Posts Tagged ‘sacrifice’

more on “The Vegetarian Myth”

October 27th, 2010 No comments

Another critique of Lierre Keith’s book from a new blog, Philosophical Overview … definitely worth a full read.  Here’s a bit that caught my attention …

Keith implies that her “animist ethic” is the same as the worldview of “indigenous cultures”. At one point she identifies it with the worldview of the ancient Mayans (5), which is strange as the Mayans are mainly famous for having founded a civilized, agricultural society in the New World. I doubt that her animism has much to do with the religious ideas and practices of Native American cultures, though. The sense of relatedness to plants and animals described in accounts of many indigenous American cultures has more to do with the totemism of tribal systems than an ethic of leaving a light ecological footprint. Some have theorized that the extinction of New World megafauna at the end of the last ice age was a result of the hunting practices of the newly arrived Clovis humans (although this theory remains controversial). Somewhat less controversial is evidence of hunting practices at buffalo jumps, which appears to upset the view that Native Americans only killed as many animals as they could use. Whatever the case may be, these archaeological observations would not imply any moral condemnation of Native Americans, who like all other people developed methods for surviving in their environments as best they could. It is absurd to consider such observations racist, as some have done, and one is not doing Native Americans any favours by romanticizing them to serve one’s own ends.

This angle of romanticizing The Native Americans™ is one that I’ve personally encountered.  The most thorough response to and analysis of this move is covered in one of my favorite Compassionate Cooks episodes – Honoring the Animals We Eat – Just Like the Native Americans – which is now added to the new Podcasts and Papers page here.  Make sure you listen all the way to the end where Colleen reads a short essay by a Native American woman about this very topic.  It’s beautifully written and gives much needed perspective on how we use Native Americans™ as punctuation in our own narratives rather than listening to them tell their own.

Like the Mayans … I’m pretty sure we don’t want to be doing things like the Mayans per se.

H/T  PaleoVeganology

“Cheap food is Cheat food”

September 15th, 2010 No comments

via SoulVeggie

“We don’t pay that, they pay that.”

They – domestic workers, domestic animals, third world countries, or, back in the day, slaves and conquered peoples  -pay … externalizing the cost.  Scapegoating, substitution, that’s one kind of sacrifice.  Self-sacrifice is another.  Granted there are different frames for all kinds of things that get labeled religious sacrifice, but I’m interested in blood sacrifice and specifically ones that involve some notion of propitiation or guilt removal. Not so much in the brute act of killing but in the narrative transformation of another’s loss into your gain, the logical move that absolves you of the guilt.

I’ve always puzzled at the difference between the notions of killing vs. sacrifice.  It seems like killing is a scenario in which there are only two agents involved and one agent takes the life of another.  It seems that religious sacrifice involves the deflection of that responsibility onto a third party, via narrative.  From the objective outsider perspective, it’s identical.   I can’t remember who said it right now, I think it was Rene Girard, “We’re all butchers pretending to be priests.”  I’m not sure of the original context but in many ways, that seems about right.   Even if you don’t believe in the metaphysical propositions behind it, what would the image of the bloody, torn body of God represent to you?

Lunch meat?
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Happy Meat and Religious Sacrifice

June 11th, 2010 No comments

There really is nothing new under the sun especially when you look at today’s rituals of animal slaughter with the critical literature on religious blood sacrifice.  In my cultural time and place we think of “animal sacrifice” as something spooky and violent that other people do.  We ‘other’ it either by geographic location, cultural location, or temporally with some designation of “primitive”.   We also distance ourselves from it, mystify it, simply by labeling it “religious sacrifice” or conversely in the secular sense, by hiding it away out of sight.  So for the sake of conversation, let me put it in the most simplistic terms possible.  Blood sacrifice involves one individual or group killing a victim (human or animal) in order to receive some expected benefit from its death, a benefit that putatively can’t be obtained otherwise (favor of the gods, i.e. communal cohesion, agricultural success etc., communication from the gods, i.e  divination-reading entrails etc., “spiritual energy”, the ‘power’ contained in the victim, etc.)  That’s it.  That’s the brute fact that unites the backyard bbq, the temple cult of ancient Israel, the Aztecs, etc.   At this most basic level there’s nothing spooky, mystical, religious, or even really interesting about it.  It’s calculated and mechanistic, this for that.  It’s predatory.

The level that is interesting to me is the cultural narrative.  Though the act remains the same, it’s the narrative, the cultural packaging, the language describing the logic (what the benefit is and how it is supposedly being obtained by the killers) that changes.  What does this have to do with Happy Meat and Conscientious Carnism?  And aren’t I just being polemical constantly referring to “meat consumption” with the language of religious sacrifice?   (if you’re really, really interested in this perspective see The Cuisine of Sacrifice Among the Greeks.) Well, no, I don’t think I am.  Much of blood sacrifice is alimentary in nature, having roots in some notion of literally feeding (propitiating) the heavenly gods – if you don’t keep them properly fed they get really grouchy and things get screwgy.  made in the image of God.

<tangent> That’s the thing about the Genesis story.   Unlike the creation myths of the surrounding cultures, it was a peaceful creation, at least the first story is.  I think the second story would count as peaceful too, in the sense that there wasn’t any battle.   At any rate, creation in Genesis didn’t come into being by way of thievery, angst, mischief, or some cosmic cage match.  If we were created in the image of that god then that means something very special as far as creation stories go.  I hate to see it treated as the lay person version of ‘justamyth’.  It may be a myth in the technical literary sense but creation myths are the most important foundations of culture.   Language goes a long way toward creating and maintaining our perception of reality, our grounding if you will.  God spoke the world into being.  I don’t think you can say, “just a myth”, and understand the work true myths actually do.  I also hate to see the extent to which, in some versions of Christianity, the cosmic cage match or the idea of violent creation has been put back into the story, substituted for the real one .  By that I mean the way in which some Christians see the cross as the beginning of their world as if that was the beginning of the world … if the cross is seen as the necessary holy violence in which the Christian creation myth is grounded, rather than as a critique of it, then you’ve totally undermined the whole thing.  That may be some sort of Christian creation myth but in my opinion, it’s given up any claim to relationship with the story in the beginning of the book.</tangent>

Anyway, when you blow away the smoke of both religious and secular obfuscation it looks pretty much the same; slaughter is as slaughter does.  Here’s one example.  Think of the narrative around more ‘humane’ food animal husbandry.  Food animals of course are sacred, sacrificial. They’re set apart to be used by and killed for others.  We think their death gives us life. Better yet we think their death is necessary for our life.  Anyway.  In reaction to the utter inhumanity of factory farming, the new marketing focus is on how caring the farmers are, how they have respect for their animals.  The caring farmer treats his animals more like ‘family’ compared to the animals in the care of those other farmers who end up on those horrible expose videos.  The “conscientious carnivore” gets to know the animals they pay others to kill for them, or at least wants to know the farmer knew his animals.  Some go so far as insisting on doing the killing themselves.  Often times this getting close to the animal before you kill it will be described in positively nostalgic, even romantic terms.

That’s so religious.

Compare it with the following description of a religious ritual of the “primitive” Ainu people of Japan:

The Ainu celebrate a bear feast; a very young bear is captured, suckled and carefully reared by a woman, pampered and spoilt for several years and finally killed; in the slaying the whole community participates, at least symbolically; it is then sincerely mourned, and consumed ceremonially in a communal meal.  It is the animal of the community; and this follows from the fact that it can be a sacrificial animal only if it has grown up in the tribe, so that a wild bear would be useless for the purpose; it is as it were the child of the woman who brought it up, and who laments it.

~ excepted from G. van der Leeuw,  Religion in Essence and Manifestation in Understanding Religious Sacrifice: a Reader, 157.

They care for it.  They nurture it.  They literally bring it into their metaphorical circle or tribe or family. It’s domesticated.  It’s one of them. They kill it.  They mourn it.  They consume it.  It’s sacred.  And they either do it or reenact it according to some need or schedule.  Killing for selfish gain and wrapping the whole process in the blanket of nurturing and caring and relationship. That’s the shared meta-narrative of happy meat and of much “primitive” ritual killing / religious blood sacrifice.  Truly, they pity and eat the object of their compassion.

(Now, I get the extent to which this process is metaphorized, spiritualized in Christianity.  But the fact that the ritual killing of human “animals” (conversion) is spiritualized doesn’t change the fact that real animals, sentient and morally innocent creatures, are still being actually, literally scapegoated and sacrificed today.)

Once you get out of it, once you see the extent to which the veil of “tragic necessity” really is just a veil (it’s tragic, but not a necessity) it all seems so … bizarre.   Let me clarify that … the killing of real animals is, for most people, nothing like a necessity.  The metaphorized killing of the human animal, more so than ever.  If only we could see the extent to which our behavior toward other real, literal creatures makes us worse than those real animals by an almost unimaginable degree.  Unimaginable, that is until you actually see it, literally and spiritually.  Seeing it – now that’s an Apocalypse.  Maybe that’s why we work so hard to keep it both literally and linguistically hidden.

Lent, Sacrifice, and the Fathers

February 21st, 2010 No comments

Eschatological abstinence is an element of a broader perspective on the Christian life, a perspective that envisions a world that existed prior to the Fall and a world that will be restored at the end of the age (eschaton, literally,“last thing”).

For Church Fathers such as Chrysostom, Jerome, and Cassian, one’s diet is particularly relevant to the goal of embodying the Edenic state,because they consider the original sin of Adam and Eve to be gluttony.26 Thus,dietary renunciation is seen to be a means of redressing this situation and returning to an Edenic state.Furthermore,Basil of Caesarea and Jerome note that fasting from flesh foods is an image of life as it was in the Garden of Eden because in paradise there was no sacrifice of animals or eating of animal flesh.27 While neither rules out all consumption of animal flesh as inherently and necessarily sinful, Jerome notes that the allowance of flesh eating occurs only after the flood and is a concession to “the hardness of human hearts.”28


For many of the patristic authors,a recreation of the Edenic state involves not only abstaining from eating animals,but also,as Basil notes,abstaining from sacrificing animals.37 This brings us to the other important eating practice in Christianity.The Eucharist is the remembrance of the sacrificial death of Jesus, a remembrance of thanksgiving in which believers share in Christ’s body (I Cor.11). Through this practice, Christians are incorporated into Christ’s body (Christ’s body being understood both individually and corporately). In light of this,it is not surprising that some opponents accused the early Christians of cannibalism.  Although there was significant diversity of food elements in early Christian eucharists and/or agape meals,or both,there is no evidence that animal flesh was ever a part of these celebrations of thanksgiving.What significance,if any,should be made of this?

In his extensive study of all the food elements that appear in early Christian ritual meals, Andrew McGowan notes that while bread and wine seem to have been the dominant elements from the beginning,the occasional choice of other elements is not insignificant. The appearance of oils,vegetables,and salt seem to be a means of emphasizing the rejection of meat and its association with bloody sacrifice. Similarly,the appearance of milk (and sometimes cheese, or both),honey,and olives in some celebrations can be seen as celebratory elements of a restored paradise-like state,also distinguished from a society built on bloodshed.38

J Berkman, “The Consumption of Animals and the Catholic Tradition,” Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture 7 (2004): 174-190.

Trumping the Hitler card

January 7th, 2010 No comments

Godwin’s Law refers to playing the Hitler card in an argument.  It was coined in the early 90’s to capture the fact that the longer an internet forum conversation goes on the more likely it is that someone will resort to a Hitler/Nazi reference.  A snippet about Godwin’s law from here,

Note that the Law does not apply to serious discussions of Fascist Germany or its policies, but rather describes the point at which a serious discussion unrelated to those topics has degenerated into mindless namecalling and is no longer worth the time spent reading it. It is generally accepted that whoever is the first to play the “Hitler” card has lost the argument as well as any trace of respect.

Godwin’s Law as logical fallacy explained here.  The basic idea is to introduce guilt by association, imply the slippery slope etc.  The “Hitler was a vegetarian” move gets it’s own page here where it’s stated simply, “The fact that Hitler was a vegetarian does not discredit vegetarianism, any more than the fact that he didn’t smoke discredits not smoking.”   So if you’re reading this as someone who’s had the Hitler card played against you, enjoy the links above and know that you’re in good company.  If you’re someone who plays the Hitler card in the ways described above … honestly, just don’t.  Hitler ate sugar.
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Thoughts on Thanksgiving

November 21st, 2009 No comments

Colleen Patrick-Goudreau

from the Nov. 3, 2007 Food for Thought Podcast … give this Thanksgiving history and menu episode a listen, it has some very interesting Thanksgiving history.

Most people don’t know that our contemporary customs at Thanksgiving, namely the serving of turkeys, were shaped and popularized by a magazine editor, Sarah Josepha Hale, in the mid-1800s. Whatever meaning we attribute to this Thanksgiving holiday is most certainly not lost (in fact, it is enhanced) by creating food-based rituals that affirm rather than take life, that demonstrate compassion and empathy rather than selfishness and gluttony, that celebrate the fact that no one need be sacrificed in order that we should eat. In today’s episode, I offer a number of different menus for a beautiful holiday feast that delights the senses and reflects our values.

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The Christian Origins of Suicide Food

November 10th, 2009 No comments

An unexpected little blurb about suicide food.    Martyrs are fed to vicious animals to propitiate the vicious animals, God seething mob.  Pigs and cows are martyrs animals .   Jesus was an animal God incarnate, who, as the ultimate martyr, was fed to vicious animals slaughtered for the animals, God us so we could be fed saved.  It’s all the same clear now.

In the transition from a pagan to a Christian culture, Christian conceptions of sacrifice were sometimes combined with traditional conceptions.  From the Nolan countryside, the Christian monk Paulinus wrote in 406 ce about a pig and a heifer that offered themselves for slaughter at the tomb of Saint Felix (Carmen, 20).  As Denis Trout has recently shown, when animals were slaughtered at the tomb of Saint Felix, the needs of rural life were thus taken care of, and Christian and pre-Christian religious practices were combined. (Trout 1995; cf. Trout 1999: 179-86).  It is worth noting that in the Christian amalgamation of traditional sacrificial ritual and Christian piety, the animals were not merely cooperating as they had been expected to do in the traditional sacrificial cults.  The pig and the heifer were eagerly and happily hurrying towards their destiny as the Christian martyrs were thought to do.

~ Ingvild Saelid Gilhus, Animals, Gods And Humans:  Changing Attitudes to Animals in Greek, Roman and Early Christian Ideas (New York: Routledge, 2006), 157.   The Trout reference is from Trout, D.E. (1995) “Christianizing the Nolan countryside: animal sacrifice at the tomb of St. Felix”, Journal of Early Christian Studies 3, 3, 281-98.  and  (1999) Paulinus of Nola:  Life, Letters, and Poems, Berkely, Los Angeles and London: Univ. of California Press.

Idolatry, Holidays, and the Fun of Sacrificial Victims

November 9th, 2009 No comments

Elizabeth Kolbert reviewing “Eating Animals“,

How is it that Americans, so solicitous of the animals they keep as pets, are so indifferent toward the ones they cook for dinner? The answer cannot lie in the beasts themselves. Pigs, after all, are quite companionable, and dogs are said to be delicious.

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Searching for the will of Heaven

September 11th, 2009 No comments

Just got the book “Ethical Vegetarianism: from Pythagoras to Peter Singer”.  It’s a collection of writings about vegetarianism throughout western history.  These are the voices that I recognize, my tribe. This first one is from the section on Pythagoras, specifically, the Roman poet Ovid writing Metamorphosis (around 1 ce) reflecting the teachings of Pythagoras, p. 17-18. Part of what I see in this passage is the similarity between this version of the idea that something fundamentally about food led to greater and greater evil and the version at the beginning of the Biblical story. The Bible also begins with the story of something about food leading to the downfall of humanity, food that was forbidden, in the garden where there was to be no bloodshed. Here’s Ovid discerning the cult of death in his day. Read more…

The Bride of Christ

March 16th, 2009 No comments

Black is White.  Evil is Good.  We’re already in hell.  Thanks Jonathan for fighting the good fight.  There are some things that can’t actually be done “for the glory of God”.  

Humane: having or showing compassion or benevolence.  

Benevolence: well meaning and kindly.  

Compassion: feeling of sympathy or sorrow for the suffering of another, often includes showing mercy.  

Mercy: showing compassion when it is within one’s power to harm.

What could “humane meat” possibly mean when there is a perfectly viable option to not kill in the first place?  It seems to me like the exact same kind of mental gymnastics required to say the words “humane abortion”, or “humane rape”, or “humane torture”.   If humane can be used this way then I suggest it means nothing.  If humane can be used this way as some sort of definitive descriptor of humanity then I also suggest that humanity means nothing.