anger. "If Andrew Linzey is coming up with this stuff and it is being used by the anti-hunting lobby, it is no wonder they are losing ground so rapidly," said Jill Grieve, spokeswoman for the Countryside Alliance, which supports fox-hunting.