The Fellowship of Life
a Christian-based vegetarian group founded in 1973



Where is religion?

From The Vegetarian of September/October 1987:

It seems odd that religion is not in the front of the movement towards a cruelty-free world. I am sure that many religious people are vegetarian - but I am also sure that many more are not.

Christianity is not traditionally vegetarian. The larger churches have no public policy on vegetarianism and animal welfare, although there are Christian vegetarian and animal rights societies. I know Christians who are vegetarian, but know more who are not and who do not feel any need for concern about animals.

For Christians I would have thought the way was clear. The sixth commandment is "Thou shalt not kill", which seems uncompromising enough. However, in the revised, modern version of the Bible the word "kill" has changed to "murder".

This substitution creates a subtle difference in attitude. Soldiers kill in war time, they do not murder. Murder is the worst type of killing, it is against the law and is carried out by people who end up in prison.

So it seems as if the sixth commandment is only telling us to do what the law tells us anyway. It also seems as if the commandment sanctions killing of other types. And if it is all right to kill people, what chance has a pig or cow got?

I believe this to be an interpretation of convenience. It is a salve to conscience, making Christians feel better about killing in war, about killing for sport, adornment and food.

Animals have the further problem of Genesis to cope with. God gave man dominion over the animals, so man naturally has a right to do exactly what he chooses with them.

But what Genesis actually says is, "And God said, let us make man in our image, after our likeness and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creepeth over the earth".

Dominion, yes, but man is made in God's image, which suggests that this dominion should be exercised in a God-like manner. We should treat the creatures over which we have dominion in the way God treats us, over whom He has dominion.

People suffer because of their own actions and those of other people, not because of the actions of God, and animals too suffer from the actions of people. God doesn't cage people or steal their young, but people put hens in battery cages and steal calves from cows to provide milk and veal.

I find it hard to think of this as being done in a God-like manner.

It is worth quoting also verse 29 of Genesis' first chapter, "And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree-yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat". Verse 30 apportions food to the animals.

Interesting. The human diet is clearly set out and it does not include killing and eating animals.

One religion which is traditionally vegetarian is Buddhism. The fourth step on the Noble Eight-Fold Path is that of Right Action, which includes refraining from killing. Right Action also incorporates the lay person's moral code, or Five Precepts, the first of which is to refrain from harming living things.

This seems even clearer than the Bible. But there is a school of thought within Buddhism which suggests that as long as you don't kill the animal yourself, and as long as it isn't killed specifically for you, then it is all right to eat meat.

But not killing it yourself is simply a way of putting the responsibility on to someone else, which is hardly fair on the butcher - and probably does not work anyway.

But how can you tell if an animal is killed specifically for you? A commercial butcher kills specifically for his customers. The equation no customers, no killing is simple but true. It also shows effectively that in terms of our society, at least, the argument is fallacious.

As with the Christian who can believe that killing is all right in certain circumstances, so can a Buddhist following this train of thought salve his conscience. Humans are good at finding justifications for the things they want to do anyway.

Christians and Buddhists together should be in the front of the work to eradicate cruelty. There are differences between the religions, but many similarities also. Both are concerned about human suffering and perhaps use this as an excuse for ignoring the plight of animals.

But it is only an excuse, not a good reason, and if we are afraid of diverting energy from caring for people, then we must work a little harder to find some care for the creatures who share this earth with us.

The Dhammapada is a collection of sayings attributed to the Buddha. One of them reads, "Whoso strives only for his own happiness, and in so doing hurts or kills living creatures which also seek happiness, he shall find no happiness after death".

Glenys Jarvis

Reproduced with the kind permission of the Vegetarian Society:

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