Can you be a Christian and a hunter?

Now that the hunting season opens in most of the departments [de Francia] This Sunday, September 25, Christians have different opinions about this practice.

With autumn, as mushrooms grow in the undergrowth and insects fall from the chestnut trees, comes hunting season. Can Christians, who see the work of God in Creation, participate in a leisure activity that consists of killing an animal, without the food incentive, in a context of collapse of biodiversity (a study published in 2020 and carried out by the Muséum national d’histoire naturelle, the Office français de la biodiversité and the Ligue pour la protection des oiseaux note that the bird population has decreased by almost 30% in France in the last thirty years)? Of course, the explosion in the number of large game animals in our country, and the damage they cause, make their regulation necessary. But detractors of hunting point out the responsibility of hunters in the proliferation of certain species, such as wild boar, by dispensing with reproductive females for hunting purposes…

“Since the opening of the waterfowl hunting season, three curlews have already been shot in France, despite the fact that it is a vulnerable species whose hunting has been prohibited since 2020. What is Christian about willingly killing an animal? whose population is in sharp decline?” deplores the naturalist Johannes Herrmann (author, with his wife Mahaut Herrmann, of La vie oubliée, crise d’extinction, agir avant que tout s’effondre Y I understand and live the ecology, 52 weeks with Laudato si’), highlighting the “exorbitant cost from the ecological point of view” of this leisure activity. “I have come across hunters who boast of killing 800 lapwings each winter, all of them fed to the dogs,” he says. In fact, this example is directly opposed to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which describes as “contrary to human dignity (the fact) to make animals suffer unnecessarily and waste their lives”.

However, far from seeking as many kills as possible, some hunters describe an entirely different relationship to the practice. “Like the fisherman or the gatherer, the hunter frequents nature, taking an interest in what it produces and obtaining something wild from it,” emphasizes Father Patrick Guinnepain, parish priest of the Brenne region, in the diocese of Bourges.

Coming from a family of farmers, “in which we have always hunted”, and practicing small game, he describes “a nuanced relationship with nature, which is not a land that can be exploited excessively so that it gives me everything it can to give”. Hunting is precisely the place that allows him to “maintain an emotional bond with nature”, to the point that it has nurtured in him an “offertory spirituality”: “The fruit of the earth and the work of men become a source of salvation”, explains Father Guinnepain. “How can our way of inhabiting, cultivating, organizing and developing Creation not be an occasion for selfishness, abuse of power, violence and mistreatment, even with regard to future generations, but thought and lived with a view to the salvation of all? I love seeing wild animals, plants, I love nature as it is,” continues the hunter-priest. “Throughout the summer, when the fauna was facing drought, we dedicated ourselves to feeding and providing watering holes, something that is also part of the activity of the hunters, outside of the hunting season.”

Father Guinnepain also claims “a far from negligible social dimension”: “The great pleasure of hunting is the search for game, the fact of encouraging the dog… We lose a lot! But if you are good, you get a piece of game , a fish, a mushroom… And then there is the pleasure of cooking and sharing,” continues the man who admits that he almost never buys meat. “I have customers who kill their pig or their cow, I do a lot of bartering with my terrines!”

“In a predominantly rural society, hunting has long been part of the common local culture,” analyzes Dominique Lang, Assumptionist priest and host of the blog Églises et Écologies. “In the history of France, after having been the privilege of an elite, the right to hunt was liberalized, becoming a revolutionary achievement, and therefore an expression of the freedom and equality of individuals. But with As society has evolved, hunting has also become a sport, a leisure activity, which raises other questions,” emphasizes Dominique Lang. “Today, many of the animals hunted have been raised on farms and are killed within days of their release. What does this practice mean?”

These questions are not absent from the mind of Agnès Bonnet. It was when she returned to her grandparents’ region upon her retirement that this committed parishioner decided to get her hunting license from her. For this 66-year-old woman, who lives on the edge of the Tronçais National Forest (Allier), this activity is linked to an ecological awareness. “I have greatly reduced my meat consumption, refusing to buy meat from factory farms, slaughtered on a production line in intensive industrial slaughterhouses,” she says. “Today, the meat I eat is bought from a local producer or comes from hunting.” Consistent with this choice, Agnès, who primarily hunts roe deer and wild boar, has little relish for shooting captive-bred pheasants. “When my grandfather went hunting, he used to say, ‘You help yourself, and then you stop,'” she recalls, advocating moderation in hunting animals. “We’re not on a shooting range and we’re not here to take a picture.”

“In the Old Testament there is an appeal for moderation in the collection of natural species”, says Johannes Herrmann. “Like the Jubilee, which is the rest of the earth, we can ask for hunting to stop so that ecosystems can recover.”

“Jesus fished and also ate lamb,” says Dominique Lang. There is not much to say about the practice of people rooted in a territory and for whom hunting, fishing and breeding are part of the local economy. But we should not hide behind an idyllic vision of hunting to say that today is just that. Being able, without ideology, to confront morally unsustainable practices such as hunting in enclosures or the global trade in wild animals, is essential, according to the religious Assumptionist. “Consequently, it is even more important, in the wake of Laudato si’, to open new spaces for dialogue that allow interior conversions. For example, organizing meetings in a parish where people who practice hunting and those who do not practice it can listen to each other. mutually, start again from common values ​​and thus overcome sterile divisions to defend urgent common struggles against degrading excesses and materialistic drifts”.

To deepen: what value do animals have?

– Saint Hubertus (? 727), patron saint of hunters, owes his conversion, according to tradition, to an encounter with a deer on Good Friday, when his passion for hunting had made him abandon the trade. “Huberto! How long will you continue to persecute the beasts in the woods? How long will this vain passion make you forget the salvation of your soul?” Choosing religious life, he became Bishop of Liege-Maastricht and Tongeren.

– In the encyclical praise yesPope Francis repeatedly addresses the question of the self-worth of animals:

– “While we can make responsible use of things, we are called to recognize that other living beings have their own value before God and, «by their simple existence, they bless him and give him glory»[41]because the Lord rejoices in his works (cf. Ps 104,31)” (69).

– “Today the Church does not simply say that other creatures are completely subordinated to the good of the human being, as if they had no value in themselves and we could dispose of them at will” (69).

– “When one reads in the Gospel that Jesus speaks of the birds, and says that «none of them is forgotten before God» (Lk 12,6), is he capable of mistreating or harming them?” (221).

Can you be a Christian and a hunter?