Thursday, March 21, 2013

Should Christians be Vegetarians?





Many of you may never have considered this topic but for others it is a source of sleep deprivation. Here is a quick sketch of the issues.



1. Meat eating starts in the Biblical story in Genesis 9:3 as part of the Noahic Covenant. So while all descendants of Noah (that probably includes you) have been given birds, land animals and fish to eat by God we are also aware that in our prelapsarian state and even some time after humanity was vegetarian.

2. Moving from a theology from above to one from below we would never suggest that lions or eagles or sharks are wrong to eat their prey and we surely as creatures just fit into that food chain as well as apex predators (which would make mosquitoes super-apex predators!)



3. Fundamental to the new covenant is the removal of restrictions on foods that previously served as boundaries of ethno-religious communities and the replacement with the sanctifying action of thankgiving or "saying grace" (1 Tim 4:4). So we must be very hesitant to generate new legal food eating codes that define Christian edibles.

4. However, it being right to eat meat does not make it right to be cruel to animals. Kindness to animals is hardly a central biblical theme, but it is there (e.g. Deut 22:4, 25:4, Exod 21:33) and how we treat animal is  related in the New Testament to the way we treat humans (and bible teachers!) (e.g Luke 14:1-6, 1 Cor 9:7-12). A number of significant Christian thinkers and leaders over history have advocated for compassion towards our fellow creatures and it would seem a logical correlate to our creation mandated stewardship of the earth (Gen 1:26) and of the new creation based on the royal law of love (Jam 2:8). So permission to eat does not equal permission to mistreat.



4. So given that in general it is right and proper to eat meat with thanksgiving is it right in particular to do so? I would suggest two considerations that should be taken into account for the Christians contemplating vegetarianism. The first, already mentioned, is cruelty. I only buy free range eggs because I consider cage and barn farming of chickens to be cruel. However, I cannot afford to buy free range meat and I am conscious that my diet is not cruelty free. The ideal is to buy half a free range cow or sheep from a friend or relative who farms their own animal, and from time to time I've been able to do this, but not everyone can and freezer space is a big issue. If we are to eat meat from industrialised farming then thought does need to be given to how we mitigate the cruelty that we participate in and benefit from.  (It has been argued that vegetarianism with it's consumption of dairy products is crueller than meat eating)

5. The second issue is economics. The reality is that there is not enough quality arable land for us all to be vegetarian and we do need meat to feed the human race. While our current meat heavy consumption is unsustainable all converting to vegetarianism is not the answer either. However those who refrain from meat mitigate to some extent those who over indulge so maybe it is still worth doing if that is your bag.

Conclusion
Certainly a Christian can be vegetarian, especially based on issues of cruelty and economics. However, they should not take a legalistic stance on the matter and must try not to judge those who can't stop shovelling bacon into their fat faces.

Let me know what you think :-)

Recommended resource for further thought and recipe ideas Repentant Carnivores Blog

2 comments:

  1. As you know I'd advocate neither full-on carnivore, nor vegetarian, but a mix of carnivore and vegan (with dairy and eggs counting as carnivore). It does not have a trendy or even simple name, unless "repentant carnivore" catches on. But that combination seems kindest to the earth, other humans, animals and even ourselves. As well as probably being as near as we can conveniently get to the "diet Jesus ate" ;)

    In the light about your comment concerning arable land and vegetarianism, two comments:
    1. much land that is currently used for grazing could be used for crops, we are converting a paddock in the hills (sheep or beef country) to potatoes and veges...
    2. I wonder what the figures are for Vegans, I know they need much less arable land than vegetarians!

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  2. well i like repentant carnivore, my current trajectory is to try and source my own eggs and meat, the problem is by doing so i withdraw my support from the free range food producers . . . a conundrum. but the girls want chickens so i can't argue.

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