The Imago Dei and Great Chain of Being: A Wesleyan Case for the Rights of Nonhuman Persons Open Access

Isernhagen, Brett (2016)

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The Imago Dei figures prominently in the theology of John Wesley. Its brokenness in humans is the cause of sin, and its restoration and perfection is the end of salvation. Rather than being something exclusive to humanity, however, Wesley saw it being shared in varying degrees by those both above and below humans in the "Great Chain of Being". This thesis argues that Wesley's characterization and comparison of the human and "brute" creations were based on scientific observation and discovery in addition to scriptural interpretation. Modern study and observation of animals such as apes, elephants, dolphins, and whales have demonstrated that their capacities exceed what was previously expected or thought possible in their abilities to be self-aware, communicate, and facilitate culture. These observations can be readily integrated into the Chain of Being which ascends and descends by imperceptible degrees from humanity. The consequence is that we can and should acknowledge certain degrees of the Imago Dei in our nonhuman animal neighbors and come to view our relation to them as a fellowship as well as a guardianship or stewardship. While Wesley made use of the doctrine of the Imago Dei exclusively for soteriological matters it is now, perhaps more than ever before, adaptable to cosmological discourse. This gives Wesleyan Christians the permission and perspective to consider the image of God as something stamped over and possessed by the whole of Creation, the entirety of the unbreakable Great Chain, and thus a starting place to enter the discussion surrounding the legal and moral rights of "nonhuman persons". At the very least this should warrant a reexamination of a doctrine which Wesley already seemed willing to expand, or hold with a healthy, optimistic agnosticism.

Table of Contents

Section I. Introduction 2

Section II. John Wesley on Anthropology and Personhood 4

Section III. John Wesley on the Imago Dei 7

Section IV. The Imago Dei Within the Great Chain of Being 9

Section V. The Anthropocentrism and Theocentrism of the Great Chain of Being 13

Section VI. Anthropocentrism Challenged 18

Section VII. Contextualizing in Wesley's Broader Theology 20

Animal Welfare and the Animal Soul 21

Salvation and Anticipation of the New Creation 24

The Imago Dei as Cosmological Concept 25

Angelology 26

Degrees of the Imago Dei and Modern Discovery 27

Section VIII. Difficulties and a Look Forward 28

Section IX. Conclusion 35

Appendix One: Human Exceptionalism Challenged 37

Appendix Two: The Spiritual Lives of Animals 52

Bibliography 55

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