The interconnectedness of all life: what does love require of us?

Jenny Turton, Victoria Regional Meeting

We do not own the world, and its riches are not ours to dispose of at will. Show a loving consideration for all creatures and seek to maintain the beauty and variety of the world. Work to ensure that our increasing power over Nature is used responsibly, with reverence for life. Rejoice in the splendor of God’s continuing creation.

Advice and Queries Number 42 (Britain Yearly Meeting)

From September 2022 to September 2023 I participated in Meeting for Learning, with the week-long retreats being held at the beautiful venue of Seven Hills Retreat Centre in South Australia. Like many other Friends I have spoken to about Meeting for Learning, I found this to be an enriching experience, which enabled me to take time out of day to day life to focus on what the Spirit is asking of me. Amongst other explorations, it presented a wonderful opportunity to explore in detail a concern which has been increasingly on my mind and heart: the connection between humans and other animals. This article has arisen out of that concern, and a desire to share it with Australian Friends.

My background

A deep and abiding passion for animals led me to a career as a veterinarian, working in Australia, southern Africa and Asia. While I started out as a large animal veterinarian (my dream was to become a James Herriot style vet), my varied interests and career choices have encompassed a variety of roles in the animal industry, in shelter medicine, small animal practice, government work, information development for farmers, research into traditional veterinary medicine, vaccine production and quality control testing, technical support in the pharmaceutical industry, disease control policy involving transboundary diseases, the crocodile industry, sheep and goat value chains, and currently teaching veterinary nursing and animal studies in the TAFE sector. From the very beginning of my career, I was committed to improving animal health and animal welfare.  My work in developing countries stemmed from my awareness of the impact of animals on food production, improved livelihoods and poverty alleviation. This work led me to undertake post-graduate study in international development.

Over time my concern for animals has led to an increasing awareness of how we view them and relate to them, with an increasing animal rights perspective. In particular, my ongoing spiritual journey has enabled me to see that of God in all living beings, which has profound implications for how we relate to, and utilise, non-human animals. I consciously use the term “non-human animals” as viewing the world through a spiritual lens enables us to see the interconnectedness of all life and the fact that we are one species amongst many animal species, not the pinnacle of creation suggested in the Genesis account. This shift in my awareness has resulted in significant life changes including choosing to no longer work with farmed animals or to eat animals.

The interconnectedness of all life

If we accept the Big Bang as the origin of our universe and life on earth, a fundamental concept is that all living beings developed from the same source. If we then accept evolution as the means by which the breathtaking diversity of life (it is estimated that there are 8.7 million species of animals in the world) has developed over time, and continues to develop, then all living beings are connected at a genetic level. Humans share a staggering 98.7% of our DNA with the bonobo ape.

If we consider earth’s history as a 24-hour timeline, life on earth would have appeared at 4 am, land plants at 9:52 pm, dinosaur extinction at 11:41 pm, and human history would have begun almost at the end of the 24-hour period, at 11:58:43 pm. Evolution is continuous, and we cannot envisage what future life forms will look like from our moment in time.

A long history of relationship

As long as humans have existed (it is estimated that modern Homo sapiens evolved around 160,000 years ago), we have been in relationship with non-human animals. Early humans lived immersed in their environment alongside non-human animals. Some of the non-human animals were a source of danger to humans. In early hunter gatherer societies humans hunted wild animals for food.  A significant societal change for humans was when they started to live in settlements and domesticate plants and animals for food and non-food purposes.

Humans have utilised non-human animals for a range of purposes: companionship, food (meat, milk and other dairy products, blood, offal), byproducts (hides, wool, fat), transportation (horses, donkeys, cattle, camels), agricultural cultivation (draught animal power), sport (horse racing, greyhound racing, hunting, dog and cock fights), entertainment (zoos, circuses), research, as service animals and in therapy. This has generally been an unequal relationship.

There is an increasing awareness of the Human-Animal Bond as beneficial for both the human (exercise, physical and mental health) and the animal. This is a move in the right direction for a more equitable and mutually beneficial relationship.

What does love require of us?

If we accept the interconnectedness of all life from a biological and spiritual perspective, I believe that this has profound consequences for how we relate to non-human animals, and the life choices we make around the role and uses of animals. I would like to explore the Quaker peace, equality and earthcare testimonies and pose the question of what love requires of us for each of these testimonies.


The peace testimony is one of the core Quaker commitments and practices. It comes from our belief that love is at the centre of existence and that all life is of inestimable worth. If we consider the interconnectedness of life, then our peace testimony should extend to all living beings. We should not harm non-human animals or cause them to be harmed. We should not kill them, other than for compassionate reasons in euthanasia.


The equality testimony is also a core Quaker commitment, which has encompassed involvement in the abolition of slavery, acknowledging the rights of indigenous peoples, and promoting gender equality. Species equality is the concept of the unity and equality of all beings. Every living being has inherent value, independent of its usefulness to humans.


Earthcare has increasingly been acknowledged as a fundamental testimony with the increasing impact of human settlement on our earth and, climate change and species extinction. It replaces concepts of sustainability and stewardship. The following Advice and Query from AYM articulates the earthcare perspective on animals better than I can:

All life is interrelated. Each individual plant and animal has its own needs, and is important to others. Many Australian species, and other species worldwide, are now extinct, and countless more are endangered. Do you treat all life with respect, recognizing a particular obligation to those animals we breed and maintain for our own use and enjoyment? In order to secure the survival of all, including ourselves, are you prepared to change your ideas about your relationship to your environment and every living thing in it?

Advice and Queries number 44 (Australian Yearly Meeting)

Quaker perspectives

Quakers have a long history of concern for animals. George Fox condemned hunting and hawking. James Backhouse chose to walk rather than use horses because of concerns for their welfare, as did John Woolman.

One of my favourite historical Quakers is John Woolman, an American Quaker who lived a life of deep integrity, and commitment to the abolition of slavery, the recognition of equality with indigenous Americans, and a concern for animals. He stated:

To say that we love God and at the same time exercise cruelty toward the least creature is a contradiction in itself.

Quaker Concern for Animals (QCA) was founded in 1891.

What canst thou say?

How might you respond to the interconnectedness of life, in your relationship with non-human animals, your beliefs and your practices?

I would love to hear from you:

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