Pythagoras was driven from his native Samos in 529 BC when the
tyrant Polycrates declared him a subversive. He went to Croton in Italy,
established a school of philosophy, and lectured to classes of up to six
hundred students. He founded a monastic order that soon became very
influential. It was a religious sect made up of dedicated saints practicing
vegetarianism, voluntary poverty and chastity.
In less that two decades, the Pythagoreans were numerous and powerful enough to take political power without having to resort to force or violence. History shows that when the Pythagoreans were attacked and massacred in Magna Grecia in 450 BC, they practiced nonviolence and did not resist their aggressors.
Ancient and modern historians alike acknowledge that Pythagoras was vegetarian. This was the conclusion of Plutarch, Ovid, Diogenes Laertius and Iamblichus in ancient times, and it is the conclusion of scholars today. Nor was vegetarianism loosely connected with the Pythagorean philosophy--it was an integral part of it.
"Oh, my fellow men!" exclaimed Pythagoras. "Do not defile your bodies with sinful foods. We have corn. We have apples bending down the branches with their weight, and grapes swelling on the vines. There are sweet flavored herbs and vegetables which can be cooked and softened over the fire. Nor are you denied milk or thyme-scented honey. The earth affords you a lavish supply of riches, of innocent foods, and offers you banquets that involve no bloodshed or slaughter."
Pythagoras' meals consisted of honeycomb, millet or barley bread, and vegetables. He would pay fishermen to throw their catch back into the sea. Ironically, he claimed to have been a fisherman in a previous life. He abhorred animal sacrifice and wine, and would only sacrifice cakes, honey, and frankincense to the gods. He revered the altar at Delos because it was free from blood sacrifices. Upon it, he offered flour, meal, and cakes made without the use of fire. Pythagoras would not associate with cooks or hunters.
According to Iamblichus, Pythagoras taught his followers not to kill even a flea, especially in a temple. He not only showed respect for gods, humans, and animals, but also for the trees, which were not to be destroyed, unless absolutely necessary. It is said Pythagoras pet an eagle, told an ox not to trample a bean field, and fed a ferocious bear barley and acorns, telling it not to attack humans any more.
Pythagoras not only taught transmigration of the soul, or reincarnation, but even claimed to remember his previous lives. It is said Pythagoras once stopped a man from beating a dog, because in the dog's yelping he recognized the voice of an old friend. For Pythagoras, killing animals for food meant causing suffering or death to living creatures just as worthy of moral concern as human beings, and who may also have been human in previous lifetimes.
The Roman poet Ovid (43 BC - 18 AD), quoted Pythagoras in the 15th chapter of Metamorphosis as follows: "Our souls are immortal, and are ever received into new homes where they live and dwell, when they have left their previous abode... All things change, but nothing dies; the spirit wanders hither and tither, taking possession of what limbs it pleases, passing from beasts into human beings, or again our human spirit passes into beasts, but never at any time does it perish...Alas, what wickedness to swallow flesh into our own flesh, to fatten our greedy bodies by cramming in other bodies, to have one living creature fed by the death of another!"
If souls can transmigrate from one species to another, and all souls are of the same nature, then the unnecessarily killing animals is as morally indefensible as the unnecessary killing of human beings. Pythagoras may have also drawn a parallel between the plight of animals in human hands, and the fate of humans in the hands of the gods. We humans would suffer should the gods unnecessarily kill or torment us; we should likewise treat the animal world with mercy.
History tells us there were two classes of Pythagoreans. The akousmatikoi heard the teachings of the Master and followed them to a degree, but were never initiated into the deeper levels of mysticism. By contrast, the mathematikoi were strict Pythagoreans, living as ascetics, and observing the holy way of life taught by the Master.
Pythagoras established a monastic order at Croton that soon became a vegetarian colony. After the massacre in Magna Grecia in 450 BC, the political fortunes of the Pythaoreans declined. By 350 BC, Pythagoreanism had become more of a religious sect than a philosophical school of thought. As a religion, Pythagoreanism continued to attract spiritual seekers for over seven centuries.
Pythagorean thought was familiar to the leadership of the early Christian church. The Christian father Justin Martyr wrote that when he was a youth seeking spiritual enlightenment, he first went to the Pythagoreans. A "celebrated" Pythagorean teacher told him, however, that before he could be initiated into any kind of mysticism, he would first have to master music, geometry and astronomy.
Discouraged, he turned to the Platonists. Their way of life may have been equally demanding. Jesus' demands upon anyone wishing to become his disciple are well-known. (Matthew 19:16-24; Mark 10:17-23; Luke 9:57-62, 14:25-26,33, 18:18-25) These demands did not deter Justin Martyr from eventually converting to Christianity.
Although the Pythagoreans acknowledged the minor gods of the Greek pantheon, they also recognized a Supreme Being. According to authorities within the early Christian church, the Pythagoreans were monotheists:
"God is one; and He is not...outside of the frame of things, but within it; but, in all the entireness of His being is in the whole circle of existence...the mind and vital power of the whole world," wrote Clement of Alexandria in Exhortation VI, quoting Pythagoras. The Pythagoreans held a pantheistic concept of God, recognizing His omnipresent Spirit, but with no knowledge of His personal form--a concept which the Stoics were to adopt. Like the Jews and the Zoroastrians, the Pythagoreans consequently forbade the worship of images and statues.
First century Pythagoreanism is described in detail in The Life of Apollonius of Tyana. The ancient texts records this neoplatonic philosopher and miracle worker having a divine birth, absorbing the wisdom of Pythagoras, practicing celibacy, vegetarianism, as well as voluntary poverty; healing the sick, restoring sight to the blind, exorcising demons, foretelling the future, and teaching the innermost secrets of religion. Finally, the text says he never died, but went directly to heaven in a physical assumption.
The philosopher Empodocles (5th century BC) wrote that the ancients were much more fortunate than modern man because they were vegetarian and there was neither animal sacrifices nor war. He described humanity in previous ages using statues, pictures, perfumes and honey in their worship. They did not offer animals, Empodocles maintained, because to kill an animal for sacrifice or food is the greatest moral wrong. Empodocles described these ancient races as gentle to animals and birds as well as to each other.
Empodocles was greatly influenced by Pythagorean doctrine. He believed in the transmigration of souls:
"For I was once already boy and girl,
Thicket and bird, and mute fish in the waves
All things doth Nature change,
In unfamiliar tunics of the flesh"
Because of reincarnation and the equality of all living beings, Empodocles felt meat-eating was comparable to cannibalism. "Will ye not cease from this great din of slaughter?" he once wrote. "Will ye not see, unthinking as ye are, how ye rend one another unbeknoweth?"
With a vision of eternal souls endlessly being clothed in new bodies, Empodocles compared flesh-eating to fathers unknowingly killing their sons, and children similarly killing their parents:
"The father lifteth for the stroke of death
His own dear son within a changed form...
Each slits the throat and in his halls prepares
A horrible repast. Thus too the son
Seizes the father, children the mother seize,
And...eat their own dear flesh."
Just as the political fortunes of the Pythagoreans rose and eventually declined, they remained steadfast to their moral opposition to killing animals...
Similarly, the animal rights ethic must not be tied to a particular religion nor political party.
Anglican priest Reverend Andrew Linzey, the foremost theologian in the field of animal-human relations, has said he does not want to start a "Linzeyite Church," or rather a splinter group which would have no influence, but rather work within mainline Christianity to bring about change.
"Increasingly, during this century Christians have come to understand the gospel, the Good News, in terms of freedom, both freedom from oppression and freedom for life with God and others. Too often, however, this freedom has been limited to human beings, excluding most other creatures, as well as the earth.
"This freedom cannot be so limited because if we destroy other species and the ecosystem, human beings cannot live. This freedom should not be so limited because other creatures, both species and individuals, deserve to live in and for themselves and for God. Therefore, we call on Christians as well as other people of good will to work towards the liberation of life, all life."
--World Council of Churches
In "The Liberation of Life," the World Council of Churches, a politically left-liberal organization with worldwide influence, has taken the strongest animal protection position of any Christian body.
This document urges parishioners to avoid cosmetics and household items that have been tested on animals; to buy "cruelty-free" products, instead.
This document urges parishioners to boycott animal furs and skins, and purchase "cruelty-free" clothing as a humane alternative.
This document asks that meat, eggs and dairy products be purchased from sources where the animals have not been subject to overcrowding, confinement and abuse, and reminds parishioners they are free to avoid such products altogether.
Parishioners are also asked not to patronize any form of entertainment that treats animals as mere objects of human usage.
Many of the churches which signed onto "The Liberation of Life" resolution might be pro-choice,whereas many churches opposed to abortion might be indifferent or perhaps inimical toward animal rights.
Dr. Bernard Nathanson wrote in his 1979 book Aborting America that liberal denominations were sympathetic to the plight of unwed mothers, and were thus instrumental in getting the laws against abortion overturned.
Christians have found themselves unable to agree upon many pressing moral issues—including abortion. Exodus 21:22-24 says if two men are fighting and one injures a pregnant woman and the child is killed, he shall repay her according to the degree of injury inflicted upon her, and not the fetus. On the other hand, the Didache (Apostolic Church teaching) forbade abortion.
"There has to be a frank recognition that the Christian church is divided on every moral issue under the sun: nuclear weapons, divorce, homosexuality, capital punishment, animals, etc.," says Reverend Linzey.
"I don’t think it’s desirable or possible for Christians to agree upon every moral issue. And, therefore, I think within the church we have no alternative but to work within diversity."
Dr. Will Tuttle writes in his 2011 article, "Spiritual People Moving Toward Veganism?"
"Overall, I've seen a gradually increasing tempo of change among spiritual people about our routine mistreatment of animals in the three decades I've been a vegan and activist, and I'd say that while the percentages are still small, they are making an increasing impact on the consciousness and behavior of mainstream secular society.
"For example, for the past twenty years I have been traveling full-time presenting lectures and workshops to people in progressive churches virtually every Sunday, and while it's constantly frustrating on one level, I have to say that today the general consciousness 'and level of conscience' is vastly different from what it was, say, twenty years ago.
"Veganism is on the map and recognized, and, I'd have to say, respected and seen as a noble (if somewhat unattainable) ideal by many people. Curiosity and confusion are rampant, as is fear of change, clinging to past habits, and a reactive pushing back against what I believe is an ongoing awakening of human consciousness.
"This is to be expected, and is natural, but the awakening is happening, I feel, and it will bring us ever onward, at an accelerating pace, toward vegan living (or our extinction or utter enslavement if we continue the trajectory of conventional Western eating/living/thinking).
"I'm actually able to give lectures blatantly promoting veganism and critiquing our current animal enslavement system in increasing numbers of Unity churches and Unitarian Universalist churches.
"The entire UU denomination, in fact, has taken Ethical Eating as its study-action issue for the period 2008-2012, and so there is active gnashing of teeth and squirming about going on occasionally in these congregations, as they peek behind the curtain, which is I believe, a wonderful and necessary thing."
In his book, Christianity and the Rights of Animals, the Reverend Andrew Linzey, an Anglican priest, writes:
"It does seem somewhat disingenuous for Christians to speak so solidly for human rights and then query the appropriateness of rights language when it comes to animals. The most consistent position is that of Raymond Frey, who opposes all claims for rights from a philosophical perspective, or that of Christians who consistently refrain from all such language."
According to Reverend Linzey:
"Raymond Frey, that dedicated opponent of rights theory, has sadly to conclude that ‘we cannot, without the appeal to benefit, justify (painful) animal experiments without justifying (painful) human experiments.’
"Frey accepts this even though he justifies experimentation on animals. Again, ‘The case for anti-vivisectionism, I think, is far stronger than most people allow,’ he writes. Alas, Frey does not seem to regard it as sufficiently strong to oppose experiments on animals or humans."
Likewise, animal rights must not be confined to a single political party, either.
"Although I may disagree with some of its underlying principles," writes pro-life activist Karen Swallow Prior, "there is much for me, an anti-abortion activist, to respect in the animal rights movement. Animal rights activists, like me, have risked personal safety and reputation for the sake of other living beings. Animal rights activists, like me, are viewed by many in the mainstream as fanatical wackos, ironically exhorted by irritated passerby to ‘Get a life!’
"Animal rights activists, like me, place a higher value on life than on personal comfort and convenience and, in balancing the sometimes competing interests of rights and responsibilities, choose to err on the side of compassion and nonviolence."
Kathleen Marquardt founded Putting People First. a now-defunct anti-animal rights group. In her 1993 book, Animal Scam: the Beastly Abuse of Human Rights, she says:
"The animal rights movement would allow people no more rights than rats or cockroaches." Speciesism (or human chauvanism). Far from restricting human rights, animal rights would instead extend to animals the same fundamental rights and freedoms humans enjoy.
"The real agenda of this movement," claims Marquardt, "is not to give rights to animals, but to take rights from people—to dictate our food, clothing, work, recreation, and whether we will discover new medications or die."
Identical assertions could have been made about the abolition of human slavery, the crusade to end child labor, the liberation of concentration camp prisoners from Nazi physicians or an end to the experimentation upon black humans by white humans.
Marquardt writes that the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) "now encourages vegetarianism, the banning of fur, and the eventual end to all animal research, not just ‘cruel’ animal research." Marquardt writes that the Humane Society now supports vegetarianism.
According to Marquardt, "The typical animal rights activist is a white woman making about $30,000 a year. She is most likely a schoolteacher, nurse, or government worker. She usually has a college degree or even an advanced degree, is in her thirties or forties, and lives in a city."
Marquardt cites studies indicating that animal rights activists tend to identify with liberal causes such as feminism and environmentalism. "Every year," writes the Reverend Andrew Linzey, "I receive hundreds of anguished letters from Christians who are so distressed by the insensitivity to animals shown by mainstream churches that they have left them or are on the verge of doing so."
It is not surprising, therefore, that Marquardt reports that "Most activists share a bias against Western civilization and its Judeo-Christian foundations."
As early as 1993 Marquardt wrote that, the "political clout" of the animal rights movement "is surprisingly bipartisan. But most of the leading politicians working with the animal rights movement are liberal Democrats." Marquardt mentions Senator Barbara Boxer of California, Nevada Congressman Jim Bilbray, Charlie Rose of North Carolina, Tom Lantos and Gerry Studds.
Marquardt admits, "some Republicans are animal rightists, too. Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas often supports animal rights causes—except, of course, those pertaining to cattle, a major business in Kansas. Senator Robert Smith of New Hampshire was a founder of the Congressional Friends of Animals. Bob Dornan of California, one of the most conservative House members, is an animal rights advocate—he cosponsored legislation banning the use of animals in testing cosmetics and received a PETA award. And Manhattan Congressman Bill Green promoted legislation that would have shut down over 90 million acres of federal land to hunting, fishing, and trapping."
Marquardt states further that "Although he’s not an elected official, a conservative political figure who, surprisingly, is on the other side is G. Gordon Liddy, author Will and a key figure in the 1972 Watergate uproar. When I went on Liddy’s radio show, he and PETA’s Ingrid Newkirk greeted each other with hugs and kisses and lots of warm words.
"With allies in both political parties and across the ideological spectrum," concludes Marquardt, "the animal rights movement has been able to score some great successes, regardless of which party controls the White House or Capitol Hill."