Touching the touchy subject

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I try not to talk too much about religion here, but in the last couple of days, I got two pretty dissimilar comments that I wanted to highlight.  The first one (well, three) came from a young (I assume) girl named Jessica who is a recent vegetarian.  This section is what caught my eye (emphasis mine):

I am not against eating meat- I am a Christian and I am fully aware of the reason animals were put on this earth- to eat. I know. But if you DID SOME RESEARCH you would realize the way these animals are treated when they are ALIVE. It’s horrific and although God put these animals on this Earth for us to eat I can bet that he also intended for them to be RESPECTED. Similar to the way animals are treated in India- In India, people there respect the animals they kill, kill them in just ways, eat every part of the animal, and use every part of the animal. […]

Religion should probably not be brought into this but for a Christian- how can it not be brought into this- for me, it is my sole reason for my decision to not participate in the abuse of animals.

Yes God wants us to eat animals but can you honestly think that he would be happy with the way people treat the animals he made?

I think most of us are pretty well tired of the “respect the animal before you kill it” argument.  This argument doesn’t work for any other form of abuse, murder, or violence and it doesn’t work with animals.  But, she also highlights common assumptions made by many: “I am fully aware of the reason animals were put on this earth- to eat” and “Yes God wants us to eat animals…”  These statements are just taken as valid assumptions, self-evident truths.

They’re not.

If there’s a God, it’s awfully presumptive of us to assume we know what she’s thinking.  Pointing to the Bible is, of course, troublesome for all the standard reasons (fallacy of man, text changed by those in power throughout time, translation issues, etc.).  I realize that challenging one’s religious teachings can be difficult, but if you’re going to challenge society’s assumptions about how animals are viewed, why not go all the way since religion (or lack thereof) is key shaping many societies’ views.

On the other side of the spectrum was a great comment from someone who challenged everything they’d thought the Qu’ran said about our use of animals (emphasis, again, mine):

I had many questions about the killing of animals, poultry and fish when I was a young child. I always felt sorry and guilty when they had to be killed. Many years ago, on Eid ul Azha day we were at a farm outside of Toronto (women are not generally welcome to be around when the killing occurs) and of course the  bull was fighting against being slaughtered. The animal was fighting for its life and then the farmer who was doing the killing took a gun and shot the animal in its head and then they proceeded to cut its throat with a sharp knife to ensure that the meat was halal. That killing shook me up inside. The farmer told me that the animal was just stunned.

After I saw that happening I was a bit troubled in my heart and soul. I started having doubts in my mind about my religion. I was practicing my religion more as a habitual, ritualistic manner, not asking questions, not seeking the TRUTH. What was the truth?

But Islam is not to blame, it is us who misinterpret the Quran and disobey the Mosaic Law of the Ten Commandments, “Thou shalt not Kill”. The Quran explicitly forbids Muslims from eating the flesh of dead animals and ingesting the blood of animals. If you kill a sentient being(animals, fowl, fish, etc.), then it is dead. How can you proceed to eat the flesh of dead animals?

I am a logical person and I asked myself those questions and many more. I re-read the Quran and once I became aware of what I was doing, I was deeply troubled, aware that the spiritual leaders, including my parents and family, would not have  the answers for me. Anyway, I continued eating meat because my religion and Muslims were doing this. It was how I was brought up.

Eventually, one thing led to another and thank God, I have finally given up the practice of meat eating. I had lost my compassionate nature when I was eating a lot of animal flesh. I was a changed being. Now, I am more compassionate again to all sentient beings, happier, but still a bit troubled that many Muslims still butt heads with me and rationalize meat eating to this day. As I told my Mom, the Quran also says, “Eat of the good things of the earth, Eat of the garlic, the cucumber and the lentils.” But when I go to the mosque, there is never any lentil dishes and cucumbers.

So, for my religious readers that may still be eating meat and using religion to justify doing so: take a closer look.  Is your reasoning sound or are you basing your judgements on assumptions?  Are you accepting these assumptions because they support what you are currently doing?  Are you cherry picking tiny bits of scripture and weighing them more heavily than the overall theme of the rest of the text?  Does it really come down to you just not wanting to give up meat?

If all else fails, ask yourself this: “Will my God(s) punish me if I abstain from eating meat/dairy/eggs?  Will s/he damn me for opting out of the killing of other sentient beings for my own pleasure?”

The answer to both: probably not.

23 Responses to “Touching the touchy subject”

  1. Jessica D

    I’m still puzzled by so-called christians (using lower case on purpose) who say God wants us to eat animals. Where the heck does it say that? And if so, how come he rained grain on his people when they were starving in the desert, and not filet mignon or kabobs?
    Why does everyone still try to make excuses? If someone choses not to do somthing or to do something it’s their perogative and leave it at that.

  2. Becci

    Plus, there are a lot of extremely pious Christians, Jews, etc, who actually use their religion as evidence that we should NOT be eating animals, so it’s obviously, religious texts are all up to interpretation.

    http://www.jewishveg.com/

    http://www.all-creatures.org/cva/ (Christian)

    http://www.islamveg.com/

  3. Heather L

    I am a Christian and I do not believe that animals were put on this earth to eat. In Genesis 1:29 God specifically tells Adam that the seed-bearing plants and fruit trees were to be his food and the animals were to eat grass and plants. There was no eating of meat untill after sin. At no point has God ever required someone to eat meat. God did require sarifices which pointed to when His Son would be sacrificed. That was done away with after the crucifiction because Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice. Now, I know that if you are a traditional Jew you do not believe in Jesus as your Saviour and are still looking towards your saviours coming. Which leads me to wonder how you get around not doing sacrifices? Anyhoo, If there had never been sin, NO animal would have ever been killed!!

  4. Billy

    Thanks for posting this.

    Animals exist for their own purposes. They do not exist for us to use them as we see fit. I’m sick of the anthropocentric view that exists in our society.

    I respect religious and spiritual people who realize the value of all life and are vegan. Those who use religion as a reason to dominate animals use it as a crutch.

  5. caroline

    Eating meat=violence

    I don’t see God anywhere in that equation.

  6. Marcy

    Point being, we shouldn’t make laws (or lack thereof), for example about slaughtering issues, based on religion. We should have a truly secular society. We have never had true seperation of Church and State in this country, and we still do not. I wish we did, because religion is not a basis for logical arguments or scientific inquiry and never will be. If people want to pray to it that’s fine, but it shouldn’t determine for the rest fo us (whatever the species) live…or die. (I go on a similar rant about how this country feels the immense need to fight gay marriage and the teaching of evolution & truthful sex ed in schools, but I digress.)

  7. Howard Krause

    To Heather: Jews are only required to perform sacrifices during temple periods (ie the first and second temple in Jerusalem). Since there is currently no temple, there are no sacrifices. On a side note, there is a belief that when the third temple is built sacrifices will no longer be performed as people will be on a spiritually high enough level that they will not be needed.

    Having said that, I know of many very religious Jews who do not eat meat for religious reasons. This idea stems from (as said before) the idea that in the garden of eden, all were vegetarian (all of the animals included). Noah was the first man to be given the right to eat meat and this right was given with the laws of kashrut. God was not happy with people eating meat as they were and angrily decided that if they insisted upon killing, there would be laws as for how to do so….

    This was a great post by the way, and it never ceases to amaze me what people are will to do in the name of religion, no matter how skewed their interpretations may be..

  8. Lazurii

    Thank you for this post. I’m Christian and vegetarian, but get a lot of flack in my church for being vegetarian. I even had a mad tell me I was purposely defying God for not eating animals. I’m heartened to see other who have come to the same conclusions I have.

  9. Lazurii

    mad = man

    Perhaps he was a mad man. *smile*

  10. Hamlet

    This irrational belief, that “animals are there for us to use”, “an ideology in which the domination and exploitation of other animals is considered a natural human privilege” (-Melanie Joy) is not exclusive to Christianity or religion. It permeates social belief systems to the point that even rational secular minded people will try to justify it as a philosophical priori “only humans have rights” or with attempts of the scientific “we evolved to eat meat.”

    Philosophic priors offered as undisputed truths and the twisting of evolution theory personified into a sort of authoritarian deity or a manifest of unquestioned genetic morality is more repugnant than a religious person with a hard held belief.

  11. Jovanka

    I got in an argument once with a “christian” who actually attacked my vegetarianism by saying, “What do you think animals are for if they’re not for us to eat?”

    For????

    As if everything not strapped down on this planet is a potential snack. How can anyone think that violence can ever be “Godly”??

  12. Eric Prescott

    Nice job, Ryan. Good to see a full-on post like this outta you. :)

  13. gladcow

    I’m now agnostic, but back in the day I went to a private religious high school. We were required to take bible classes and in one of them we read the entire old testament. I agree that it’s hard to ascertain exactly what the bible means because of all the translation (and possible errors). however, the bible says that man was to have dominion over the animals. I think that means we are to take care of them, not to control them. I was mulling over the laws of Leviticus the other day and thinking that most of them may have been in place for health reasons as opposed to strictly religious reasons. And what about Adventists? They are Christians who strive for veg*nism.

  14. Kris Lecakes Haley

    Because so many religious texts have been dissected and subject to centuries of inconsistent interpretation as it relates to diet and other human activities, I have found it impossible to try to relate ancient words to modern day events. It is key to realize this.

    For me…the bottom line is compassion. And the golden rule. Animals are a part of all creation. Is it an act of compassion to treat animals the way our society does? No. It is ‘ok’ to continue to do that because this is how we ‘interpret’ our sacred texts? No. Animals are worthy of kindness and compassion. Life…and horrific death…in a factory farm environment is hardly compassionate and certainly not kind. In fact, it is concealed violence about which we have been so desensitized that if you ask a child where a hamburger comes from, he or she will likely say, “MacDonalds.”

    It is important to note that religion has been at the forefront of social change for centuries. Some people of faith actually ‘get’ that… as it pertains to animals…and some faith leaders recently exhibited the courage of those convictions. Visit bestfriends.org/signproc to read A Religious Proclamation for Animal Compassion. More and more people and leaders of faith are willing to view kindness and compassion toward animals as a core spiritual value.

    In the meantime…take a look at your dog or cat….look deeply. You can see the spark of life and sentiency…and spirituality in his or her eyes. Then ask yourself…what makes the eyes of a cow or a pig or a chicken any different. If your answer is that they’re not the same…and that domestic farm animals were ‘raised’ for food….that’s not my question. My question is within those eyes…is there truly any difference?

    There is not. However, until thinking shifts…one is your pet and the other is your dinner. And until you begin to ask why, it will continue. Read The World Peace Diet by Dr. Will Tuttle to learn more about how World Peace begins on your plate. The concept contained this book will change your life…and the lives the 10 billion farm animals slaughtered each year for a meat-based diet.

    Willing to look deep within? ( :

  15. Gary

    Great post and really impressive comments ( even Eric’s ;) ).

    If someone thinks that God – the source of boundless love and goodness – wants them to kill and harm animals for pleasure, they really need to question their interpretation, and be unafraid to ask themselves whether they are misusing God perversely as an presumed “permission giver” for their cruelty, exploitation, and greed.

    Killing innocent lives just because you can is a profound violation of the Golden Rule and being merciful. Not to mention “Thou shalt not kill” and God’s ideal vision of a super-vegan world in which no creatures are killed.

    In the Bible, the animals are created before any mention of humans and are declared very good in their own right, independent of any utility purpose for humans. They are, in effect, their own reasons for being. Or, to take a religious view, they are of God and loved by God; they have intrinsic value.

    I agree with Hamlet: Any concept that can (and should) be used for good and for peace is often twisted by those with power to justify domination and brutality.

    Re: Jovanka’s piercingly spot-on comment, perhaps the more probing question is: What are we here for?

  16. Jesse

    Visiting this site gives me hope and peace. Thank you all for your insightful and compassionate comments.

  17. ryan

    Thanks for all the great comments, folks, and for not turning it into a debate about religion.

  18. Sheryl

    Christianity has historically used their religious backing to violate both human and animal rights.

  19. Hamlet

    My apologies in advance if I sound offensive and my apologies to ryan for turning this somewhat into a debate about religion, but Sheryl beat me to it anyway.

    Jovanka, I recall an online forum debate where someone wrote this extensive secular philosophical argument while the entire position rested on the indisputable established assumption, “We know that humans are the dominant species.” You can find this circular reasoning on anti-animal rights websites that offer Western 17th and 18th century rights theory as the final word without any examination of inherent biases.

    Kris, you are welcome to counter religiosity with religiosity, certainly this approach works some people but I find it to be a near futile endeavor, as there seems to be no end to the interpretations of religious texts and doctrines. With the amount of animal sacrifice and ritual inherent in Abrahamic religions, it’s surprising that there are any religious vegetarians from the big three.

    It is interesting that the more devout followers (monks and so on) of most every major religion at one time or another tend to exclude animal flesh. However, so long as prominent religious leaders like Pope Benedict and the Dali Lama eat animals, it doesn’t establish any precedence for religious followers and greatly diminishes the persuasiveness of vegetarianism through religious authority.

    In Christianity, since God made Jesus to be an “ultimate sacrifice,” that condones the practice of sacrifice – the innocence must suffer, be slaughtered and offered to God so that others may live and benefit. This is accepted to the extent of ritualizing the drinking of blood and consumption of body and certainly reaffirms the amount of animal sacrifice and burnt offerings in the Old Testament. I’m not highlighting a sentence or two in scripture from what many regard as the more allegorical sections of the Bible, this is the large brush stroke concept of Christian theology, the raison d’etre. The symbol of the Christianity is a torture device, and it is holy.

    I’m not saying vegetarian Christian’s are wrong, but to be baffled by other Christian’s insistence that animal sacrifice is not only acceptable but in accordance with God’s will and that their interpretation are somehow skewed or without religiously attained merit, is a bit myopic. There’s no stretch of imagination here, just like animals, God put Jesus on Earth for Christians to eat. The way to experience God’s love and acceptance is to kill him and eat him. To reject God’s sacrifice and communion of blood and flesh is to reject God.

    “Animals are worthy of kindness and compassion” Is a justification I hear from everyone, vegan or otherwise, but from the compassionate carnivore in particular. Degrees of kindness, compassion and suffering entail near endless degrees of varying attitudes and practices on how that exactly plays out concerning animal treatment. However, the intention and repercussions to exploit others is more like an on-off switch, a far better baseline to inform veganism. Excluding exploitation brings into question the privileged assumption of use and derives the best outcomes of kindness, compassion, reduced suffering, reverence, respect, and humane treatment — terms that have been so co-opted by every well-intentioned animal exploiter to render them meaningless.

    From the source of the modern vegan movement, the Vegan Society defines veganism as:
    “Ways of living that seek to exclude, as far as possible and practical, all forms of exploitation of animals for food, clothing, or any other purpose.”

    This is not an appeal to philosophical dogma, but a reminder that the overwhelming focus on suffering and compassion (or everlasting health and environmental salvation) and the definitions from many other derivative vegan advocacy groups are incomplete and incomprehensive without mention of non-exploitation. I’ll go so far as to say that omitting non-exploitation misses the whole point.

    There is an experience of otherness to address in gazing into the eyes of different species so that this is not the most informative approach to unprejudiced understanding. Even gazing into the eyes of other humans whose genetic heredity seemingly contrasts one’s own, can conjure this perception of separation. Fortunately, the same way we know that the earth is round and revolves around the sun despite our initial terrestrial intuition, formal observation and rational understanding of human and animal anatomy and psychology informs against our pernicious instincts — we (vertebrates in particular) are all so much more alike than different. But before we emulate animal behavior and morality based on our similarities, we need to establish what attributes truly define our humanity.

    I disagree that “religion has been at the forefront of social change for centuries.” Social change has progressed despite religion. The final holdouts of enlightenments, scientific revolutions and beneficial social movements are the religious.

    I don’t wish to dismiss or offend those with religious beliefs especially when they somehow inform a lifestyle of non-exploitation, but I question the value in debating the subjective and undebatable qualities entrenched in patriarchal, authoritarian, sacrificial, religious practice.

    Vegetarianism has projected mysticism and religiously influenced and specious beliefs long enough, perhaps to attract the majority who hold a supernatural worldview. It suffers now as many people categorize it as some sort of religion or cultish following. This overshadows the rational evidence and science-based conclusions that are logical and defensible and the small, yet notable, history of secular-minded philosophers and scientists who affirm these concrete ideas.

    The religious, on a whole, are not going to further social change, since change is almost an anathema of how established religion works. By perpetuating uncanny rationales, faith-based claims and irrational actions of some activist groups it becomes an obstacle for conveying vegansim to freethinkers and the critically minded — the ones more inclined to embrace and advance positive social change.

  20. Gary

    People have historically (and to this day) used science and philosophy as well as religion to justify exploitation.

    The unselfish view of Jesus’s crucifixion is that he dramatically displayed how the powerful should exercise self-sacrifice on behalf of the less powerful.

    In fact the main event that led to Jesus being killed by the state was an act of mass-animal liberation he performed at the Temple.

    The latter prophets plainly state that God abhors and does not want animal sacrifice. It is rebuked many other places.

    The bible begins and ends with an ultra-vegan world in which there is no killing or exploitation. Mercy, humility, “the meek shall inherit the earth,” “thou shalt neither hurt nor destroy,” “thou shalt not kill,” the Golden Rule, and so forth – these are repeated themes throughout the bible. Departures from that are the “noise,” as Norm Phelps puts it, that should be discounted.

    I find that most Christians “get” that being merciful and killing for pleasure are incompatible, and that a loving God will not mind if we treat his creatures with as much respect and kindness as possible. Sure, they’ll defend their meat-eating with a few passages from the bible (which are easy to refute), as well as “but humans are designed to eat meat” and “what will happen to the cows if we suddenly stop eating them” and “what if you were on a desert island,” and so forth, but nearly all carnivores get defensive and resort to desperate and implausible rationalizations at first. That’s just part of the process.

    When a carnivore declares that animals are worthy of compassion – which they are – I find that either:

    a) the carnivore has a constrained and conditional compassion, and/or
    b) the carniviore’s heart may be in the right place, but s/he is addicted to meat and/or is afraid s/he’ll wither away without meat and/or is weak-willed and/or is morally lazy, and/or
    c) the carnivore is saying what they know is right, but without conviction.

    There are different degrees of compassion, but strong and deep compassion goes far beyond non-exploitation. Refraining from exploitation is merely one manifestation of compassion. By all means we should advocate veganism, but we should also cultivate and encourage compassion; without it I can’t see how we’ll achieve a truly peaceful and harmonious world.

  21. Gary

    BTW, if you do much one-on-one activism, and don’t feel like debating religion with Christian who defend meat-eating, you may want to have on hand some copies of the Christian Vegetarian Association’s pamphlet, which advocates veg*anism from a Christian point of view. It’s a way to avoid getting into a run-on discussion, and IMHO it presents its case eloquently and respectfully.

    I would also recommend the brochure to any Christian meat-eater.

    http://www.all-creatures.org/cva/honoring.htm

  22. johanna

    I recently read The Longest Struggle: Animal Advocacy from Pythagoras to PETA & one of the things I liked about it was that it talked about early strains of animal compassion in major religions. Since I’m agnostic & the most religious reading I’ve done was b/c I was an English major (ie. I had to read parts of the Bible for certain classes), it was all new to me!

  23. girl least likely to

    the interesting thing, to me, is that it’s not always/only “the religious people” who use this argument. i remember being completely astounded when my *mom* said to me, “well but they were put here for us to eat!” because she has never struck me as a religious person. i mean, i was raised as a christian (a very liberal/progressive denomination), but we didn’t even pray before dinner. i was totally shocked when she relied on that argument when pressed. i almost wonder if it’s a passionate argument for some; a lazy one for others.

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