Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Wildlife Society Drafts Policy Against the Animal Rights Movement

The Wildlife Society Drafts Policy Against the Animal Rights Movement

I am very pleased to announce that the venerable Wildlife Society has drafted a policy statement against the philosophy known as animal rights.

You can view the statement at The Wildlife Society Drafts Policy Against the Animal Rights Movement. 

It is encouraging to see that the Society has recognized the threat animal rights protest industry activists pose to our natural resources.

Stephen M.Vantassel is a longtime opponent of the animal rights protest industry and has published and spoken out against this anti-environmental movement.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Review of Paul Waldau's The Specter of Speciesism

The Specter of Speciesism is a revision of Waldau's dissertation submitted for his PhD at Oxford in 1997. As the title suggests, the book delves into the way Buddhism and Christianity view animals as revealed in the language of their religious documents. In particular, Waldau evaluates whether and to what extent these two religions participate in the alleged moral error know as speciesism. Speciesism, is the belief that human interests automatically trump the interests of "other" animals. Like racism, which is the belief that one race is automatically superior to another, speciesism is seen as improper because the grounds for the moral claim are not grounded in morally relevant concerns. Just as you wouldn't say that a red colored crowbar was "better" than a "green" colored crowbar if both performed their leveraging tasks equally, so it is said that humans do not have the moral right to proffer their interests as being more morally significant than those of animals without support from morally significant grounds.

Waldau goes to great length detailing how the arguments used to support human exceptionalism and speciesist attitudes towards animals fail in the quality and accuracy of their generalizations. For instance, when humans claim their intelligence and rationality give them the right to treat animals differently, Waldau explains that animals such as dolphins and whales also exhibit incredible intelligence. Other arguments such as social organization, language, and others are all show to be problematic.

Waldau is very careful with his language. He does not say that humans and animals (what he calls other animals) do not have significant differences. What he questions is whether and to what extent those differences justify different moral treatment simply because of a creature's membership in a particular species. I would highly recommend his discussion of the various nuances of speciesism to those interested in this concept.

The remainder of the book focuses on the views that Buddhism and Christianity have towards animals. Given the various factions contained in these religions, Waldau has a difficult task. He resolves the problem by analyzing their respective religious texts, arguing the Heideggarian view that language reflects worldview. Each religion is carefully analyzed with abundant references to primary texts. In the end, Waldau shows that both religions exhibit speciesist views, although the Buddhism's is seen as more animal friendly.


Waldau has performed a useful service for those interested in the subject of human-animal relations, particularly for those involved in Buddhist and Christian studies. As one who tired of hearing how caring Buddhism was toward other creatures, I was intrigued to learn that Buddhism is speciesist too.
I am grateful that Waldau demonstrated that Christianity was speciesist. I have long argued that the Christianity of Jesus teaches that humans are more significant than animals. I would go further and suggest that humans are not "animals" because only humans are created in the image of God (Gen 1). Waldau proves that when people read the Bible as written, they will come to conclusions similar to Evangelical Christians. To be clear, Waldau disagrees with the Biblical view. That is a different question. But on the issue of what Scripture teaches, I concur with Waldau's view as shown in my own book, Dominion over Wildlife? A Environmental-Theology of Human-Wildlife Relations (Wipf and Stock, 2009). What is regrettable is that Waldau demonstrated his own bias in his uncritical acceptance of scientism's view that humans are just one of the animals. Scripture clearly makes a different claim. Perhaps science will never be able to provide a "thing" which humans have and animals don't capable of justifying human use of animals. But that failure doesn't prove there isn't such a thing. It could simply be that the theory tells you what you can see. Since science doesn't accept the existence of spiritual entities, should one be surprised that scientist never find them? My point is that science is just as much a matter of "faith" as belief in religion.

In sum, Waldau's work is a worthy read. While I certainly disagree with his views regarding human-animal relations, he is careful with his claims and provides a mountain of material with which to interact. He academic tone encourages dialogue and reflection and all honest and open readers will benefit from engaging his thought.

Stephen M. Vantassel is a tutor at King's Evangelical Divinity School in Broadstairs, England. He specializes in environmental-ethics. Dominion over Wildlife?: An Environmental Theology of Human-Wildlife Relations

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Horse Slaughter Protection Act

Animal rights protest industry advocates (ARPIA) regularly submit bills to governing bodies in the hopes of enacting legislation designed to end what they consider to be immoral activities regarding human use of animals. The slaughter of horses for human consumption is purportedly one of these activities that violates the cultural morals of America if not humanity (according to Wayne Pacelle of the Humane Society of the U.S. as quoted by

It is critical to recognize that the topic of horse slaughter is not about the humane killing of horses. Advocates of keeping horse slaughter legal are not defending methods of horse killing that cause horses undue pain and suffering. They simply want horse owners to keep their right to slaughter horses and sell their meat for food. ARPIAs, on the other hand, think that it is wrong to kill animals for any reason, except to protect human life that is in immediate danger (and for some ARPIAs that may be debatable). Since ARPIAs know that such an idea appears stupid to most people (at this time), they must pick their legislative battles carefully. They know that humans think some animals are more “valuable” than others, so ARPIAs lobby to “protect” animals that are cute and have had long histories with humans. Note, they wisely don’t start protesting the killing of rats and mice because they are still despised by humans.

Christians, however, must follow a higher standard, namely God’s principles. First, Christ declared all foods clean (Mk 7:19) so there is no moral problem (as far as God is concerned) to eat a horse. If you think there is a problem with that, then you should take up your problem with Jesus or perhaps evaluate the integrity of your Christianity. Remember, what we eat is determined by culture. So if you think that eating a horse is wrong (in the moral sense), then you might just be suffering from bigotry. Christ wants us to avoid cultural bigotry when it comes to diet.

Second, Christ says that theft is wrong. When we enact legislation that unduly restricts the rights of property owners to use their property then I contend we are participating in a form of theft. If you doubt the financial and social impact of enacting bans on horse slaughter than I suggest you read the excellent report “The Unintended Consequences of a Ban on the Humane Slaughter (Processing) of Horses in the United States available at The authors carefully explain the financial impact of such a law. If preventing other people from utilizing their resources is not sufficient to incur your moral wrath, then read their comments on how enacting the ban will lead to increased equine suffering.

Stephen M. Vantassel is a tutor of theology at King's Evangelical Divinity School who specializes in environmental ethics and human-wildlife relations.  His latest book is Dominion over Wildlife? An Environmental-Theology of Human-Wildlife Relations (2009).

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The National Wildlife Control Training Program

For those of you not familiar with this project, let me provide a little background. Regrettably, most states lack even rudimentary training requirements for the licensing of wildlife control operators (WCO). Part of the reason for this situation is the dearth of training materials and the fact that state wildlife agencies, already underfunded and overworked, don't have the resources to create a program let alone administer it. Our program seeks to correct that. We have created a training program designed to provide beginning WCOs the fundamentals of the trade.

We will provide this training in multiple ways, including print (book forthcoming in January, 2011), online (January 2011) and in person if states desire that. This training will also be open to businesses wishing to train new workers.

The training consists of two main parts. First is the core modules. Core modules are what we believe every WCO should know regardless of where they live. It's written in a manner that makes it suitable for WCOs regardless of their respective state laws.

Part 2 consists of species modules. Each species module will address the biology, damage, and control methods related to that particular species. We anticipate that states or individuals can select which species they want to learn about. This allows individuals to learn about species that they are allowed to control.

The exam at the end will cover the modules that were selected.

In addition, states that wish to work with us, can edit the species modules so that only those techniques permitted in their state are discussed. Biology and range information can also be adjusted to reflect the specific facts in that respective state. These state specific training materials can then be printed and/or provided on-line. States won't have to bear the costs of hosting or modification of materials as the user can bear the full price. What is that price? We don't know at the moment because we are still preparing the document for publication. But we anticipate the on-line training (which will have additional training resources than what can be provided by the book) to be less than 200 dollars which will include the cost of the exam. Of course, advanced training modules will be provided in the future. If you are interested in providing advanced training, please contact me. We want to work with you.

Here is an outline of the National Wildlife Control Training Program

Part 1 WCO Core Training Modules

1. Principles of Wildlife Damage Management – Introduction to principles, definition of concepts, best practices concepts,.

2. Physical Safety - The section on physical safety (like ladder safety) and expand on details related to working in the field dealing with animal capture and certain control techniques.

3. Wildlife Diseases – We discuss personal safety, personal protection equipment, common diseases, and the meaning and problems of zoonotic diseases.

4. Site Inspection – The process and theory of on-site investigation of wildlife damage complaints.

5. Overview of wildlife control methods - The overview of control methods prepares technicians for the control techniques they fill find in the species specific information.

6. Animal Handling—Treatment and capture of free-ranging and trapped animals. .

7. Euthanasia & Carcass Disposal—Killing methods and options for the disposition of carcasses.

8. Business Practices – Overview of standard business practices. This is NOT a how to run you business.

9. Legal and Ethical Issues – The importance of following federal, state and local laws. Demonstration of values, business and personal ethics, the ethical treatment of wildlife (animals in general) in the media.

PART 2 Species Modules


We are excited about this new development. Stay tuned or even better, stop by and see us at NWCOA's convention in New Orleans Jan 13 and following.

Stephen Vantassel, Project Coordinator, CWCP, ACP
Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management
School of Natural Resources
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
414 Hardin Hall
Lincoln, NE 68583-0974 U.S.A.
phone: 402-472-8961
fax: 402-472-2946
web site:

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Review of The Gettysburg Approach to Writing and Speaking Like a Professional by Philip A. Yaffe

To speak and write well are difficult tasks. Most of us can communicate, but we just muddle through with bloated lines and fuzzy logical connections. Philip A. Yaffe distills his years of writing and instructional experience into easy to grasp principles to help communicators improve their written and oratory skills.
The book is divided into two parts of essentially equal length. Part 1 explains Yaffe’s principles and techniques for improving writing and speaking. In part 2, readers are provided a variety of editing exercises coupled with explanatory-analysis to show how Yaffe’s writing principles are applied. 

As a college professor who struggled, and continues to struggle, with writing, I welcome books designed to assist communicators in improving their craft. Yaffe demonstrates his teaching experience by ensuring his recommendations are both understandable and portioned in short and understandable chunks. This approach reduces the chances of students feeling overwhelmed by a mountain of abstract concepts and data. I am pleased that the author avoided tedious discussions on grammar and punctuation. He was wise to focus on larger structural problems that confront writers. 

The book clearly draws upon journalistic principles such as the inverted pyramid and writing a strong lead. I think these techniques are quite useful and recommend that business and newsletter communicators consider adopting them. I am less sanguine regarding how well those principles will be received by college professors. Academics are a traditional and at times an arrogant lot. They teach students to organize papers by a. defining the problem, followed by an analysis of the evidence, and ended with a strong conclusion. I wonder how professors would respond to a paper written following the inverted pyramid recommendations given by Yaffe. Aside from the organizational issue, students should carefully follow Yaffe’s suggestions regarding clarity and conciseness. 

Readers will find the chapter on oral presentations just as succinct and principle driven as the one on writing. I strongly recommend the information on using PowerPoint slides. I would just add that speakers should NEVER have a slide with only text. PowerPoint slides are a visual medium. Images and iconography should be used to a. help you reduce the amount of text and b. to provide a visual symbol to reinforce the concepts of your text. 

In sum, Yaffe has collected some useful principles to help writers and speakers communicate briefly and clearly. Despite its business and journalism focus, it is still useful for students in academic settings. 

Stephen M. Vantassel is a tutor at King’s Evangelical Divinity School. His latest book is Dominion over Wildlife? An Environmental-Theology of Human-Wildlife Relations. (Wipf and Stock, 2009). 

Have a book you would like reviewed? Contact Stephen M. Vantassel at

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Calvin Klein's "Obsession for Men" as a Feline Lure

In a recent edition of The Wildlife Professional (Fall, 2010 p.89), a report titled "Big Cats Fall for "Obsession"" sourced from The Wildlife Conservation Society explains how men's fragrance "Obsession for Men" has been found to be highly effective in luring large cats. It's use at the Bronx Zoo found that trees sprayed with the fragrance were highly attractive to cheetahs. Cheetahs spent over 11 minutes rubbing trees sprayed with the product and only 10 minutes for trees sprayed with Nina Ricci's "L'Air du Temps" and only 15 seconds for Revlon's "Charlie."

Researchers in Guatamala have also used "Obsession for Men" to lure wild cats (Jaguars) successfully, finding it is 3x more effective than other lures in bringing cats to photo traps. 

The article said "Obsession for Men" costs 60 dollars for 4 ounces which I have confirmed in a web search. You may find lower prices but look carefully at the ounces as the product is also sold in 2.5 ounce bottles.

My question is "Will it work on free-range house cats?" which everyone knows are an environmental menace.

Stephen M. Vantassel's research interests include wildlife damage management and environmental theology. His latest book is Dominion over Wildlife? An Environmental-Theology of Human-Wildlife Relations (Wipf and Stock, 2009).

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Review: Mammal Detective by Rob Strachan

Although written for a British audience, Mammal Detective is a worthy read for naturalists and wildlife observers in North America as well.

In this short text (it's only a 128 pages), readers learn about theory and practice of wildlife observation and sign reading. Strachan begins by discussing the skills and equipment needed to "see" and interpret animal behavior from their sign by using the model of human criminal investigations. Readers are taught how to observe wildlife secretively and to appreciate that not all animals are equally observable. Strachan provides full-page line drawings to show where sign will most likely be found in three different environments (woodlands, watercourses, and fields).

Part two addresses the clues animals leave. Here Strachan explains how to identify animals by tracks, droppings, shelter, and the remains of feedings. He uses an educational technique called "Identity Parades", which are lists and figures of key elements of animal identification, to help readers properly identify wildlife they might see in the British Isles. I think this educational method would be quite useful for authors to use in discussing American wildlife or in taking notes on their own field observations.

Aside from the splendid line drawings and easy to understand writing, this text is full of little informational gems that make the book worth the price. For example, Strachan has chapters on identification of wildlife by eye shine, hair, skulls, and teeth. His simple, not simplistic, explanations provide readers with necessary background to understand more technical texts on hair, skull, and tooth identification. While academically trained biologists may be bored, educators and the uninitiated will be grateful for the pedagogical method employed by Strachan.

Nuisance wildlife control operators will find this text useful in helping them to broaden their awareness of animal sign. I only wish the book contained tips on writing down one's observations. Nevertheless, if you want to expand your sensitivity to wildlife sign, consider this text. It has a useful index and suggestions for further reading, even though they focus on the wildlife of the Britain.

Stephen M. Vantassel is an expert in wildlife damage management. His latest book is Dominion over Wildlife? An Environmental-Theology of Human-Wildlife Relations (Wipf and Stock, 2009).

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Christians, the Care of Creation, and Global Climate Change---A Review

Christians, The Care of Creation, and Global Climate Change is yet another work dedicated to exhorting Evangelical Christians to take environmental issues seriously and more particularly, to support efforts to reduce behaviors contributing to global climate change.  

The book is a compilation of a series articles separated into two sections. The first section contains articles from a panel discussion on global climate change that occurred at Wheaton College (Chicago) in 2007. The articles confront the difficulty in proving that humans are in fact responsible for climate change and that greenhouse gasses (Carbon dioxide in particular) are responsible for such change. Ultimately, the authors suggest that the evidence, though short of proof, is so overwhelming that one must be ideologically motivated to deny the evidence and the resultant conclusion, namely humans need to act now to reduce carbon emissions in order to forestall a global environmental catastrophe. Since it is written for Christians by Christians, frequent appeals to helping one’s “poorer” neighbor and caring for God’s creation are repeated in evangelistic fashion.
Articles in the second section cover the transition at Wheaton College, a major evangelical school of higher education, from being neutral on the subject of climate change to a supporter of those wearing the mantle of being “green”.  The articles explain why Conservative Christians need not be afraid of science, the problems presented by opportunity cost in trying make “green” choices, and why Evangelical Christians have historically been silent on environmental issues. 

On the positive side, the book does a pretty good job explaining the theory of Global Climate Change and how it relates to greenhouse gasses. I thought the authors, though true believers, did a responsible job in not overstating the significance of the Climate Change evidence. I also appreciated the candor of Ben Lowe who in his article “An Unlikely Tree Hugger” forthrightly acknowledged the complexities surrounding the decisions related to making green choices.  

Overall, however, I was rather disappointed with the text on a number of fronts. First, the authors never thoroughly engaged all four questions posed by the ACTON Institute regarding global climate change that are critical to any moral discussion on the subject. I will paraphrase them for readers here. 1. Is climate change occurring? 2. Is it a bad thing? 3. Are humans the cause? 4. Can we do anything about it? To be fair, the authors dealt with the first three questions, albeit not with equal fervor or balance. For example, rising oceans will negatively affect island countries but warmer temperatures will help extend growing seasons elsewhere. Question 4 was only touched upon. I recall reading where even if the Kyoto Treaty was enacted as written (without Nations reneging on their deals), we would only push out the consequences 5 years.  In other words, we have so much carbon in the system now, that even if our output of additional carbon was neutral (a monumental challenge) we would still bear the effects that are called catastrophic by the global warming folks. So my question is, if the boat is going to sink anyway, is there any real value in trying to bail water with a spoon? Or would your time be better spent trying to make plans for the inevitable?

The second problem stems from the authors trying to burden Christians with yet additional moral laws. I find it interesting that fundamentalists are always being accused of being legalists and adding rules to the faith. Yet, here we have non-fundamentalist Christians seeking to do the same. Every time I want to drive my car do I have to stop and think, “Is this trip worth killing the planet for?” Is this what Christ meant when he said His yoke was easy and his burden was light? In the same manner, did the conference sponsors consider the impact the conference and book publishing would have on the environment? Or did they think it was necessary to burn fossil fuels and kill trees for a bigger cause? I don’t doubt the sincerity or dedication to Christ of the individuals involved. I consider myself a rather radical environmentalist (e.g. I believe the U.S. should ban new road construction and simply fix what we have), but I don’t see stewardship in the way these authors seem to. Stewardship involves my time and resources. Sure it may be nice to recycle. But if it costs you more in dollars and time than the value of what you protect, how does that honor God? In fact, one wonders if the effort to recycle some items actually increases overall damage to the planet. 

To be sure not every decision can be or should be seen in dollars and cents, but certainly it must play an important part because economics is really about resource management. I was also disappointed that the authors didn’t consider how the immorality and godlessness in parts of the world affected their environmental condition. Scripture is replete with stories of how the land suffered not because of poor farming practices but because the people failed to be honest etc. One need only think of the corruption rampant in many African countries to see how corruption has environmental effects. I think Christians need to be cautious of adopting a deistic view of God when we discuss environmental issues. 

Certainly much more can be said on this important topic. I would just conclude by noting that the subject merits a deeper conversation. Additionally, I would add a reminder that many people who do not accept the theory of global warming may be good environmentalists and care for it. The issue is not whether we should care for God’s creation, but how such care should be administered.

Stephen M. Vantassel is a tutor of theology at King’s Evangelical Divinity School. He specializes in environmental-theology. His latest book delves into the animal use and animal rights debate.

Monday, November 1, 2010

How NOT to Catch a Mouse

I was very disappointed when I saw the October 2010 issue of Men's Health Magazine. In their How to Do Everything Better column was an article entitled "Catch A Mouse---Alive!" p. 84. The article describes in cartoon column fashion how to use pencils, peanut butter, packing tape, section of cardboard, and a bowl to capture a mouse.

Whether the technique works or not, I don't know. My hunch is that its efficacy is at best subject to numerous misfires. The problem with the article lies in its suggestion to translocate the mouse 100 feet away from the house. While such advice is to be expected from the advisor (a PETA member), no mention was made regarding the likely trauma would be experienced by the mouse that has just been transported away from its winter cache. The suggestion to release the mouse is another example of "feel good" advice trumping true compassion. You may think that a chance of survival beats a  certain death sentence but evidence from the translocation of other species strongly suggests that translocation of mice is actually quite cruel (consult for details).

Whether you are convinced or not about the humanness of mouse-translocation, the environmental argument is unquestionable. House mice (Mus musculus) is an invasive species in the U.S.. House mice were not original inhabitants of the country and their introduction (likely accidental) is detrimental to human-health and safety as well as native species. House mice should never be moved; they should be killed. They don't belong in the U.S. House mice are responsible for significant damage to crops and structures. On islands, their impact is more noticeable (at least it has been studied more) is also significant.

Hopefully in the future, the editors of Men's Health will provide scientifically and environmentally sound advice to their readers rather than the stooping to the desires of sentimentality; nature deserves better treatment. Just as you don't give cotton candy to a kid just because it will make him feel good, we shouldn't translocate house mice. After all someone has to be the adult.

Resources to Consult
Environmental and Economic Costs of Nonindigenous Species in the United States
Author(s): David Pimentel, Lori Lach, Rodolfo Zuniga, Doug MorrisonSource: BioScience, Vol. 50, No. 1 (Jan., 2000), pp. 53-65Published by: University of California Press on behalf of the American Institute of Biological SciencesStable URL: 18/10/2010 22:24. Article describes house mice as invasive.

Mice, Rats, and People: The Bio-Economics of Agricultural Rodent Pests Author(s): Nils Chr Stenseth, Herwig Leirs, Anders Skonhoft, Stephen A. Davis, Roger P. Pech, Harry P. Andreassen, Grant R. Singleton, Mauricio Lima, Robert S. Machang'u, Rhodes H. Makundi, Zhibin Zhang, Peter R. Brown, Dazhao Shi, Xinrong Wan Source: Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, Vol. 1, No. 7 (Sep., 2003), pp. 367-375
Published by: Ecological Society of America. Paper discusses impacts and ways to improve control of a variety of species for S.E. Asia.

House Mouse by Robert Timm in Prevention and Control of Wildlife Damage. Editors, Scott E. Hygnstrom, Robert M. Timm, Gary E. Larson. 1994. University of Nebraska-Lincoln. 2 vols.
Article provides a quick review of damage to both crops and human structures.

Stephen M. Vantassel is an expert in wildlife damage management and a frequent critic of the animal rights protest industry for it anti-environmental stance. You can read his latest book Dominion over Wildlife (see image at left) which discusses the arguments used by Christian animal rights activists.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Home Owner's Essential Guide to Bat Removal by Michael Koski

I received this publication by Michael Koski who operates sometime ago and I am finally reviewing this publication.

As the title suggests, it is a quick explanation on the management of bats written in a way for non-professionals to understand. It's a PDF publication (meaning it can be sent via e-mail). It's only about 48 pages long (8.5x11 inch pages). The large font size (maybe 14 point or more), photos, bibliography, and large headings, combine to make the 48 pages read like 20.

Bats scare homeowners. They worry about the cost, the risks, and the mess of feces and urine. Mr. Koski endeavors to lessen the tension by presenting information in a non-crisis manner. He openly tells readers that their bat situation is likely not serious. He walks readers through the process of identifying the presence of bats, species of bats, bat biology, bat risks before discussing control.

Unsurprisingly, he explains the pitfalls of do-it-yourself bat control and the risk of hiring unqualified bat controllers to do it for you. While cynics may consider these comments as self-serving, the fact is Mr. Koski's advice has much merit. Homeowners with bat problems do need to properly consider their options and avoid the pitfalls Koski's lists. Note, my agreement with some of Koski's points is in no way to be interpreted as an endorsement of his company. I don't know whether his company is qualified or not. I am saying, however, that his concerns are valid and worth considering. For additional tips and questions for evaluating wildlife damage management professionals visit

I also commend Mr. Koski for teaching readers how to capture lone bats and emphasizing the importance of the need to consider the potential of rabies exposure.

In sum, I believe the book contains valuable information which will benefit readers. The 35 dollar price tag (Oct 15, 2010 price) seems a bit steep to my mind, particularly when it is just a download. Nevertheless, while much of the information is available for free at the Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Managmeent, it isn't packaged as succinctly as Mr. Koski has done.So if your time is very valuable, then his booklet will certainly save you time.

Stephen M. Vantassel is a Certified Wildlife Control Professional (CWCP) with the National Wildlife Control Operators Association ( and author of Dominion over Wildlife? An Environmental-Theology of Human-Wildlife Relations (Wipf and Stock, 2009).

Friday, October 15, 2010

Euthanasia and Wildlife Control Operators

Euthanasia (which means Good Death) is technically defined as a technique that causes the death of an animal while it is unconscious. For instance, drowning would not be euthanasia because the animal would be aware of its dying. But who decides what methods meet the standard? One commonly appealed to group is the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA)which has created guidelines that have been revised over the years. The AVMA guidelines is also a favorite of animal rights groups.

At this point you may wonder how all this impacts wildlife control. The answer is that animal rights groups have been trying to use cruelty laws written for domestic animals to apply to the capture and control of wildlife. Since some states have laws/regulations stating that wildlife control operators kill wildlife in a humane way, animal rights groups have the potential to bring lawsuits against wildlife control operators for using euthanizing techniques not allowed by the AVMA. Thankfully, animal rights groups have been generally unsuccessful in getting the legal system to apply domestic animal laws on wildlife, but if cultural trends continue, this situation will likely change.

Recently, the National Wildlife Control Operators Association was successful in publishing the results of a review panel on euthanasia techniques suitable for wildlife control operators. While the article lacks the depth of the AVMA panel reviews, this publication is a first step in creating guidelines from an industry perspective.

You can read this article entitled "Euthanasia methods in field settings for wildlife damage management" by Timothy J. Julien, Stephen M. Vantassel, Scott R. Groepper, and Scott E. Hygnstrom for yourself.

Stephen M. Vantassel was a professional wildlife control operator and now provides wildlife control information to the public at the Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management. He is also the author of

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Killing Tradition by Simon J. Bonner

People usually discuss the topic of animal rights from an ethical, scientific, or pragmatic point of view. The rightness or wrongness of the positions is discussed in a courtroom like style assuming the conversation has not devolved into a shouting match.

Killing Tradition by Simon J. Bonner approaches the topic from a decidedly different perspective. He, a folklore specialist, investigates the controversy like an anthropologist who has just discovered an unknown tribe of aborigines. Bonner studies the oral and behavioral traditions of hunters and anti-hunters in order to better understand their respective beliefs that gave rise to those traditions. Rather than studying their self-declared rationalizations for their position, he looks more at their customs and actions. Ultimately, Bonner details the behavior and interactions of the members of these groups and then constructs a framework that explains how the members of each group perceive the world. Bonner states, “I probe the way symbols and rituals are formed, enacted, gendered, and reshaped in animal rights controversies to deal with foundational traditions that appear to simultaneously destroy and regenerate life” (2009, p.11).

In his analysis, Bonner tries to remain neutral and objective. He is generally able to keep his opinions out of the book by focusing on the description and explanation of the positions rather than on an evaluation. Bonner does not allow the reader to duck the hard questions though. He explicitly forces the reader to consider questions such as, How much say should urban residents have over how rural residents use their land?, and To what extent should landowners have control over their land?

To illustrate the cultural divide between hunters and animal rights activists, Bonner discusses deer hunting, pigeon shooting, and hare coursing (i.e., a competition among greyhounds involved with chasing and directing hares in a large enclosure). The first two topics occur in an American context, while the third provides an international flavor by delving into a very controversial debate in England. Bonner approaches each topic in a similar fashion. He begins by establishing the cultural stage for the tradition by providing background information including statistics regarding the tradition, an outline of the tradition’s role in society, and the controversy surrounding the tradition. Then Bonner transitions to the specific customs inherent in the tradition. For example Bonner describes how shirt-tail cutting, blood smearing, and hunting stories function within the deer hunting culture. Finally, Bonner analyzes the customs to explain their place within the broader hunting tradition, their role in maintaining order in the community which supports hunting, and their intellectual role in buttressing the community’s worldview. Throughout this analysis, Bonner presents the views of the animal rights community and why it believes the hunting tradition should end.

I found the folklore approach to be, at times, bewildering yet intriguing. I questioned the strength of the connection between behavior and belief: How does one’s behavior accurately exemplify their understanding of the world? For instance, is it really appropriate to investigate the traditions of Christmas in order to evaluate the Christian doctrine of Jesus Christ? I was embarrassed by Bonner’s employment of sexuality, which seemed almost Freudian, to interpret the symbolism of hunting practices. For instance, he interpreted the custom of cutting the shirt-tail of a hunter who overshot a deer as homo-erotic by arguing that the custom exploits the masculine fear of having one’s buttocks exposed to other men (p. 44). In addition, he saw the cutting ceremony as a form of symbolic castration, adding additional humiliation to the victim.

I am not convinced that Bonner’s sexual explanation of hunting traditions accurate. I suggest that the rifle could be understood as an extension of one’s tongue as the hunter is extending his tongue to consume the deer. Readers may smirk at this suggestion, but since ancient warriors spoke of swords as devouring enemies (2 Samuel 11:25), should an oral interpretation of shooting be different? Is a dietary interpretation of guns less reasonable? To be clear, I do not deny that gender plays a role in the controversy. I agree that some of society’s opposition to hunting may stem from the decline in masculine values of toughness (pp.90, 196). However, I deny that masculine behavior is just another way of speaking of sexual intercourse. It should not surprise anyone that different genders express dominion over creation differently. To think otherwise would be to deny the role our gender plays in shaping our identity. I suspect Bonner’s use of sexual analysis was aided by his unfortunate neglect of how the different community’s theological understanding contributed to the opposing views between the groups. I also think Bonner should have supported his claim regarding the guilt hunters feel after a kill (p. 81). I suggest that the emotion he called “guilt” could easily be identified as the sadness of the hunter, who was reminded that he too is mortal.

At times the diversity and complexity of the ideas and customs under discussion can cause the reader some confusion. For example, Bonner argues that hunting exemplifies a male combat ritual (man versus buck) in which the fight is to the death (p. 80). Later, he suggests that hunters oppose anti-hunting legislation out of concern that such legislation violates their dominionist world view (p.91). How should the reader understand the relationship between these ideas? Is one subordinate to the other or do they stand in parallel? I think the addition of concept maps and more subheadings would have assisted reader apprehension of the material.

Readers will find useful, Bonner’s discussion of the sociological indicators of the cultural divide between hunters and anti-hunters, such as the urban-rural divide and the modernist-traditionalist divide. While these cultural issues are mentioned throughout the book, they are dealt with in detail in the last chapter. I want to warn readers that the text is a difficult read. Many of the concepts are abstract and nuanced so reader beware.

Killing Tradition provides helpful insight into how non-hunters may view hunting. If knowing one’s enemy is critical to victory, then reading this text will be essential to promulgating hunting in a society that no longer holds a worldview that is congruent with hunting or other consumptive uses of wildlife. Bonner raises two questions that I find particularly worthy of reflection by those supporting the sporting tradition. I have paraphrased them as: 1) Is tradition alone sufficient justification for killing animals? (p.8) and 2) Do rural communities have the right to be different from urban ones (p.201)? The responses society provides will determine whether we maintain the tradition of killing or whether we adopt the new tradition of killing the hunting tradition.

Stephen M. Vantassel is an expert in wildlife damage management and is a Christian theologian interested in environmental issues and human-wildlife interactions.
He is author of

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Fur Takers of America--Trapper's College

I finally made it to the Fur Takers of America's Trapper's College in Indiana this past September. I can only say, "WOW". In brief, it is like a crash course of non-stop information on trapping and wildlife damage management. It was truly amazing how the instructors and program developers could put so much information into a week's time.

Day's start with breakfast at 6:30 A.M. and end at 9:00 P.M. only if you don't want to listen to Rick Shadel's presentation on wildlife damage management from 9:00 PM to 10:00 P.M.

In an age of Death by PowerPoint teaching, the Trapper's College is nothing short of a full experiential learning. The training is straight forward. First the instructors show you, then you go out into the field and actually put into practice what you were taught. Add up the experience of the instructors and the number will be over 800 years of trapping expertise. Let me be clear. If you need something caught, these guys are the people to contact.

How much does it cost? Only $950.00 and that covers food, training, and lodging. If you want to learn about fur trapping this is the place to go.

Stephen M. Vantassel, CWCP, ACP and graduate of the 2010 Trapper's College.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Israel and Possible Fur Ban

National Public Radio recently related a story about efforts of animal rights protest industry advocates to get Israel to ban fur. You can read the story at Israel Fur Ban

It has created somewhat of an uproar as the ban will be a significant issue for Orthodox Jews who have the tradition of wearing a fur cap. My understanding of the tradition is that the wearing of a fur cap represents the kingliness of the wearer, who on the Sabbath remembers to rest as the LORD commanded.

Of course the animal rights protest industry advocates point to Jewish tradition that forbids cruelty to animals, suggesting that the production of fur is somehow a violation of that tradition. This argument is similar to the same kind of legal nonsense employed by so-called Constitutional attorneys who claim that the death penalty was/is a violation of the U.S. Constitution. What makes the argument so egregious is its revisionist understanding of history. How could the death penalty be anti-constitutional when the founding fathers believed in its use? Likewise, how could the production of fur be cruel when Jews who wrote the tradition were involved in various forms of animal use?

But who cares about the facts? Animal rights protest industry advocates know how easy it is get a hot country with a small minority of fur wearers to marginalize "others" in the name of fake-morality. I propose that Nebraska ban ice houses. Everyone knows how dangerous they are when the weather gets warm. Do you think I can get this legislation passed?

Stephen Vantassel is the author of Dominion over Wildlife? An Environmental-Theology of Human-Wildlife Relations (Wipf and Stock, 2009). He also believes that animal rights poses almost as a great a threat to the environment as the hungry bull dozer.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Truth in Food

Kevin Murphy is the founder of an organization called Truth in Food. He seeks to counter the misinformation disseminated about food production. In case you haven't paid attention, food is now the new sex. Where we used to be concerned about sexual ethics, today one's moral fiber is evaluated by what one eats.

I encourage readers interested in learning more about this new ethical fundamentalism and how to combat it, by subscribing to Truth in Food's newsletter.

Stephen Vantassel, CWCP, ACP

Dominion over Wildlife: Book Review by Rolf Bouma

Rolf Bouma of the University of Michigan published a review of Dominion over Wildlife? An Environmental-Theology of Human-Wildlife Relations (Wipf and Stock, 2009) in the March 2010 issue of ASA Perspectives in Science you can read his review at

As seems to happen so frequently with readers of my book, Bouma simply misses the point.

Here is my response which was finally published in the September issue of the Journal. I sent a copy of my response to Rolf Bouma in early April, 2010, but never received a response.

I appreciated Dr. Rolf Bouma’s willingness to review my book, Dominion Over Wildlife? An Environmental-Theology of Human-Wildlife Relations (Wipf and Stock, 2009) published in the March 2010 issue of Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (p.62). Reviews constitute a gift of time and as such are to be treated with respect.

By the same token, reviewers have a responsibility to be sure their comments are accurate and in accordance with the goals of the book under review. Unfortunately, some of Dr. Bouma’s statements failed to inform readers of the contours of my argument as well as the volume of evidence presented in support of my view on human-wildlife relations. I will highlight a few examples. First, he insinuated that I was unfair by calling my description of the Christian animal rights position, a “caricature.” That is quite a claim given that I engaged the Christian animal rights activists’ evidentiary appeal to three separate intellectual domains, namely Scripture, ethics, and science. In which section(s) did I mischaracterize their view? Unfortunately, Dr. Bouma did not say nor did he provide one specific instance. Second, his assertion that I failed to appreciate Linzey’s “the greater serves the lesser” argument completely missed the point of my findings (which involved a detailed analysis of his interpretation of Scripture), namely that Scripture provides no support for such a position. In fact, I go to great lengths to show that Christ, the perfect example of what it means to be a Godly and obedient human, never served animals in a manner Linzey suggests. Third, Dr. Bouma’s final paragraph leaves the reader with the impression that my Shepherdist position does not countenance limits on the human use of animals (despite mentioning previously of my support for protecting species viability). Such is clearly not the case as anyone who reads the final chapter would understand (cf. p.172). I contend that Christians are obligated to treat animals in a way appropriate to their owner, namely Christ. Ultimately Dr. Bouma’s suggestion that I engage the thought of Rolston’s theocentric view failed to consider that if my exegesis, ethical reasoning, and use of scientific evidence was correct, then obedience to God’s will as revealed in Scripture and nature is about as theocentric of a view any Christian could hope to obtain.

Regrettably, Dr. Bouma seemed to have been caught up in reacting to theological labels rather than assessing my treatment of the Biblical evidence, the only infallible source for Christian doctrine. Maybe that is why he considered my book more of an apologia rather than a theology. Apparently, he skipped chapter 1 (p.14f), where I explained why the book focused on the consumptive uses of wildlife on account of a. it avoid anachronisms and speculation because the bible mentions on these activities, and b. if humanity’s consumptive use of wildlife violates God’s perfect will, as the Christian animal rights activists claim, then a whole host of human uses of animals are in danger of being immoral as well. To my knowledge, very few environmental-theologies provide such a sustained review of the morality of a concrete, real-world practice (i.e. hunting, trapping, and fishing) followed by suggestions on how Scripture’s answer to consumptive use of wildlife may provide guidance on how humans should utilize the environment. Dr. Bouman certainly has a right to disagree with my evaluation of Scripture, ethics, and science (the last of which he offered no comment), I just wish he took the time to provide some concrete examples of where he saw error.

Stephen M. Vantassel

University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Nature & Nurture by Brad Woodson: A Review by Stephen Vantassel

Nature & Nurture: The Art and Science of Living the Good Life (Mustang, OK: Tate Publishing & Enterprises, 2009) by Brad Woodson asks readers to evaluate their lives from the perspective of an ecologist. Just as an ecologist seeks to learn what is required to make an organism thrive in an environment, Brad Woodson (a Certified Wildlife Biologist) presents a model for readers to appreciate what the Good Life is and how they can achieve it.

Brad opens the book discussing the stages of life and how each of those stages presents its own challenges and opportunities for growth. In chapter 2, Brad exhorts readers to discover their personality type. For it is by self-understanding that we can learn how to recognize our strengths and improve our weaknesses. Brad's suggestion that life be divided into 10 spheres, (faith, family, charity, fitness, finance etc.) constitutes the heart of the book. He has a scorecard by which to evaluate how balanced your life is in those 10 areas. Areas of weakness should be strengthened by learning to avoid negative influences and instituting personal discipline. Thankfully, Brad doesn't say the process of personal growth is easy. In fact, he suggests that today's citizens are bombarded with significantly more negative influences than those of our grand parents living in the 1920's. Brad isn't making excuses for us. He simply wants us to recognize the fact that just as our genetics affect who we become, so does our environment. We may not be able to change our genetics, but we certainly have influence on our environment.

Three things struck me about this book. First, it was remarkably brief. A normal reader could easily finish it in an hour. In today's hectic times, brief is always appreciated, particularly when the material is worthy of reading as Brad's book is. Second, I liked his virtue-based approach to living the good life. His book is about pursuing the good, the beautiful, and the lovely; not the get rich quick, how to be famous, or how to win through intimidation. Finally, I was intrigued by a couple of his comments (aside from the wonderful use of thoughtful quotes). The first one was his mentioning of politics as one of the 10 spheres of our lives. He was the first modern writer on personal growth that I can recall which mentioned the importance of political involvement. You may not agree, but you should think about it. The other key comment that struck me was his answer to those who say, "I can't be successful because I didn't have the advantages that the rich kid down the street had." His answer is both sensitive and strikingly insightful as he properly observed that having too many advantages can be a hindrance to success as being disadvantaged.

If you are looking for a book to help reorient your perception of your life and provide some tips on how to get back on track to what really matters, then I would suggest reading this book.

Stephen Vantassel, CWCP, ACP 

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Cat Doors

Those who know me, know that I oppose the tradition of free-range cats on environmental grounds. I believe the evidence shows that free-range house cats are an environmental menace, but for some reason owners and those who don't claim ownership, think that cats have some sort of God-given or Darwinian right to roam free to ravage the countryside.

I don't hate cats. I own two of them; one rescued from a divorcing couple; the other from a pound. But unlike other owners, I don't let my cats roam outside. They are indoor cats and interestingly enough, they are doing quite well.

Anyway, my point today involves the quest by free-range owners to have a catdoor that allows cats and only cats to enter the house whenever they want. Traditional doors are problematic because other animals, like opossums and raccoons, can use these doors too.

Electronic doors normally use a collar that signals the door to unlock. The idea being, the cat's collar will act as a passkey thereby preventing unauthorized animals from entering. Unfortunately, I haven't heard of a door that is strong enough to keep out raccoons. Raccoons don't care about the collar and simply pry open the door and enter.

I recently learned of another electronic door, "The Pet Porte" that is signaled by a microchip in the cat. This device offers the advantage of not requiring a collar on the cat, which I guess some owners think is too burdensome for the cat. That is all well and good. My question stands as "Is this door strong enough to prevent raccoon entry?" I have contacted the company. I'll let you know what I have learned.

In the meantime, I would love to hear from anyone who has heard of a cat door that is strong enough to prevent raccoon entry. Even though I am against free-range cats, owners should be protected against wildlife entry.

Stephen Vantassel, CWCP, ACP

Thursday, July 29, 2010

New Bait?

I was speaking with a Bell Labs' sales representative. Bell Labs makes a non-peanut butter based bait for rodents called "Provoke." He said that he has seen it lure raccoons. In addition, he hasn't seen it lure house cats. So I am putting out a call to anyone that has information on the effectiveness of Provoke to lure raccoons.

For if it is true, it would be good news as new baits are always valuable.

Stephen Vantassel, CWCP, ACP

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Review Article on Andrew Linzey's Why Animal Suffering Matters

Those of you who have followed my career are well aware of my long standing critique of Andrew Linzey's understanding of Christianity and animals. I have just published a review article of his latest book Why Animal Suffering Matters in Perspectives in Biology and Medicine. I welcome your comments.

Stephen M. Vantassel, CWCP, ACP

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Raccoon Roundworm

When they think of dangers associated with raccoons, most people say "rabies." While rabies is a common infection with raccoons, there is another danger with raccoons that is less known, namely Baylisascaris procyonis. Baylisascaris procyonis is a roundworm whose eggs are commonly found in the feces of raccoons. What makes the worm dangerous is that when ingested, it can enter a person's blood stream and damage organs and ultimately cause death.

In light of this threat, people understandably want raccoon latrines to be removed from their homes and property. But how should this be done? Disturbing raccoon latrines can cause the eggs to become airborne and contaminate even more areas. Regrettably, the wildlife control industry doesn't have protocols established on the proper of cleaning and removal of raccoon latrines. The Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management has drafted a protocol in the hopes that it will ultimately provide some guidance and standardization in the clean up of raccoon latrines. While still a work in progress, it is a step in the right direction.

If you would like to review the draft and/or provide your comments, send your credentials and name to

Stephen Vantassel

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Point-Counterpoint with a Christian Animal Protectionist

Unfortunately, more and more self-professed Christians are adopting a quasi-animal rights perspective on human-animal relations. Whereas the church, for thousands of years, has held humanity has the right and privilege to use animals for human needs and wants (provided they didn't serve the sole purpose of inflicting pain and injury), these individuals believe that Christ wants us to extend reconciliation to the animal kingdom.

I was invited by Ben DeVries of Not One Sparrow to answer questions related to this issue. I also had the opportunity to ask him questions. I will let you decide whether I answered him in a biblically grounded fashion and whether he did the same.

For the record, I welcome anyone who can explain to me what exactly Ben DeVries position is. I have asked him on several occassions, and I still haven't received an answer.  For example, 1. When may humans morally kill animals? 2. Since he believes eating meat is a personal decision based on conscience, how does this fact impact his understanding of extending reconciliation to animal kingdom? 3. Is hunting, trapping, and fishing moral and a proper activity for the Christian? and 4. Why didn't Christ rescue the pigs he saw drown when the demons entered them?

Stephen Vantassel, CWCP, ACP  is author of Dominion over Wildlife? An Environmental-Theology of Human-Wildlife Relations (Wipf and Stock, 2009).

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Dealing with Deer Damage

An article on the Deer Damage Management Workshop that I ran has just been published by the Wildlife Society's magazine The Wildlife Professional in the Summer 2010 issue.
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management has two more workshops this summer, one on Goose Damage Management and the second on Shooting in Sensitive Environments. To learn more visit 

Stephen Vantassel, CWCP, ACP

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Review of Diversity and Dominion: Dialogues in Ecology, Ethics, and Theology by Kyle S. Van Houtan

According to the introduction, Diversity and Dominion is the fruit of a series of inter-disciplinary lectures which took place at Duke Divinity School in 2005. The motivation behind the lectures was the belief that purely descriptive science is inadequate to protect the environment from continued degradation. What society needs it the coupling of the descriptive elements of science with the motivational power of human-attitudes and values. Since human beliefs encompass a broad range of ideas, the lectures, and resulting articles, centered on Christian beliefs in the American context.

Space doesn't permit comments on every article, I have focused on a few articles deemed to be the most significant.

William H. Schlesinger's article, Eyes Wide Shut, decries the lack of urgency in the contemporary environmental movement. He blames our passivity on a continually "shifting baseline." Like the proverbial camel, every concession to expanding urbanization is minimized as "it's just an acre" that when seen over time becomes vast swaths of land.

Lisa Sideris attempts to harmonize the role of suffering and death within evolutionary development with Christianity's view of redemption and individual significance. Put another way, "How can a good God allow so many creatures to die (as Evolution teaches) for no apparent reason?" Sideris suggests two options: 1. the ecosystem is greater than the sum of the individual creatures within it and 2. humans should be humble and recognize that our concerns and judgments should not be the final word on environmental and environmental ethical issues.

Norman Wirzba identifies the vice of ingratitude as the reason for our continued neglect and abuse of the environment. He notes that years of environmental teaching have failed to produce proper motivation to act on what we know. More importantly, he provides a suggestion as to how schools can work to inculcate gratitude amongst our students.

Finally, Michael Northcott accuses Millennial theology for its anti-environmental views. As the most strident of all the articles, readers, particularly those within the Christian Right, should be prepared for a host of critical words. As a Christian, with Conservative political views, I was disappointed at Northcott's simplistic treatment of the adherents of Millennial theology. This is not say that his accusations are completely wrong as I have personally heard comments like, "Why worry about the environment, Jesus is coming soon." However, it is to say that Northcott would have been more convincing if he confronted the thought of the Acton Institute which shares many of the ideas held by Millennialists. I consider myself a rather radical environmentalist (my modest proposal is to ban the construction of new roads), however, I know that liberals are not innocent of loving big corporations (just ask Hollywood, Harvard, Yale, and most universities). The only difference is that liberals love different corporations than conservatives. It seems to me that answer lies in the Christian notion of personal responsibility. Systems may reduce evil behavior, but evil people can always manipulate the system. The answer still lies in a regenerated heart.

While elements of this book are worthy of engagement, its value was ultimately hindered by trying to address too many diverse ideas (most of which are too abstract to apply) and failing to engage Christians with alternative visions of environmental protection and use. Speaking of the latter issue, the writers of this volume essentially espoused the same mantra: capitalism is evil, the world has too many people, and humanity should stop seeing itself as separate from creation. Perhaps most disheartening was discovering how their appeal to theology was bereft of solid Scriptural reflection and practical application. Encouraging the recognition of guilt for wrongful deeds is important. But without practical ways to 1. Be forgiven that guilt and 2. Demonstrate improved behavior with concrete benchmarks, readers are left with feeling bad and with no hope.

Stephen M. Vantassel, author of Dominion over Wildlife: An Environmental Theology of Human-Wildlife Relations (Wipf and Stock, 2009) is an environmental-theologian who is also an expert in wildlife damage management. He is a tutor of theology at King's Evangelical Divinity School in the U.K.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Autonomy and Food Biotechnology in Theological Ethics by Cathriona Russell

I recently finished reviewing this text for Morality and Markets and have provided another review for

You can read it at Review

Stephen M. Vantassel is an environmental-theologian who teaches at King's Evangelical Divinity School.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

A Rat is a Pig is a Dog is a Boy by Wesley J. Smith

I recently reviewed this book by attorney Wesley J. Smith on Whether you are support or oppose animal rights, Smith's discussion of the social and ethical issues involved in the debate are necessary reading. His statements will, at minimum, refine one's position.

You can read my review at
Stephen M. Vantassel, CWCP

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Book Reviews

Sorry for not being more active. However, I have a number of books that need to be read among my other obligations. Rest assured, I will be writing soon as I will comment on three books related to eco-theology very soon.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit

I normally don't read novels. Right or wrong, my attitude is why bother reading fiction when there is plenty of non-fiction reading to do. But a doctoral student and friend at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln wanted me to read this book because it had such a big impact on him. So I agreed to do so.
Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit by Daniel Quinn (ISBN 0-553-37540-7) is a story about a man who answers ad which reads "Teacher seeks pupil. Must have an earnest desire to save the world. Apply in person." The guy arrives to the location to find a large gorilla. The gorilla can talk and leads the man through a process to help him understand how mankind fell into the trap of destroying the planet.

I am almost at the book's midpoint and wanted to provide a brief review of the text. On an artistic level, the book is rather interesting. Unlike the Planet of the Apes, the ape in this book doesn't hate or want to enslave people. Instead the Ape wants to teach humans how to save the planet. The Ape leads his pupil through a thought exercise to help the human understand how things got this way.

First, the Ape invites the human to think about the cultural myth that blinds him to the problem. Core elements of the myth are  1. humans are the pinnacle of evolution (creation isn't permitted), 2. the planet is for mankind, 3. that the problems with the planet is because there is something wrong with humans, and 4. facts are different from values in that facts can never prove values. All four of these ideas are mistaken and leading humans down the wrong path according to this Ape.

What I find interesting about this book is that it diametrically opposes the teaching of Scripture. Let's look at the elements in parallel. 1. Bible says humans are the pinnacle of creation (Genesis 1). 2. The Bible says the planet was made for mankind (Genesis 1-2; Psalm 8). 3. The Bible does teach that there is something wrong with humans, it is sin in that we have rebelled against God (Genesis 3 and the teachings of Christ). 4. Interestingly, Scripture would agree that the fact-value split is over played. However, the reason for the split is due to humanity's willing rebellion and subsequent denial of the Creator. Paul says humans suppress the knowledge of God and therefore fall into great moral evil (Romans 1).

In summary, Christians should recognize that key elements of the doctrine of creation are under assault because non-Christians believe that those doctrines have encouraged humans to abuse the planet. Plenty of articles have demonstrated that self-professing Christians (I hasten to point out that plenty of people call themselves Christian because they believe their religion is a genetic heritage) are not alone in harming the earth. Even Buddhist and Hindu lands have a poor record (Dr. Robert Wright has an excellent article on this. Find it at the American Scientific Affiliation website). The ultimate point I want to make is that Christians must understand that this anti-christian story is what is feeding the actions of many so-called environmentalists. We must understand their story in order to have a proper answer.

I will have more on the book in the future.

Stephen M. Vantassel is a tutor of theology at King's Evangelical Divinity School and author of Dominion over Wildlife? An Environmental-Theology of Human-Wildlife Relations (Wipf and Stock, 2009). 
I welcome book submissions. Contact me at King's Evangelical Divinity School or through my website.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Was Jesus an Environmentalist?

With all the conversation about creation-care amongst Christians, one has to ask, "Was Jesus an Environmentalist?" It isn't a silly question, one would hope that if Christians are going to engage in an activity as part of their Christian obligation, it would make sense to ask if Jesus would support the behavior?

In one sense, the question of environmentalism is anachronistic. People in Christ's day had enough trouble just staying alive, let alone worry about whether a specific species was going extinct. But on another level, we can inquire and gain some insight on how his behavior should be a model for ours? For example, many people worry about whether they are recycling enough or feel guilt about the bottled water they bought because they were thirsty. 
Consider Christ, he killed a fig tree simply because it didn't bear fruit when he wanted it (Mk 11). Does this exemplify behavior of someone who is supposedly calling us to environmentalism?Christ killed a tree simply to make a point. Is that right? Couldn't he have just made his point in a more environmentally responsible way?

I think a couple of points should be considered. First, Christ is Lord of Creation. He can do with his property as he wished/s. Second, since Christ was fully human, it means we too can destroy elements of God's creation in God's service. That may shock some people, but it is true. When you eat an animal, you destroy God's creation but no moral stain obtains. The key is to judge oneself accurately and truly, by asking, "is this destruction to God's glory or yours?"  While that is a humbling question, we should also consider that Christ's yoke is easy and his burden is light.

Stephen Vantassel is a tutor at King's Evangelical Divinity School and author of Dominion over Wildlife? An Environmental-Theology of Human-Wildlife Relations (Wipf and Stock, 2009)

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Protecting the Environment

One of the fundamental debates of the environmental movement is over what is the best way to protect the environment. This question concerns the macro-level. Should we put land into the public trust by making it the property of the government along the lines of Yellowstone Park? Or should we encourage private ownership?
Americans tend to support the government option. Our stable society run by the rule of law has demonstrated the effectiveness of this approach for almost 100 years. In Africa, private owners appears to achieve more secure environmental results. Understandable given the levels of corruption that is apparently endemic in so many African governments.
What is ironic is that many environmentalists see capitalism, of which private ownership is a cardinal doctrine, as evil. They contend that the desire of profit, particularly the maximization of profit, causes people to exploit their resources in harmful and unsustainable ways. There is no doubt that short-term desire for profitability can have negative environmental results. I think this kind of harm is most likely to occur when owners are more distant from the effects. For example, stock holders will usually not be aware of what the office manager is doing at the job site hundreds of miles away. As a stockholder myself, I can tell you that companies regularly do what I don't want them to do as a shareholder (CEO pay is one of the most irritating; I believe that the company can find someone else who is just as incompetent for half the salary).
But what about owners who live in the area where they work? I suspect that they would maintain long-term goals providing that government regulations and taxes don't create economic conditions that diminish the value of long-term thinking.
Bottom line, it is too simplistic to call capitalism as the problem for environmental degradation. A more nuanced approach and treatment of capitalism is in order.

Stephen Vantassel is a tutor at King's Evangelical Divinity School