Sunday, April 13, 2014

God gave people animals to eat. Right?

Peace Pilgrim, one of our most spiritually
aware public figures, said it best.
"I would not kill a creature, and I would
not ask someone else to do it for me, so
I will not eat the flesh of the creature."
I'd like to round out this three-part series of Lenten posts by answering a few responses to last week's Why aren't more Christians vegan?

One response came from a recent acquaintance who is devout in his faith and is unafraid to defend an unpopular stance. For these and other reasons, he's earned my respect. He's put himself out in the public sphere, and even lost friends, for holding fast to his convictions. Interestingly, he is also—for health and environmental reasons—sympathetic to veganism.

In his response to me, he referenced a few well-known Biblical justifications for using animals for human purposes. As I wrote in Biblical and other religious support for veganism, the Bible has been used to justify just about anything—including veganism—so those assertions don't really move me.

What did strike me, though, was his invocation of the "animals in nature kill each other, so it's natural" justification. In this final Lenten post on the subject of vegan Christians, I'll address this and some other common criticisms of veganism. Though other vegans have already done so much better than I can, I've always wanted to answer these questions publicly and in my own voice.

"I saw a fish swallow another fish while snorkeling in the Carribean." "I saw a cheetah take down a wildebeest on a nature program on TV." "I saw my cat trap a bird and tear it to pieces in our backyard." "It's the cycle of life. We are mere participants."

With thanks to Harvey Diamond, who first opened my eyes on this subject, my response to these observations is that those animals are doing precisely what they were designed to do. In their native habitat of water, savannas, or backyards, and using only the claws, fins, and jaws God gave them, they are able to stalk, capture, kill, consume, and digest their living prey.

All of this occurs naturally, without the use of any motors, binoculars, maps, spears, sharpened sticks, traps, slingshots, darts, bolt guns, stun guns, shotguns, prods, rods, bullets, knives, nets, assistance from invisible third parties (like ranchers or butchers), or processing (a slaughterhouse, stove, oven, or a campfire) to help them complete the acts of capture, consumption, and digestion. Humans, on the other hand, must use some combination of all of these to order a cheeseburger, prepare a turkey at Thanksgiving, or even "go fishing."

If we were to turn a man loose in nature, allowing him only the hands and feet God gave him, but gave him no traps or other advantages, he would probably succeed in capturing, killing, and eating earthworms, domesticated animals that trusted him, and perhaps the babies of other species (if their parents didn't defend them). But adult birds? Deer? Even common squirrels?

"Vegans kill, too. They kill living plants."

I once saw a question that addresses this response well: If you saw your neighbor mowing his lawn, would you call the cops to have him arrested? No? What if you saw him chopping off the legs of his dogs and cats? Yes? You mean there's a difference?

Vegans say there is a difference—and that this difference is the sentience that animals share with humans. We have observed that animals feel pain, make decisions, and are inclined to protect themselves and their families from harm, just as humans do.

Vegans believe that the compassion we innately feel towards other people and domesticated animals naturally extends to include all animals. We've looked inward (and/or visited farms) and concluded there's no difference between domesticated and farmed animals, despite how we are conditioned or "taught" by the medical establishment.

Many non-vegans probably agree with us—as evidenced by their disgust or inability to watch slaughterhouse footage of whimpering, scared animals being jostled with electric prods, dragged around, stunned, shot through the head with bolt guns, hung on hooks to slowly bleed to death, or cut apart.

Put most simply: Life is life. Flesh is flesh.

"Vegans eat crops harvested by machines that destroy the habitats of—and kill—untold millions of rodents living in fields."

Yes. We know about harvesting. When we can eliminate this unnecessary death by growing things ourselves or shopping at the local CSA where crops are harvested by hand, we do. When we cannot, we trust that a general intention to respect life is better than a general policy of seeing it as ours to exploit.

"Animals kill each other. Homo sapiens are animals. Ergo, we must kill other animals."

Well, not exactly. Hawks and snakes that snatch baby ducklings are following their instinct, and therefore, don't have a choice. To survive, they must eat smaller animals. Humans, in most places and times in history—and certainly in our modern world—very much have a choice. We can easily thrive selecting only plant-based foods. People without supermarkets and meat substitutes have probably thrived living vegan lives for as long as we've inhabited this planet. (This is a good place to point out that many delicious pasta, soup, and ethnic dishes that omnivores enjoy are already vegan.)

"Vegans are full of it. If push came to shove, they'd kill animals to feed themselves and their families."

What if society breaks down, and supermarkets are empty, you might ask? Would I kill an animal to feed my family, or to feed myself if the only other option were starving to death? Like everyone else who's never been in such a survival situation, I'm glad I don't have to know the answer to this question. Self-preservation and providing for family are, of course, very strong motivators. But when these types of questions are only theoretical, I don't believe we have any moral justification for not at least considering being vegan.

I know I probably won't change many minds with this series of posts. But thankfully, through writing and posting them, I've learned I'm not alone. The Christian Vegetarian Association lists pastors and churches, and posts essays written by other Christians who are vegan and vegetarian. Other bloggers and authors have written extensively on the subject, and plenty of other people and organizations have listed support for a vegan life found in Bible verses.

For the sake of the animals, our health, and the environment, I hope that this conversation continues to grow—and take root in—more hearts.

This is the third and final in a Lenten series on being Christian and vegan. Please visit my other postings on Biblical and other religious support for veganism and Why aren't more Christians vegan?

3 comments:

  1. Great responses. So I think you need to take back the "Though other vegans have already done so much better than I can..." claim. ;)

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  2. Glad to see that once again, you have referenced Harvey Diamond, who was a major influence on my life! I also appreciate the use of the word "sentience."
    This is a great series! I hope many people see it. Maybe some consciousness will be raised.

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  3. Important remark regarding the 'plants are living organisms too' argument. People caring about the hypothetical suffering of plants should definitely go vegetarian, since eating meat kills about nine times more plants then eating plant based products.

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