Vegetarianism and the Major World Religions

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Vegetarianism and the Major World Religions

By Stephen Augustine

[This presentation can be shown with the PowerPoint Vegetarianism and the Major World Religions.]

My talk this morning is titled “Vegetarianism and World Religions” and is ostensibly about dietary choices. But, in reality, it is about a spiritual journey that everyone is invited to join in to transform ourselves and our entire world. It is an invitation to live in love and results in a far-reaching peace that comes from that living in love. It is about God’s love for all Creation and all creatures great and small and an invitation to us to offer peace to this good and holy Creation and all the creatures therein.

(Introduction)

Good morning. My name is [name] and I am with [affiliation]. I am very pleased to be with you this morning and I thank you for allowing me to share some thoughts with you today. I brought with me several pamphlets and DVDs that will be available after the service and which I encourage you to take home with you. [Insert any announcement about any vegetarian community events or activities to which you wish to invite the congregation]

Today we celebrate [Palm Sunday. A remembrance of the day when Jesus, the prophetic Prince of Peace in Christian scripture, rode into Jerusalem on a lowly donkey, a steed of peace,] to offer an invitation to the Jews to reject violence and to embrace the Peace of the Kingdom of God with mercy and compassion.

My talk this morning is titled “Vegetarianism and World Religions” and is ostensibly about dietary choices. But, in reality, it is about a spiritual journey that everyone is invited to join in to transform ourselves and our entire world. It is an invitation to live in love and results in a far-reaching peace that comes from that living in love. It is about God’s love for all Creation and all creatures great and small and an invitation to us to offer peace to this good and holy Creation and all the creatures therein.

At about the same time that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey 2000 years ago, Lucius Annaeus Seneca, the Roman Stoic philosopher & statesman, said:

“What with our hooks, snares, nets, and dogs, we are at war with all living creatures, and nothing comes amiss but that which is either too cheap or too common; and all this is to gratify a fantastical palate.”

The reality of worldwide animal agriculture today is that 55 billion warm-blooded sentient beings, beings that have emotions, beings that experience love, pain, and joy like us, are confined and slaughtered every year in the most horrific of ways. That’s 6 million every hour of every day to gratify that fantastical palate. In addition there are uncounted billions more marine animals that are killed every year – also to gratify that fantastical palate. It brings to mind the Apostle Paul when he wrote - “All Creation groans in agony.”

A basic question that could be asked is whether Seneca was wrong in calling human appetite for flesh “fantastical”. That is, are or are not the bodies of other animals meant to be food for us? A study of the body structure of humans as a biological animal, and, drawing from anthropology, fossil evidence, and our closest relatives in the wild – namely chimpanzees and gorillas – humans are far closer to being an herbivore than either a carnivore or true omnivore. On a dietary scale of 1-10 ranging from pure herbivore to obligate carnivore, if an elephant or a cow was a 1 and if a lion or tiger was a 10 then a true omnivore such as a grizzly bear or raccoon would be a 5 and I would place humans at about 2. More specifically, humans began their evolution as hominids who primarily subsisted on fruits, seeds, nuts and roots. Almost eerily, this biological reality is echoed in the opening chapter of the Hebrew Scriptures in Genesis where humans are created and God said “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.”

The relevant question for us is not whether we are able to be carnivores but whether we need to be carnivores. Human adaptations for omnivorism aided early homo sapiens by providing survival opportunities when plant foods were scarce or lacking and they could scavenge from the kills of true carnivores. However, the major religions all recognize the truth that we do NOT need to be eaters of flesh, that carnivorism is a deviation from our true nature and accordingly instruct us to extend God-like compassion and mercy to the creatures entrusted to our care.

Sadly, all the major industries invested in animal agriculture have falsely convinced society that without animal flesh and animal products we will wither, fall ill, and die. The truth, however, is the startling opposite of that falsehood. A vegetarian diet is far more natural for us and much, much healthier. The myth of inadequate protein in a vegetarian life – is precisely that – a myth. Even a casual, unplanned vegetarian diet will almost always supply us with more than adequate protein and all the other nutrients that our bodies need for healthy lives. The unneeded consumption of meat by humans leads to cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and so many other illnesses. As Dr. Neil Barnard of the Physicians Committee For Responsible Medicine says, “The beef industry has contributed to more American deaths than all the wars of this century, all natural disasters, and all automobile accidents combined.”

To compound that the Editors of World Watch say that the human appetite for animal flesh is a driving force behind virtually every major category of environmental damage now threatening Life on Earth: deforestation, erosion, fresh water scarcity, air and water pollution, climate change, biodiversity loss, social injustice, the destabilization of communities, and the spread of disease.

(Etymology)

Before I get to the specifics of a few major world religions I would like to touch upon the etymology of a few words:

As we’ll see - almost all world religions emphasize spiritual growth over pleasures of flesh

(At the Heart of Religions)

(Religion and Animal Sacrifice)

Unfortunately, animal sacrifice, a true depravity, became a convenient vehicle for people to circumvent the religious prohibitions against killing animals and to indulge their desire to eat flesh. The various sacred texts, however, countered with repeated injunctions against animal sacrifice.

(Eastern and Abrahamic Religions)

Among the major world religions a grouping may be made between Eastern Religions and Abrahamic Religions.

(Eastern Religions)

Jainism – From the Sutra-kritanga - "All breathing, existing, living, sentient creatures should not be slain nor treated with violence, nor abused, nor tormented, nor driven away. This is the pure unchangeable law."

Hinduism – From the laws of Manu: “Having well considered the origin of flesh-foods, and the cruelty of fettering and slaying corporeal beings, let humans entirely abstain from eating flesh”. (Manusmriti 5.49)

Buddhism – From the Nirvana Sutra: “The eating of meat extinguishes the seed of great compassion.” (Mahaparinirvana Sutra)

Taoism – Lao Tzu said: “I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion.

(Abrahamic Religions)

Judaism – From the Midrash on Exodus, “You who have compassion for a lamb shall be the shepherd of my people Israel” (Exodus Rabbah 2, Midrash)

Christianity – From The Gospel of Luke: “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.” (Luke 12:6)

Islam – From the Koran: “There is not an animal on the Earth, nor a flying creature flying on two wings, but they are peoples like unto you.” (Koran, Surah 6:38)

The Bahai Faith – Abdu’l Baha taught: “You must not only have kind and merciful feelings for humankind, but you should also exercise the utmost kindness towards every living creature.”

(The Bedrock of All Religions)

We come then to the bedrock, or foundation, of all religions: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. This injunction is found in all the sacred texts – in the Vedas, in Buddhism’s Udana-Varga, in the Analects of Confucius, in the Talmud, in the Gospels of Christianity, in the Koran.

(A Vision For World Peace)

In embracing this foundation we can put together a vision of true world peace and the Peaceable Kindom – one that encompasses all holy Creation – one that is rooted in love:

(Closing Meditation)