The Fellowship of Life
The Bible and Vegetarianism
By Geoffrey L. Rudd
Secretary, The Vegetarian Society
Published by The Vegetarian Society in 1955:
We do not base Vegetarianism on the Bible, but it frequently happens at lectures that having presented the scientific, health and ethical aspects of vegetarianism, a member of the audience will jettison our arguments and sweep away humanitarian and compassionate considerations by quoting passages from the Bible which favour flesh-eating.
Our object is not to justify our way of life by recourse to the Bible, but to show that when Christians become so minded, they may find in their Scriptures a greater justification for vegetarianism than for flesh-eating.
At one time, not so very long ago, slavery, women and children working in coal-mines, capital punishment for petty thieving, public hangings and witch burning, cock fighting and bear baiting were accepted as being right. They are not condemned by the Bible but by a growing appreciation of Christian principles. Even the Church believed in torture and threat of execution as means towards conversion.
The duplicity of Abraham over Sarah, Jacob and Esau; the thefts of Israel from the Egyptians; the murders committed by Abraham in intention: by Moses and Jael, Jeptha and Elijah in fact; the polygamy of Abraham, Jacob, David and Solomon; the many wars and cruelties meted out to captured enemies and so on, might be quoted to justify such practices today, but why is it that what appeared right for one age is wrong for another? Surely, because we are evolving along more sensitive lines, and our understanding of moral values is growing.
The process is still going on, and we can suppose that many present-day practices will become distasteful to future generations - such things as obliterating mankind with explosives; poisoning food with chemicals and, we would add, the slaughtering of innocent sentient creatures for food. For we already know that meat is not necessary for either health or long life.
So we see that even if some passages in the Bible do appear to justify slaughter, it is not a valid reason for remaining in a morally barbaric state of development. Dipsomaniacs can point out that Jesus drank wine; if we wish to continue eating dead animals and perpetuate the beastliness of the slaughter-house we can cling to the authority of the Bible. There is a personal choice - we can be the last to let go of an evil habit, or we can be in the forefront of those pioneers who lead the way to better things. Remember the Suffragettes who saw that women were held in an unjustifiable position in life; the Tolpuddle martyrs who believed that labourers had basic rights: the people who protested against and abolished slavery and child labour. All down the ages we find little groups of pioneers who saw the next step and devoted their lives to the advancement of humanity; the early Christians, including Christ Himself, took their lives in their hands to propagate a teaching of love and compassion, protesting against animal sacrifices and the oppression of Rome - they did not feel bound by ancient tradition, priestcraft and the written word. We ourselves are in a similar position today. We can continue in the easy rut of tradition or we can begin to apply higher moral conceptions to everyday life. The over-riding command of the Bible, of Christ and of Christianity, is to love God, and to love our neighbours as ourselves.
Quotations against Flesh-eating
If the Bible only advocated flesh-eating there might be some slight justification for continuing the practice; but this is far from the case. Vegetarianism is not only indicated but actually demanded - even with a literal word for word acceptance.
"Thou shalt not kill" may be said to apply to human beings, though it is not so qualified, and a recent change to "Thou shalt do no murder" makes its application more precise; but other Divine commands are less equivocal: "Thou shalt not eat any blood," and in Leviticus (chap.iii, v. 17) it says: "It shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations in all your dwellings, that ye shall eat neither fat nor blood." This too is quite definite and further (chap.vii, v. 23): "Ye shall eat no fat, of ox, or sheep, or goat. And the fat of that which dieth of itself, and the fat of that which is torn of beasts, may be used for any other service: but ye shall in no wise eat of it." In the same chapter it says: "For whosoever eateth the fat of the beast, of which men offer an offering made by fire unto the Lord, even the soul that eateth it shall be cut off from his people. And ye shall eat no manner of blood, whether it be of fowl or of beast, in any of your dwellings." There are many similar verses. Kosher killing, with ceremonial throat cutting and blood-letting if of ethical importance does not circumvent these instructions, for not all the blood of an animal can be drained from its arteries and the use of only the fore and hind quarters does not avoid the fat. Rather it seems clear that the ancient Jewish law-givers knew the dangers of eating animal fat and blood, and framed the laws with the thought that "If you must eat flesh foods then at least avoid these dangers."
Let us go back to Genesis, "And God said: let the earth put forth grass, herb yielding seed and fruit tree bearing fruit after its kind, wherein is the seed thereof upon the earth - and it was so. And the earth brought forth grass, herb yielding seed after its kind, and tree bearing fruit, wherein is the seed thereof, after its kind; and God saw that it was good. And God said: Behold I have given you every herb yielding seed which is upon the face of all the earth and every tree in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat, and to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat" (chap.i, verses 29, 30).
What could be more vegetarian? If we find contradictory passages we can only make our own moral choice for it is not unreasonable to suppose that the Scriptures were selected and edited so that the "weaker brethren" would be included in the Christian fold. Indeed, official Church histories admit that editing took place as late as the fourth century at the Council of Nicea, when the Roman Emperor Constantine accepted a form of Christianity which enabled him to continue traditional Roman life. Not that we suggest that vegetarianism was advocated before this time, but in modern times we have seen an example of a subtle change from "kill" to "murder," the latter in modern connotation applying only to human beings and not to slaughter in war time.
Emphasis on Vegetarian Food
In Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Samuel i and ii, there are continuous references to food and the things suitable for food. They include: bread, unleavened bread with olive oil, pottage, milk and honey, manna, olives, fruit, fine flour, grapes, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, garlic, coriander seed, pomegranates, figs, raisins, wheat, barley, corn, water, vinegar, wine, meal, beans, lentils and pulses.
When the children of Israel lusted after flesh - note the term "lusted" - it was said that they should eat it for a whole month "until it comes out at your nostrils, and it be loathsome unto you" (Num., chap. xi. verses 20 and 33). "While the flesh was yet between their teeth, ere it was chewed, the anger of the Lord was kindled against the people, and the Lord smote the people with a very great plague."
The emphasis through all these Books is on vegetarian food - flesh-foods are mentioned with loathing. Riches and rewards are expressed in terms of milk and honey, not the pitiful parts and organs of dead animals. "Thy shoots are an orchard of pomegranates; with precious fruits, henna with spikenard plants, spikenard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense, myrrh and aloes with all the chief spices" we find in the Song of Solomon - fruits, flowers, vines and nuts to illustrate the Divine bounty.
In Isaiah (chap.1, v. 11), "To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? Saith the Lord: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks or of lambs, or of he goats. . . bring no more vain oblations. . . your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth;. . . and when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you, yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear; your hands are full of blood." Perhaps not a dietic condemnation but one against killing, nevertheless.
Isaiah's prophecy was that "the wolf shall dwell with the lamb and the leopard shall lie down with the kid. . . they shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain." Not a far-fetched vision but a state of affairs which could be attained by the application of love and kindness. We all know of examples of cats and dogs, foxes and squirrels and many other animals living together in complete harmony under the guardianship of animal lovers. There is no reason why, as our understanding of the purpose of life deepens and our sense of moral responsibility expands, Isaiah's vision will not come true.
In chap. 1 xvi, verse 3 it says: "He that killeth an ox is as he that slayeth a man; he that sacrificeth a lamb, as he that breaketh a dog's neck; he that offereth an oblation, as he that offereth swine's blood. . . yea, they have chosen their own ways, and their soul delighteth in their abominations."
We also remember the story in Daniel where four princes of Israel were brought before Nebuchadnezzar, who appointed for them a daily portion of his meat and wine. But they refused to defile themselves with meat and wine and suggested that a test should be made by feeding them for ten days with puses and water, comparing them with other youths fed on the king's meat and wine. "And at the end of ten days their countenances appeared fairer, and they were fatter in flesh than all the youths which did eat of the king's meat." The value of a vegetarian diet was known even in those days. It can be stated that the Old Testament is predominantly inclined towards vegetarianism.
Early Church Fathers
Many of the early Christian Fathers not only practised and advocated vegetarianism on aesthetic and spiritual grounds but were extremely outspoken to their fellow Christians who hankered after the flesh-pots. This is what Tertullian had to say - "How unworthily do you press the example of Christ as having come eating and drinking into the service of your lusts! I think that He who pronounced not the full but the hungry and thirsty 'Blessed,' who professed His work to be the completion of His Father's Will, I think that He was wont to abstain, instructing them to labour for that 'Meat' which lasts to eternal life, and enjoining in their common prayers petition, not for rich and gross food, but for bread only" - by which it is seen that Tertullian was also faced with the problem of meat eating. He was provoked to saying: "Your belly is your God, your liver is your temple, your paunch is your altar, the cook is your priest, and the fat steam is your Holy Spirit. The seasonings and the sauces are your chrisms and your eructations are your prophesyings."
In the Clemantine Homilies of the middle of the second century, founded on the preaching of St. Peter who was an intimite of the Master, we have: "The unnatural eating of flesh-meats is as polluting as the heathen worship of devils, with its sacrifices and its unpure feasts, through participation in which a man becomes a fellow-eater with devils." It is interesting to note here that all esoteric doctrines state quite emphatically that the use of flesh-food impairs the faculty of intuition and cuts the soul off from communion with spiritual spheres.
Clement of Alexandria, the finest philosopher of his time, wrote: "Those who use the most frugal fare are the strongest, the healthiest and the noblest. . . we must guard against those sorts of food which persuade us to eat when we are not hungry. . . For is there not, within a temperate simplicity, a wholesome variety of eatables - vegetables, roots, olives, herbs, milk, cheese, fruits and all kinds of dry food. . . those who bend around inflammatory tables, nourishing their own diseases (the deleterious effect of meat-eating was known) are ruled by a most licentious disease which I shall venture to call the demon of the belly. . . happiness is found only in the practice of virtue. Accordingly, the Apostle Matthew lived upon seeds and nuts, hard shelled fruits and vegetables, without the use of flesh."
Now in this quotation we again have a pointer to the habits of diet of those closest to Christ. It has been suggested (in the Clemantine Homilies, xii, chap. 6) that Peter and Matthew were vegetarians. Hegesippus stated that James (the Lord's brother) was holy from his birth, drank no wine and ate no flesh - it is unlikely therefore that the rest of his family were meat-eaters. John the Baptist was an ascetic of the hermit type and lived on the simple fare of locust beans and wild honey.
It is controversial that the Master was a "Nazarene" - the name of a pre-Christian sect of Syrian Jews similar in some respects to the Essenes mentioned by Pliny and Epiphanius. The innermost orders of the Nazarenes and Essenes abstained from alcoholic drinks and flesh-meats. Since the Master is traditionally depicted as a Nazarene - with long hair, unshaven face and clothed in a single seamless garment; and since "Essene" means "bather" so that to be baptized implies initiation into the sect, His association with them in some way is indicated.
We also have the curious situation of Peter and James being attacked by Paul, who made disparaging attacks on those who abstained from flesh-foods (Romans xiv, 1-2; 1 Timothy iv, 1-5; Colossians ii, 20-21; 1 Cor. ix, 4).
Implications of Christianity
If we were to summarize Christ's teaching into a few words we should have Repent, believe, Love God with all our hearts; love and compassion; justice and charity. We are therefore, if we wish to become practising Christians, confronted with the task of interpreting these things into our daily lives. We must ask ourselves if the horrors of the slaughterhouse, trapping wild animals for fur and food, torturing defenceless animals in vivisection laboratories and many other abominations we infict on the animal kingdom, are in keeping with love and compassion.
It may help us to understand many of the obviously allegorical stories in the Bible from Hebrew literature to know that they were largely influenced by Egyptian methods of presentation (Moses was brought up as a Royal Egyptian). They used symbols, glyphs and hieroglyphs. Animals were used to represent Gods and soul initiations - places to represent states of spiritual unfoldment - and so on. All through the Bible we have the same kind of symbolism - the Lambs of God, the doves of peace, the four beasts in Ezekiel and Revelation; even the four Gospels have their symbols; the Lion, the Ox, the Eagle, and the Angel-headed Man. Astrology too played a large part in the life of the people in those days; every Royal Court had its astrologers and soothsayers, consequently the Ox (Taurus) and Fishes (Pisces) are frequently found as referring to the astrological age which people lived and may well have been used in a mystical and allegorical way.
But however we interpret the Biblical stories, one thing is certain; the picture of a Son of God, Holy, Divinely compassionate with a knife in His hand, cutting the throats of life-loving creatures, is completely contradictory. "The letter is dead and killeth - but the Spirit alone hath and giveth life."
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