Friday, February 4, 2011

Christianity & Veganism

   Throughout my time being a vegan, I have encountered some questions about what the Bible says about being vegetarian or vegan. Most of these questions aimed at me are not questions at all, rather accusations that I am not a good Christian if I am not eating meat. Not only is this a hurtful accusation, (please read how I feel about talking to other people here) but I tended to find that the scriptures backing up the "reason" to eat meat was dauntingly vague, at best. I have been very confused by all this, because I have been studying the Bible since I was 15 years old, and nowhere had I ever found that it says that we must eat meat. Nowhere have I found that it says we must beat living animals, or hang them upside down to bleed out while they are still alive, or saw off their beaks and throw them back into a cage.  I have, however, found endless scripture about being loving, compassionate, forgiving, humble, and the like. Jesus' central message is mercy and compassion. I have read the Ten Commandments and taken it to heart where it says "Thou shalt not kill". Jesus also commands us to not to be selfish or a glutton. Some huge contradictions going on here. Indeed, research was necessary.

    John Dear, a Catholic priest, non-violent communicator, and vegetarian, once said, "When I look at the world today, I see a culture addicted to violence. As I write, there are more than 30 wars being waged. There are more than 1 billion people suffering from malnourishment and its effects. There are more than 2 billion people without access to clean water, barely surviving in dire poverty. Right here in the U.S., we see executions, rampant homelessness, and injustices of all kinds, including racism and sexism. And in the U.S. alone, we kill more than 9 billion land animals each year by slitting their throats, sometimes while they’re still conscious. We also kill more than 15 billion sea animals, generally by suffocation, bodily decompression, or crushing, every single year."

 So where do we start?  It would seem that if the problem is violence, the answer must be non-violence.  Nonviolence begins with the insight that all life is sacred, that the life of a lamb is no less sacred than the life of a human. God has created us all, perfect and sacred in our own way, exactly the way he intended. If Jesus was alive today, I would like to think he would want us to turn away from our violent, selfish ways, and turn towards non-violence, love, and compassion. The first step in becoming more compassionate is adopting a vegetarian diet.  Through doing this, you will begin to see that we were meant to live in harmony with other beings. We come to understand what it is like to live without having to instill fear in other beings, and kill them. In the moment you understand, you develop compassion. You understand that by enslaving animals and abusing them through torture, we deprive them of freedom and happiness. How can we ourselves hope to be free or happy when our lives are so deeply rooted in depriving others of the very thing we claim to value the most in life - freedom and happiness? 
  I have been confronted with the Bible passage in Genesis 1:28 where God says "Have dominion over the fish in the sea and the birds in the air, and over every living thing that moves on earth". This seems to be the go-to verse for why people eat meat.  I think the problem here is not only misinterpretation, but the real meaning of the word "dominion". Dominion means "rule" or "authority". One thing dominion does not mean is "to kill".  Therefore, where is the argument that we should kill animals? Imagine you had two sons, and you were going out for a night on the town and you are leaving your oldest son in charge of the house. You might tell him, "You are in charge. I am giving you dominion over the house and your younger brother."  You might tell your younger son, "I am leaving your older brother in charge. Be good." You would go out, and hopefully come home later to find them both alive. You would certainly not expect the older boy to have killed the younger boy just because you gave him authority!  I think we have so grossly misinterpreted this passage, and regardless of God's original intent, the complete disdain that we give other living beings is absolutely heretical. The fact is that human beings are playing God, killing others and taking lives that are not ours to take. It absolutely breaks my heart. Jesus embodied nonviolence and compassion. The rest of us are called to follow in his gentle footsteps.  How have we gotten so off track?

 Since becoming vegan, I have noticed one Christian incongruence after another. Meaning, we say one thing, we mean something else, and we do a completely different third thing. For example, we say that we should follow the commandment of:

  1. "Thou shalt not lie." Yet the consumer is not told the truth about where our meat and dairy is coming from. The pictures of happy cows on farms is far from the truth. The meat and dairy industries spend billions of dollars on cover-ups and media to lie to the public. We live in a culture of denial when it comes to the truth about where our food comes from. No one wants to talk about it. In fact, it is considered taboo. (It might spoil someone's appetite, after all!) We know in our hearts that we are being lied to. We know it's wrong. We don't quite know what to do with it, so we lie to ourselves. And then...we lie to our children about what they are really eating, and they grow up learning that no one has to be honest about anything. We override children's natural ability to be compassionate by showing them pictures of farm animals dressed up in clothes and pigs eating ribs. 
   Some people disagree, they claim they are kind and nonviolent people, after all it's just a slice of turkey inbetween their bread, what harm is that? Perfect example of how disconnected and disempowered we are taught to feel. We are told that what we do does not matter and we do not have to take any responsibility in the grande scheme of things. The truth is, when you buy a piece of meat, you have signed that animal's death sentence.  Many Christians say that they would never, ever hurt a dog or cat, but then we think nothing of harming cows, pigs, chickens, fish and other creatures. We need to understand that if we are buying meat, we are paying people to be cruel to animals. God created all creatures and all animals with a capacity for pain and suffering.

Okay, so what do we do? If we say we don't want to be lied to, we must examine our own speech. Are we really saying what we mean? Are we following the commandment of Thou Shalt Not Lie, or are we telling lies? If we say we want peace on Earth, are we really willing to do what is necessary to create it?

         Incongruence #2: "Thou shalt not steal." Our country is founded upon stealing - stealing milk intended for a mother's new baby, stealing fur intended to keep an animal warm, and stealing a life that is not ours to take. To kill and eat animals is to steal their lives from them. Which also ties into the third incongruent commandment, "Thou shalt not kill".  I don't think explanation on this one is necessary.
Let's recap:
 Jesus led a life of compassion, mercy, and love. He is the "Prince of Peace" who ushers in God's vision of non-violence, mercy and justice. He didn't take what wasn't his and he didn't kill. He commands us to be good stewards of the Earth and spread love, peace and compassion everywhere we go. The question we Christians have to ask ourselves is how we can become more Christ-like and more faithful to Jesus. Where in our lives could we be more faithful, more merciful and compassionate? When we sit down to eat, when we say our prayers and ask for His blessings, we could also choose to adhere to his life of compassion and nonviolence. And we know that when we practice compassion and mercy to all of God's creatures, we too shall receive mercy and blessings, as He promises us. On the other hand, the only reasons to keep eating meat are: selfishness and gluttony. Neither one of these are Christian ideals.

We can do better. I know we can.

So...What does all of this sound like to you?
How does this make you feel?
I know for me, it sounds like we are outright contradicting the teachings of the Bible, and the examples set forth for us by Jesus Christ.

In a world so full of violence and suffering, why not take whatever steps we can towards becoming more compassionate, more nonviolent, and more like Christ? Why not do this for the love of all God's creatures? Your spirituality will deepen and mature because of it.

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