“…He [God] hooked me up with a monster 6 lb 22″ bass!” (Father Joseph Classen, hunter/fisherman)
While channel surfing one night, I came upon a show called Life on the Rock on the Eternal Word Television Network. The host, a Franciscan Friar, was interviewing two Catholic priests who also happened to be seasoned hunters. One, Father Joseph Classen, has a website entitled Hunting For God. On it, he offers the usual hunting defenses: to provide ecological balance; to humanely cull populations; to feed the less-fortunate with excess meat; and to protect crops, landscaping, and careless drivers. Yet what fascinates about this particular hunter is how he deftly combines his ministry with his passion. And make no mistake, it requires uncommon rhetorical skill to invoke Jesus while killing.
Classen quotes directly from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
God entrusted animals to the stewardship of those whom he created in his own image. Hence it is legitimate to use animals for food and clothing. They may be domesticated to help man in his work and leisure. Medical and scientific experimentation on animals is a morally acceptable practice if it remains within reasonable limits and contributes to caring for or saving human lives. It is likewise unworthy to spend money on them that should as a priority go to the relief of human misery. One can love animals; one should not direct to them the affection due only to persons.
In short, animals are soulless resources at mankind’s disposal. And since human misery will always exist, animal-related causes are both pointless and wasteful.
Classen calls fishing and hunting “sacred catalysts” for revelation and guidance. But this quote from a St. Louis Post-Dispatch book review betrays his true motivation: “He’s had triumphs too, like the day he used his bow to harvest a 10-point trophy buck.”
Hunting, for most, is primarily a self-indulgent pursuit of pleasure, and the celebratory poses and mounted corpses prove it. Classen denies that hunting and fishing are sports but writes: “As I gently released that beautiful fish I was reminded once again of an important lesson: put the Lord first in all things.” Catch-and-release sounds suspiciously like a sport (or leisure activity) to me. How, Father Classen, does one reconcile causing pain for fun with the teachings of Jesus Christ?
While maybe lacking the richness and variety of human existence, life for other sentient beings is more than an endless, all-consuming foraging that Father Classen describes. And, with the Church denying a soul (and eternal life) to nonhumans, is not intentionally cutting their (only) lives short morally objectionable? At the very least, isn’t commemorating the kill distasteful? Father Classen: “Certainly, it is not fun to watch the spark of life dwindle away from a creature’s eye, knowing that one is directly responsible for its death. But at the same time there exists a satisfaction, and yes, a sense of honor in being an active, disciplined, gracious, responsible and respectful participant in the cycle of life.” I believe that Father Classen does enjoy hunting and experiences exultation (a rush) when causing the “spark of life” to vanish. The rest of his quote, then, is merely a diversion.