Saturday, November 27, 2010

I'm not an animal rights activist, pt 2

Ok, I realize I ended my last post on this subject a bit on the snarky side. I guess that was my way of responding to all of those sermons I have heard over the years "correcting" those of us who attempt to live a vegetarian lifestyle.

But back to my parting comment. I mentioned that I actually attempted to go vegetarian a couple of years before it became permanent. This was in the late 80's.  During this time, I was nursing my new infant son, about to have another child, and coming across verses of scripture that seemed to paint those eating a vegetarian diet as weak at best or "following doctrines of demons" at worst.  Yikes! What was I going to do with that?

disclaimer: Those of you my beloved friends who are not Christians, feel free to check out for the next few paragraphs if you like. This part of my rant may seem odd to you. But, if you're curious or intrigued at some of the inner turmoil and conflict that exists in the Church on this issue, read on..

So, let's look at the scripture that seems to condemn the way I've chosen to live my life.

Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the later times some shall depart from the faith, giving head to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils...forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God has created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.  For every creature of God is good and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.  I Timothy 4:1-6

Well, there you have it Simone, see right there proof that your vegetarian/vegan ways are less than godly and bordering on demonic. Just "pray over it" and you're good.  You can eat anything you want.
 I have to say when I was first confronted with that verse, that's what I started to believe too.  Now, I used the King James Version on purpose here. This is the translation I was most familiar with at the time.  And this is where it gets sticky for us Christian veggie people.

I've since learned that the word used for "meat" in this passage is the Greek word broma, which can be translated as simply food or flesh, depending on the context of the passage.  
Commentators often interpret the word here to mean flesh due to the the rest of the passage which has to do with marriage.  During this time in Church history, gnostic teachings often plagued the Church with a dualistic belief system that suggested that all that was natural or earthly(including the physical body, marriage, sexual relations) was evil and that only the spiritual was holy or good.  
This is what the Apostle Paul was dealing with here.  But it's interesting that if you go back to Romans chapter 14, he seems to have a more accepting view of vegetarians. 

Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things.  For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables.  Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him.
Romans 14:1-3

Wow, this is quite a different vibe from the previous passage! In fact, in a more modern translation, the word weak used to describe believers who abstain from flesh is replaced with sensitive conscience.
One reason many early converts to the Christian faith may have had a problem with the idea of eating meat was because they were mostly Jews and the idea of consuming the distinctly non-kosher food of the gentiles (which was at times offered to their idol gods before consumption) was unthinkable.  On the other hand, the new converts who were gentiles may have abstained due to a desire to renounce their old life and all that reminded them of it.
There appears to be no condemnation of vegetarianism in this passage, but an admonition to everyone within the Church to accept one another and refrain from judging each other on the basis of their diet.
I do find it interesting though that just like I've never heard a sermon defending the bug eating I alluded to earlier, I've also never heard from the pulpit the compassion and acceptance towards the vegetable eaters that is commanded.

So what does this have to do with you Simone? Well, it may be possible to justify meat eating from a biblical perspective.  But like many things, that doesn't always mean  that it is the best thing for me to do today, in my world.   Maybe for me the most loving, compassionate thing I can do for God's creatures who often live in such deplorable conditions of suffering and torture, is to not contribute to that suffering and simply refuse to eat them.  But my refusal is not for the animals sake alone.  How much  grain, corn, and soybeans  are actually grown for human consumption?  How much is grown to fatten up animals quickly, which are then slaughtered, which are then purchased for human consumption?    How many more hungry people could be fed in Third World countries with the food that's now being  fed to livestock?

Now I realize that my purchase of plant food today may not contribute to feeding a hungry baby tomorrow. I know the issue is complicated and I don't mean to over simplify.   But if enough of us in the global North decided to make that choice, maybe we could make a small difference.
Maybe the global hunger issue is just too big for you to wrap your mind around. The idea of people starving on the other side of the world while tragic, is just not something you think much about.

Ok, how about something a little closer to home right here in America?
One of the most dangerous jobs in this country is that of a slaughterhouse worker.  It has been said that since the large meat-packing  companies only view the animals they "process" as machines that that mentality simply carries over to how the humans doing the work are treated as well.  Most are people of color from low income communities. The many who are undocumented workers, due to fear of deportation, are vulnerable and not so quick to voice opposition to unfair treatment.   
Do we want to continue giving our hard earned money to this cruel system? One that tortures animals and exploits humans?  I know I don't. Not if I want to take the commandments of my Lord seriously. And that is why I became an activist.

  And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. The second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these.
Mark 12:30-31

note: If this post has piqued your interest to learn more about vegetarianism and animal rights from a Christian perspective, here are a couple of books that I've found to be quite eye-opening on the subject.

Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy
Is God a Vegetarian? Christianity, Vegetarianism, and Animal Rights