Animal Farm and the Imago Dei

Irony is that which means the opposite of what is actually meant. Words have meaning and the ironic use of vocabulary turns normality into distraction. George Orwell’s Animal Farm is an ironic fable addressing political structure and human society.# Through a barnyard rebellion, the author explores the envy of animals toward humanity’s freedom. Free will to choose one’s destiny plays out as the barnyard leader, Napoleon, dictates the fate of his kindred quadrupeds in taking over Manor Farm to make it their own. Although the motto of the animal rebellion stated, “four legs good, two legs bad,”the root of the anger toward Mr. Jones and all men was that the animals truly wanted to be human instead.#  Ironically, the attribute of Mr. Jones the animals hated became the very thing the animals became. So much so that in the end, it was difficult to tell who was the pig and who was the man.#

Man was made in the image of God, imago Dei while animals were called out of the earth. The book of Genesis recounts the creation narrative of the creation of animals and man.

And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so. And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

So God created man in his own image,

in the image of God he created him;

male and female he created them.

— Genesis 1:24-27 (ESV)


The command of dominion over creation was the source of the barnyard hatred toward all men. What the animals did not have was dominion over any creature. They were the subservient ones. They were the slaves. Suffering produced envy and envy produced rebellion.

The biblical narrative helps in understanding the tension between the animals and man in Animal Farm. Animals made after their kind implies creation apart from the imago Dei. The agenda of the pigs, Old Major, Napoleon, and Snowball actually reflected their envy of man’s created purpose. Through the imago Dei, man had divine favor. The image of God in man was clearly offensive to the animals who were made after their own kind. Perhaps as well, the animals’ ancestors would have passed down the knowledge of man worshipping animals through animal shaped idols.# Jealousy aroused in the animals both from lack of worship from man, but also lack of God’s image as only man claimed that favor. What the animals truly sought was God’s image.

The theme song Beasts of England summarizes Old Major’s philosophy.

Beasts of England, beasts of Ireland,

Beasts of every land and clime,

Hearken to my joyful tidings of the golden future time.

 

Soon or late the day is coming,

Tyrant Man shall be o’erthrown,

And the fruitful fields of England

Shall be trod by beasts alone.


The beasts despised man’s oppression. The dominion granted by God in creation distorted into a created order outside of God’s design. It was this distortion that truly caused the animals’ ire. A mix of jealousy and chaos directed the mood of the animals. They desired the dominion granted man due to the sinful distortion by man of God’s intended ascendency. But if the ordered dominion established by God had been carefully stewarded rather than distorted, the animals may have never been discontented.

Mollie the horse showed this thought in that she desired the divine role between man and animal as God intended. Although no longer perfect after the fall, Mollie understood somehow, either intentionally or unintentionally, her status as one to be cared for by man. Despite the animal rebellion, Mollie remained attracted to the ribbons and sugar man provided her. The sweet blessings of her master stewards continued to be her desire. Her desire to interact with man caused her to be ostracized by the other animals. She eventually fled Animal Farm to work with man as she happily pulled a dog cart. Her improved physical condition was the result of her satisfaction with her caretakers. Ribbons in her hair, the reward of sugar, and a clipped coat and shine were the result. Independence from man did not satisfy Mollie. God’s intent was best. Man and beast together in their roles as steward and creature provided the society best suited for all.#

Yet the society established by the animal rebellion opposed the divine created order. Animal Farm revealed the flaws of Marxism which viewed man in opposition to the biblical doctrine of man. This philosophy determined man’s value through economic means. Materialism granted value to man’s nature. But the materialism was determined not through individual self sufficiency but rather through communal agreement. Humans were not created in the image of God, since the existence of the Creator was denied. Humans were part of the social structure. As evil arose in that structure, changes to the social order eliminated the evil. Society was then responsible for the evil rather than the individual taking responsibility for his own failure. Thus, the goal of Marxism was to redefine the role of the man as an individual responsible to God, and determined his primary responsibility as a member of the society. Future perfection for the community was then the aim rather than individual salvation.#

Orwell revealed the intent of the animals was to overthrow the evil of man. Man was evil. Sin distorted his role as steward of God’s creation. And it was this distortion that the animals were rebelling against. “Is it not crystal clear, comrades, that all the evils of this life or ours springs from the tyranny of human beings? Only get rid of Man, and the produce of our labour would be our own.”# Man was the problem as man had fallen. His sin caused not only misery for himself, but also for all that had been given him by God to steward. The imago Dei remained with man although man fell from God’s favor.# Yet the Marxist anthropology that the animals embraced failed to take into account that man was also a creature as they were and thus what the animals sought after was truly what they did not want but eventually became.#

Once the animals took over the farm, they soon realized their responsibility for maintaining the barnyard society quickly depended on man. Despite the desire to rid England of the tyrant man, Napoleon soon realized that man was important to the operation of the farm. Trade was established out of necessity thus crushing the animal dream of freedom from man. As the sin of dishonesty crept into the barter agreement, the animals soon became more and more dishonest in return. Man’s sin tainted the animals furthering their own sin in seeking to be what they were never created to be. The irony is seen in that as the animals fought against man’s ways, they in turn became like man. Once sin was given root, it overcame the dream of independence. What the animals soon learned was that the dream of independence can never overthrow the true freedom granted by the Creator. To rebell against man, who was made in imago Dei, the animals in turn rebelled against God himself. They fell from his grace just as man fell in the Garden. Independence from God’s created order will never succeed.

The seven commandments of the Animal rebellion were not given by God himself. They were instead written out of a false dream of the created. As such, when the creature then makes his own commandments apart from the God-given commandments, in time the created commandments begin to change as they were birthed in sin. As the changes occurred, injustice increased. The commandments changed from, No animal shall sleep in a bed, to, No animal shall sleep in a bed with sheets.# Then, No animal shall kill another animal, to, No animal shall kill another animal without cause.# Finally, No animal shall drink alcohol, to, No animal shall drink alcohol to excess.# These changes show that as Napoleon became more entrenched in the self indulged life, it was inevitable that the original dream would alter to accommodate to the sin. In the end, Napoleon replaced all seven commandments with the truth of the Marxist philosophy. “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” #

The glory of the imago Dei, is that when creation operates in the desired way the Creator intended, the Creator’s glory is magnificently seen. But when the created order is distorted in the fashion of the created, then the imago Dei, is less visible. The animals of Animal Farm fell into the same sinful trap of man while boastfully overthrowing man as the evil oppressor. They in turn became the oppressors toward each other. By taking man’s place as stewards of creation, the animals un-knowingly assumed the penalty of sin which was chaos outside of God’s will. By taking on the imago hominis, the animals attempted to take on the imago Dei, thus altering their role as the animalis. God’s created order was altered by man, followed by the animals in Animal Farm. The result in both was a twisted fate unlike the original desire which caused the rebellion.

Animal Farm further strengthens the truth of fallen creation. When the creature, whether man or beast, sinfully steps out of God-given roles in the created order, God’s role as God is then thwarted and the creature suffers by his own hand. The creature who attempts to be the Creator of his own world will cause a distorted view of creation. The result is that eventually, no one truly knows who is God, who is man, and who is truly the pig. But God will allow the sinful events to play out so that in the end all who are pigs will be pigs, and God alone will be God.

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