Should Dogs Be Granted Personhood? by Dr. Jim Eckman

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Gregory Berns, professor of neuroeconomics at Emory University, … concludes that “the ability to experience positive emotions, like love and attachment, would mean that dogs have a level of sentience comparable to that of a human child.  And this ability suggests a rethinking of how we treat dogs.  By using the MRI we can no longer hide the evidence.  Dogs . . . seem to have emotions just like us.  And we must reconsider their treatment as property.”  Dogs should thus be granted personhood, …

How should we think about [this topic] within the broader Christian church?  Is this a biblical response to our stewardship responsibility as dominion stewards of God’s world?  How should we think biblically about our pets?  There are several biblical principles to aid Christian believers in thinking about animal life, the larger physical world, and our relationship to both.  The non-human creation is of great significance to God.  He created the physical world as a deliberate act.  God also takes pleasure in His physical world.  This is clear from the Creation Ordinance in Genesis 1 and 2 and from 1 Timothy 4:4: “For everything created by God is good and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with gratitude.”  (See also Psalm 104:31 where we see God rejoicing in His works.)  The point is that if the physical world is important to God, then it must be to us–His creatures–as well (see also Job 39:1-2, Colossians 1:16 and Psalms 19:1-4).  As Ron Sider points out, it is likewise imperative to note that God has a covenant, not only with humans, but also with the nonhuman creation.  After the flood, God made a covenant with the physical creation:  “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark” (Genesis 9:9-10).  The physical world has dignity, worth and value quite apart from its service to humanity.  Incredibly, God’s redemptive plan has a cosmic quality to it.  Further, Sider argues, “This fact provides a crucial foundation for building a Christian theology for an environmental age.”  The biblical hope that the whole created order, including the material world of bodies and rivers and trees, will be part of the kingdom confirms that the created order is good and important.  Romans 8:19-23 demonstrates that at Christ’s return the groaning of creation will cease, for the creation will be transformed: “The creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (v. 21).

We honor our dogs as valuable beings, a part of God’s world.  It is our stewardship responsibility to treat them well, and care for them.  But, dogs are not persons.  They do not deserve to have the rights associated with personhood.  Only humans bear God’s image and that is the fundamental difference between dogs and humans—an eternally significant difference.  Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection were accomplished for the justification of human beings, not dogs.

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