Debate on Ethical Vegetarianism, Jesus, & the Bible

Debate on Ethical Vegetarianism, Jesus, & the Bible March 16, 2019

This is a dialogue with the thoughtful vegetarian Sogn Mill-Scout, whose words will be in blue. I’ve abridged it from the very long original exchange, which was in three parts (one / two / three).

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We can choose to recognize that we are all part of the vast number of sentient beings that are united in our capacity to suffer and feel pain. It is our unique privilege as a species to be able to choose to refrain from inflicting suffering upon our fellow sentient beings. 

I wholeheartedly agree with that. I also don’t see torture and other infliction of suffering on animals in the Bible. But I see the permissibility of swiftly killing them (and eating them, and using their fur, etc.) all over the place, and sanctioned by God, Who cannot (by nature) sanction something that is intrinsically sinful and evil. That’s why much of this has to rest on an optional, non-obligatory idealism (much like pacifism).

It’s impossible, I will argue, to make this entire argument and also accept the Bible as an inspired revelation from God. You are a Christian, so your task is to harmonize biblical teaching with your beliefs on this score.

I’m not sure whether I bear that obligation or not, 

Of course you do, if you are a Christian. If you care little about synthesizing your views with the Bible, I don’t see how you can claim to be a Christian, as all Christians accept it as God’s revelation.

but I do know that you’ve voluntarily saddled yourself with it, 

That’s right. I’m very proud to be “saddled” with the Bible.

I think what this really boils down to is not that we’re both Christians (followers/worshipers of Christ) and therefore share the same burden regarding scripture. I think at least one important part of the issue is that you’re Catholic and I’m not. 

That has nothing to do with this particular issue. My argument wouldn’t have been the slightest bit different if I was still Protestant. Protestants (at least traditional, “conservative” ones) have — it should go without saying — just as high a view of Scripture and its inspiration and infallibility as the Catholic Church does. This is common ground, so it is nonsensical for you to try to turn it into a “Catholic thing.” At best, you can only speak as a Protestant liberal, when you do this, but that is not historic Protestantism. It’s a departure from it.

I, however, being outside the Catholic Church with its well-defined, inherited, traditional reading of scripture, along with an entire system of dogmatic theology, am flying solo, more or less, and just have to do the best I can with the material at hand. 

No Protestant worth his salt would stand for a minute and let you pick and choose what parts of the Bible you would accept and which you jettison because of prior ideological commitments. That’s what is called eisegesis (reading into Scripture what is not there).

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Panzoism is the term my wife and I coined for this philosophy of life that embraces all sentient beings as worthy of our compassion and concern.

What if we discovered that plants feel pain, too? I vaguely remembering reading something along those lines. The Secret Life of Plants sort of thing . . . If that were proven scientifically, what would you do then? Make an exception for plants? Otherwise, we would all have to starve to death in order to consistently live out this vision, as all food is organic. Only water is non-organic, and we can’t survive on water only.

This is a classic recourse when avoiding vegetarianism. Plant pain would serve no evolutionary purpose: the primary purpose of pain is to warn the organism of danger, thus prompting it to fight or flee the threat if possible. Plants cannot flee and are pretty helpless in a fight. If we look to evolution to explain life, plant pain is pointless.

All of a sudden, pain is a non-issue if it doesn’t serve an “evolutionary purpose”? I thought the leading idea was compassion. My argument was “If plants feel pain, then what do you do?” The above reply seems to me to be a complete non sequitur.

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It is a way of life that strives to bring about genuine peace on earth by renouncing violence, and, to the best of our ability, eschewing participation in all activities and commerce which rely upon or promote the suffering or exploitation of not only fellow humans, but all sentient beings.

If you wanna really get radical with this, we would all have to make massive changes in our lives; some entailing considerable financial sacrifices. What about all the stuff made in China? I believe they have slave labor camps there. Every utility company or credit card company or bank, etc., which invests in, or supports the abortion industry or Planned Parenthood, or supports or does business with other companies which do the same, would have to be off limits for our business, as they are participating in the slaughter of the preborn. Arguably, we are helping maintain the culture of death in supporting them.

People make this argument a lot. If we extend it to animals, that would introduce a host of new complications. It gets to the point where you would have to live in an igloo in Siberia in order to avoid all unethical or immoral entanglements with the “world” (Greek: cosmos, or world-system).

This is an excellent point; thanks for raising it. My wife, in the interim since my essay was posted, has chided me for my stridency in placing what could be perceived as unsupportable burdens on people in the quest for moral purity.

My advocacy of panzoism is an attempt to persuade people to exert My advocacy of panzoism is an attempt to persuade people to exert some effort to move some distance, even if a small distance, along that continuum of entanglement and complicity in adding to the world’s suffering. Thus, although I hope that some people will be persuaded to completely eschew supporting the meat industry, I would be happy even if people would, for example, modify their lives to include one or two meatless days a week. If millions of people took that relatively easy action it would have a substantial negative impact on the meat industry. Perhaps it would even lead to ‘reforms’ in the atrocious treatment of captive animals destined for killing. 

This is why I have stressed, especially in my replies to comments on my essay, that it isn’t necessary to believe that killing and eating of animals is intrinsically wrong in order to be obliged to become vegetarian, or at least a part-time vegetarian (a reduced consumer of meat). As I’ve noted, and have not been gainsaid, the policy I advocate follows only from the (commonly professed Christian) belief that unnecessary cruel treatment of animals is immoral. If this principle alone were strictly adhered to, it would be necessary to procure your meat only from small independent suppliers whose treatment of animals you could personally vouch for, or else hunt and kill animals yourself, using the quickest and most painless methods available. This logic is unassailable.

It may not be possible for anyone to live a completely pure, uncontaminated life with regard to any of these evils, much less all. I certainly don’t claim to have succeeded in that ideal. 

Fair enough. This seems reasonable. But often it appears that you regard killing of animals as tantamount to murder. If that is so, you can’t sanction it, even on the grounds you just gave. If, on the other hand, it isn’t murder, then at best you can call for reform of food processing and treatment of animals, but not vegetarianism, strictly defined. Either way, you have a problem of internal consistency.

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Much of the preceding material was written before my wife and I became Christians.

Maybe that’s part of the problem. You may have retained elements of a pagan philosophy (however praiseworthy in itself, and in intent) that are in disharmony with biblical revelation. As a Christian, you have an obligation to make sure your ethical system is consistent with biblical revelation. Mandatory vegetarianism certainly isn’t consistent with the biblical record.

It was our panzoism which, in part, paved the way for our return to faith in Christ, the Savior who bore the suffering of creation in His own body. Since our conversions we have realized that the Christian faith provides the most reasonable and consistent basis for the panzoist way of life. 

Well, we’ll see how well strict panzoism holds up in light of Scripture.  If you try to dismiss relevant Scripture at every turn, then I will conclude that you 1) reject biblical inspiration, and/or 2) that non-Christian philosophies have overcome Christian ones in you, with regard to this matter.

And the notion that Christ would have called us to become less loving than we already were is plainly absurd.

So Jesus was “less loving” when He helped the fishermen catch a greater load of fish? He helped murder several hundreds or thousands of fish. Was He then a mass murderer? This is the sort of difficulty your position entails.

But if we dare to inform ourselves about the industry of mass-slaughter, and if are hearts are not hardened and dead to compassion, we will be sorely troubled by the way humans treat weaker beings.

I agree. I am against the sort of ruthless, callous exploitation of animals that takes place, just as I oppose the same sort of non-lethal exploitation of the working class by greedy ethics-challenged corporate capitalists.

If we already love an animal companion, such as a cat or dog, the haunting question is inevitable: why is it wrong to kill and eat my pet but appropriate to slaughter cows and pigs? (or pay people to do it for me!).

Because the Bible allows killing animals for food. I do agree that there is a certain disconnect between the two scenarios. But I would say that it is not inconsistent to love a being while killing them, anymore than it is inconsistent to kill an enemy in war without personally hating them.

That’s no answer to the specific question I posed.

Alright; how about this: there are times when it is proper to kill animals while we love and care for other animals, just as there are times (and you concede this) to kill people while we love and care for other people.

Secondly, one could argue that it is not wrong to kill your own pet, but rather, inappropriate or not fitting. The function of a pet is not for food, but for companionship and pleasure. But the function of a fish (in terms of our use of the fish) is to eat.

Thirdly, one could argue that with pets, there is sentimentality involved (the “Bambi syndrome”). We don’t kill them because there is sentiment that precludes such behavior. But that is a different thing from claiming it would be unethical or “murder” to kill your pet and eat it. What about expeditions to the Antarctic where they were starving and slaughtered the dogs to eat? Did they commit murder? If killing animals is murder, one cannot even do the act when starving, anymore than they could kill a fellow human being to eat, when in danger of starvation. But if it’s not murder, then you can’t preclude the ethical possibility of killing and eating an animal.

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For me, vegetarianism requires no more basis than that; the mere fact that I can and do love even one animal dictates that I refrain, if at all possible, from harming any of them.

That doesn’t follow. I could love my dog or cat or hamster, yet be forced to kill a wild bear attacking my daughter or a poisonous snake slithering into a nursery, or a great white shark coming after my grandmother at Cape Cod. There are also issues of self-defense here which apply to animals just as they apply to malevolent human beings.

And to be the cause of suffering after having tasted the boundless love of Christ would be an act of sacrilege.

Inflicting suffering is a much more clear-cut case than all killing or use of animal products for food. Kill an animal swiftly [with minimal or no pain] is ethically different from causing them to suffer for months or years in order to be used in some fashion.

What I’m saying is that this discussion is not a zero-sum contest with only two possible outcomes: Either (a) I prove from scripture that all Christians must be strict vegetarians, or else (b) Christians can justify eating all the meat they can obtain by any available and convenient means. 

It’s two different issues. What I’m trying to get you to see is that you can’t have it both ways. Either you should adopt the strict “ethical vegetarian” view or you should simply stick to reform of processing methods and not object to anyone eating meat where the animal did not suffer. The turkey gets its head cut off for Thanksgiving dinner. It suffered for a split second at the most. I don’t think this is an evil act.

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It fills me with sorrow and bewilderment that fellow Christians who talk so easily of the love of Christ can so harden their hearts as to be stone-deaf to screams of pain and terror just because they don’t come from humans. It seems to be enough for many Christians to simply say, “look, Christ ate fish,” and happily resume eating the steak on their plate, serene in their toothsome joy. Such cynical use of scripture is a transparent rationalization, as shown by the preference for looking historically backward through scripture rather than prophetically forward to the peaceable Kingdom envisioned by Isaiah. I often wonder why Christians don’t want to do whatever lies within their power to anticipate the promised Kingdom by renouncing violence and harm here and now. The habits of the palate are indeed powerful and hard to escape; it is no wonder that gluttony is one of the Seven Deadly Sins.

Nice sermon, but now I will show how it is a biblically untenable position, on many grounds, and neither a “cynical” use of Scripture, nor necessarily a rationalization.

Passing over the issue of “dominion” (Gen 1:28) for the time being, you may argue that Adam and Eve were possibly vegetarians (based on, e.g., Gen 1:29-31 and 2:16). But alas, we find that God approved of animal sacrifice as early as Cain and Abel, where he accepted Abel’s animal offering and rejected Cain’s fruit offering (Genesis 4:2-5).

It is not until Abel (4:4) that we see humans killing animals. 

Well that didn’t take long, did it? Four human beings . . .

If you argue that meat-eating came from the Fall, how do you explain the fact that God sanctions the killing of an animal in this fashion? Man may have fallen, but God doesn’t change, and He cannot sanction an immoral, intrinsically evil act. Furthermore, right after the Fall, God Himself made Adam and Eve “garments of skin” (Gen 3:21). I would hardly expect Jesus, then, to be among the fur protesters.

He certainly would be if He cared about cruelty.

Not if the animal was quickly killed and its fur used.

The entire system of animal sacrifice in the Old Testament presupposes that it is not wrong to kill animals. The priests were commanded to eat the lamb that was slaughtered (see. e.g., Lev 6:26; 7:6). That would mean that God was commanding an utter evil. The Jews ate lamb at every Passover, as commanded by God.

This was all, of course, a precursor to the Sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary (book of Hebrews). Jesus is even referred to as the Lamb of God, slain before the foundation of the world. That would be interesting, if God can call Himself a name which is a direct reference to acts which you find intrinsically immoral (and acts which He commanded the Israelites to do regularly as part and parcel of the regular system of animal sacrifice under the Law (itself a divine revelation given to Moses on Mt. Sinai).

Furthermore, Jesus did not abolish this law at all, but rather, fulfilled it (Matt 5:17). He observed the law Himself, and attended synagogue (e.g., Matt 4:23, Acts 18:19, many others), as did the early Christians before the complete separation of Judaism and Christianity. So they accepted the Law. Jesus and the disciples observed Passover (e.g., Jn 13:1; Mk 14:14).

the John passage merely identifies the time of the events by reference to Passover.

We know it is Passover from context and comparisons to the Synoptic Gospels. See, e.g., John 11:55-57 — 12:1,12. 13:1 refers to the Passover being observed by Jesus because the next verse refers to the “supper.” The subsequent discourse was delivered at the Last Supper, and we know that was definitely a Passover from the Synoptics. You are grasping at straws. One must compare Scripture with Scripture.

Jesus went to Jerusalem specifically to observe Passover, because He was an observant Jew (Jn 2:13, 23; 12:1, 12; 13:1). Mark 14:12 reads,

And on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the passover lamb, his disciples said to him, “Where will you have us go and prepare for you to eat the passover?”

Jesus ate the Passover lamb (Mk 14:14; Lk 22:8, 11, 15; Mt 26:17-19). He was not a vegetarian at all. According to you, then, he sinned against charity, against lambs. The Last Supper, where the Eucharist was instituted, was a Passover feast (Mk 12:14-25; Lk 22:1-20; Mt 26:17-29; Jn 13:1 [implied]). Jesus, Joseph, and Mary observed the Passover when our Lord was growing up (Lk 2:41-42). The Eucharist was a direct parallel to the system of animal sacrifice: applied to Jesus in a sacramental way (Lk 22:17-20). St. Paul calls Jesus “our Passover” (1 Cor 5:7).

Yes, the synoptics agree that Jesus & company ate a Passover meal, but mention of the lamb is conspicuously missing. 

It’s not missing at all (Mark 14:12: “sacrificed the passover lamb, . . . eat the passover “). That was part of the Passover. We know what Passover meals involve, both from history and Jews’ observance of it today. See, for example, Exodus 12:1-20; especially verses 8-10. The Jews were commanded to eat what they were commanded by God to sacrifice.

To me this is significant because it is difficult to reconcile Jesus’ own image of Himself as the Good Shepherd with killing sheep. It would be as though, instead of Jesus saying “I am the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep”, he had said “I am the Good Shepherd who slaughters his sheep.” 

Whatever you think of it, He did it. And that is your problem. Your sentiments and opinions as to what you think Jesus should be like, do not determine how He is. Revelation tells us that. So you’re really avoiding this massive evidence. I have little patience with the selective, pick-and-choose approach to Scripture and exegesis.

If you say we should look forward to the coming kingdom and the lion laying down with the lamb, etc., then I immediately ask, “then why didn’t Jesus do it and become our example to follow?”

I would turn your question around and submit that, since Jesus was faultless in His character, and since He was the Messiah destined to inaugurate the Peaceable Kingdom foreseen by Isaiah, it is therefore exceedingly implausible to suppose that Jesus killed and ate animals or sanctioned their killing. 

Whatever is “plausible” to you is irrelevant. We are trying to deal with the biblical record here. And that record is abundantly clear. It expressly contradicts your viewpoint.

You need to address your own question, given your assertion that Jesus was a killer, i.e. why didn’t Jesus behave as Isaiah and other prophets described the Messiah?

Because this was His first coming, not His second. Take it up with God. I am merely describing how the Bible describes Jesus in relation to meat-eating. But in the Second Coming, Jesus kills men as well as animals, because He is judging them:

Revelation 19:12-16 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems; and he has a name inscribed which no one knows but himself. [13] He is clad in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. [14] And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, followed him on white horses. [15] From his mouth issues a sharp sword with which to smite the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron; he will tread the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. [16] On his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed, King of kings and Lord of lords. . . . [21] And the rest were slain by the sword of him who sits upon the horse, the sword that issues from his mouth; and all the birds were gorged with their flesh.

You think Isaiah doesn’t mention this aspect of Jesus as judge (and “killer”: as you put it?). Think again:

Isaiah 11:1-4 There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. [2] And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. [3] And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; [4] but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked.

With regard to meat-eating, there is no indication at all in Scripture that it is a sin or that it would or should eventually be abolished.

Then you haven’t read Isaiah!

I love Isaiah. I listed it as my favorite book in the Bible. Where does it say that eating meat is a sin? You have this silly notion that the prophets were somehow some bleeding-heart liberal vegetarians. This is untrue. One wearies of having to argue these self-evident things.

Jeremiah records that if the people “listen” to the LORD (17:24), and keep the Sabbath holy (17:24, 27), then among other things, there will be (by God’s sanction): “burnt offerings and sacrifices . . . [brough to] the house of the LORD” (Jer 17:26). Elsewhere, in referring to the messianic kingdom (Jer 33:14-16), Jeremiah speaks of the continued sacrificial system “for ever” (33:18). Yet you tried to argue that “the sacrificial system was condemned by some of the prophets!” and cited Jeremiah 7:22-23 as a supposed instance of this. It’s poppycock. I get the feeling that you are simply pulling proof texts up from your various books without bothering to check to see what these prophets wrote elsewhere.

The prophet Ezekiel also joins the ranks of sinners like Jesus, Paul, and Jeremiah. He writes about the sacrificial offerings being eaten by the priests in the Temple (42:13; 44:29), and reiterates the sacrifice of sheep under the Law (45:15-17, 23-25; 46:5-7, 11-15). This is six verses after God says through Ezekiel, “Put away violence and oppression, and execute justice and righteousness” (45:9). So what is Ezekiel? a split personality? The Wolfman?

Is Isaiah (whom you thought offered your “biblical” silver bullet against meat-eating) any different? Of course not. When God (through Isaiah) is condemning Israel for disobedience, He says:  “You have not brought me your sheep for burnt offerings, or honored me with your sacrifices” (Is 43:23). Speaking of the messianic age, and the kingdom of Israel as God desires it, in the context of keeping the covenant and the Sabbath (56:6), God states: “their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer” (Is 56:7).

Speaking of Egypt, Isaiah writes:

Isaiah 19:21-22 And the LORD will make himself known to the Egyptians; and the Egyptians will know the LORD in that day and worship with sacrifice and burnt offering, and they will make vows to the LORD and perform them . . . and they will return to the LORD, and he will heed their supplications and heal them.

In a passage about the day of judgment (Isaiah chapter 34), Isaiah refers to the “sword” of the LORD, “gorged with fat, with the blood of lambs and goats, with the fat of the kidneys of rams” (Isaiah 34:6). Hopefully, you will think twice (and consult a Concordance) before again making such foolish claims about what the prophets believe.

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Paul urged abstention from meat and wine not because they were evil or because it was uncharitable to the animals from which the meat came, but in cases of making a brother stumble (Rom 14:20-21). In other words, if meat-eating itself were wrong, Paul did not think so.

Fortunately, Paul is not the Christ, nor was he sinless, as he admitted with great gusto.

Paul is the inspired author of a great deal of the New Testament, and Apostle, and a model of Christian behavior. The fact that this is your only comeback — basically to run down Paul and minimize his importance — shows how exceedingly weak your case is.

Paul thought it could only voluntarily be renounced for the sake of others (precisely as I believe; I would never eat meat in front of you, on these very grounds, knowing that you were severely offended by it). In the same passage, he says “everything is clean.” He expands upon this understanding in 1 Corinthians 10:25-26:

Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. For “the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”

The only meat that was to be avoided by command was that which was sacrificed to idols (1 Cor 10:19-21, 27-29; Acts 15:28-29). If you try to argue that the Old Testament meat-eating and sacrificing system was somehow changed in the New Testament, I answer that God allowed even more meat to be eaten than was before. This is shown in St. Peter’s vision at Joppa (Acts 10:12-13):

[in the vision, Peter saw]. . . all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.”

Peter protests that he had never eaten ritually unclean foods under the Law (10:14). But he is answered, “What God has cleansed, you must not call common.” (Acts 10:15). Peter is virtually commanded to kill animals and eat them, in a supernatural vision from God. So much for biblically harmonious ethically obligatory vegetarianism . . .

Here you’re way off. Not only is this clearly a symbolic story, i.e. symbolism intended to convey the message that Peter should not shun Gentiles, but Peter himself describes it as such! “God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean.” That’s what the vision was about; it wasn’t an anti-PETA campaign. It wasn’t about animals at all.

It had a double application, sure. But what you fail to see, again, is that even a parable or vision or purely symbolic writing in Scripture would not use something wrong to illustrate a righteous cause. How (in your worldview) can God tell Peter in the vision to eat all the animals (which is a wicked thing, according to you; so God in the symbolic story commands an unethical thing), and yet this represents a great thing: equality of Jews and Gentiles? This is desperate exegesis and special pleading, in order to bolster up a nonexistent biblical case.

Secondly, Peter at the Council of Jerusalem authoritatively states what Christians should be allowed to eat: he only prohibited food associated with idols and that which was strangled, and from blood (Acts 15:20,28-29). Not a word about vegetarianism. And this was the place to do it: an official council of the New Church, right when the New Covenant was in the process of being instituted; a proclamation guided by the Holy Spirit Himself (15:28).

Of course we all know how Jesus ate fish, even after His Resurrection (Jn 21:9-11). He performed the miracles of the feeding of the four thousand and five thousand, including fish (Mk 8:2-8; Mt 15:32-38). He chose several fishermen to be His disciples; He helped them have a good catch (Jn 21:4-8). he even compares the kingdom of God in one parable to a great catch of fish. Fishing involves suffering for the fish (though far less than what pigs and bulls (or minks) go through. They flop around before they die and are in obvious discomfort. If they are caught with a hook, they suffer that pain as well. So Jesus and many of His disciples were big sinners, being cruel to all these fish?

Assuming the gospels are reliable on these points, it seems incontestable that Jesus ate fish. It cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that He ate any other sentient beings, your Passover inference notwithstanding. I admit that it disturbs me that Jesus is reported to have eaten fish. 

It disturbs me that you are disturbed by anything Jesus does.

God gave the Jews in the wilderness quail to eat (Numbers 11:18-33). God and the disciples explicitly sanctioned meat-eating. Paul even says, “Eat whatever is sold in the meat market.” Christianity moved towards an even wider range of meat-eating than Judaism, with its prohibition of pig-meat and other unclean foods.

So much the worse for Christian history. 

I referred to things described in the inspired Bible. But you refuse to submit to what the Bible clearly teaches on this, so there is little reason to not ditch the witness of Christian tradition too.

The biblical evidence seems compelling then: meat may be eaten and it is no sin at all.

And yet it was a sin before the Fall and will again be a sin in heaven, or in the New Jerusalem. Curious!

Where does it say that it was a sin or will be? I don’t believe it is there, but maybe I missed it.

Jesus gave no indication that this was to cease.

And yet it will cease in God’s Kingdom, even though it’s supposedly innocuous. Curious!

It was a simple-enough matter, if this stuff was so immoral, for Jesus to be our example, just like He is in all other areas. But He says nothing about any requirement for vegetarianism. He isn’t vegetarian Himself. When will you give this effort up? It’s completely futile.

But I see no indication of mistreatment of animals, unless you include what fish experience when they are caught.

I see no reason to doubt the suffering of asphyxiated fish, 

I figured you would say this. So Jesus is definitely a sinner, big-time, as He participated in the murder of thousands of fish on more than one occasion: causing a bigger catch and feeding the 4000 and/or 5000.

and I would call slitting a lamb’s throat mistreatment — assuming Jesus partook of that practice as you claim.

God the Father commanded that, so He is a sinner too. And since Jesus observed Passover and took sacrificial offerings to the Temple, He was mean to animals and unethical and lacking in compassion too. If you want to argue that it doesn’t matter how Jesus acted; He was a sinner like the rest of us and didn’t understand some things, then you can’t continue to believe that He was God. If He was not God and not raised from the dead, then your faith is in vain, and you have denied essential truths of Christianity. So you are willing to pay a high price indeed for your vegetarianism.

You have dismantled your own case, point-by-point, in your replies. The last nail in the coffin was your contention that fish suffer when they are caught, so that we are being cruel to them. That implicated Jesus, and you can’t avoid that fact. In effect, it means that Jesus is “less merciful and compassionate” than you are yourself. You’re now judging Jesus Himself, and making out that you are ethically superior to Him and more righteous than He is: which is blasphemy.

I frankly concede the difficulty of a panzoist Christian dealing with a fish-eating yet putatively faultless Lord and Savior. Meat-eating isn’t the only thing on which one can call Jesus into question. 

I fail to see how it is consistent Christianity to believe in a Jesus Who is a sinner and not even as holy as you are (!!!). God cannot sin. Jesus is God; therefore He cannot sin. And He is perfectly holy and righteous, so these scenarios you posit are not possible with Him. You have, therefore, in effect, denied the deity of Christ: no small matter.

Our dispute, as we have sadly seen, “reduces” to whether Jesus was God or not, and whether the Bible is inspired revelation or not. This is classic theological liberalism. It’s always opposed to traditional Christian orthodoxy (as conceived in either a Protestant or Catholic or Orthodox sense). I have agreed all along that animals should not be mistreated. I don’t agree that it is immoral to kill them. You don’t seem to be able to imagine any humane way to kill them.

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Simple logic should show you that if God’s original, pre-Fall creation was vegetarian, and if God’s promised eschatological kingdom will be vegetarian, it follows that vegetarianism is God’s ideal for humans, and indeed for all creatures. 

I agree. So advocate it as an ideal and a worthy personal choice, or an ascetic option. It is only when you get legalistic and start frowning upon meat-eating that your case breaks up on the “rocks” of biblical revelation.

The only period of creation’s history in which God is depicted as tolerating the killing and eating of His creatures is, by some strange coincidence, the age of the Fall and the universal sin that results from it. Shouldn’t that tell you something?

It can’t explain everything because Jesus isn’t a fallen creature. He isn’t a creature at all. He is God and He is without sin. So if He eats meat and fish and observes the Jewish sacrificial system, none of those things can be sins. Period. End of story. It all comes down to Jesus. He is our model.

Isaiah’s idyllic words paint a vivid picture of how the inspired prophet believed things ought to be, i.e. how God ideally wants things to be – how they once were, before the Fall, and how they will be restored some day. 

Great. If God wanted this to be the case in our age, He would have said so. Adam and Eve were naked, too (as a normal, habitual state). Do you wish to advocate that as the norm for society? If you want to strictly apply their pre-Fall vegetarianism, why not their nakedness? That might be a fun conversation to have with your wife, since you mentioned she thought you were being too idealistic. :-) Here is a clear example of something else that was also before the Fall. They didn’t even know they were naked, it was so natural to them.

There is a clear Biblical implication [Hosea 2:16-20] that the world is not now as God intended it, and that human hope should be focused on the Eschaton when Creation will be transformed into its idea state. That state is a complete transformation of the relationship between humans and other species. For Christians who take prophecy seriously to trivialize vegetarianism as an “aesthetic” option, if not a dubious eccentricity, is unreasonable to say the least.

Not when God Himself partakes in the system of meat-eating. Your argument is with Jesus Himself. And that’s why you are forced to play around with the Bible, just as all liberal theologians and higher critics do.

The most plausible interpretation of God’s attitude toward meat as expressed in the bible, taken as a whole, is that permitting humans to kill and eat animals was a concession to our fallen state. 

God cannot give in to that. If it is a “concession” then He was in on it, meaning He is not perfect, and that Jesus was not God, since God is perfectly holy and cannot sin. I’ve already made this argument. If God is trying to show us the ideal, then certainly Jesus and Paul would have shown the way. But they did not in this regard. Therefore, it is not a sin. Period. God instituted the sacrificial system. Therefore, it cannot be evil.

An analogy might be the case of Israel when its people hankered for a king rather than the system of judges God had established. God very clearly expresses His dissatisfaction with the idea of human monarchy but permits the people to institute it in spite of God’s clearly expressed preference. 

Human government is not wrong. Having a king was not intrinsically wrong. What God was trying to say was that He was Israel’s king. It was a true theocracy. So having an earthly king undermined that.

***

How do you imagine Jesus would react if you accompanied Him on a tour of a modern slaughterhouse?

He would recommend, I think, that a quick and painless method of killing these poor creatures was adopted, regardless of the loss of profit. But He would not recommend a total cessation of all killing of animals, nor vegetarianism.

It is certainly true that we do not need to eat the flesh of animals to survive. We are not carnivores.

That’s correct. But you need plenty of non-meat protein to do that: lots of grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, dairy products (if you allow that).

It is becoming increasingly clear in the light of medical research in recent years that humans are generally healthier on a vegetarian diet than when regularly consuming meat. Our digestive system is not optimally suited for digesting meat, and we see widespread consequences in high cholesterol, clogged arteries and heart disease.

My own diet is based purely on aesthetics. I simply grew tired of red meat (minus the occasional bacon and beef in dishes) and found it distasteful (in the larger sense). If that helps the cause of animals in slaughterhouses, so much the better. I do eat fish and chicken and turkey. How much do turkeys and chickens suffer during their “processing”? I eat tons of milk products (ice cream, cheese, yogurt, etc.). How much do cows suffer? Not much that I can see. As long as you get enough protein, you can go completely vegetarian, but many people have found that they get quite weak and need some meat or fish as a supplement to that diet.

There are some proponents of animal liberation [who insist that] animals must not be harmed — period — for any purpose. However, while it is true that the suffering of any creature is never good or innocuous in itself, it seems at least arguable, in Christian terms, that compensatory goods for humans might outweigh the evil of our sacrifice of innocents in the cause of medical research.

What if all such animals were put to sleep or anesthetized during the research? That seems to be a happy medium, and a possible compromise. If the argument is that they shouldn’t feel pain, then we can prevent much of that, just as we do in humans. If it is only wrong if they suffer, then it isn’t wrong to do things when they feel nothing.

I believe that in an ideal world it would not even occur to any sensitive person to exploit another sentient being for any purpose, just as most people now would never even consider harming another human even if that was the only means of saving someone else’s life.

“Most people” don’t hold that position (extreme pacifism). We don’t have to make animals suffer if we kill them swiftly. Hunters perform a great service to, for example, the deer population, because it is a known fact that without hunting, a great many of them (especially in relatively more urban areas, lacking forests and fields) would suffer terribly and starve every winter. So it is instant death by a gun shot or a slow, tortuous death in the elements.

And, of course, nature itself is every bit as cruel to all sorts of animals as men are to them. I need not elaborate. If you say all that is because of the Fall, it still remains true that God allowed it to happen, and that the natural world involves things like the food chain and insects eating each other, and the T-Rex, and large snakes eating rabbits and sharks and tigers and queen bees devouring their male lovers, and spiders eating alive their helpless prey; all sorts of lovely things like that. We actually prevent many animals from being exposed to such hideous potentialities.

People invariably say this, yet it’s completely irrelevant to our obligations as God’s stewards. God didn’t tell us to lower ourselves to the level of the beasts or imitate brutal behavior! The ethic of Jesus is as unnatural as anything could possibly be!

This doesn’t answer the question. If God made a world which included the brutality of the animal kingdom (post-Fall, but He knew what would happen), then it is not wrong for us to kill an animal quickly to eat it, seeing that fellow animals might eat it alive (and slowly).

Here’s a question you might be willing to answer: Why do you WANT to kill animals (or have them killed for you)? 

I don’t (I have never hunted; nor do I wish to). At best I want to eat meat. And since it is allowed by God (even commanded, in the case of the Jews, as part of religious ritual, with soteriological significance), and God [the sinless Son] Himself did it, then there is nothing wrong with it.

Even if the Bible unequivocally and consistently supported meat-eating, why would you – or any Christian – want to kill if it isn’t essential to your survival? 

I’m semi-vegetarian, and often have meals with no meat, but obviously, because it tastes good. Why would God make it taste so good to us if it was such a terrible and sinful thing to eat meat in the first place? He could have easily made all meat and poultry and fish taste like throw-up or sewer water. But He didn’t. Interesting, isn’t it?

The only answer I can think of is that flesh tastes good and you can get away with it according to your interpretation of the bible. 

It is improper to speak of “getting away with” something if it is not wrong to do that thing in the first place. You keep trying to have it both ways. You will make concessions implying that you don’t see this as an absolute, yet when push comes to shove, your language betrays that you either do think it is absolutely wrong, or wish you could, if you had good enough reason. If it’s wrong, it’s wrong, period. Then no one could eat meat under any circumstance, even if they were starving. But if it isn’t wrong, then it is silly to speak of “get[ting] away with it.” That would be like saying “you play baseball because you can get away with it according to your interpretation of the Bible” or “you tie your shoes because you can get away with it according to your interpretation of the Bible.”

I remember the years when I persisted in eating meat despite my love of animals, and I was acutely and embarrassingly aware that I had nothing more than my culinary habits to cite in my defense. 

But it didn’t occur to you that abortion was a far greater inconsistency (to the extent that you were obliged to oppose almost all cases of it) until the last three weeks or so. I submit that if you couldn’t even see that rather obvious and glaring inconsistency, that perhaps you should be a little less ready to charge inconsistency in others (even Jesus Himself). You don’t know if you will change this view of yours eventually, just as you did with regard to abortion.

***

Honest disagreement over this particular issue need not and should not be a cause of strife among people who can at least be united in their concern that the unnecessary infliction of suffering is to be avoided to the utmost degree consistent with conscience. Ethical choices are faced every day in whether to consume medications that are tested on animals or whether to allow an operation that was tested on animals, etc. When no other alternatives exist or when the alternatives have not worked, we are left with difficult decisions. We may differ in some of the particulars of our choices while nevertheless sharing a common ultimate goal. Surely our goal should be a peaceful world where no sentient beings are intentionally harmed, and where the temptation to do so is a thing of the past because we have found means of promoting our welfare that do not depend on such violence. Emotions run high from all who are concerned but the one thing we should be able to agree on is to actively promote the search for alternatives to animal research methods.

I do agree with all this. Well-stated.

Any informed person knows that meat obtained by typical means (bought in stores) is derived from conditions of unspeakable cruelty to the animals on whose flesh we feast. No fair and reasonable person who uses English in a normal way could possibly claim that the savagely cruel methods of today’s industrial slaughterhouses are necessary. Therefore, for a Christian living in typical urban or suburban circumstances, vegetarianism is a no-brainer, and anything but optional.

I agree with this, and find it troubling, as you do. If slaughterhouses killed animals quickly, with minimal or no suffering, they could be ethically justified. I’m not sure how badly chickens are treated. I don’t agree that we can’t even eat fish. If Jesus did, that’s good enough for me, as He is my example. The apostles did, too, and they are also our models for behavior.

The typical American lifestyle is indicted simply by the biblical ethic mandating treating animals with kindness. In other words, even if we believe we can continue to take their lives under some circumstances, the question is, what circumstances? Do those particular circumstances conform to the biblical ethic of kindness in which we purport to believe? If not, we are presumably called upon to make certain sacrifices, certain inconvenient adjustments, lest our profession of a vital biblical principle be exposed as empty rhetoric.

I agree again.

I urge you to take steps, if you haven’t done so already, such as adopting a vegetarian diet – no meat of any kind -and ideally, if feasible, a vegan diet and lifestyle. (Veganism is abstention from consumption or any kind of use of animals or animal byproducts. This has ramifications for choices of clothing, household products, and so forth, as well as dietary change.) This rejection of socially sanctioned violence has been embraced by an increasing number of people in recent years. My wife and I are trying to do our small part to further this transformation of civilization. These words are not intended to demean anyone nor to emotionally manipulate anyone. I only want to provide people – especially my fellow Christians – with the challenging opportunity to think long and deeply about the malignant effects of maintaining a society based on violence to innocent beings, and consider the glorious possibility of extending the love and grace of our Lord and Savior to the weaker of earth’s inhabitants, who have suffered so much and so long at human hands.

I “discovered” another good proof of the biblical (and Jesus’) sanction of meat-eating in the readings at Mass yesterday. It’s in the parable of the prodigal son, told, of course, by Jesus (Luke 15:11-32). Note how when the son returns, the father is jubilant, and celebrates in the following manner: “bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry” (Luke 11:23; cf. 11:27). This shows a lot of things:

1. One could kill an animal for the reason of celebration (in addition to nutrition).

2. By implication, Jews (including Jesus Himself) ate beef.

3. The calf was prepared specifically for human consumption (“fatted”). I believe that is what this means, though I might be mistaken.

One might quibble that this is simply a story, so what does that prove? Well, all parables are meant as parallels or analogies that illustrate God and the kingdom of God. The father represents God, so if he is killing a calf for celebration, then this must be an ethical thing; quite the opposite of unethical. Jesus can’t use an immoral action as representative of what God would do — to explain His actions or intentions.

That’s exactly what I would say. It’s no more significant than if I were to illustrate some point by telling a story about one of my early Thanksgivings when I feasted on turkey flesh. 

But you are not God telling the story. You could sin in the past. God cannot sin, nor can He use an example of sin as a perfectly proper practice, even in a parable. You either get this or you don’t. It’s self-evident.

If I used the story to make some point, say, about my family life, it would scarcely imply my current approval of my past consumption of turkey. 

That’s irrelevant. God can’t change and He can’t sin. He has no “change of opinions” as men do.

That would be incidental, though it would be a detail that most people in our culture could easily relate to, and there lies another point relevant to Jesus’ parable. It’s a story His audience could relate to, as all His stories were intended to be.

That’s irrelevant, too. To show how silly your reasoning is, imagine if Jesus had used an example of something we all consider sin: “To celebrate the fact that his son had returned, the father said, ‘let’s go and kill the fatted son who was loyal to the father, since he was jealous about the prodigal son.’ ” You and I would agree that this is nonsensical and Jesus would never say it. He simply wouldn’t use something intrinsically wrong like that in his parable. Therefore, killing the fatted calf is not something he considers intrinsically wrong. Nor should you.

Your interpretation runs afoul of the pan-pacifistic Eschaton. The father’s joy and celebratory mood represents God’s grace toward us wayward sinners. It is overly literalistic to draw the inference (in conflict with prophecy) that God will be slaughtering cows and serving them to us when we come into His Kingdom. 

Isaiah and Jeremiah already stated practically as much concerning the messianic kingdom, which is sort of a prefigure of the heavenly kingdom. So it is not inconceivable at all, biblically speaking. In fact, in Revelation, Jesus is shown as a “Lamb slain” after His Resurrection and Ascension.

I’m interested in biblical rationales for vegetarianism. As far as I am concerned, it is an utterly impossible case to make. So if Sogn has to question every text that personally gives him pause because of a pre-commitment to vegetarianism, then to me that is proof positive (practically the best conceivable proof) that he has conceded the biblical case and abandoned a consistent biblical exegesis in support of his position.

I assume a critical stance, if you wish to call it that, toward anything that flagrantly violates my conscience. 

Even if God tells you otherwise . . .

Thanks again for the stimulating discussion.

***

(originally 4-5-04; abridged, with some additions on 3-16-19)

Photo credit: The Garden of Eden with the Creation of Eve, by Jan Brueghel the Younger (1601-1678) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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