The Fellowship of Life
From The Vegetarian of November/December 1988:
As we approach the time of year when it gets hard to ignore the
Christian religion, whether we are adherents or not, Alan Sharp, a
Methodist lay preacher muses on the question 'is there a religious basis
Mine was a gradual conversion to vegetarianism. It started some
twenty-five years ago when I was at college. The meat that was provided
for our midday meal all too often looked as if it had come straight down
from the biology labs. Liver in particular came with all the connecting
tubes intact, rendering it at the same time both unaesthetic and
unpalatable. It seemed to me that meal times were not the occasion to
further one's knowledge of animal anatomy, so I joined the 'vegy' table.
Here the menu was not particularly inspired, but at least it was less
off-putting. And here I was subjected to enthusiastic talk of nut roasts
and the like. It all sounded very appetising, much more exciting than
the hard-boiled eggs the college cooks came up with, and I was a willing
My chief objection to meat-eating was that it seemed based on the
dubious premise that we are the superior species of the animal kingdom
and therefore we have the right to do what we like with all the lower
members of that kingdom. It was dubious on two grounds. Firstly, how do
we know we are superior to all other animals? Of course we think we are,
but perhaps the ants think that they are superior to us, and who are we
- or they - (both interested parties in the argument) to judge?
Secondly, even if we could discover beyond all doubt that the human race
is tops in the animal kingdom, what right does that give us to so lord
it over the lower animals that we can kill and eat them merely because
of our superiority? Following on from that, what happens to our
arguments if a race superior to our own, from another planet perhaps,
should come along? Are we willingly going to allow ourselves to be
killed and eaten just because this other race is superior to ours? And
in any case what do we mean by 'superior'?
I could find no satisfactory answer to these questions, and so I
became a vegetarian. People have often asked me why - is it because I
don't like meat? Is it because of religious reasons? As a lay preacher
in the Methodist Church I have even been asked why I don't preach about
Time of innocence
Until recently I have been unable to find any religious reasons for
my quirky diet but plenty of reasons against it, alas! The first chapter
of Genesis lends support to the idea that man should have dominion over
the rest of the animal kingdom, though it is certainly implied that in
those early days of man's innocence, all animals, including man, were
created herbivores. So in this chapter we have God telling the man that
he has given him every plant and every tree for food, and to all the
animals he has given every green plant for food. There is no suggestion
there that the animals are created so that they might provide meat for
the man. It is after the flood that man becomes a carnivore. The beasts,
birds and fish were all delivered into Noah's hands and he was told,
"Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and as I gave you
the green plants, I give you everything." The only stipulation was that
the meat should not be eaten with its blood.
As the years went on, more stringent laws were given as to what sort
of meat might or might not be eaten, but, regrettably from my point of
view, there was never any suggestion that it would be better to refrain
from the eating of meat altogether. On the 'vegy' table at college, one
of the enthusiasts made the claim that Christ was a vegetarian. I
ventured to suggest that he ate fish when he prepared the breakfast on
the sea shore for the disciples after his Resurrection, only to be told
that St. John does not say that Jesus himself partook of the meal. There
is some ambiguity on the point, perhaps all that we can say is that
Christ may have been a vegetarian.
But I was delighted not so very long ago when, reading a part of the
Bible which I had not studied previously, to find a story which presents
a very telling argument in favour of vegetarianism. We all know the
stories of Daniel in the lions' den; of how he interpreted the writing
on the wall at Belshazzar's Feast; and of how Daniel's three assistants,
Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego survived being cast into the fiery
furnace; but the first chapter of the Book of Daniel tells a less well
known story which helps to explain his rise to power.
He was a captive taken from Jerusalem by the Babylonian army. King
Nebuchadnezzar wanted some of the better Jewish youths - strong,
healthy, good-looking lads, who were widely read in many fields, well
informed, alert and sensible, and who had "enough poise to look good
around the palace." They were to be given the best food and wine from
the king's own kitchen during their three-year training period. Daniel
wanted to decline this food and wine, which horrified the superintendent
who was in charge of him, fearing that Daniel would become pale and thin
compared with the other youths of his age.
Proof of the pudding...
Daniel suggested a ten-day diet of vegetables and water only, for
himself and his three friends, after which time the superintendent could
decide whether or not they should be allowed to continue their simple
diet. At the end of the ten days Daniel and his friends looked fitter
and were in better shape than those who had been eating the food
provided by the king, and they were allowed to continue their diet.
After the three-year training period the four vegetarians so impressed
Nebuchadnezzar that he made them his personal advisers.
The interesting point about this story from the Bible is that the
religious significance of Daniel's choice of diet is played down; we are
merely told that Daniel "resolved that he would not defile himself with
the king's rich food". The main stress seems to be that vegetarianism
(and abstinence from wine) lead to a fitter, healthier way of life in
general, and that in particular a simple vegetarian diet promotes a
greater mental alertness.
There are many religions. Indeed, even within a single religion such
as Christianity, there are many shades of opinion about such a
controversial topic. Trying to convince others of the rightness of our
views by lobbing texts at them may be good fun, but it is not the best
way to persuade them to our point of view. Every religion, however,
which teaches the existence of a creator-god will expect some signs of
reverence for life, or the sanctity of life. Vegetarians show that
reverence, not only for the animal kingdom in general, but also for
themselves, by their chosen lifestyle.
It is a lifestyle which more and more people, religious and non-believers alike, are following. I wonder if perhaps the day will come when meat-eating students of the future will find themselves in a minority and have to opt for the carnivore's table. It would be interesting to hear what reasons they would give for making that choice.
Reproduced with the kind permission of the Vegetarian Society:
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