Peace and Vegetarianism
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Peace and Vegetarianism
By Vasu S. Murti www.vasumurti.org

A popular Christian bumper sticker reads: "No Jesus -- No Peace. Know Jesus -- Know Peace." Its message is clear: peace is impossible without Jesus. Vegetarians have long taught that peace is impossible as long as humans shed the blood of animals. "I personally believe," wrote Isaac Bashevis Singer, "that as long as human beings will go on shedding the blood of animals, there will never be any peace. There is only one little step from killing animals to creating gas chambers a’ la Hitler and concentration camps a’ la Stalin – all such deeds are done in the name of ‘social justice.’ There will be no justice as long as man will stand with a knife or with a gun and destroy those who are weaker than he is."

Are the beliefs of the Christians and those of the vegetarians really so dissimilar? According to the Bible, the only times humanity is ever at peace is under a vegetarian diet. The Bible begins (Genesis 1:29-31) and ends (Isaiah 11:6-9) in a kingdom where violence is unknown. "Not until we extend the circle of compassion to include all living things shall we ourselves know peace," taught Dr. Albert Schweitzer, one of the 20th century’s leading Protestant theologians. When a man questioned his philosophy, saying God created animals for man to eat, Schweitzer replied, "Not at all."

Some of the most distinguished figures in the history of Christianity have been vegetarian. These include: St. James the Just, St. Matthew, Clemens Prudentius, Origen, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, St. Basil, St. John Chrysostom, St. Jerome, St. Benedict, Aegidius, Boniface, St. Richard of Wyche, St. Filippo Neri, St. Columban, John Wray, John Wesley, Joshua Evans, William Metcalfe, General William Booth, Ellen White, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, and Reverend V.A. Holmes-Gore.

Thomas Tryon (1634-1703) warned the first Quaker settlers of Pennsylvania that their "holy experiment" in peaceful living would fail unless they extended their Christian precepts of nonviolence to the animal kingdom. "Does not bounteous Mother Earth furnish us with all sorts of food necessary for life?" he asked. "Though you will not fight with and kill those of your own species, yet I must be bold to tell you, that these lesser violences (as you call them) do proceed from the same root of wrath and bitterness as the greater do."

Reverend Basil Wrighton, the chairman of the Catholic Study Circle for Animal Welfare in London, wrote in a 1965 article entitled, "The Golden Age Must Return: A Catholic’s Views on Vegetarianism," that a vegetarian diet is not only consistent with, but actually required by the tenets of Christianity. He concluded that the killing of animals for food not only violates religious tenets, but brutalizes humans to the point where violence and warfare against other humans becomes inevitable.

"Who loves this terrible thing called war?" asked Isadora Duncan. "Probably the meat-eaters, having killed, feel the need to kill...The butcher with his bloody apron incites bloodshed, murder. Why not? From cutting the throat of a young calf to cutting the throats of our brothers and sisters is but a step. While we ourselves are living graves of murdered animals, how can we expect any ideal conditions on the earth?"

U Nu, the former Prime Minister of Burma, made a similar observation: "World peace, or any other kind of peace, depends greatly on the attitude of the mind. Vegetarianism can bring about the right mental attitude for peace...it holds forth a better way of life, which if practiced universally, can lead to a better, more just, and more peaceful community of nations."

The way we treat animals IS indicative of the way we treat our fellow humans. One Soviet study, published in "Ogonyok," found that over 87 percent of a group of violent criminals had, as children, burned, hanged, or stabbed domestic animals. In our own country, a major study by Dr. Stephen Kellert of Yale University found that children who abuse animals have a much higher likelihood of becoming violent criminals. A 1997 study by the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA) reported that youngsters convicted of animal abuse are five times more likely to commit violence against other humans than are their peers, and four times more likely to be involved in acts against property.

English metaphysician John Locke attacked cruelty to animals in his "Thoughts on Education," which dealt with the issue of raising children to be virtuous and humane. "This tendency to cruelty should be watched in them," wrote Locke, "and, if they incline to any such cruelty, they should be taught the contrary usage. For the custom of tormenting and killing of beasts will, by degrees, harden their hearts even towards men. And, they who delight in the suffering and destruction of inferior creatures, will not be apt to be very compassionate or benign to those of their own kind. Children should from the beginning be brought up in an abhorrence of killing or tormenting any living creature."

Cardinal John Heenan similarly observed: "Animals... have very positive rights because they are God’s creatures...Only the perverted are guilty of deliberate cruelty to animals, or indeed, to children."

In their book, "The Nine Questions People Ask About Judaism," Dennis Prager and Rabbi Telushkin admit: "Keeping kosher is Judaism’s compromise with its ideal vegetarianism. Ideally, according to Judaism, man would confine his eating to fruits and vegetables and not kill animals for food." In a letter to a friend on the subject of vegetarianism, Albert Einstein wrote: "Besides agreeing with your aims for aesthetic and moral reasons, it is my view that a vegetarian manner of living by its purely physical effect on the human temperament, would most beneficially influence the lot of mankind."

Our nation’s moral institutions, both secular and religious, should begin to seriously address the issues of animal rights and vegetarianism.

---Vasu

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