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Religion & Vegetarianism
Are Christians Vegetarians?
from IVU Newsletter, February/March 1996

Religion and Vegetarianism

by Maxwell G. Lee

Religion is a difficult area since it raises so many strong feelings. IVU does not adopt any faith and is neutral in religious matters. However, religion is an aspect of life which we cannot ignore since it has played a major part throughout history in respect of human treatment of animals. Whether it is using animals for food, sacrifice or as objects to be used as we wish, religious groups have adopted a variety of approaches which have caused varying degrees of suffering to animals. Humans have attempted to justify their approach to animals by reference to a variety of religious works.

Whilst many vegetarians are religious, others are opposed to religion since they consider religions to be a major cause of animal suffering. Whatever ones views, religion is an aspect of life which none of us can completely ignore, so IVU is addressing it here.

The approach to vegetarianism by various religions appears to extend from that of Jains with their total respect for life, through the Buddist approach to that of certain Christian orders which practice vegetarianism.

Many members of the Seventh Day Adventist Church are vegetarian, but not all follow the vegetarian path. The Anglican Church usually sees animals as put on Earth for the use of humans and this is similar to the approach of the Roman Catholic Church. A recent issue of INROADS the newsletter of the International Network for Religion and Animals (address below) reported that the founder of INRA had left the Roman Catholic Church into which she was born. The reason for her action was the latest edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. She states that the new Catechism sets in stone what, over the generations, has been a traditional public concept that animals were created for human use (Catechism, page 280). "Animals, like plants, and inanimate beings, are by nature destined for the common good of past, present and future humanity." On page 590 it continues "They may be used to serve the just satisfaction of mans needs."

She goes on to suggest that tradition, passed on from generation to generation, becomes like a bad habit, followed through without or reason, without examination of the initial premise and irrespective of the cultural norms of the time from which the tradition evolved. It ignores advances in knowledge and technology or their effects upon the animal kingdom.

Humans now have total control over the animal kingdom and are able to do what it will with it. We have the knowledge and power to enable most if not all species to be completely eliminated. Surely, this gives us special responsibilities towards animals.

The Catechism states (page 580) "by their very existence they bless and give glory." Animals cannot speak for themselves so we need to act and speak for them.

The Catechism urges people to proceed with kindness and gentleness towards the animals, but the meaning is empty unless such statements are supported with firm proposals to ensure humans act with compassion.

Practices in Spain at religious festivals and similar events often centre on the abuse of animals including stoning them to death, throwing them from a tower and torturing them in the streets to the applause of the audience. Many such actions are justified in the name of religion and it is not just in Spain that such abuses exist.

Discussing eating animals with many religious people usually results in them trying to justify their practices by reference to God and the suggestion that He would approve of such conduct.

For a copy of their newsletter or membership infirmation write to:- INROADS, PO Box 77591, Washington, DC 20013-7591, USA.


Are Christians Vegetarians?

by Keith Akers

This article was provided by Keith Akers of the Denver, Colorado, Vegetarian Society and a former North American Regional Secretary for IVU. He wrote it in association with Richard Shorter of London, England.

Most Christians today probably eat meat without giving it a second thought. But many early Christians were vegetarian, including Clement of Alexandria, Origen, John Chrysostom, and Basil the Great. According to some early church writings, Matthew, Peter and James (the brother of Jesus and first leader of the Jerusalem church) were vegetarian.

The following quotations are offered, not as proof of a vegetarian diet, but just as food for thought for Christians thinking about the meaning of compassion, love, and Gods creation. Does God care about animals? Does he want us to care about animals too?

Early Christian Vegetarians

The apostle Matthew partook of seeds and nuts and vegetables without flesh.
Clement of Alexandria (The Instructor, book 2, chapter 1).

Peter said, "I live on olives and bread to which I rarely only add vegetables."
Pseudo-Clementine Homolies 12,6; also Recognitions 7,6.

James, the brother of the Lord ... was holy from his mothers womb; and he drank no wine nor strong drink, nor did he eat flesh.
Hegesippus, quoted in The Church History of Eusebius, book 2, chapter 23.

Vegetarianism: Original Ideal and Ultimate Hope

And God said, "Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food".
Genesis 1:29-30

Then I will make a covenant on behalf of Israel with the wild beasts, the birds of the air, and the things that creep on the earth, and I will break bow and sword and weapon of war and sweep them off the earth so that all living creatures may lie down without fear.
Hosea 2:18

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
And the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
And the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
And a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall feed;
Their young shall lie down together;
And the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The suckling child shall play over the hole of the asp,
And the weaned child shall put his hand on the adders den.
They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain;
For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord
As the waters cover the sea.
Isaiah 11:6-9

He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.
Revelations 21:4

God Cares About Animals

The Lord is good to all men, and his tender care rests upon all his creatures.
Psalms 145:9

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow and reap and store in barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them.
Matthew 6:26

God Wants Us To Care About Animals

A righteous man cares for his beast.
Proverbs 12:10

When you see the ass of someone who hates you lying helpless under its load, however unwilling you may be to help it, you must give him a hand with it.
Exodus 23:5

When you see your fellow countrymans ass or ox lying on the road, do not ignore it; you must help him to lift it to its feet again.
Deuteronomy 22:4

He who slaughters an ox is like him who kills a man.
Isaiah 66:3

Animal Sacrifices Are Rejected by God

Your countless sacrifices, what are they to me? says the Lord. I am sated with whole-offerings of rams and the fat of buffaloes; I have no desire for the blood of bulls, of sheep and of he-goats. Whenever you come into my presence - who asked you for this? No more shall you trample my courts. The offer of your gifts is useless, the reek of sacrifice is abhorrent to me.
Isaiah 1:11-12

There is blood on your hands; wash yourselves and be clean.
Isaiah 1:16

For a desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God, rather than burnt offerings.
Hosea 6:6

If you had known what that text means, "I require mercy, not sacrifice", you would not have condemned the innocent.
Matthew 12:7

Sacrifices were invented by men to be a pretext for eating flesh.
Clement of Alexandria

Other Christian Testimony

The eating of meat was unknown up to the big flood, but since the flood they have the strings and stinking juices of animal meat into our mouths, just as they threw in front of the grumbling sensual people in the desert. Jesus Christ, who appeared when the time had been fulfilled, has again joined the end with the beginning, so that it is no longer allowed for us to eat animal meat.
St Jerome

The steam of meat meals darkens the spirit. One can hardly have virtue if one enjoys meat meals and feasts. In the earthly paradise there was no wine, no one sacrificed animals, and no one ate meat.
St Basil

All things of creation are children of the Father and thus brothers of man ... God wants us to help animals, if they need help. Every creature in distress has the same right to be protected.
St Francis of Assisi

Let no one regard as light the burden of his responsibility. While so much ill-treatment of animals goes on, while the moans of thirsty animals in railway trucks sound unheard, while so much brutality prevails in our slaughterhouses ... we all bear guilt. Everything that lives has value as a living thing, as one of the manifestations of the mystery that is life.
Albert Schweitzer


Contributions to IVU News are welcomed. Material published does not necessarily reflect the views of the editor or the policy of the International Vegetarian Union.