Please welcome back the ever wonderful Tom from New Vegan Age. Tom has been a guest blogger on VBU! a few times: Vegan Creed, Harvey Diamond Interview, Vegans are good for your restaurant’s business (Kim Stahler), World Vegan Day, A Perfect Time to Stop eating Animals, Support vegan business and organizations.
This time Tom is back with an interesting question for vegans of faith.
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If you’re like many Christians around the world, you’re not consuming meat on certain days of Lent this year.
But have you ever wondered about Christians who have renounced meat permanently? And not just meat, but confections and other foods made with eggs, milk, cheese, and butter?
That’s us: Vegan Christians. We’re a tiny minority, and we don’t mean to make your life difficult. We didn’t want to complicate the Lenten feast you lovingly prepared for a dozen people at your home, or to seem ungrateful when we asked questions about its preparation or ingredients.
Just the opposite, in fact. For me, fear of making life difficult for my friends and loved ones made me delay becoming vegan—declining to use or consume anything derived from animals for the sake of beauty, flavor, nourishment, clothing, entertainment, or convenience—until, after many years of relatively easy vegetarianism, I finally followed my conscience and made that leap.
Now, four years later and during this Lenten season of reflection, I want more people to understand my decision—and to consider what has brought many other modern Christians to veganism.
For most vegans, compassion is central to our relationships with other living beings, and our veganism allows us to best live that fundamental truth. In the Biblical stories that many vegans most closely relate to and are most inspired by, Jesus demonstrates compassion, humility, and kindness.
For these reasons, I think vegans are actually more like our non-vegan Christian brothers and sisters than we are different. We also share a deep affiliation with people who’ve made Jesus’ life a model for our own, and we have, in turn, educated our children, grandchildren, and neighbors in the practice of compassion.
Unfortunately, however, vegan Christians live outside of the Christian mainstream for a key reason. It’s one that can make us appear to be separatist. Sanctimonious. Even self-righteous.
Put most simply, it is often difficult for us to comfortably join gatherings where all life, including that of animals, is not celebrated as a creation of God that must be protected. Since Christian vegans often interpret Biblical “dominion” over animals as stewardship and not as domination—that is, not as ownership or use—the prospect of attending family gatherings, parish suppers, and coffee hours that feature animal-based casseroles and confections made using dairy products can fill us with dread.
How can vegans see something as innocuous as a donut as cruel? Well, the products sold in supermarkets—even those labeled “organic” and “free-range”—force animals to live unnecessarily uncomfortable and unnaturally shortened lives. Those smiling cartoon cows and pigs that advertisers employ do the actual cramped, dirty animals found in most factory farms a great disservice; it’s not difficult to find evidence of this on the Internet or in your local bookstore.
What’s interesting is that modern vegan Christians may not even be that different than our religious ancestors. Eloquent arguments of the potential vegetarianism (or even veganism) of Jews and Christians in antiquity—including Saint Basil, Saint Jerome, and even Matthew and the other Apostles—include the non-availability of animal-based diets to common folk in the Mediterranean basin and the lack of evidence that Jesus consumed animal flesh, as well as differences in how early Christian writings were translated.
Rynn Berry, an author and translator of ancient Greek who died in January, found no mention of fish in the earliest accounts of the multiplication miracle—it was strictly bread—and when he personally translated the passages in the Gospel of John describing the multiplication of loaves and fishes, he found that the original meaning of the word used was “relish.”
As for the symbols of fish associated with Jesus’ ministry, said Berry, astrological events at his birth might account for why the persecuted Christian minority in ancient Rome used fish symbols as a code to signal other Christians, and why we still see it in churches and on car bumpers yet today. Could it be that we are called to be fishers of men, and not fishers of fish?
Despite these assertions or alternate possibilities, however, for many vegan Christians today, the primary evidence linking our Christianity with the practice of veganism actually resides not in Biblical evidence but in our hearts, and is illuminated after we prayerfully ask ourselves two questions.
Could I, alone and by myself, harm, torture, or kill another living being?
Once examined, will my conscience allow me to have other people harm, torture, or kill another living being in my name and for my use?
For some people, the answers to the prayerful consideration of these two questions will be yes. For vegan Christians, the answer is no, but that answer doesn’t result in one iota of smugness or superiority. We just happen to see God in the faces of pigs, sheep, geese, turkeys, goats, chickens, and cows as easily as most people do in the faces of their beloved pet cats and companion dogs.
Vegan Christians believe that all animals—wild, farmed, and domesticated—feel pain, make decisions, and are inclined to protect themselves and their families from harm. We believe that all human and animal life is a sacred gift from God. We actually think a lot of people—particularly those who are troubled by the sight of factory farm and slaughterhouse footage—agree with us. And so we wonder: Why aren’t more Christians vegan?
All we ask is that you think more about it. Read things both critical and in favor of veganism. Quiz people who embrace and denounce it. Most importantly, start trying it out yourself, at any pace and in any way that is comfortable. While doing so, ask yourself and God the two questions above. And listen carefully for the answers.