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Update Newsletters
20 October 2010 Issue

1. Essay: Animal Agriculture and Global Warming

2. Review of Guided by the Faith of Christ

3. Book Notice

4. This Week’s Sermon from Rev. Frank and Mary Hoffman

5. Upcoming Activist Opportunities


1. Essay: Animal Agriculture and Global Warming

The Bible describes the Garden of Eden as a place where the environment provided everything that living beings needed. Whether the environment was created to suit our bodies (as a literal reading of the Bible suggests) or that we evolved so that we are well-suited to the environment, one thing should be obvious – our changing the environment is probably not a good idea. Yet that, scientists nearly universally agree, is exactly what is happening. Indeed, global warming might be the leading threat to humanity, and animal agriculture is a leading contributor to the problem.

Many animal advocates cite the remarkable 2006 United Nations Food and Agriculture Report entitled Livestock’s Long Shadow, which attributed 18% of greenhouse gasses to animal agriculture. This is more than all forms of transportation – including cars, trucks, and airplanes – combined. A 2009 article in World Watch concluded that the actual figure was a staggering 51%. How did the article arrive at this figure?

The authors, Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang, note several significant sources of greenhouse gasses that were either ignored or largely overlooked in the FAO report. For example, a huge amount of land that could sequester a large amount of CO2 in the form of trees and other plant material is prevented from doing so because that land is devoted to growing feed for farmed animals. The authors argue, I think reasonably, that a lost opportunity to ameliorate the problem of rising atmospheric CO2 and other greenhouse gasses should be considered just as important as activities that contribute directly to the problem. In addition, soils contain a huge amount of organic compounds that release CO2 when they are exposed to air by tilling and cultivation and then broken down by aerobic microorganisms.

Goodland and Anhang note that 37% of human-induced methane comes from animals raised for food. Methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than CO2, but it has a shorter atmospheric half-life – 8 years for methane versus at least 100 years for CO2. When calculating methane contributions to global warming, scientific models have spread out its effect over 100 years, which greatly reduces its actual effect in the near future and increases its effect (according to the models) in 100 years. Goodland and Anhang argue that this is not appropriate, since global warming will have a real short-term effect that will be environmentally and socially disruptive. Further, I think their approach makes more sense, because short-term increases in greenhouse gasses will enhance some of the positive feedback loops of global warming. For example, as temperatures rise, polar ice caps melt, exposing more ocean to sunlight, and oceans absorb about 70% of the sun’s heat, while ice absorbs only about 10% and reflects the rest back into space. Three of the four largest Arctic summer ice melts have been in the last four years. Recent ice melts have averaged over 800,000 square miles more than the 1979-2000 average, a staggering 0.4% of the earth’s surface area. The warmed water further melts sea ice, and there is a good chance that the Arctic summer sea ice will completely melt by 2020.

Goodland and Anhang detail other sources of greenhouse emissions associated with animal agriculture, and their article can be viewed at http://www.worldwatch.org/files/pdf/Livestock%20and%20Climate%20Change.pdf. There are uncertainties in any projection of climate change, in part because there are both positive and negative feedback loops that are difficult to calculate. Whether or not animal agriculture actually contributes the majority of greenhouse gasses attributable to humans, it is certainly a large fraction. If we are serious about attending to what nearly all environmentalists agree is a growing crisis, moving toward a plant-based diet is an essential step.

Stephen R. Kaufman, M.D.

2. Review of Guided by the Faith of Christ

(reprinted by permission)

Of recent interest is the book Guided by the Faith of Christ (Vegetarian Advocates Press 2008) by Stephen R. Kaufman. Subtitled “Seeking to Stop Violence and Scapegoating,” Kaufman has written a very important and accessible book, one of the very few books available that draw heavily on both Ernest Becker and Rene Girard, and read each through the eyes of the other. Back in the early days of the Ernest Becker Foundation, there was quite a bit of interest in pinpointing the many spots that overlap between the ideas of Becker and Girard. That effort rather faltered as other emphases and priorities bubbled to the top of the agenda. However I for one have always thought that there was a goldmine of reward for bringing these two sources into dialogue, and Kaufman’s book is certainly evidence of that assumption.

Kaufman situates his book in the context of violent crisis. We have just come through the most violent and bloody century human history has ever seen. Two world wars, the Holocaust, Korea, Vietnam, and countless other wards and terrorist acts later, it is hard to even imagine anymore that liberal progressives of the 1890s were celebrating the permanent end of armed conflict! Kaufman’s goal in this book is, through Becker and Girard on the one hand and the Bible on the other, why this is so. Why has humanity found itself in such a grip of violence and war, and what if anything can we do about it?

Essentially, this book divides into three parts. The first part discusses the ideas of Becker and Girard directly, setting the framework for the discussion in part two. Kaufman’s synthesis here is both simply and profound, and can best be summed up in his own opening sentences:

Self-esteem helps assuage our inner fear of death. Often, we gain self-esteem by succeeding in competitions for objects of desire. The reason we compete is the mimesis largely directs desire; in other works, we tend to formulate our desires by regarding what other people seem to want. Such acquisitive mimetic desires readily lead to rivalries and conflicts that can damage relationships and split communities. The human solution to this problem has been to find one or more scapegoats whom people blame for larger communal discord.

The rest of the section is basically unpacking and elaborating on this basic and profound statement. Part two, the heart of the book, then moves into a reading of stories from the Bible that illustrate the movement from fear of death to self-esteem to rivalry to conflict, but which is also ultimately demonstrated that the problem of violence is not overcome by greater, more powerful or even more wisely targeted violence. It is, in fact, the central demonic illusion that at least some kinds of violence are “sacred violence” that save and heal us from the wrong kinds of violence. In Kaufman’s readings, violence is truly overcome by acts of forgiveness, kindness, compassion and love, and his overall hermeneutic is that it is in such action, not in “holy violence,” that the will of God is found. That God is leading us as individuals and as communities away from enthrallment to “sacred violence” and toward lives exemplifying forgiveness, kindness, compassion and love, summarizes Kaufman’s understanding of what “the faith of Christ” is all about.

A final section then applies this reading of the human condition and the biblical stories read through this understanding to a number of contemporary issues. One might complain of the brevity of treatment here – the major social issues each receive a page or two of discussion. But if one thinks of these as discussion starters, placing these issues in a new contact, rather than as attempts to be comprehensive, this section holds together well. As I implied above, in my view the most important aspect of Kaufman’s book is its potential for reviving interest in renewed mutual Becker/Girard exploration. AT the very least, he demonstrates the place of both Becker and Girard in formulating a deeply insightful religious perspective that is on the opposite end of the spectrum from fundamentalism, yet steers equally clear of the bland relativism that often characterizes the religious reaction to fundamentalist.

Daniel Liechty

[This review was written in the Ernest Becker Foundation newsletter. Liechty is a leader scholar of Ernest Becker, and his books include Transference & Transcendence: Ernest Becker’s Contribution to Psychotherapy.]

Guided by the Faith of Christ is available at www.christianveg.org/materials.htm .

3. Book Notice

Familiar Strangers: The Church and the Vegetarian Movement in Britain (1809-2009) by John M. Gilheany www.familiarstrangers.co.uk. The book is a history of the vegetarian movement in Britain and its relationship to the Churches.

4. This Week’s Sermon from Rev. Frank and Mary Hoffman

True and Holy Communion Is Being One with God and One with the Body of Christ

http://www.all-creatures.org/sermons97/s1oct89.html

5. Upcoming Activist Opportunities  

10/27 IA Cedar Rapids Make A Difference Tour w/ Third Day

10/28 WI Green Bay Make a Difference Tour Third Day

10/29 OH Dayton Make a Difference Tour Third Day

10/29 IA Decorah Relient K Christian Rock Concert

10/29-30 WA Seattle Women Of Faith Conference

10/29-30 FL Ft. Lauderdale Women Of Faith Conference

10/30 NC Fayetteville Make A Difference Tour w/ Third Day

10/30-31 MA Boston TABLE Boston Vegetarian Food Festival

11/5-6 IL Rockford Extraordinary Women Conference

11/5-6 MO Kansas City Women Of Faith Conference-

11/6 VA Lynchburg Tenth Avenue North Christian Rock Concert

11/6 FL Jacksonville TABLE Northeast Florida Veg Fest

11/11 AR Alma Jars of Clay with Brandon Heath

11/11 IL Springfield TobyMac & Skillet Winter Wonder Slam

11/12-13 CA Sacramento Women Of Faith Conference

11/13 MN Minneapolis Awake Tonight Tour: TobyMac & Skillet

11/14 SD Sioux Falls TobyMac Christian Winter Wonder Slam

11/18 TX College Station TobyMac & Skillet

11/18-20 FL Tampa Joyce Meyers Ministry Conference

11/19 TX Cypress TobyMac & Skillet Christian Rock Concert

11/19-22 TN Nashville National Youth Workers Convention

11/20 GA Macon Extraordinary Women Conference

11/21 MS Biloxi Winter Wonder Slam TobyMac & Skillet

11/22-23 MS Tupelo Extraordinary Women Conference

12/9-10 FL Coral Gables Benny Hinn Miracle Crusade

Contact Paris at christian_vegetarian@yahoo.com  if you can to help. To find out about all upcoming leafleting and tabling opportunities in your area, join the CVA Calendar Group at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/christian_vegetarian/  .

Your question and comments are welcome

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