From The Catholic Times
dated September 24, 2000:
If you want to add weight to any cause a few well-chosen phrases from
the Good Book usually does the trick. Joseph Baker delves into
the crazy world of Bible-bashing and discovers how a radical
animal-rights group is using the image and wisdom of our Lord to promote
their dubious message.
Who can blame them for trying?
Everyone else remakes God into their own image; why shouldn't People
for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)?
PETA is a radical animal rights lobby group. It puts fur, fish and
fowl on the same moral plane as humanity, arguing that people have no
more right to use animals for food, clothing or medicine than they do to
harm other people. In fact, some of those associated with PETA have gone
so far as to argue that animals have more right to life than unborn
Now PETA has conscripted Jesus and the Bible to its cause.
Launched on Belfast's Falls Road last year, PETA's billboard campaign
caused a furore with its pronouncement that "Jesus was a vegetarian".
The posters were denounced by churchmen and politicians, and within a
week they were removed.
The campaign recently hit the USA, inevitably provoking similar
Their posters argue that the Fifth Commandment ('Thou shalt not
kill') applies to animals too. This would be a surprise to Moses and the
people of Israel who routinely ate meat and believed their God also
wanted animal sacrifices. It would also have been a surprise to Jesus'
own society, with its fondness for lamb and fish.
PETA says it is only trying to speak to Christians in their own
It doesn't matter that there isn't a credible biblical scholar alive
who would argue that Jesus was a vegetarian, as PETA does. It is ancient
custom to spout scripture to support your agenda.
PETA's myth-making about a herbivorous Jesus just takes to its
logical absurdity a practice Christians have perfected. Over the
centuries, Jesus has been constantly retooled to fit the dictates of
fashion. He has gone from a blue-eyed blond, meek and mild, almost
feminine deity to a virile leftist revolutionary. At various points in
history, we've emphasised his transcendence, his compassion, his
justness, his humanity. We all want God on our side.
It's true, Jesus is many things. And our understanding of what God's
plan means has to be applied to current circumstances. But that's not
the same as rewriting history or dogma.
The fact is, we can never know for certain the true nature of Jesus,
just as we can never know the true nature of God. It is mystery.
God gave us poor, limited humans some help in the form of scripture
and tradition. Biblical and archaeological scholarship can help us,
through patient and careful sifting of the tiny scraps of evidence left
behind by ancient civilisations in the Middle East, to better understand
God's message. One of the key tasks of such scholarship is to help us to
avoid the false paths of those who would pass off their own message as
God's. In this case the academics and theologians aid our bishops, who
have been entrusted with the sacred task of protecting the integrity of
PETA's appeal to Christians may be over the top but it should not be
dismissed too readily. It provides a useful lesson for all those tempted
to be selective in what they would draw from God's teaching.
Reproduced with thanks.