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A Christian Perspective on Hunting 1

Dr. Don Payne has written an article simply titled “A Christian Perspective on Hunting.” In this article Dr. Payne offers some reflections “hoping to provide a reasoned defense of hunting that is consistent with the biblical values that sustain Christian faith.”  Whether you are a Christian or not, this article can provide some valuable insights into the ethical issues involved with hunting. Due to the length of the article, it will be presented in 6 blog posts: the introduction, a series of objections and responses and some positive reasons for hunting. Dr. Payne is an Associate Professor of Theology and Christian Formation at Denver Seminary and an avid outdoorsman. While grading student papers, he spends much of his time hunting Elk, Mule Deer, and Pronghorn, fishing, and hiking in the Rocky Mountain region. -Scott Glasscock, COFA Colorado State Director

Dr. Payne

Hunting magazines commonly feature articles that defend hunting. While these articles may seem to “preach to the choir,” they seek to assist hunters in countering attacks from those who oppose hunting, whatever the nature of the opposition. Various resources are necessary for this defense.  All are intended to strengthen the confidence of hunters against naysayers who assume the moral, intellectual, and cultural high ground while making hunters look (and perhaps feel?) like holdovers from a barbaric era. Popular hunting icon Ted Nugent contends that hunters need not bother defending hunting to opponents, since it is the most basic condition of human beings and needs no defense against the artificiality of modern, urbanized sensibilities. For Nugent, a defense of hunting feels strange and unnecessary against the backdrop of human history in which it was often necessary to sustain one’s life by killing and eating “lower” life forms.[1] Whatever grain(s) of truth Nugent may have grasped, he does not offer either the only or the strongest defense of hunting, particularly for hunters whose value system is shaped by Christian faith.  I share that faith and, though I would not presume that most hunters share Christian faith commitments, I know that many do.  It is for these hunters that I write, hoping to provide a reasoned defense of hunting that is consistent with the biblical values that sustain Christian faith.  Hunters who do not align themselves with the Christian faith may also find benefit in this approach, or at least have a broader understanding of how hunting can be understood in light of a Christian value system. We currently occupy a world in which hunting is often considered morally repulsive or, at best, unenlightened. Hunters may not appreciate having to defend this time-honored practice, but our continued freedom to do so is most definitely at risk. Opportunity follows legality and legality follows credibility. As anti-hunting sentiments gain credibility through various social forces, hunters may eventually find that this treasured opportunity has slipped through their fingers while they were asleep. So, I disagree with Nugent and suggest that indeed we do need a fresh framework for hunting. In fact, we hunters may have to defend this time-honored practice for some time to come. Yet, the argument for hunting will not be won by sloganeering (the bumper sticker approach) or other approaches that avoid thoughtful engagement with complex issues. Such inflammatory tactics only serve to isolate hunters with a self-congratulatory sense of superiority that does not truly address the issues or advance the cause.  Many hunting advocates effectively demonstrate the economic and environmental benefits of hunting.[2]  However, those evidences alone will not win the day with all hunting opponents.  For no small number of people, their reservations about hunting are rooted in other concerns. I offer this reflection on hunting for those, hunters and non-hunters alike, whose struggles or questions about hunting come from religious (in this case, specifically Christian) or other moral sensibilities. This may sound strange to some ears because at a popular level hunting and related interests (like gun ownership) are often associated with conservative Christian values and commitments.  However, theologically conservative Christians who take the Bible seriously do not uniformly adhere to the values that undergird hunting and gun ownership.  Their objections may even appeal to the Bible.  Hunters do not help the cause by simply dismissing these Christian arguments as “liberal” and poking fun at them.  The objections must be taken seriously and answered thoughtfully. In addition, as Christians we should hold all our practices up to the light of God’s truth and let that truth shape both whether and how we engage those practices. If we don’t do so, we inevitably create a gap between our beliefs and our lives (what might be called hypocrisy!) or we actually allow unexamined, culturally-derived values to dictate our faith, in which case we have it all backward. So, I would like to identify some underdeveloped and important resources for the many hunters whose Christian commitments are central to their lives. I will attempt to articulate as even-handedly as possible some of the religiously motivated objections frequently raised against hunting, offering hunters a framework for thinking about what it means to hunt.  In so doing, I hope for greater mutual respect and less hostility or suspicion between hunters and anti-hunters (or even simply non-hunters). Many of the sensibilities that motivate anti-hunters should be taken seriously. In his meditations on hunting Thomas McIntyre reflects, “Finding a way of dealing with the inescapable conundrum of death has no minor relevance to the lives of all conscious beings.”[3] McIntyre’s observation points to the type of moral sensitivity I have in mind.  The death of non-human creatures should never be glibly dismissed.  However, the particular shape of those concerns may actually reflect influences other than the Bible, as a bit of socio-historical background will demonstrate. The twentieth-century saw massive demographic shifts from agricultural to urban and suburban settings. In 1942, Spanish philosopher Josè Ortega y Gasset considered the impact of these forces on the public perception of hunting in Europe, stating, “Only in the contemporary period and, within that, only in the most demoralized regions of Europe has an affinity for hunting been held in disesteem.”[4] In addition to these social trends, numerous approaches to spirituality have deified the created order. For vast numbers of people these are among the factors that have contributed to this historically novel repulsion at the practice of hunting. Some hunting opponents appeal to unethical hunting practices, creating a caricature of the broader hunting populace. Without doubt, we hunters have some questionable history to overcome.  For example, prior to the development of responsible game management, practices such as the unregulated, profit-driven slaughter of bison have left a black spot on the culture of hunting in many minds.  We should readily admit the mistakes of generations past, even if complicated economic and social forces were involved.  Yet, increasingly, hunting is opposed for other moral and spiritual reasons. If we do not address these arguments the impression is silently reinforced that hunting is morally and spiritually indefensible, practiced and perpetuated only by those with no respect for God’s other creatures and neither the interest nor the ability to live morally informed, reflective lives. What, then, are some of the common objections that are propelled by theological concerns? Some of the arguments overlap but each is sufficiently distinctive to warrant separate attention. At the end I will offer a number of overall responses and reasons why I am convinced that hunting is not only justified but is also commendable from a thoughtful Christian perspective.     [1] Ted Nugent, “No Excuses,” American Hunter 36:1 (January 2008): 46-49. [2] Kurt Krueger, “Hunters: the nation’s first environmentalists,” in Vilas County [Wisconsin] News-Review/The Three Lakes News (September 24, 2008), 8A. [3] Thomas McIntyre, The Way of the Hunter: The Art and Spirit of Modern Hunting (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1988), 98. [4] Josè Ortega y Gasset, Meditations on Hunting (Belgrade, Mont: Wilderness Adventures Press, 1995).

Reproduced with permission. Copyright Don J. Payne, 2014