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Agenda for a New America
The Politics of Vegetarianism
Chapter 17 - More Voices Calling for Justice
In a paper presented before the Conference on Creation Theology and Environmental Ethics at the World Council of Churches in Annecy, France in September, 1988, Dr. Tom Regan similarly expressed moral opposition to discrimination based upon genetic differences:
"...biological differences inside the species Homo sapiens do not justify radically different treatment among those individuals, humans who differ biologically (for example, in terms of sex, or skin color, or chromosome count). Why, then, should biological differences outside our species count morally? If having one eye or deformed limbs do not disqualify a human being from moral consideration equal to that given to those humans who are more fortunate, how can it be rational to disqualify a rat or a wolf from equal moral consideration because, unlike us, they have paws and a tail?"
Dr. Regan concluded:
"...the whole fabric of Christian agape is woven from the threads of sacrificial acts. To abstain...from eating animals, therefore, although it is not the end-all, can be the begin-all of our conscientious effort to journey back to (or toward) Eden, can be one way (among others) to re-establish or create that relationship to the earth which, if Genesis 1 is to be trusted, was part of God's original hopes for and plans in creation.
It is the integrity of this creation we seek to understand and aspire to honor. In the choice of our food, I believe, we see...a small but not unimportant part of both the challenge and the promise of Christianity and animal rights."
In an editorial that appeared on Christmas Day, 1988, Washington Post columnist Coleman McCarthy, a prominent Catholic writer and a vegetarian observed: "A long raised but rarely answered question is this: If it was God's plan for Christ to be born among animals, why have most Christian theologians denied the value and rights of animals? Why no theology of the peaceable kingdom?... Animals in the stable at Bethlehem were a vision of the peaceable kingdom. Among theology's mysteries, this ought to be the easiest to fathom.
In a 1989 article entitled, "Re-examining the Christian Scriptures," Rick Dunkerly of Christ Lutheran Church concludes, "...the Bible-believing Christian, should, of all people, be on the frontline in the struggle for animal welfare and rights. We who are Christians should be treating the animal creation now as it will be treated then, at Christ's second coming. It will not now be perfect, but it must be substantial, otherwise we have missed our calling, and we grieve the One we call 'Lord', who was born in a stable surrounded by animals simply because He chose it that way." Dunkerly teaches Bible studies at his home Church and is actively involved in animal rescue projects.
In 1992, members of Los Angeles' First Unitarian Church agreed to serve vegetarian meals at the church's weekly Sunday lunch. Their decision was made as a protest against animal cruelty and the environmental damage caused by the livestock industry.
The realization that meat is an unnecessary luxury, resulting in inequities in the world food supply has prompted religious leaders in different Christian denominations to call on their members to abstain from meat on certain days of the week. Paul Moore, Jr., the Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of New York, made such an appeal in a November, 1974 pastoral letter calling for the observance of "meatless Wednesdays." A similar appeal had previously been issued by Cardinal Cooke, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of New York. The Reverend Eugene Carson Blake, former head of the World Council of Churches and founder of Bread for the World, has encouraged everyone in his organization to abstain from eating meat on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.
Father Thomas Berry, a Catholic priest, author, and founder of the Riverdale Center of Religious Research in New York, wrote in 1987 that "vegetarianism is a way of life that we should all move toward for economic survival, physical well-being, and spiritual integrity."
"Is this not the fast I have chosen? To loosen the chains of wickedness, to undo the bonds of oppression, and to let the oppressed go free? Is it not to share thy bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless? Clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own."
The Reverend Marc Wessels, Executive Director of the International Network for Religion and Animals made these Observations on Earth Day 1990:
"It is a fact that no significant social reform has yet taken place in this country without the voice of the religious community being heard. The endeavors of the abolition of slavery; the women's suffrage movement; the emergence of the pacifist tradition during World War I; the struggles to support civil rights, labor unions, and migrant farm workers; and the anti-nuclear and peace movements have all succeeded in part because of the power and support of organized religion. Such authority and energy is required by individual Christians and the institutional church today if the liberation of animals is to become a reality.
"The greatness of a nation and its moral progress on earth," wrote Gandhi, "can be judged by the way its animals are treated...I hold that the more helpless a creature, the more entitled it is to protection by man from the cruelty of man." Abraham Lincoln said, "I care not for a man's religion whose dog or cat is not the better for it." Abraham Lincoln also said, "I am in favor of animal rights as well as human rights. That is the way of a whole human being."
At a rally in San Francisco protesting the use of animals in medical research, Alameda County supervisor John George said, "My people were the first laboratory animals in America." Black Americans suffered at the hands of research scientists just as animals continue to do today.
In 1968, civil rights leader Dick Gregory compared humanity's treatment of animals with the conditions of America's inner cities:
"Animals and humans suffer and die alike. If you had on kill your own hog before you ate it, most likely you would not be able to do it. To hear the hog scream, to see the blood spill, to see the baby being taken away from its momma, and to see the look of death in the animals eye would turn your stomach. So you get the man at the packing house to do the killing for you.
"In like manner, if the wealthy aristocrats who are perpetrating conditions in the ghetto actually heard the screams of ghetto suffering, or saw the slow death of hungry little kids, or witnessed the strangulation of manhood and dignity, they could not continue the killing. But the wealthy are protected from such horror...If you can justify killing to eat meat, you can justify the conditions of the ghetto. I cannot justify either one.
Gregory credits the Judeo-Christian ethic and the teachings of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr., with having caused him to become a vegetarian. In 1973, he drew a connection between vegetarianism and nonviolent civil disobedience:
"...the philosophy of nonviolence, which I learned from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during my involvement in the civil rights movement was first responsible for my change in diet. I became a vegetarian in 1965. I had been a participant in all of the 'major' and most of the 'minor' civil rights demonstrations of the early sixties, including the March on Washington and the Selma to Montgomery March.
"Under the leadership of Dr. King, I became totally committed to nonviolence, and I was convinced that nonviolence meant opposition to killing in any form. I felt the commandment 'Thou shalt not kill' applied to human beings not only in their dealings with each other--war, lynching, assassination, murder and the like--but in their practice of killing animals for food or sport. Animals and humans suffer and die alike...violence causes the same pain, the same spilling of blood, the same stench of death, the same arrogant, cruel and brutal taking of life.
In a 1979 interview, Gregory explained, "I didn't become a vegetarian for health reasons; I became a vegetarian strictly for moral reasons...Vegetarianism will definitely become a people's movement." When asked if humans will ultimately have to answer to a Supreme Being for their exploitation of animals, Gregory replied, "I think we answer for that every time we go to the hospital with cancer and other diseases."
Gregory also expressed the opinion that the plight of the poor will improve as humans cease to slaughter animals: "I would say that the treatment of animals has something to do with the treatment of people. The Europeans have always regarded their slaves and the people they have colonialized as animals." Since the 1980s, Gregory has been involved in the anti-drug campaign.
In biology, Hoyle and Wickramasinghe calculated the probability of proteins forming from the random interaction of amino acids--the building blocks of Life. They found the odds were one out of ten to the 40,000 power. Given these extreme odds, it seems difficult to imagine the self-organization of matter without the deliberate intervention of some kind of higher power(s) or intelligence(s).
All life is thus precious and sacred. Nobel Prize winner, Dr. Francis Crick has admitted, "the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle." Organized religion is just beginning to understand that the "sanctity of life" includes more than just the human species.
Go on to Chapter 18 - Movements with a Similar Agenda
Return to The Politics of Vegetarianism Table of Contents
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