By Don Gwillim on The Christian Vegetarian Association UK
Talk given at the London Vegan Fair 2009
Immediately after the creation of humankind God said:
"I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.
And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground - everything that has the breath of life in it - I give every green plant for food." And it was so. (Gen 1v29,30)
There can be no doubt that in God’s perfect world, all living creatures were created as vegans, except humankind, they were created in God’s image, so their diet was more stringent; seeds and fruit, a fruitarian diet, a diet that did not even kill plants.
In the Garden of Eden God declared that all he had created was good. Would you expect anything else from a perfect, loving God?(Mt5v48 & 1Jn4v17) However, humankind disobeyed God and was thrown out of the Garden of Eden but did humans evolve into carnivores?
A VIVA Nutritionist comments:
Standard Western dogma describes humans as omnivores (they eat everything!). It's true, many people choose to eat meat, but the way our bodies are made suggests that we have evolved eating fruits, nuts, grains and vegetables.
Next time someone insists we are designed for meat ask if they fancy chewing up a mouse... fur,. bones, teeth an' all – that's what a real carnivore does.
William C. Roberts, M.D. Editor, American Journal of Cardiology confirms that:
When we kill animals to eat them, they end up killing us. While carnivores take pleasure in killing animals and eating their raw flesh, any human who killed an animal with his or her bare hands and dug into the raw corpse would be considered deranged.
Later on in the Bible, Isaiah describes God’s future Kingdom.
The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah11v3-9)
This passage describes God’s future Peaceable Kingdom. In his kingdom none of God’s creatures (inc. humankind) will harm or destroy.
As in the beginning, a vegan lifestyle is “God’s will” for not only humankind but all of his creatures. God’s future Kingdom will also be free of cruelty and violence. What will be the main reason for this change to a non-violent world? A greater understanding of the character of God (His image) and this better understanding was first taught by Jesus Christ.
Why do Christians use the Bible to justify immoral and unethical behaviour?
To many Christians the Bible alone, has all the answers. But the Bible, like all inspired scriptures is an amalgam of divine inspiration and all-too-human intrusion. There is justifiable doubt about the accuracy of the Bible’s translation from Hebrew to Greek and then to English. There is also much confusion as to how you should interpret the Bible. Is the Bible infallible, or do we need to identify “divine inspiration” from “human manipulation”. Do Christians need some guiding principles to direct their understanding?
In Star Trek, star fleet commanders are bound by a standing order not to interfere in the natural development of alien civilisations. This order is called “the Prime Directive” and overrides every Star Fleet command. Always the Prime Directive reigns supreme. It is the ultimate guide to conduct. There is no exception.
Jesus has given Christians a Prime Directive to help us distinguish God’s message from human prejudices and passions. Unfortunately, Christians do not use this Prime Directive when interpreting the Bible. However, both Judaism and Christianity teach that a virtuous life stands upon two pillars: love for God and love for one another (Deut6v5, Lev19v18 & Matt22v34-40).
"`Love the Lord your God..... and `Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." (Matt22v37-40).
In both Jewish and Christian traditions these two commandments rule supreme. Any interpretation that contradicts these two commands cannot represent divine inspiration. This approach is supported by Pope John Paul ll who stated:
Any interpretation of the Bible that contradicts a rational understanding of God’s goodness and mercy is incorrect.
To assist our understanding, Christ did all he could to divert our attention from the letter of the law (what is written), and direct our attention to obeying the spirit of law (the basic principle). In brief: Get the spirit of what I am telling you and then try to apply it in the ever changing circumstances of life ; I am not giving you a rule of thumb for every possible contingency. I am giving you intelligence, I am giving you free will, and, above all, I am giving you of My Spirit; take and use all these to discover the true character of God. This principle is almost completely ignored by the average Christian.
Jesus himself has confirmed this approach to scripture by telling us that his instructions were not complete and that he has more to teach us through the Holy Spirit.
"I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth..... and he will tell you what is yet to come. (John 16v12,13)
The written word alone (the Bible) can never tell you what you need to know in every future circumstance you find yourself in. The Bible does not contain all that Jesus wanted to teach us, this will only be made known to us when we “need it” or are “ready to receive it”, via God’s small voice, the holy spirit. So any Christian who ignores the Prime Directive and states that the Bible is all he needs to understand God, and further more, that the Bible is infallible, is either under a delusion, or only using the Bible to justify his own desires rather than God’s.
For example, Christians who use the Bible to justify their cruelty and violence towards God’s other creatures, can also use the Bible to justify Hitler, ethnic cleansing and rape. (Num31v7, Num31v17,18, 1Sam15-33) ? There are at least 12 occasions on which we are told that the Israelites, presumably in obedience to God’s command, exterminated in cold blood the entire civilian populations of towns or tribes whom they had defeated in battle. Are we really to believe that the God of love and compassion, described elsewhere in the Bible, ordered these atrocities?
Also, why should Biblical verses that appear to show divine approval of animal abuse set an everlasting precedent while passages showing divine approval of the murder of men, women and children do not? Christians cannot justify animal atrocities on the authority of the Bible unless they are also willing to justify present day human atrocities on the same basis. When Christians insist on doing that they worship a God who is alien to the teachings of Jesus and therefore the prime directive.
God said to Job: "Would you condemn me in order to justify yourself" (Job40v8)? I believe that many Christians are prepared to condemn God in order to justify their unnecessary lust for meat.
So how should Christians obey the prime directive to “Love God”?
God is the deity who has everything, so there is nothing we can give God. We can only love God by loving all that he has created. If we truly love God’s creation, we will nurture it, comfort it and care for it. The “dominion” or “stewardship” that the Bible tells us God has given us over the other living creatures, is simply an opportunity to love God by protecting and nurturing God’s creation.
Because sentient creatures have been created with the ability to suffer, they need protection and nurture as individuals. The life of a cow is just as precious to the cow as our lives are to us. We show our love for God when we decline the urge to have the cow killed just to satisfy our desire to eat his flesh. When the cow is killed to provide a luxury diet for us, we show disrespect for his creator. The test of the morality of an act is never it’s benefit to the perpetrator, but always the effect on the victim.
We can express our love for God by preserving and healing the world that God has given us and this can only be done by obeying God’s commands. John tells us: "This is love for God: to obey his commands." (1John5v3)
How should Christians obey the second prime directive to “Love our neighbour as our self”?
We all have the natural tendency to do everything in our power to avoid suffering and find happiness for ourselves. This is what it means to “love yourself”. It is an urge bred into every creature. To love your neighbour as yourself means to place their interests on a par with yours and to do everything in your power to alleviate their suffering, and promote their happiness, as energetically and persistently as your own.
Who is our neighbour
Throughout the ages the greatest advance in ethical thought has been our understanding of who our neighbour is. Once, neighbour only meant family, then it was tribe, then nation and then in enlightened circles humanity. In the 21st century, it is now obvious that to have a sustainable world it is imperative that we recognise that neighbour means all sentient beings.
In Genesis 2v7 and 2v19, the Bible tells us that at creation God gave us the same “living soul” Nephesh Chayah, (pronounced nephesh hi-yah). In so doing God gave animals a nervous system, a brain able to process physical and emotional feelings, pleasure and pain, in ways similar to ours. By doing this God made animals our neighbour.
It is not location or sharing a common humanity that describes our neighbour. It is possessing the same living soul and sharing the ability to experience suffering and joy. All that share with us the divine spark of a conscious life, given by God, is our neighbour and fall under the protection of the commandment to love our neighbour as we love ourselves.
However, understanding who our neighbour is, splits Christianity into “human centred” Christians (anthropocentric), and “creation caring Christians” (Theocentric). If “Human centred” Christians insist that your neighbour only refers to humankind, you can demonstrate quite easily that even if that were so, eating meat in this overpopulated, finite world, is still immoral, as it takes food away from poor and hungry human beings, damages the environment and therefore the well being of future generations of humankind.
So a Christian’s moral responsibility towards the rest of God’s creation, will depend on whether they obey the Prime Directive to “love God and neighbour”, or embrace a “self centred” attitude. And this will influence how Christians 1) view themselves, 2) use the Bible, and 3) act.
1) How do Christians view themselves?
• Creation caring Christians consider themselves a part of creation, that to be made in God’s image implies a responsibility towards all of God’s creation, either as Stewards or Servant Kings.
• Human centred Christianswill claim that being made in God’s
image puts them above creation which was designed to serve mankind alone, giving them the right to use and abuse it.
2) How do Christians use the Bible?
• Creation caring Christianswill be guided by the Holy Spirit and use the Bible to discover God’s attributes and then use that knowledge to become God’s Ambassadors, by applying as far as humanly possible, God’s moral attributes of justice, goodness and mercy.
• Human centred Christianswill use the Bible as a ‘manual of moral absolutes’ relying on isolated passages rather than guidance by the Holy Spirit, to excuse their immoral treatment of God’s creation.
3) How do Christians act?
• Creation Caring Christiansare altruistic and prepared to sacrifice themselves by obeying the Prime Directive,
I Quote: There is a similarity between the campaign to end slavery and that for animal rights - both are entirely altruistic in that those who fight them stand to gain nothing if they succeed. They are born out of a desire for a better, more equitable, more just world where relieving the suffering of others is an end in itself. Both are noble, both are born of the finer aspects of the human spirit and both are opposed by bigotry, spite, ignorance and self interest. Surely no one would argue that the world is not a finer place because most slavery has ended. And one day, that judgement will be applied with equal certainty to the end of animal exploitation.
• Human Centred Christians will guard vested interests by rigidly following a selfish faith, where dominion means domination and might is right. Even though Jesus told his disciples:
You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mark 10 v 42 - 44)
Between these two groups is the vast majority of Christians who, due to the stresses of providing for their families prefer the status quo. They are not knowingly blind to the violence and cruelty they impose on the poor, God’s creatures, and the damage they are doing to the environment. However, due to increased concern and exposure in the media, “not knowing” is no longer an acceptable excuse, and the time is now right to raise their awareness. Our hope lies in reaching the hearts and minds of these Christians and by reminding them that Jesus wants us to follow his teaching rather than just being his fans”.
We need to convince Christians that once they are aware of the damage their lifestyles are doing to God’s creation, that going vegetarian/vegan is not only one of the greatest contributions they can make to solving our problems but one of the easiest. Why the easiest? Because it does not take up anymore time, cost anymore money and will improve their heath. Anyone can do it, the young, the old, the rich, the poor and even the sick. God’s perfect diet for humanity is the most healthy diet you can adopt. To say otherwise is to accuse God of providing us with an imperfect diet. What arrogance.
I believe that the hierarchy of the church is slowly moving away from a “human centred” doctrine and towards a “creation caring” gospel. Most of the major denominations have now published “creation caring” declarations, and are considering the introduction of doctrine and liturgy that will embrace God’s creation. We must welcome this move and encourage its adoption and use this powerful opportunity to promote a vegetarian/vegan diet throughout the church. Eventually isolating those “human centred” Christians who refuse to change. Caring for God’s creation gives us a wonderful opportunity to work with other faiths. All the major faiths encourage us to obey the Golden rule which is also proclaimed by Jesus:
So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. (Matt7v12)
In summary, if we follow the Bibles teachings on “love for God” and “love for neighbour” to their natural conclusion, we will respect the right of animals to live their lives according to the natures with which God endowed them, free from interference by us. Dr Humphrey Primatt an Anglican Priest put it this way:
Pain is Pain whether it be inflicted on man or beast . And the creature who suffers it, being sensible to the misery of it, whilst it lasts, suffers evil.
And we who inflict it, inflict evil.
The Moral Approach
Christians will always find a Biblical passage or verse to repudiate your line of reasoning. If we are going to have any chance of converting a Christian to a vegetarian/vegan diet, we must only use the prime directive. That Christians are called to have love and fellowship: love for God and his creation and love for our neighbour.
I recommend that vegetarians/vegans approach Christians with moral rather than Biblical reasons. To illustrate this point, a couple of months ago I was discussing vegetarianism on the United Christian Broadcasting programme “The big Discussion”. It was an hour long phone-in programme and in the first half hour I based my reasoning on the Bible. During this time UCB received many phone calls/emails. According to the presenter, many who disagreed with my comments were too nasty to read over the air.
I then changed my tactics and used moral reasons why Christians should consider a plant based diet, the number of calls/emails reduced considerably. By removing any reference to the Bible from my argument, dissenting Christians could no longer challenge my reasoning. We must learn from this. Vegetarians/vegans will stand a much better chance of interesting Christians, if they base their argument on the powerful moral reasons they have for following a plant based diet:
1. To avoid violence and cruelty to animals
Over 50 Billion animals a year are cruelly treated and killed to satisfy our unnecessary desire for meat and dairy. Why unnecessary, we do not need meat in order to survive, all vegetarians/vegans are living witnesses to that fact.
2. To feed the Hungry
Globally, we feed 756 million tons of grain to farmed animals/year. If we fed that grain to the 1.4 billion people who are living in abject poverty, each of them would be provided with more than half a ton of grain, or about 3 pounds of
grain/day -- that's twice the grain they would need to survive.
3. To heal our world (Environmental degradation)
United Nations report “Livestocks Long Shadow states: Livestock’s contribution to environmental problems is on a massive scale and its potential contribution to their solution is equally large. The impact is so significant that it needs to be
addressed with urgency.
4. To maintain a healthy body (our Health)
A few years ago a Lay Preacher told me “he would die” if he gave up eating meat? This ignorance or denial of the truth prevails today in every walk of life. The World Health Organisation tell us that vegetarian cultures live healthier and longer lives and going vegan is even better. However, please remember that for most of us, reducing our meat consumption was our first step and Veganism, our ultimate goal. To have any chance of success we must encourage Christians to take one step at a time.
God has given humanity a high road and a low road, and the freedom to choose. And so the issue becomes, why—even if it may be permitted in their minds—would anyone who is trying to reflect God's love and compassion onto the world want to eat meat, eggs, or dairy. The raising and slaughter of animals for food and fabric causes intense physical pain, emotional distress, and premature death to billions of animals worldwide and as more nations are becoming affluent this number is likely to double in the next few years.
This entire system of torment and death exists solely for those who consume animal products. If it were not for them, no animals would be confined on factory farms and no animals would be slaughtered. And nobody in the world would go hungry. Not only does using animal products violate the Bible's Prime Directives, it violates universal concepts of simple human decency. Why would any person of good will—regardless of their religion—want to be responsible for so much innocent suffering and death?
Thank you for your interest in The Christian Vegetarian Association UK. Please visit website.
Inspiration and credit: The Dominion of Love by Norm Phelps Animal rights according to the Bible.ISBN 1-59056-009-4