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


Eschewing arrogance

Vegetarianism, to me, is more than a specialised diet; it embodies a philosophy which is primarily Buddhist, but which is also, peculiarly, Christian. In it, the Buddhist idea of total unity of all mankind - of all life - is combined with the Christian idea of undivided caring. But this unity, this indivisible love, has little to do with the separative sentiments of some vegetarians who forget that ends can never justify means and are willing to adopt aggressive means (such as "verbally attack meat-eaters and ask them to justify their own behaviour") in an attempt to achieve vegetarianism as "practised on a large-scale in the foreseeable future".

The recent letter to which I refer expressed much of the self-righteousness which I have found so disconcerting in all organised religions. I do not doubt the writer's sincerity in feeling "that it is wrong and needless to kill animals for food", just as I do not doubt that the early Christian disciples were completely sincere. But sincerity is subjective and must always be fallible; and anger and "continual determination" show promising signs of degenerating into dogmatism, just as the Christian ideal degenerated into the activities of the Inquisition.

We cannot be sure we are right. Vegetarianism may seem completely justifiable, but in fact it is alive with inconsistencies - inconsistencies which it is surely our responsibility to minimise, rather than create. For by making vegetarianism into a quasi-religion, by assuming the right to judge the actions of other people - we are narrowing ourselves, and negating the underlying ideals of unity and love. I can imagine too clearly, what would happen if large-scale vegetarianism were practiced without a renewal of our attitudes: the suffering of animals in the slaughterhouse would decrease considerably - but would the animals be free to roam the countryside, as is their right as living creatures on this planet? With a step-up in plant production for food, man would grossly abuse and over-work the land; and presuming animals were by then free from exploitation - not only for food, but for clothing and derivatives, such as milk, skins, oils, - they would constitute a threat to man's food supply and would become "pests" - in much the same way as rabbits and some birds are regarded now. We may end up by reverting to "mercy" killings - as we cull the seals, off the Hebridean shores - to prevent them from dying of starvation, and because we need all the plant food to feed the human race.

Let us remember that we are fallible; let us open our eyes to the harm we may be doing by our arrogance; and let us listen to Professor Bronowski, who warns of the outcome of dogma and pride: "There are two parts to the human dilemma. One is the belief that the end justifies the means. That push-button philosophy, that deliberate deafness to suffering, has become the monster in the war machine. The other is the betrayal of the human spirit: the assertion of dogma that closes the mind. . . We have to close the distance between the push-button order and the human act. We have to touch people."

It is our attitudes that matter, because these determine - and go on to develop - our actions - our actions, towards consistency. We cannot afford the narrowness of approach, the inevitable compromise of sincerity, that I feel would be the outcome of "conversions" of the kind Mr. Quayle advocates. A complete revolution in man's attitude towards other life forms - as well as his own - is unlikely, particularly in the foreseeable future. But any real approach towards it will take a long time, and will be immeasurably more valuable than large numbers of vegetarians, angry and frustrated, in opposition to the remainder of mankind.

Angela Sellens

The Vegetarian

(June 1974).   

Return to Letters


Homepage/About Us

What's New








Your comments are welcome

This site is hosted and maintained by The Mary T. and Frank L. Hoffman Family Foundation
Thank you for visiting