April 30, 2008 | Myrna Anderson

Calvin professor of philosophy, Matt Halteman, has written a booklet for The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).

A Calvin professor of philosophy has written a booklet for The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). Matt Halteman’s Compassionate Eating as Care of Creation, (PDF, 44 pages), written for the new Animals and Religion department of HSUS, is now available on the organization’s Web site and will later be published in booklet form.

“It was one of the most meaningful projects that I’ve ever worked on,” said Halteman. “Most of what I write is pretty arcane, and this was fun for me because it allowed me to communicate to a wider audience. That’s something I enjoy, but haven’t had much occasion to do in my scholarship.”

Theology of Eating

Compassionate Eating as Care of Creation provides a theological framework for understanding the everyday practice of eating. Halteman, an animal compassion advocate, details the moral, financial and environmental impacts—globally—of how and what people choose to eat and calls on Christians to examine their food choices as an integral part of their daily spiritual practice.

“When we go to the grocery store, we ought to consider the impact—on human beings, on human health and on animal suffering and environmental degradation—of what we eat,” said Christine Gutleben, the director of the HSUS Animals and Religion department.

A Spiritual Discipline

Gutleben praised Halteman’s approach in Compassionate Eating as Care of Creation. “Matt takes a unique approach to these issues because he connects our selection of food to a spiritual discipline,” she said. “Religious people are looking for ways to connect their spirituality with their daily life.”

Gutleben chose Halteman to write the booklet after reading a lecture on animal compassion that he originally delivered at Wheaton College: “I found it online and tracked him down because it’s a rare person who combines a concern for animals and a background in religion and is able to articulate the issues,” she said.

“This was going to be a relatively short pamphlet, but it turned into a much larger piece of work,” said Halteman of turning a 45-minute lecture into a 40-page booklet. The work is the second part of a three-part series; the first booklet was authored by Matthew Scully, former speechwriter to President George W. Bush and author of Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy.

Halteman’s work has been praised by other scholars working in the field of animal ethics.

Praise from Webb

Stephen H. Webb, theologian and professor of religion at Wabash College, wrote of Compassionate Eating as Care of Creation: “Matt Halteman just might have written the single best brief presentation of the case for animal compassion. If I had only one book to give to friends interested in the intersection of faith and animal welfare, this would be it.” (In January, Webb, the author of On God and Dogs and Good Eating, gave the inaugural lecture at Calvin’s "Animals and the Kingdom of God" lecture series.)

Halteman is enthusiastic about his collaboration with HSUS: “The Humane Society is one of the most widely supported animal protection organizations in the world. One in every 30 Americans is a member.” he said. “It is exciting to see such an influential organization making a conscious effort to engage audiences of faith.” Last January, Halteman was honored by the organization with an Animals and Society Course Award for “Peaceable Kingdom,” the interim class he has taught on issues of animal compassion every January for four years.

Booklet Part of HSUS Campaign

Compassionate Eating as Care of Creation will be used as an integral component of All Creatures Great and Small, a campaign the HSUS Animals and Religion department is launching in June; the campaign will call on congregations, theological schools and religiously affiliated organizations to pledge to avoid caged eggs, eggs that come from battery-caged hens.

“Matt’s booklet will have a prominent place in the future of the Animals and Religion department,” Gutleben said. “I know we will have a long partnership with him.”

Matt Halteman with Gus and Charlie

Halteman and art professor Adam Wolpa collaborated on a commemorative edition of Compassionate Eating as Care of Creation. In January, the special edition, illustrated with a series of digital collages created by Wolpa, was sold during Wake-up Weekend.

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