Many who resist the fact that human beings were created as an herbivorous species point to the bible for their support of carnivorism. They quote the scripture which says that God gave humankind dominion over the animals as "proof" that the eating of flesh was sanctioned by the Creator.
But the dominion that was to be exercised by those made in the image of God was one of stewardship; of caring for the nonhuman beings who, like themselves, were created as nefesh chaya--living souls. There is no logical correlation between any kind of dominion and the consumption of the flesh of other beings.That is man's self-serving interpretation of dominion. The bible, itself, refutes this argument for dominion/carnivorism.
The verse of scripture immediately following the appointment of humans as caretakers for the rest of creation is followed by strict dietary instructions that limit all food consumption to non-flesh foods.
"..God said unto them....have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. 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 which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.'"(Genesis 1: 28,29)
Having decreed the kind of food that was to sustain life on earth, the bible does not discuss diet again until the ninth chapter of Genesis. And by then the known world had already been destroyed by the great Flood. The scripture juxtaposes the report of that catastrophe with the information that the world had been defiled by the human beings to whom stewardship of the earth had been given. "Now the earth was corrupt in God's sight and was full of violence. God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways."(Gen. 6:11)
A world that could no longer support the degeneracy of its inhabitants was washed away by the Flood. But the bible reports that there was a man who escaped the common fate. His name was Noah and the Lord said of him: "I have found you righteous in this generation." (Genesis 7:1--Emphasis added) This is a very qualified endorsement of Noah's character: he was the best that could be found in the midst of a depraved and violent society. And although there was to be a new beginning after the Flood, it was hardly a return to Paradise.
Just as life after the Fall in Eden was lived at a much lower level of existence, life after the Flood had deteriorated even further. The violence of the pre-Flood world reached the point where earth's inhabitants had begun to feed on the flesh of each other. And Noah and his family, conditioned by that society, continued its carnivorism.
In some of the most chilling passages in the bible, the extent of human depravity is plainly stated. When its inhabitants first leave the Ark, they are told that the earth will not be washed away again even though "the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth." This statement is followed by a summation of the state of affairs that now exists in the world. "The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every fowl of the air, upon all that moveth upon the earth, and upon all the fishes of the sea." (Gen. 9:2)
All creatures will fear and dread mankind, because human beings will abuse them. Obviously, the God of creation is not commending humans for their violent and abusive behavior. The bible is simply stating that there was no miraculous imposition of a higher state of development on earth's inhabitants. The imagination of man's heart would continue to devise evil, and violence would remain a hallmark of life on earth.
This perversion of God's intent would also be apparent in man's continued carnivorism. "Every living thing shall be meat for you; even as the green herb, have I given you all things." This verse of scripture is not an approval of carnivorism. It is a statement of fact: human beings will continue to consume the flesh of other creatures. But human chauvinism has prompted scholars to interpret this as God's blessing on man-turned-carnivore. Even their translation of this scripture tries to obscure its meaning.
The words have I given in the above-quoted scripture should read have I made. "Even as the green herb, have I made all things." This is the way that phrase is translated in other parts of the bible, and in this instance it would make it plain that God is not "giving" his creatures to man for food. Rather, the bible is reiterating that the Lord "made" all things: the green herbs of the fields as well as all living creatures. It is man who decided that he had a right to consume the bodies of other creatures. And in order to further bolster this claim for the right to eat other beings, he introduced sacrificial religion into the world.
Human beings have depicted God as enjoying the smell of burning flesh. The bible is replete with passages that describe the pleasure He took in the smell of animals being roasted on the altar. But of course it was the priests and the people, not God, who consumed their flesh.
Reaction against the travesty of animal sacrifice did not gain strength until the eighth century B.C. with the advent of the Latter Prophets of Israel. Not only did these prophets inveigh against sacrificial religion, they also reminded their people that a world which enjoyed the peace of God, and the kind of prosperity that comes from such peace, was a vegetarian world.Isaiah spoke of the time when "the cow and the bear are friends" and "the lion eats straw like the ox." He also told how "the wolf will live with the lamb...and a little child will lead them."
This vision of a nonviolent, vegetarian world was always present in the consciousness of the Israelites. From the beginning, the Promised Land had been described as a place "flowing with milk and honey." This was a peaceful, pastoral, image. Unfortunately, fallen human nature took control and made a mockery of that promise. "I brought you into a fruitful land to enjoy its fruits and the goodness of it, but when you entered upon it you defiled it and made the home I gave you loathsome."(Jer. 2:5-7 JB)
Although strongly repressed, people are aware of the violence entailed in the killing and eating of animals. The most horrendous crimes against humanity are referred to as "butchery." And in our own time, the violence of slaughter is hidden from the view of an urban society. The public is further protected from the reality of this process by the media. In a society where freedom of expression is taken for granted, no pictures of the slaughter process are ever shown. No investigative report ever details the way in which still-living animals are hoisted on huge hooks, with parts of their body already hacked from them. No documentary records the frenzy, the fear and the suffering of these creatures, doomed to such torment by the human lust for flesh.
But even more perverse is the failure of people of faith to confront a violent world with the reality of what it is doing. The Judeo-Christian community has as its heritage the biblical record of a past in which all beings lived at peace in a nonviolent and vegetarian society. Its heritage also includes the promise of a millennial world in which the peace of a nonviolence that includes vegetarianism is promised to those who look to the God of compassion, goodness, and love for their salvation.
And the world for which Jesus Christ taught his followers to pray is also a nonviolent world in which goodness rules. It is a world in which God's will is done on earth, as it is in heaven. Even the most recalcitrant human beings do not claim that in God's kingdom, animals are mutilated and killed in order to fulfill human lust.
The prayer that says "thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven" is a commitment and a continuing prayer for God's love, goodness, and compassion to rule the world and overcome the lust, cruelty, and selfishness that characterizes the rule of man on earth.
Reprinted from the July/August 1996 issue of Humane Religion. Copyright 1996 by Viatoris Ministries.
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