The Fellowship of Life
by the regular columnist Kenneth G. Greet
From the Methodist Recorder of Thursday, June 7, 1990:
"If the good Lord had intended us to smoke, he would have put a chimney on our heads." Such was the assertion which, when I was a boy, encouraged me not to adopt the extraordinary habit of deliberately polluting the air we breathe.
I accepted the advice but always felt that the assertion about the chimney was open to question. In fact it was as daft as saying that if the Lord had intended us to ride on two wheels he would have put cycle clips on both ankles.
Which brings me to a recent speech made by Mr John Selwyn Gummer, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and for which he was rebuked by correspondents in some of the papers.He asserted that if the Lord had intended us to be vegetarians he would have provided us with three stomachs like grass-eating cattle. Now, it was news to me that cows and sheep have three stomachs, but I am sure that the Minister is well-informed on such matters. Incidentally, what a rotten thing to have stomach-ache in triplicate: every bit as bad as the giraffe who suffers from a metre or two of sore throat.
Mr Gummer is reported as having said that vegetarianism is a "wholly unnatural practice without support in biblical teaching". That, of course, went down well with his audience who happened to be members of the International Meat Trade Association. A more balanced view, however, would suggest that this was an ill-considered judgement. Surely it is no more unnatural to consume a vegetarian diet than it is to wear a collar and tie. In both instances we are making a perfectly proper use of resources which the good Lord has made available to us. It cannot be questioned that many vegetarians live long and healthy lives. They also point to the fact that raising animal flesh is an inefficient use of scarce resources. There is much more protein in the grain produced to feed animals than in the meat they provide.
Before we go any further we ought to take a closer look at that word "unnatural". Since this discussion has been set within a biblical framework the Christian will judge a thing to be natural if it accords with our human nature as created by God. Anything that does despite to that is "unnatural". So, for example, taking heroin is unnatural because it distorts human nature; wearing spectacles is not, because it enables a natural function to operate more efficiently.
As to the proposition that vegetarianism is "without support in biblical teaching", this will not stand up to examination. In Genesis 1:29 we read, "I give you all plants. . . and every tree bearing fruit: they shall be yours for food". Then, interestingly, we learn that it is only after the Flood that man is allowed to eat meat, and this is seen as a concession to human sinfulness (Genesis 9:3).
It might, therefore, be argued that the weight of biblical testimony is more against meat than vegetables. But I doubt whether we can really use the Bible to condemn either a vegetarian or a mixed diet. Certainly Jesus ate fish, and possibly meat.
What, however, is beyond doubt is that the Bible enjoins upon us a much deeper concern and regard for animal welfare than we often show. The Old Testament speaks of the day when God's kingdom shall be finally established. "Then I will make a covenant with the wild beasts. . . so that all living creatures may lie down without fear" (Hosea 2:18). The Bible makes clear that animals have worth to God and Jesus speaks even "of the value of sparrows" (Matthew 10:29). When man is given dominion over nature it is in the image of God that he is so made - the Creator who loves and cares for all his creatures.
The phrase "animal rights" has a biblical ring about it, though it is only compaitively recently that those rights have received much public recognition. The RSPCA is justified in saying that its work is based on Christian principles.
When Mr Gummer says that meat is "an essential part of the diet" he surely uses too strong a word. What is essential from the Christian standpoint is what Karl Barth described as "animal protection, care and friendship." A big question-mark hangs over intensive methods of farming, some forms of slaughter and even more obviously over hunting, and other sports and entertainments involving the exploitation of animals.
On our mantelpiece stands a statue of St. Francis: a perpetual reminder that if I am to love my fellow man because God is his Father as well as mine, I must also love and care for those other creatures whose life is given by the same beneficient hands (except the wasp which I regard as clear evidence of the Fall)!
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