Vasu Murti

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Pro-Lifers Need Religious Diversity

The pro-life movement desperately needs religious diversity. Pro-lifers should welcome people of other faiths and those of no faith. Not everyone in the United States is a Christian.

This country wasn’t founded by Christians; many of America’s founding fathers were Deists. There are other faiths, besides the Abrahamic faiths. There are other holy books out there besides the Bible or the Koran, like the Bhagavad-gita, which also claim to be the word of God.

I really a problem with pro-life Christians who adhere to a double-standard: i.e., they insist their stand against abortion be applied to everyone, including others outside of their faith, but then they embrace moral relativism when it suits them, e.g.:

“Your religion says it’s wrong to kill animals for food, clothing or sport; mine doesn’t.”

On animal rights issues, my own experience is that conservative Christians are hostile toward anything even remotely resembling a "dietary law" and of being "converted" to another religion. And I've experienced their bigotry firsthand. 

They respond with an anti-semitic yawn, and liken the idea of a vegetarian future to a scene in Woody Allen's 1973 movie, Sleeper.

(A natural foods faddist placed unwittingly in suspended animation, wakes up two hundred years in the future to find what he thought would be the wave of the future didn't happen.)

Or they point their fingers at their noses. Or they stick their legs out mimicking a dog peeing.

I've experienced their bigotry firsthand, and I'm not Jewish, nor a follower of any of the Abrahamic faiths.  Jews and Muslims don't worship images. Jews and Muslims don't believe in the incarnations of God. Jews and Muslims don't worship a plural Godhead, similar to Trinitarian Christianity. Jews and Muslims don't worship other human beings (e.g., saints and spiritual masters in disciplic succession).

You'd think the unborn-right-to-lifers would immediately understand the animal-right-to-lifers... the real reason to go vegetarian or go vegan is the animals' right to life! 

The idea that we should abstain from eating meat, etc., because it involves taking the life of a fellow creature, strikes these Christians as a "Jewish" idea, even though my dear friend Rose Evans (a pro-life Episcopalian and editor and publisher of Harmony: Voices for a Just Future, a "consistent-ethic" periodical on the religious left) says there are more Christian vegetarians than Jewish vegetarians. 

These anti-semitic Christians point their fingers at their noses, or stick their legs out like a dog taking a leak, etc.. 

Even after I point out that Susan B. Anthony, Mohandas Gandhi, Leo Tolstoy, George Bernard Shaw, Percy Shelley, Leonardo Da VInci, Benjamin Franklin, etc. were all vegetarians and none of them were Jewish. 

These Christians react as if we were talking about a sectarian custom like circumcision rather than the animals' right to life, and they act as if they're being dragged kicking and screaming back into Mosaic Law. 

Sometimes it's easier to get an idea across by being lighthearted: 

"How many polyesters did you have to kill to make that suit?" quipped Steve Martin in the '70s. 

On the other hand, if the arguments are completely secular, Christians cry "MOVE" !  

If vegetarianism were only about following a peculiar set of "dietary laws" and not about the animals' right to life: 

1. Why would these pro-life Christians be offended by pro-choice vegetarians and vegans, unless it's understood the reason people become vegetarian or vegan is because of the animals' right to life, and thus these pro-choice vegetarians and vegans appear to value animals over humans under some circumstances?

2. Why would these pro-life Christians bring up the thoroughly debunked myth that Hitler was a "vegetarian," if not to discredit vegetarianism as a nonviolent philosophy toward animals and humans alike? 

3. Why would they ask in jest if it's wrong to kill plants, unless it's understood people become vegetarian because they believe animals have the right to life?

4. Issues like animal experimentation, circuses, fur, etc. have nothing to do with diet, eating, or food, but do involve the animals' right to life.

In abortion politics, secular arguments are good politics, because secular arguments are religion-neutral, and thus applicable to everyone, including atheists and agnostics. Secular arguments on behalf of animals, on the other hand, are met with the cry "MOVE"!

These Christians clearly do not consider the non-killing of animals to be a universal ethic for all mankind, the way they look at their own opposition to killing the unborn. 

(Ironically, many liberals think abortion is a sectarian religious issue!)

So, I try to show them the softer side of their religion, and remind them that although animal rights as a secular moral philosophy might appear at odds with traditional religious thinking (e.g., human "dominion" over other animals), this is equally true of: 

...democracy and representative government in place of monarchy and belief in the divine right of kings; the separation of church and state; the abolition of (human) slavery; the emancipation of women; birth control; the sexual revolution; LGBT rights... 

All social progress since the end of the Dark Ages and the beginning of the Age of Enlightenment. Social progress even conservative Christians take for granted.

Religious pro-lifers react with greater hostility when told not to kill animals than pro-choicers show when told not to kill the unborn... That kind of response from pro-lifers is completely irrational!

During a phone conversation in the '90s with my friend Greg Sims in San Diego, when I was expressing exasperation at the inability of Christians to grasp that eating meat is an act of violence (Where do they think meat comes from? To put meat on the table, an animal must be put to death!), Greg responded:

"Tell them we can't end abortion until we first end the killing of animals."

And Greg knows the conservative Christian mindset better than I do... he was raised in it!

There are Christian vegetarians and vegans, of course, of whom I have the deepest respect. I don't take it seriously when meat-eaters say, "The Bible permits us to eat meat," because the Bible was also used to uphold human slavery. The Bible can also be used to justify abortion.   Can you imagine 18th century Christians telling abolitionists, "We don't need to free our slaves...That’s 'good works’…we don’t have to ‘work’ for our salvation... All we have to do is accept Jesus...Paul said Jesus told him three times, ‘my grace is sufficient for thee,’ ...we don't need to free our slaves..." ?

Or how about an 18th century Christian preacher who tells his followers, “You don’t have to free your slaves… All you have to do is accept Jesus.”?

None of the religious arguments pro-life Christians make to justify the status quo with regards to animals would make any sense if this were three hundred years ago, and we were discussing the abolition of human slavery instead of animal slavery, and I think the same holds true with regards to abortion. 

I'm surprised pro-choice Christians haven't tried to deny rights to the unborn using the same religious arguments pro-life Christians use to deny rights to animals!

Adolf Hitler thought Albert Einstein's scientific discoveries were mere "Jewish science," and thus not applicable to gentiles. Many liberals think abortion is merely a conservative Christian issue -- if you're not born again, you don't have to be pro-life.

We really live in a secular society. Secular arguments are religion-neutral and are thus applicable to everyone, including atheists and agnostics. 

The pro-life movement ALREADY HAS the support of organized religion. Instead of preaching to the choir, i.e., wasting time with religion, pro-lifers should focus on prenatal development, genetics, DNA, RNA, etc. to make their case to mainstream secular society.

According to the editors of World Watch, July/August 2004: 

“The human appetite for animal flesh is a driving force behind virtually every major category of environmental damage now threatening the human future — deforestization, topsoil erosion, fresh water scarcity, air and water pollution, climate change, biodiversity loss, social injustice, the destabilization of communities and the spread of disease.”

Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk, similarly says in the February 1995 issue ofHarmony: Voices for a Just Future: 

“…the survival of our planet depends on our sense of belonging — to all other humans, to dolphins caught in dragnets to pigs and chickens and calves raised in animal concentration camps, to redwoods and rainforests, to kelp beds in our oceans, and to the ozone layer.”

The threat of “overpopulation” is frequently used to justify abortion as birth control. On a vegan diet, however, the world could easily support a population several times its present size. The world’s cattle alone consume enough to feed 8.7 billion humans.

America’s largest animal rights organization, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), over 1.6 million strong, is challenging those who think they can still be “meat-eating environmentalists” to go vegan, if they really care about the planet. 

If it could be shown in secular political language that there is a connection between food, economy, environment and war, and that abortion and war are the collective karma for killing billions of animals, would this be enough to cause our friends in the pro-life and peace movements to go vegan as well?

Becoming a vegetarian or a vegan is not merely "helping" the peace and pro-life movements, it is literally pro-life!

Go on to: Pro-lifers: Just Join PETA!
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