Jesus Doesn't Want Me For a Vegan
You may not say “Jesus doesn’t want me for a vegan” exactly, but do you ever say things like “God allows me to eat animal products”, or “I can’t / don’t need to be vegan because I’m Christian, Muslim, [insert your favourite religion here]“? Alternatively, have you ever caught yourself saying “my religion doesn’t say I have to be vegan”, or “in my religion, eating animal products is not a sin”, or “God gave us animals so we could eat them”? These are all typical excuses offered by non-vegan followers of major world religions for not going vegan, and they are all terrible excuses as we’ll explain in this post.
Of course, it should be noted that many religious people are vegan, either for ethical, spiritual, environmental, or health reasons. There are others who are non-vegan but who do not have much awareness of the subject or who try to justify consuming animal products with other excuses. However, there are many who try to use their religion as an excuse. Note that this post focuses on Christianity, mentioning other religions only occasionally, although the same principles are applicable to most major religions.
It has to be said that these are some of the most infuriatingly daft excuses that we hear on a regular basis for consuming animal products. A common version is “it’s not a sin in my religion”. Upon hearing this, a vegan, especially one who is religious or who has at least grown up in a religious environment, is given to think: “well, many practices are not explicitly labelled as sins in scripture or by religious authorities, but that doesn’t mean that they’re alright. In fact, it doesn’t even mean that the religious authorities and scriptures agree with those practices”.
Indeed, the mere fact that a given practice has not been explicitly declared sinful doesn’t mean that, according to the principles of [insert your favourite religion here], such acts really are acceptable. And it doesn’t seem acceptable that we should think that anything goes, as long as it isn’t an explicitly labelled sin. Just like when we contrast morality with the law, and realise that there has to be a higher standard for our conduct than merely that which is not forbidden in law, when contrasting morality with religion, we ought to realise that there must be a higher standard for our conduct than merely that which is not explicitly prohibited by scripture. For presumably, God gave us not only scripture, but also a conscience.
There are certain other landmark issues from history, the consideration of which can be illuminating when looking at the changing attitudes of religious authorities toward ethical matters. Some of these help to contextualize the attitude of such authorities to animal abuse and exploitation. A particularly obvious example is slavery. Slavery is frequently mentioned in animal liberation discourse, and, for many issues, it does form a useful point of comparison. For one, many do compare the life of abject exploitation, to which an animal imprisoned within the agricultural Gulag is subjected, to historical human slavery. However, more commonly, and more significantly, the example of human slavery is used to illustrate the fact that whilst morality is a universal invariant, (else it would not be valid), cultural norms and attitudes do change. It shows us that aeons can pass during which we can regard something as completely acceptable, laughing people out of town if they express even the slightest doubt about its rectitude, even though, in reality, it constitutes great wrongdoing.
This is one of the reasons that the Holocaust is often referenced within the same discussions: a huge number, nay an overwhelming majority, of ‘innocent citizens’ of Nazi Germany knew full well that they were participating in the commission of genocide, but only a tiny minority rebelled or supported the underground press. This was not caused by a flaw in the German character as many suggest; this was caused by a weakness in human nature. It is interesting to look at the attitude of religion toward cases of extreme barbarism such as these. Just as religious authorities, in the main, failed to condemn slavery, many of them also failed to condemn Nazism. For instance, whilst the Orthodox Church did not support Nazism, this was most likely the result of most of their followers standing on the ‘wrong side’ of the bayonet. Oppositely, many German Evangelists and their churches joined forces with Hitler in order to promote themselves and their own revisionist theology, adopting a mindset no less cynical than Stalin’s.
Of course, many religious authorities did speak out against Hitler, without provocation. Sadly, however, for the most part, the majority of religions, with the notable exception of the Quakers, did nothing to challenge the evils of slavery. Many do try to argue that the bible and other holy scriptures, whilst permitting specific acts of slavery, are, in spirit, proscriptive of slavery. An example from the Christian bible might be the Apostle Paul’s epistle to the Galatians, 5:13-14, which states:
- Ὑμεῖς γὰρ ἐπ᾿ ἐλευθερίᾳ ἐκλήθητε, ἀδελφοί· μόνον μὴ τὴν ἐλευθερίαν εἰς ἀφορμὴν τῇ σαρκί, ἀλλὰ διὰ τῆς ἀγάπης δουλεύετε ἀλλήλοις.
- ὁ γὰρ πᾶς νόμος ἐν ἑνὶ λόγῳ πληροῦται, ἐν τῷ, ἀγαπήσεις τὸν πλησίον σου ὡς σεαυτόν.
In other words:
- For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.
- For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: Thou shalt love thy neighbour* as thyself.
Some religious authorities did eventually start speaking out much later when attitudes had already begun to change both in the political sphere and in wider society. Even then, most major religions did not speak out against slavery in general but only against particular types of slavery or the enslavement of particular groups. For example, Pope Pius II clearly had no issue with slavery per se, although he vehemently disagreed with the enslavement of persons who had been baptized Roman Catholic, the baptism of African slaves having become common practice among some slave traders. The Emperor Constantine the Great, the founding emperor of the Byzantine Empire and first Christian Roman emperor, who was beatified by the Orthodox Church, who remains one of its most revered saints, and who is also a saint of the Roman Catholic Church, introduced reforms that may have nominally reduced some forms of extreme violence against slaves. But he did not seek to stop their inhumane treatment and he did not emancipate them from the crippling bind of slavery. His visage stares back from mosaics in the Hagia Sophia and from icons and statues in churches worldwide. His own empire continued using slaves with approximately the same brutality and inhumanity to which they had been subjected in the ancient Hellenic world and early Roman empire. To brutalize and use human beings like this was ‘tradition’.
The religious authorities of the ancient world did not just avoid helping the oppressed, in some cases they tried to justify slavery. For example, the extremely influential Berber African Bishop and church father St Augustine attempts to justify both war and enslavement, two of the most abhorrent practices in which we engage as human beings, in one fell swoop, by starting from the premise that to be sinful is to exist in a state of slavery. He supports this notion with reference to Genesis, and then goes on to declare:
The origin of the Latin word for slave is supposed to be found in the circumstance that those who by the law of war were liable to be killed were sometimes preserved by their victors, and were hence called servants. And these circumstances could never have arisen save through sin. For even when we wage a just war, our adversaries must be sinning.
And he even goes on to claim:
…every victory, even though gained by wicked men, is a result of the first judgment of God, who humbles the vanquished either for the sake of removing or of punishing their sins.
Simply put, he wants us to accept the idea that people are enslaved in order that they can either atone for their sins or be punished for them. So, he is essentially making the disgraceful assertion that slavery is justified. Not only that, but he also wants us to see the hand of God behind the rape, torture, and murder that is committed by sick and evil minds. Unfortunately, this is not some isolated case that can easily be factored out or treated as completely exceptional. For this kind of thinking has had a lasting and pervasive influence on contemporary religion. In fact, much contemporary dogma is still infected with Augustinian rot or its equivalent. Regardless, most contemporary religious authorities, just like the adherents of their respective dogmas, would be very unlikely to espouse the view that slavery is moral, acceptable, and justifiable. Most religious folk of today see that Augustine’s is a viewpoint that is both illogical and contemptible at the same time. It belongs to the same sin-bin of noxious beliefs as that in which resides the pernicious delusion that disabled people are experiencing some kind of living perdition due to their sins or those of their parents. Of course, contemporary religious people see that these practices are immoral not because they are more illuminated or intelligent than earlier Christians, but because slavery is no longer conventional. Note that no one expects candour regarding the past, as most religious authorities are disinclined to condemn the reprehensible acts and views of their earlier incarnations, due to being notoriously averse to questioning their own infallibility.
The word of God
Jesus Christ Incarnate Himself doesn’t seem to speak of slavery explicitly (even though St Paul and others do make occasional reference to slavery, requesting, for example, that slaves serve their masters with humility), just like He seems not to say anything about how we should treat animals. In fact, the holy scriptures in general have been used to argue both for and against slavery over the years. The direct word of God, as captured by the scriptures, does not seem to provide us with any clear prescription, proscription, or commandment regarding this way of treating people in general (excluding specific cases pertaining to particular individuals and seemingly without universal scope). Historically, some have used this to draw the conclusion that slavery is acceptable according to scripture. Augustine capitalizes on the absence of a discussion of slavery early on in the scriptures as follows:
…it is with justice, we believe, that the condition of slavery is the result of sin. And this is why we do not find the word “slave” in any part of Scripture until righteous Noah branded the sin of his son with this name. It is a name, therefore, introduced by sin and not by nature.
It does, however, seem unthinkable that Jesus Christ would teach us that slavery is a good and proper relationship between human beings. In fact, it seems unthinkable that He would have condoned the actions of the Byzantine Church in failing to demand its abolition. Presumably, He would condemn this brutal exploitation of human beings by other human beings. Also, presumably, the call to humility extends to all, and perhaps especially to the rich slave owners, since, as He made clear, it is almost impossible for a rich man to enter heaven. Consequently, such individuals would perhaps be better off avoiding the exploitation of other human beings, in order that they might have some chance – no matter how slim – of setting themselves on the road to salvation rather than damnation.
Similarly, it seems highly improbable that God would want us to harm animals needlessly. Some do point to practices such as meat eating depicted within the scriptures, in order to illustrate that such practices must have been conventional during biblical times. Whilst it is well known that certain persons featured within the gospels partook of animal products, it should also be noted that they had no real choice but to live that way in ancient Palestine. The same would most likely apply to Jesus Christ Himself, as, having been incarnated as a man of that time and place, He would have been subject to the same living conditions as others around Him. And of course, morally, we have no obligation to justify the things that we do when we cannot do otherwise. So, even God Incarnate’s partaking in such things sets no precedent. Therefore, this does not, in any way, serve as justification for consuming animal flesh or secretions.
God is good, God is great
We can try to think about the issue of animal exploitation slightly more rigorously, while simultaneously attempting to avoid the ruptured mattress of theology, into which one sinks ever deeper if one attempts to establish an argument upon it.
Perhaps we can mention a few tenets of most monotheistic religions in relation to God Himself:
- God is the creator of all things. This includes not only the entire universe in all its vastness, but also all the human beings and non-human animals, and the nature of each.
- God is ethically perfect. This means that God, whilst perfectly capable of doing wrong, would never do wrong.
- God is omnipotent. This means that God is all-powerful and that all things are possible for him, without exception.
- God is omniscient. This means that God has unexceptioned knowledge of every single thing, including our every thought, every theorem of mathematics, the angular momentum of every particle, and so on and so forth, in unlimited detail.
It is an irrefutable fact that animals have rationality and consciousness. This point was even made in antiquity by thinkers who observed that animals have senses, something that makes very little sense if they do not also have rational minds with which to perceive, process, contemplate, and act on sensory input. In fact, ironically, this point was made by Porphyry (Πορφύριος), who later had some of his works burnt by Constantine the Great, the founder of the established church. This basic fact, that animals are sentient, thinking, feeling, beings, is also self-evident to anyone who has given it any serious thought, especially to those of us who have spent much time in the company of non-human animals. We can, however, base the position on scientific evidence. The Francis Crick Memorial Conference 2012 focused on the subject of animal consciousness. Following an in-depth discussion of the wealth of peer-reviewed research on the subject, an international group of prominent neuroscientists, neurologists, and other scientific experts, led by computational neuroscientist and neurophysiologist Dr Philip Low, concluded that animals absolutely do possess sentience. This led to the publication of the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness, which was signed in the presence of the conference’s guest of honour, Professor Stephen Hawking, and which makes, among others, the following statement:
We declare the following: “The absence of a neocortex does not appear to preclude an organism from experiencing affective states. Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Nonhuman animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.”
Non-human animals also have a well-developed capacity to suffer, both somatically as well as psychologically. Furthermore, there is good reason, according to certain eminent biologists, such as Professor Richard Dawkins FRS, to believe that many animals may have a much greater capacity to suffer than do humans.
Additionally, we know from experience that non-human animals strongly and intensely desire to live, something that clearly makes unnecessarily taking their lives even more unjust. Animals have complex emotional lives. This is evidenced not only by their great emotional range, but also by the fact that they experience the most complex of emotions, such as grief, an emotion which also implies that they have a devastatingly clear perception of the finality of death. Voltaire, who scoffed at the misconception that animals are mere ‘automata’, and who not only had the good sense to see that animals are thinking, feeling beings, but also to refer to them without using the dreaded “it”, made the following statement, which resonates conspicuously with the Cambridge Declaration quoted earlier:
You discover in him (an animal) all the same organs of feeling as in yourself. Answer me, mechanist, has Nature arranged all the springs of feeling in this animal to the end that he may not feel?
In summary, that which appeared so obviously true, that animals are thinking, feeling, sentient beings, is also a view robustly grounded in science and rational analysis.
If we are supposed to see God as the creator of all things, in the way that we have declared above, then we would also have to suppose that He created animals in this way, as thinking, feeling, sentient beings, who yearn to live, and who have great capacity to suffer. So, if God wanted us to exploit animals for food and other products, then we would have to accept that God made food for us, which lives and desperately does not want to die, which experiences suffering and desperately does not want to suffer, and that is sentient…
But if God is morally perfect, as we also supposed, why would He make innocent beings suffer to no end, and furthermore, why would He give them the capacity to suffer at all? Moreover, why would He not provide another source of food, that isn’t conscious, that doesn’t suffer, and that doesn’t want to live? Monotheistic religions typically teach us that animals are innocent. Most of them (although not all of them) also teach us that non-human animals do not have a soul. Some teach that they do have a soul, but that it is mortal, in contrast with the immortal human soul. This would mean that, after a sinless life of spiritual innocence, they suffer and die an eternal death, having had only one chance to live as they wish, whilst humans can have eternal life. Even though the idea that God allows suffering for the spiritual furtherance of the individual doesn’t hold much water, even among modern-day theologians, if it were advanced on this occasion, it would be seen to be a particularly cruel worldview. Those, such as Augustine, and all who are influenced by him, who insist that this happens for our benefit rather than the animals’, espouse a view that is especially cruel and regressive. For why should beings be brought into existence and made to suffer and die, just in case others might benefit spiritually? Not to mention the countless animals who, as a matter of fact, die every day, without anyone else around to ‘benefit’ from their death. Clearly, such a display is not one of love, compassion, or justice.
We may instead recast God as morally imperfect, but most would be unwilling to give up His perfection. Even ancient polytheistic societies, toward their later stages, tended to consider their greatest gods to be perfectly just and moral. We may, alternatively, deny that He is the creator of all things, but most would be unwilling to adopt such a view. We could claim that He is not omniscient and that the above is an oversight or just evidence of the limitations of His intelligence, but most would be unwilling to believe that there is anything that God does not know. Finally, we could just suppose that He is not omnipotent. However, if He is not omnipotent, then what is He? Just, quite powerful? A celestial Caesar? Most would not be willing to accept that either.
If God is so perfect and so powerful, and if He made these creatures just as they are, then how on Earth are we supposed to swallow the idea that we are to treat them barbarically and violently, and kill them for no good reason whatsoever, in spite of the fact that they suffer and long to live as we do? Reductio ad absurdum. God, under the circumstances, could have and ought to have made food that does not suffer, and should have known that He should do so. A religious vegan can claim quite contently that He did, by mentioning just one word: “plants”.
Social conditioning is, of course, perfectly normal, although it is one of the greatest sources of danger that lurk within human nature. We are raised in societies in which many values are encultured into us. Usually, we are given these values without being given the tools or motivation necessary to exercise critical thinking and to challenge them. We grow up surrounded by practices and traditions that we blindly accept, that everyone around us blindly accepts, and that our elders blindly accepted. This is a source of great social efficiency in humankind but also a terrifyingly dangerous trait. Religion and tradition would struggle to persist in the absence of social conditioning. On the other hand, in a world without social conditioning, whither tyranny?
The exploitation of animals is, sadly, traditional, and something which we are socially conditioned to regard as acceptable. It is a practice that was born in times of need, during which we had no choice, and which was perpetuated by ignorance long after it had become needless. And, it even continues during the present era, far beyond its own obsolescence, due to wilful ignorance combined with cultural inertia, both consequences of our social conditioning. It doesn’t happen out of necessity, and it doesn’t happen because any religion actually mandates it. Even if traditions involving the consumption or use of animal flesh and secretions exist, they are certainly not demanded by any basic tenet of any major religion, and few religious authorities would issue an edict to the effect that such practices be deemed mandatory. Tradition, in spite of being vacuous, gets attached to personal experience and is thus sentimentalized, and this is just as true of evil traditions as of innocent traditions.
We don’t need to have doubts about whether animals are sentient beings that can suffer. We are just inventing excuses at this point. The whole thing is childish. We need to be honest with ourselves. It is time to have some courage and to do the right thing. Even many young children have the courage to do the right thing of their own initiative. May God bless the parents who have the wisdom and kindness to support them, regardless of their own personal views.
In the beginning, was a plant-based diet
Further inspiration, for curious Christians, Judaists, and others who happen to read the Old Testament, might be gleaned from Genesis. For although the text of the holy scriptures tends to be proscriptive rather than prescriptive in respect of diet, there is one point in the holy scripture where our diet as human beings is explicitly and prescriptively defined. Namely, at the very beginning, in Genesis 1:29-31.
- καὶ εἶπεν ὁ Θεός· ἰδοὺ δέδωκα ὑμῖν πάντα χόρτον σπόριμον σπεῖρον σπέρμα, ὅ ἐστιν ἐπάνω πάσης τῆς γῆς, καὶ πᾶν ξύλον, ὃ ἔχει ἐν ἑαυτῷ καρπὸν σπέρματος σπορίμου, ὑμῖν ἔσται εἰς βρῶσιν·
- καὶ πᾶσι τοῖς θηρίοις τῆς γῆς καὶ πᾶσι τοῖς πετεινοῖς τοῦ οὐρανοῦ καὶ παντὶ ἑρπετῷ ἕρποντι ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς, ὃ ἔχει ἐν ἑαυτῷ ψυχὴν ζωῆς, καὶ πάντα χόρτον χλωρὸν εἰς βρῶσιν. καὶ ἐγένετο οὕτως.
- καὶ εἶδεν ὁ Θεὸς τὰ πάντα, ὅσα ἐποίησε, καὶ ἰδοὺ καλὰ λίαν. καὶ ἐγένετο ἑσπέρα καὶ ἐγένετο πρωΐ, ἡμέρα ἕκτη.
In other words:
- And God said [to man], Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for food.
- And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for food: and it was so.
- And God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.
So, it seems like God is being very clear in Genesis 1:29 when He speaks to newly-created man and declares what his food shall be. The food He is giving us to eat is plants. Not animals. Furthermore, it ought to be food for thought, so to speak, that He speaks to the animals. If God had started speaking to the rocks or the sand or the clouds at this juncture, the meaning of the text would have been impenetrable. But we immediately understand. God is talking to animals, not rocks or what have you, because animals have senses, rationality, and sentience, as all of us know deep down, even if we like to pretend otherwise when it is convenient to do so.
One theme common to most religious cases for our exploitation of non-human animals is so-called ‘dominion’. St Augustine explicitly mentions this in a reference to a different part of Genesis 1, in order to support his justification of slavery, even though he does so with a very poor argument, as we saw above. The text to which he refers is as follows:
- καὶ εἶπεν ὁ Θεός· ποιήσωμεν ἄνθρωπον κατ᾿ εἰκόνα ἡμετέραν καὶ καθ᾿ ὁμοίωσιν, καὶ ἀρχέτωσαν τῶν ἰχθύων τῆς θαλάσσης καὶ τῶν πετεινῶν τοῦ οὐρανοῦ καὶ τῶν κτηνῶν καὶ πάσης τῆς γῆς καὶ πάντων τῶν ἑρπετῶν τῶν ἑρπόντων ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς
In other words:
- Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
Notice that this mentions the concept of “dominion”, i.e. ‘rule’ or ‘superiority’. So, we are inclined to consider what that might mean exactly. Some theologians claim that the dominion that man has over the animals reflects that which God has over man, even if the gulf between man and the animals must be infinitely smaller than that between man and God, since God Himself is infinitely superior. If that were the case, one cannot help but notice a problem, which is that God, we are taught, is protective, loving, forgiving, and caring, and does not do any injustice. Indeed, God is ethically and morally perfect, as we saw earlier. Regardless, just contemplating the word dominion for a few seconds does not reveal any insinuation that what is meant is carte blanche to imprison, exploit, harm, and murder. And, an honest appraisal of the view that we are entitled to mistreat animals in this way due to our supposed superiority, reveals it for what it is: a simple recasting of the moral fallacy ‘might makes right’. A more coherent and morally sound interpretation of dominion would perhaps be protection, curation, conservation, and care. In a word: responsibility. Perhaps, it is dominion in this sense to which God was referring.
St Augustine expounds on his own view a bit more:
This is prescribed by the order of nature: it is thus that God has created man. For “let them,” He says, “have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every creeping thing which creepeth on the earth.” He did not intend that His rational creature, who was made in His image, should have dominion over anything but the irrational creation,—not man over man, but man over the beasts. And hence the righteous men in primitive times were made shepherds of cattle rather than kings of men, God intending thus to teach us what the relative position of the creatures is, and what the desert of sin; for it is with justice, we believe, that the condition of slavery is the result of sin.
It is interesting to note how apposite it is that a justification for slavery should be intertwined with one for animal abuse. It is also curious to note that the saint sees the assignment of dominion as necessary in regard to its relationship with sin, even though this assignment occurs before the Fall of Adam and mankind’s associated acquisition of its sinful nature, and also before the first example of enslavement by sin that Augustine delineates, when Noah uttered the words “Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren”. Putting to one side the irrational assertion that animals are “irrational”, it seems positively perverse to make the suggestion that he makes, that the reason that we are to exploit and mistreat animals, is so that we can see, in their eyes, the suffering that will be meted out to us sinners, in order that we know not to commit sin. What an evil God and what a terrible world St Augustine imagines for us all. For what good, moral God, let alone an ethically perfect God, would create so many sentient, suffering creatures and expose them to so much terrible anguish in order that we are able to have insight into our own sad fate, without their lives having any other purpose?
Ironically, we would only see divine injustice in this, not justice as the saint preposterously states. For those creatures are entirely blameless and yet are made to suffer. They are not even subject to the judgement of God. They are made to suffer for no just reason at all. Imagine that your next door neighbour is taken away for no reason by goons working for a dictator in your country. He is then imprisoned and beaten for no reason. Finally, he is executed for no reason, without a trial or even any accusation being made. You would certainly fear a dictator such as this, but it is not his justice that you would fear. It is, undoubtedly, his extreme and arbitrary injustice that would stalk your nightmares. Any honest person reading Augustine can see that his words condone cruelty to animals with a poor, cop-out argument. This is backward, aberrant, obsolete nonsense, and it should be abandoned. And anyway, when was the last time anyone was inspired to avoid a night of debauchery by contemplating sheep farming?
Religious groups often blindly support the status quo, regardless of whether that accords with their professed values. Their supporters too, in their constant efforts to uphold and substantiate the notion of a timeless institution, often resort to extreme conservatism. For those afraid that their religion may be obsolete, living in the past, however irrational that might be, often seems like the answer. The future is the enemy. Tomorrow cometh the Anti-Christ: ironically to vanquish other people who do not conform to the obsolete ways of the past, those nonconservatives, and to vanquish the threat that societal progress seems to present to the eternal.
In some countries such as Bangladesh, Greece, and Iran, where religious authorities enjoy a stranglehold on state institutions, they exploit their position in order to resist and neutralize any attempt toward social progress. This should not be a complete surprise, as most of the world’s major religions originally achieved spiritual dominion over particular sections of society due to their dogma or values being harmonious with the position and temperament of the rich and powerful of the day. For example, the Christian church itself originates from perhaps the most perfectly canonical theocracy in history, the Byzantine Empire, as one is constantly reminded by the presence of the two-headed Byzantine Eagle that adorns any orthodox temple, one head representing the emperor’s authority, and the other the church’s. Even today, the Roman Catholic Church possesses its own nation. Islam became firmly established in the early caliphates, as they were theocratic, expansionist, and militaristic, and so ensured the aggressive defence and expansion of the religion. In short, much religion is a product of theocracy, and consequently, some religious authorities have had questionable relationships with political authorities down through the ages. Many of them continue to strive to exercise a self-promotional and conservative influence over the political sphere of today. At its best, religion integrates well with society and does not attempt to throttle social progress. At its worst, it becomes an insurmountable obstacle blocking all forward motion. Even though, in some cases, the threat to religious values is more clear, in the case of animal agriculture there ought not to be any conflict between the ethical values of religious folk and vegans. Treating God’s creatures with respect isn’t some modern anti-religious threat or some radical form of atheism. It equates to ethical and spiritual consistency.
Just to be very clear, as this isn’t always obvious to non-vegans: veganism stands for the protection of ALL sentient beings from unnecessary harm and exploitation. We humans are also sentient beings and veganism is also beneficial for us. In terms of the harm being done to humans, aside from the unhealthiness of animal products, a reason for all of us to become vegan immediately, regardless of our religious orientation, is that millions of people are dying every year of starvation, and a very significant proportion of them would not be in that position if it were not for the predominance of animal agriculture within the global food production economy. So, by supporting the animal exploitation industry, you are also doing great harm to your fellow human beings. Just because you don’t see all those innocent people starving and suffering and dying when you look in the mirror or even when you walk down the street, doesn’t make their suffering go away and doesn’t absolve you of your responsibility toward them. The same applies to the millions of animals brutalized and violated behind abattoir walls. Don’t allow yourself to use the worst excuse of all: “out of sight, out of mind”. And even if you really want to believe that your religion condones cruelty to animals, ask yourself, does your religion also condone starving people to death?
Another final point. Just as some ancient religions are thought to have moved away from meat consumption as they understood that it is unavoidably violent, and therefore may desensitize people to violence, perhaps today we ought to realize the same basic fact. By paying for animal abuse and consuming dismembered corpses, we normalize the practice, and, in doing so, we further normalize violence and become further desensitized to it. We ought not to make a world as violent as this one even more violent.
Even though veganism would, at the very least, be compatible with Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and any other major religion, its avoidance is fostered in order to aggressively assert tradition and the conservation thereof. And this is all completely unnecessary! In reality, veganism presents no challenge whatsoever to any major religion and does not constitute the destruction of a traditional way of life. In fact, veganism is entirely consistent and compatible with all religions. Many continue to use their religion as an excuse to avoid doing that which is right, claiming that being vegan is not explicitly mandated by their religion. As should be perfectly obvious at this juncture, this is a remarkably ramshackle excuse that collapses under the slightest scrutiny. We must stop lying to ourselves like this. We must start being honest. We cannot justify the terrible things we are doing to non-human animals and to our fellow humans, with reference to religion, to morality, to science, or anything else. Some things are simply inexcusable.
Veganism should be adopted by all of us, regardless of religious orientation, because this is the right thing to do. Sometimes, we must depart from tradition slightly in order to do that which is right. For those of us who are religious, it is worth bearing in mind that being vegan subtracts nothing at all from our piety, nor from our faithfulness. Veganism is a tiny, trivially easy lifestyle tweak, which is perfectly compatible with every major religion in every respect, and which saves lives. It may even save yours.