March 10th, 2016

Jesus. Bloodshed. Dominion. Mercy. Creation. Violence. Gentleness. Brutality. Benevolence.

Creatures and Christianity.

Working it out with fear and trembling.

I’m interested in the philosophical intersection of “the animal as other” and Christian theology.  I was raised in the south on the Standard American Diet, with extra bacon.  My family was involved in factory farming and that’s how I came to question a lot of things, not least of which was how my food choices relate to my ethics, how we relate to animals,  and why we think what we do about them.

Another post that gets at where I’m coming from … Creatures, Flesh and My Faith … and if this gets me classed as a trouble making heretic, well, I’m totally ok with that.

Standard Disclaimer:

  • This blog is my virtual whiteboard.  I’m likely to revisit posts and tweak them occasionally, with or without indication, as my thoughts develop around certain points.
  • I’m just me.  My opinions are not necessarily those of my church, my family, or the friends I have in any of my various circles.
  • Of course I’m a hypocrite, Of course I’m not perfect in any way.  My actions inevitably fall short of my aspirations.  I believe this is true of myself and every other human on the planet with functioning frontal lobes, a conscience, a soul, a desire for something far better.   This doesn’t mean we can’t turn and chart a new course when we realize how far we’ve strayed.

On Hypocrisy

I’ve learned recently that I’ve been using the word hypocrisy wrong.  Here’s part of the wiki on hypocrisy.

Hypocrisy is the act of persistently pretending to hold beliefs, opinions, virtues, feelings, qualities, or standards that one does not actually hold.  Hypocrisy is thus a kind of lie.  Hypocrisy may come from a desire to hide from others actual motives or feelings. Hypocrisy is not an inconsistency between what is advocated and what is done.

Samuel Johnson made this point when he wrote about the misuse of the charge of “hypocrisy” in Rambler No. 14:

Nothing is more unjust, however common, than to charge with hypocrisy him that expresses zeal for those virtues which he neglects to practice; since he may be sincerely convinced of the advantages of conquering his passions, without having yet obtained the victory, as a man may be confident of the advantages of a voyage, or a journey, without having courage or industry to undertake it, and may honestly recommend to others, those attempts which he neglects himself.[1]

Pointing out how someone is not living up to The Perfect Expression of their ideals says nothing, in and of itself, about the validity of those ideals.  Not being perfect – well, that’s human.  Pretending to aspire to an ideal when you actually don’t, that’s hypocrisy.  I have to put this here because once you start looking into it, you soon realize how literally steeped we are in the horrendous exploitation of animals.  Clothing, chemicals, food, labor … some of it is easy to spot, some of it, not so much.  Getting animal exploitation and cruelty out of my life is an orientation not an achievement.  Diet is the easiest place to start and I think it makes the most impact.  I’m not someone who will say “being vegan” is easy – if by that you mean living a contemporary Western life Completely Free (literally, in every way) of animal exploitation.  We got into it together, we’ll have to get out of it together.  So what do I mean?

What do you mean by vegan?

Pronounced /ˈviːgən/,  originally derived from “vegetarian” in 1944 when Elsie Shrigley and Donald Watson, frustrated that the term “vegetarianism” had come to include the eating of dairy products, founded the UK Vegan Society.  The Vegan Society defines veganism in this way:

[T]he word “veganism” denotes a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude — as far as is possible and practical — all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.

So that’s as close to an ‘official’ definition as you’ll get.  Note the phrase  “as far as is possible and practical”.   People waste plenty of time arguing over this.  As far as I’m concerned, being vegan isn’t about personal purity, or having reached some standard of vegan perfection – as if.  It’s about awakening and turning.

Didn’t God say we could eat animals?

Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we have to, that we should, or that it is God’s ideal for us.  The Bible is full of all manner of evil, because it’s a book about humanity and our wrestling with the notions of good and evil and God.  Does that then mean that whatever happened in the OT is fine for everyone who comes after them for all time under any circumstance?   I certainly don’t think so.  Mosaic law allows for divorce  … Jesus himself reminds us that concession was given due to the hardness of our hearts and doesn’t reflect God’s desire for us as expressed in the beginning, Mark 10:4-6.   In the same way, meat eating is a concession.  I don’t believe we should look to the Bible to justify settling for minimum standards on this or any other issue.  Here’s how I see it, very broadly.

We know where we started … created to be sustained by non-violent sustenance, there weren’t any slaughterhouses in Eden.

Gen. 1:29 God said, “Behold, I have given you every herb yielding seed, which is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree, which bears fruit yielding seed. It will be your food.  30 To every animal of the earth, and to every bird of the sky, and to everything that creeps on the earth, in which there is life, I have given every green herb for food.” And it was so.

Gen. 1:31 God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. There was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

(note that Gen. 1:29 precludes the exercise of dominion given in 1:28 from including killing animals for food)

We know why God sent the flood …

Gen. 6:11 The earth was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence.  12 God saw the earth, and saw that it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.  13 God said to Noah, The end of all flesh has come before me, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth.

We know that for now …

Rom. 8:19 … the creation waits with eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.

Rom. 8:22 … the whole creation groans and travails in pain together until now.

And that …

Col. 1:16 For by him were all things created, in the heavens and on the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things have been created through him, and for him.  17 He is before all things, and in him all things are held together.  18 He is the head of the body, the assembly, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.  19 For all the fullness was pleased to dwell in him;  20 and through him to reconcile all things to himself, by him, whether things on the earth, or things in the heavens, having made peace through the blood of his cross.

And finally, we know where we’re  headed … there won’t be any slaughterhouses there either.

Is. 11:6 The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.  7 And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.  8 And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’ den.  9 They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.

This is the point where I have to question the ease with which some people can say both that this passage is “obviously” metaphorical (because of the apparent biological impossibility) while holding to a literal bodily resurrection of the dead.  Whether you take Eden to be the literal or mythical original paradise, it’s worth noting this aspect of it – the Edenic vision of paradise was written by pastoralists.  People who survived by preying on the flesh and blood of domestic animals wrote a story about how not doing that was God’s ideal. And it wasn’t just good, it was very, very good.

That said,  I see less-violent sustenance as a clear step in the right direction.  I see it as tangible part of the ministry of reconciliation given to those in Christ, a ministry which I believe includes all of creation.   I don’t think changing my diet will change anything beyond what it actually changes.   I do think that it’s a change for the better on moral, economic, and environmental, and health fronts.  And that’s something.

Aren’t there more important issues?

Being “vegan” is a part of my life, not my whole life.  It’s also not something that is incompatible with doing other good things.  It’s not incompatible with Christianity until Christianity becomes nothing more than a front for defending a particular economic habits (that’s the “Christians eat meat” – said as an ontological claim – problem), or until someone claims you have to be vegetarian/vegan to be Christian.  That’s wrong in both directions.  At any rate, compassion and justice aren’t zero-sum games.

Don’t we need meat and dairy to be healthy?

For as long as there have been people asserting that we can’t survive without meat and dairy there have been people doing it.  And that’s a very long time.  We have records of this debate as early as the 6th century bce.

from the American Dietetic Association – Position Paper on Vegetarian Diets

It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes. A vegetarian diet is defined as one that does not include meat (including fowl) or seafood, or products containing those foods. This article reviews the current data related to key nutrients for vegetarians including protein, n-3 fatty acids, iron, zinc, iodine, calcium, and vitamins D and B-12. A vegetarian diet can meet current recommendations for all of these nutrients. In some cases, supplements or fortified foods can provide useful amounts of important nutrients. An evidence-based review showed that vegetarian diets can be nutritionally adequate in pregnancy and result in positive maternal and infant health outcomes. The results of an evidence-based review showed that a vegetarian diet is associated with a lower risk of death from ischemic heart disease. Vegetarians also appear to have lower low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and lower rates of hypertension and type 2 diabetes than nonvegetarians. Furthermore, vegetarians tend to have a lower body mass index and lower overall cancer rates. Features of a vegetarian diet that may reduce risk of chronic disease include lower intakes of saturated fat and cholesterol and higher intakes of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, soy products, fiber, and phytochemicals. The variability of dietary practices among vegetarians makes individual assessment of dietary adequacy essential. In addition to assessing dietary adequacy, food and nutrition professionals can also play key roles in educating vegetarians about sources of specific nutrients, food purchase and preparation, and dietary modifications to meet their needs.

So what do you know about factory farming?

This was my family’s farm, it was contract sow breeding facility.  I know enough.  Don’t bother zooming in trying to see an animal … you won’t.


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