Systematic Vegetarian Theology
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The Beginnings of Systematic Theology
Our backgrounds, our experiences, our encounters with God and His creation, and our education, all play a part in the manner in which we interpret the Bible. Following is one of these testimonies by a vegan theologian.
A Testimony by Maynard
(14 August 1998)
I have broached this topic many times, but we all must admit, logically, that the way to begin is to begin, but where and how?
I suggest that we begin with ourselves first, provide our testimonies ("our personal stories" - that's both pietism AND autobiographical theology.
The term "autobiographical theology" is in vogue now in liberal seminaries, but Christian pietists have been sharing "testimonies" for centuries. I grew up with them.
The term "autobiographical theology" merely means that friends, church members, strangers, and others "share their stories," "tell their stories" to one another about how they found value in their lives, and how that ties in with their understanding of "God's story" (and history, or His story, if you will).
My story takes place in the Harvard Divinity School.
I had encountered vegetarians before, in college and elsewhere.
1970's As an undergraduate at a state university in California, I had some friends who were trying to be vegetarians, and who lived collectively in a household, as many college students did. I had seen them and they had shared meals with me. I lived in the neighborhood, but around a college, almost everything is walking distance. Therefore, I had seen vegetarian living, and I had heard some of the rationales. I didn't really buy it, not because I disagreed, but because I was doing what I wanted to do at that time.
I could eat a vegetarian meal without being a vegetarian, like a person going to church on being on a Christian e-mail list without being or becoming Christian.
I also had a number of earlier friends who had become vegetarian, including one who lived in a Jesus commune in the San Francisco Bay Area, constantly praising Jesus and eating vegetarian food.
1960's Before that I remember a family in my home church practicing a vegetarian diet, but we thought that they were "health nuts." I remember my Mom's driving past a health food store on the way home from church one Sunday, pointing out that that was a health food store, which sells some very strange foods at extremely high prices. I couldn't understand why anyone would want to buy food there when the grocery store was so much cheaper. (so much for frugality.)
mid-1970's I had worked in the chaplaincy at a state mental hospital during my work at the Harvard Divinity School. Although there were "simple living" groups in the HDS dorms, I didn't join, and I managed to justify my independence as my being me, not them. I wasn't trying to be someone else, so I didn't.
However, one thing led to another, and I had an extremely strange urging to become a vegetarian, almost like a dialogue in my mind. I began to think about it, and the idea surely didn't hit me from nowhere, although at that time it felt as if it were coming from the unexplained. I had dealt with the idea before.
I also had joined a simple living group by that time, and was eating my lacto-ovo vegetarian meals for about 82 cents per day, while still keeping my own food independently in another refrigerator.
The LO-V food was good enough, and we ate lots of salads, which seemed to me - catch this - like some lesser kind of food, since it was cheaper and it didn't have anything cooked in it, and was healthful, and didn't have lots of savory calories in it. Salads were not thought to be tasty, and grain dishes were something recommended by Francis Moore Lappe in Diet for a Small Planet, and had to be followed, since that's what vegetarians did in those days - eat heavy grain and bean dishes.
That's how it was, and that's what vegetarians were: people who ate heavy homemade breads, bean-and-grain casseroles, and a piece of fruit. The food was OK, and no one worried about anything nutritional EXCEPT protein, and we surely had lots of that, but we were scared about it anyway.
(Better to scare oneself about something that isn't scary, than to experiment with drugs or bad stuff.)
Anyway, here were all these daring students at the Harvard Divinity School, eating in the catacombs, I mean, the basement of Divinity Hall, explaining (hermeneutics) their diets in various ways, but all sharing some experiences with one another.
Then they returned to studying, independently, in their rooms or the libraries.
I hadn't by that time BECOME a vegetarian, but I was thinking about it.
Then, when the URGE appeared, I promptly became a vegetarian, since it seemed the right thing to do. And I had an inkling that the vegan position would be the right position, but that I would not become a vegan immediately.
I tried making cheese omelets. This is embarrassing.
I made three-egg omelets with lots of cheese, lots of fat, and lots of cholesterol and saturated fat, but I figured that I was getting lots of the coveted protein, since I was eating SOMETHING that came from an animal, and lots and lots of that something - and probably heading myself towards heart disease and a stroke, at the same time.
But that was called "vegetarian" at that time, and I knew no better.
I was also purchasing large containers of plain yogurt and adding granola to it, in order to get "something healthy" from the yogurt. And, since we were not getting everything we needed, I thought, I needed to eat lots more of it. I must have gained some weight that way. Also, I could go out to a convenience store and purchase Haagen Daz ice cream and polish that off. That's vegetarian, I thought. And of course, there was milk, etc. I figured that I needed to buy and consume LOTS of milk and eggs, since I had dangerously compromised by physical health by eliminating meat completely.
I was heading myself into the grave, but I didn't know it.
I began reading, since, although I had some science background, I had never read much in nutrition.
I began to realize that eggs were unhealthful, and I reduced my intake, then eliminated them completely.
I was then drinking a gallon of milk a week by myself, so I changed to skim milk, to reduce the fat.
I then slowly reduced my intake of milk and yogurt, and gave up all cheese.
An animal rights group provided my only contact with other vegetarians. I had tried to find these other vegetarians, and had tried everything I could imagine.
I looked in an alternative weekly newspaper for housemates, or rooms to share, and called every listing that mentioned vegetarian or semivegetarian, and interviewed with every one of them, not to get a place to live, since I was stable, but only to see these people in person, to ask them questions, and to build my database of vegetarian contacts. I also realized that more women were vegetarian than were men, so I began calling ever women's group I could find, whatever their philosophy, and every clinical psychologist who was a woman, figuring that they must have many female clients, and that some of them would be vegetarian - and these strategies paid off very well - if only to get people to tell me HOW to be a vegetarian, and what they knew about being vegetarian. I didn't make any long-term friends this way, but they "coughed up" what they knew about the diet.
I then figured that Proverbs 18:24 says that "A man who has friends must show himself friendly..." (which has been popularized as: "To have a friend, be a friend."
So I decided that I could "go into business" in a nonprofit way, by creating a service that vegetarians and vegetarian wannabes would need and want, an information service.
I would popularize this through all the alternative newspapers, popular radio stations, health food stores, and youngish restaurants where vegetarian friendly food was served.
"The Vegetarian Hotline" was formed, and a newspaper article written about it.
Wow ! Did I ever have telephone calls. Bla, Bla, Bla, Bla, Bla, Bla, Bla, Bla, Bla... from all over the place.
I listened to questions, and I asked questions. I consulted experts to get answers, and began looking everywhere for answers to all kinds of questions, reading books and journals, etc.
I promised them that they could have a good, solid, reliable answer within "48 working hours." I usually kept that promise. I was bright, so I managed to solve other people's problems better than my own.
Then we needed a vegetarian group.
I had already found the animal rights movement in my searching around, turning up stones everywhere.
The American Association for Animal Aid (a takeoff from the British AR group "Animal Aid") had a wildlife rally, but only the planners could attend the meetings. I called Carol Adams SO MANY TIMES that she finally invited me to their planning meeting, where I met a number of ethical vegetarians, and saw one woman wearing a button, "I'm not eating meat for the animal's sake."
WOW !! That's the motivation I wanted. Other people were leaving vegetarian diets, but I wanted to be sure that my community would be faithful to herbivorous diets. Altruism would work, I figured, especially if they ALSO knew all the medical facts that I was slowly learning.
Well, I still know many of those people today, although that group, and the group into which it transmuted, have changed into something unrecognizable, but still AR and vegetarian.
At that meeting I met two women who were "vegans." AS they entered, someone who had taken me under her wing whispered as they entered, "She's a vegan." I knew that must be something special. I was wondering what a vegan was. It seemed so special. They were both introduced to me.
I hounded one of them for months to persuade me to become vegan. She explained slowly, patiently that we didn't need any animal products, and that she was living quite well, happily, and successfully as a vegan, and performing a highly-responsible technical job, with no compromise of her intellectual functions.
I could worry about B12, but take brewer's yeast. That's what vegans did in those days - supplement with tasty nutritional yeast - since the OTHER kind of nutritional yeast was unbearable to the palate. I know. I bought the wrong kind once, and can still savor the aftertaste, when I think about it.
However, in GASP, Group Against Smoking Pollution I met two more vegans - natural hygienists.
(I had long been a strong advocate for fresh air, and I recall how way back when educational organizations didn't prohibit faculty from smoking in classrooms, but few did - but the ones who did made life unbearable for many students, who usually dropped their courses.)
These natural hygienists persuaded me that, in addition to being good for animals and the ecosystem, going vegan was good for me, ultimately, and that counts immensely, and that I mattered to them. They invited me to dinner frequently, and ever other weekend we went hiking (I had a car, they didn't, and they wanted to hike), then we dined at their home afterwards.
Slowly I became vegan, although I had been practicing veganism and near veganism already.
Over the years I met people who didn't want AR, but DID want to be vegetarians, and wanted social support, and, quite openly, they admitted that they harbored secret hopes that they could eventually marry - a vegetarian.
Without a vegetarian society, that would be unlikely.
I was willing to oblige, and first one vegetarian group, then another, then another, until the Boston Vegetarian Society was founded.
I'm still on the BVS Board, but around 1993 it became necessary to form the Vegetarian Resource Center, whose name you now see on the e-mail.
My social and political views have mellowed, I think,
However, lest we think that we cannot have integrity without a coherent systematic theology, let me quote: Proverbs 19:1 "Better is the poor who walks in his integrity, than he who is perverse in his lips and a fool."
The way I read that is: IF we really do NOT believe something to be the case, we OUGHT NOT to purport to believe it, since there is a legitimacy in the integrity of really being honest, respectfully, and earnestly inquiring after a matter, and seeking to understand, or to get understanding.
I think that we will find great insights if we search, and manage to hear what the Bible records as the insights in various areas.
It's good to have it along. If we had followed it more closely in some areas we might have been spared a great deal of pain.
But that's hindsight.
That's my statement. Hardly "systematic."
Maynard S. Clark
Consider Philippians 4:8 - Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true,
whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure,
whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any
virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.(KJV)
We know that vegetarian values are good, and that the practice of a vegetarian diet is good, and must be purified so that it truly IS good. That which brings illness or wrong thinking is not right for us, and we should eschew evil (not chew it, but to bend over backwards away from it).
Living by "ahimsa" or "dynamic harmlessness" brings us more closely in dialogue with the SINCERE people who are searching their moral understanding and faith, and that includes Christians who search and pray.
That principle ALSO tends to "divide" us from some other vegetarians whose attitudes and actions provoke and cause harm, pain, and suffering needlessly.
We have moral questions about our proper relationship with them, but that's one of the possible issues of this list, I would tend to think.
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