When former Royal Marine Pen Farthing set out to fly some 200 animals and his 60 Nowzad staff to the UK from Afghanistan, there was much scoffing and scorn in the media. ‘Pets before people’ was the way it was presented, and this misinformation soon became truth, as misinformation tends to in this social-truth-driven age. “One thing I had always presumed that everyone could agree on was that a human life is worth more than an animal life. How wrong I was. Quantifiably wrong,” cursed the Times. “It’s a moral abomination that shames Britain”, preached the Spectator. “Britain values dogs more than Afghan people”, declared the Guardian. And on and on.
The fact that he had chartered a private plane at a benefactor’s expense eventually permeated, but then came the disinformation: UK servicemen and women were having to tend the animals and load all the crates while they could have been processing and loading humans; the chartered plane was wasting ground space at the airport and clogging up airspace in the slot allocated, which could and should have been dedicated to a plane filled with artists, girls, religious minorities and Afghan interpreters – those whose lives would be made miserable (if not ended) by the Taliban.
None of that was true, either.
Pen Farthing had never put ‘pets before people’: indeed, while they would journey in the cargo hold, he was offering an additional 150 seats to get more humans out of Afghanistan. But it was the Taliban who weren’t letting them through, on account of some last-minute change in the paperwork requirements which meant that his charity’s staff weren’t permitted to leave. And there was more airspace around the Kabul airport than there were planes to fill it: not one dog supplanted one human; not one British serviceman or woman was commandeered to load crates of animals; and not one cubic inch of Afghan airspace was occupied by Nowzad’s chartered plane which could have been filled by a B-52 bomber or a Chinook helicopter.
But Twitter was being Twitter.
This is very interesting – ethically and morally very interesting. Kirstie Allsopp was asked if she would sacrifice her beloved border terrier Dandy to save Mohamed Atta, the ringleader of the destruction of the World Trade Centre and attack on the Pentagon on September 11th 2001.
She didn’t respond, but presumably she already had: she would save the life of an Islamist terrorist over that of her beloved border terrier Dandy because Mohamed Atta is a human life, and little Dandy’s life does not come close to being as valuable to Kirsty Allsopp, and so she would abandon Dandy to save the Islamist.
Mohamed Atta was made in the image of God, but does the creaturely realm not also reflect the image of God? There may be an ‘order’ of creation with man at the pinnacle, with his capacity to reason good and evil and his moral ‘essence’ being a reflection of the divine, but do not some animals share natural traits with humans? Not just the instinct for self-preservation or the impulse to seek food, shelter and sex, but the desire for social and political community, for friendship, for seeking the truth of what God has revealed around them?
When a human like Mohamed Atta uses his moral judgment for evil purposes, does not the dog reflect more of the image of God than the man?
This was not, of course, the moral choice faced by Pen Farthing in Afghanistan, where his ‘pets’ were never put before people: the Afghan people are not Islamists; they are made in the image of God. But Islamists dwell among them, as they do among us, and there are those who insist that all human life is more ‘valuable’ than the life of a dog because of humankind’s unique social existence and capacity to distinguish good from evil.
But dogs can do that, too.
You may say they only appear to, or they are only trained to, but that is also true of humans, the heart of whom is inherently sinful and predisposed toward evil. And when humans view non-human creatures as things to be dominated and discarded, there is abuse, groaning, suffering, and ultimately an ecological crisis of ‘stewardship’. When humanity abuses creation, the source of sustenance and being, it ceases to reflect the imago dei.
But God became man, you say: yet we make gods of dogs.
The Incarnation of God is unique, but God’s panentheist presence in and to the world is also manifest, and that is a world to which and in which mankind reveals his wickedness. Pen Farthing’s animals are a therapy of the immanence and presence of God, and their rescue is a work of grace and a reflection of God’s relation to the world. You may insist that his efforts could and should have been better applied to the saving of artists, girls, religious minorities and Afghan interpreters, but that was not this latter-day Noah’s vocation: his responsibility was first to his Nowzad family – humans and then animals – and his Ark was a labour of his own moral reason, which was a faithful reproduction of the voice of God.