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An Ethic, Not a Religion

Like pacifists and/or pro-lifers, vegetarianism, in itself, is merely an *ethic*, not a religion. Like the pro-life ethic, vegetarianism has attracted some of the greatest figures in history: Leonardo Da Vinci, Count Leo Tolstoy, Mohandas Gandhi, George Bernard Shaw, Percy Shelley, Susan B. Anthony, Rosa Parks, etc. Like the pro-life ethic, vegetarianism has served as the basis for entire religious traditions. Buddhism, Jainism, Pythagoreanism, and possibly early Christianity all immediately come to mind.

Early church fathers like Tertullian, Origen, Clement of Alexandria, St. Basil, St. Jerome, St. John Chrysostom, and others were vegetarian, and many of them wrote extensively on the subject. It's possible Christianity began as a vegetarian religion and was gradually corrupted over the centuries, beginning, perhaps, with the "apostle" Paul. Over 150 canonized Christian saints were vegetarian and their lives and teachings have been well documented. 

Protestant reformers like John Wesley (founder of the Methodist church), Ellen White (founder of the Seventh Day Adventist church), and General William Booth (founder of the Salvation Army) were vegetarian, as were Quaker poets, pacifists, and abolitionists like Joshua Evans. The moral status animals continues to be debated within Christianity to this day, as evidenced by the writings of Karl Barth and Dr. Albert Schweitzer, as well as current trends in animal liberation theology: Reverend Marc Wessels, Reverend Andrew Linzey, Reverend Annika Spalde, Reverend Frank Hoffman, the late Reverend Janet Regina Hyland, Dr. Stephen Webb, Baptist theologian Dr. Richard Alan Young, Dr. Charles Camosy, Rick Dunkerly of Christ Lutheran Church, etc.

When I was doing research on religion and animal rights, I was pleasantly surprised by the volumes of information on Christian vegetarianism. Rose Evans (1928 - 2015), editor and publisher of Harmony: Voices for a Just Future, a "consistent-ethic" periodical on the religious left, said there are more Christian vegetarians than Jewish vegetarians. Yet some people still react to the idea of Christian vegetarianism as if it were an oxymoron.

Would it be unusual for a Christian to teach compassion for animals to the point of vegetarianism? Some of the most distinguished figures in the history of Christianity were vegetarian. "Well, they were wrong," said my friend Tim Parks, who spent a number of years in China as a Protestant missionary. Someone else similarly commented, "They were some of the most unusual figures in Christianity." 

How do we know if they were wrong or if their views were unusual? We have no way of knowing unless these Christians, the long history of animal advocacy, concern for animals, and vegetarianism in Christianity, etc. are given a fair hearing. Christian vegetarians throughout history and Christian vegans today may be a minority, but as pastor Rick Warren says, "A lie doesn't become truth, wrong doesn't become right, and evil doesn't become good, just because it's accepted by a majority."

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