The Fellowship of Life
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
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
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".
Reproduced with the kind permission of the Vegetarian Society:
This site is hosted and maintained by The Mary T. and Frank L. Hoffman Family Foundation
Thank you for wisiting all-creatures.org