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Religion

Theology | Vegetarian Religions

 

THEOLOGY

 

64. God gave us dominion over all creatures.

Your authority for this statement is from the Bible’s first chapter. ‘God said ... Let [man] have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle ...’

Does this text imply the right to kill and eat these creatures? Maybe not, as it contrasts with God’s caring about a sparrow. Perhaps, then, he cares about billions of cattle slaughtered.

‘Dominion’ is ‘lordship, sovereignty, control’; ‘supremacy, ascendancy, authority, command, government, mastery, power, rule, sway. Bibles use stewardship, mastery and rule.
Parents have dominion over children; governments and their agencies have dominion over the rest of us for orderly society. It requires an interpretive leap to say that the ‘dominion’ verse approves battery cages or killing animals for sport or taste.

If we still hold that this text approves killing animals, do we believe that God created everything in six days? If we don’t take the creation account literally, how do we justify taking the dominion part of that same chapter literally?

Literal interpreters should be consistent. ‘I have given you every herb bearing seed ... and the fruit of a tree ... to you it shall be for meat.’ God’s original, presumably ideal, diet was vegan, Daniel promoted it and God will restore it in the new earth. It wouldn’t do any harm to get some practice in now.

 

65. God gave man permission to eat meat.

The first granting of permission to eat meat was after the flood when God told Noah that ‘everything that lives and moves will be food for you.’ This is usually interpreted to be the natural result of the flood’s having destroyed all vegetat-ion, or as a concession to human sinfulness, with God taking us as we are rather than in the ideal vegetarian world. It’s like our dealing with heroin addicts by providing methadone: we don’t want anyone to take methadone, but we recognise the state the addict is in and compromise.

God also allowed polygamy among his chosen people rather than deprive people of rights and desires, but this is no ringing endorsement of polygamy for us any more than permission to eat meat after the flood validates our eating it. ‘Divine activity among humans invariably involves accommodation to human life and customs.’

We should keep in mind as well that this is an account of God’s dealing with his people in a desert rather than dealing with us in a bountiful 21st century country.

Even with that permission to eat meat, it remains difficult to conceive of a loving God’s approving the cruelty of the factory assembly-line in today’s chicken production, for example. After no more than eight weeks of a life of hell, chicken are carted to slaughter without water or food. By the time their trip’s over, many have broken bones or other deformities. Then they’re shackled to have their throats slit, often while conscious. If this is an environment where you believe God resides comfortably, vegans part company with you theologically.

 

66. It’s not just me and doctors who say you can’t eat adequately as a vegetarian. Even God says vegetarians are weak.

If God says vegetarians are weak physically, what do we do with vegetarians such as world’s greatest triathlete Dave Scott and one-day triathlon record-holder Sixto Lenares; Olympian gold medallists Edwin Moses, Paavo Nurmi and Murray Rose; wrestler Killer Kowalski; and tennis champions Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova? But does he mean this?

Paul wrote: ‘One man's faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables.’ If Paul were inspired by God we can accept God says it. But words can have other meanings. ‘Set’, for example, has 464.

‘Weak’ can be a strength deficiency. But in your passage, it’s not physical deficiency but lack of Christian conviction. One version has: ‘One man believes he may eat anything, another man, without this strong conviction, is a vegetarian.’

Whilst this text has nothing to do with physical strength, is it still condemning vegetarians? ‘The man who is weak in faith is the man whose Christian conviction is not strong enough to get himself free from the scruples of superstitions he may have brought in from his former belief ... Converts from heathenism may well have been strongly influenced by Jewish hatred of idolatry [which] put all the contents of the meat market under suspicion, since much of it came from animals sacrificed in heathen temples.’ Their faith is weak because they can’t drop a belief that eating temple meat would be false worship, not because they’ve chosen a vegetarian diet.

With medical evidence against eating meat, and its very different production today, we might interpret these verses as no longer favouring meat consumption. Paul says ‘your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit ... honour God with your body.

 

67. Jesus ate meat.

Jesus is a significant person in Judaism, an Islam prophet and the Christian saviour, so it’s worth a look at his practices.

‘Meat’ in the King James Version of the Bible is archaic English for ‘food of any kind’; modern versions have ‘food’, ‘something to eat’, or similar. Word meanings can change quickly. ‘Fantastic’ and ‘gay’ are examples. Or you can ask a teenager what ‘wicked’, ‘cool’ and ‘fully sick’ mean. This is relevant to the rare texts connecting Jesus and ‘meat’.

Two noted vegetarian theologians who don’t believe Jesus was vegetarian have written books on how they reconcile their philosophies with this practice. Their arguments are based on the future world when the wolf will live with the lamb and the fact that the meat industry today does not resemble how meat was obtained in biblical times. It seems, though, that Jesus’ brother, James, was vegetarian or even vegan.

If we believe Jesus would approve of our eating meat, can we picture him working in today’s battery hen sheds or abattoirs? Can we see him shackling the cow (conscious or otherwise) or slitting the cow’s throat? If not, would we believe he’d delegate to us what he wasn’t prepared to do himself? Would we be comfortable working in an abattoir? Or again, are we happy to let others do that work while we eat the camouflaged body of what was once a living creature, now nicely packaged under the soft light of a supermarket meat section?

Our plant food supply is plentiful and we know that we and the environment are healthier if we don’t eat meat. So how moral is our religion if it allows our taste preference to take priority over the suffering and death of other creatures?

 

68. Jesus ate fish.

Jesus’ disciples ‘gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb. And he took it, and did eat before them.’

This isn’t a favourite passage for Seventh-day Adventists, who push a vegetarian diet. One could expect their Bible commentary to dismiss this if they could get away with it. No such luck. ‘Broiled fish ... Did eat. Undoubtedly to convince the disciples that He was still a material, corporeal being.’

What possibilities are there for Christian vegetarians?

• An exception may have been made for desert dwelling.
• Eating of flesh was a God-given concession to sinful man.
• ‘It’ isn’t in the original text, so what he ate is uncertain.
• Future text discoveries might invalidate the fish accounts.
• The fish stories may have been parables.
• They may have been added later by a fish-eating sect.

Also possible is what you say: Jesus ate fish.

Jesus approved of others eating fish. With five loaves and two fishes, he fed 5000.5 Perhaps the desert didn’t offer other food. Not many vegetarians would accept that. Nor would Christians, as his miracles could have provided alternatives to fish. Maybe no cruelty was involved as the fish were dead and multiplying dead creatures doesn’t multiply pain.

If biblical fish eating approves that for us, what about biblical slavery? And God had a mandatory death penalty for cursing a parent. Only the most exasperated parent wants that now.

Theologians explain that slavery and the cursing penalty were for a particular place and time. Why, then, mightn’t eating of fish have been likewise? Even if food shortage made fish eating acceptable then, we can’t use that excuse now.

 

VEGETARIAN RELIGIONS Back to top

 

69. If it’s wrong to eat meat, why don’t any religions or churches say it’s a sin?

Some do, but ‘not any’ is close to the truth. Jainism and a few small Christian denominations require vegetarianism.

Others recommend but don’t insist on abstaining from meat. Buddhists and Hindus, to a greater or lesser degree, practise vegetarianism. Confucius is believed to have been vegetarian. The best-known Christian church recommending abstaining is the 17-million member Seventh-day Adventist Church.

At least it’s a rare religion that says it’s a sin not to eat meat. Some Muslim and Jewish festivals centre on killing and eating animals, but you’re not required to do so.

Vegans find it curious, frustrating and incomprehensible when those who believe in a loving God aren’t concerned about factory-produced animals and birds. It’s strange that animals are prominent in God’s creation and the biblical new earth preview, yet rarely worth a sermon. Also, why are there prayers for the sick yet little is done to promote a healthy diet?

Lack of concern for animals isn’t necessarily permanent. It took 1800 years for churches to oppose slavery, as they could provide biblical support to justify it. They took even longer with discrimination against women; here again they had the example of all 12 of Jesus’ disciples being male.

Most religions claim a direct link to heaven. If their leader has received no animal messages, they’re not keen to change. As with slavery and women’s rights, they may yet oppose animal exploitation. They just need lots of time.

Religion is faith, animal suffering fact. People of faith who saw the fact of animal suffering were RSPCA founder Rev Arthur Broome and African jungle doctor Albert Schweitzer.

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