Sunday, April 04, 2004

Dialogue on the Bible and Vegetarianism (vs. Sogn Mill-Scout)

My older comments will be in red, Sogn's will be in blue, and my present comments in black.

* * * * *

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).

God sanctioned, nay commanded, genocidal slaughter of the Canaanites according to the early books of the bible. God even punished his people for sparing some of their enemies! Is the fact that you and I are too nice to even contemplate mass-slaughter of our enemies (including women and children!) merely a matter of our "optional, non-obligatory idealism"?

Rather than explain how vegetarianism is wrong according to the Bible (which, of course, can't be done), you switch to "hard cases" which you think cast doubt upon the Bible itself. This will not do. You need to either square the two things or state outright that you don't care what the Bible teaches about vegetarianism. You intend to ignore it due to prior dispositions. The middle ground you are attempting just does not succeed.

Now, for a brief response to your "dilemma," the short answer is that God has power over life and death, and He is the Judge. This is consistent biblical teaching: Old and New Testaments alike. When God judged the entire world (or a great deal of it, depending on how the language is interpreted) with a flood, that was entirely just and deserved. When He judged Sodom and Gomorrah, they deserved that. When He judged even His own chosen people, the Jews, by the Babylonians, they, of course, deserved it. We all deserve death and hellfire for our rebellion, but God has mercy on us. In some instances, however, He decides that the rebellion and wickedness is such that it demands immediate judgment.

For specific material relating to this issue of the Canaanites, see these links:

How Could a God of Love Order the Massacre of the Canaanites?

Shouldn't the Butchering of the Amalekite Children be Considered War Crimes?

God sanctioned slavery throughout the bible and never explicitly revoked it, yet the 19th century abolitionists, whom you and I revere, selectively invoked the bible in the service of their cause. Were they merely fighting for an optional, non-obligatory idealism? Kind of takes the wind out of their sails when you put it that way.

American slavery is not biblical slavery, which was governed by a code of conduct and was much closer to indentured servanthood. The Bible did not condemn slavery per se; yet the code of ethics taught in the New Testament eventually made it obsolete. It became practically non-existent in Christian medieval Europe, only to be revived again later on, under protest of the Catholic Church. For further reading on this complex topic, see:

Let My People Go: The Catholic Church and Slavery (Mark Brumley)

The Popes and Slavery - Book Review (Leonard A. Kennedy)

A Response to John Noonan, Jr. Concerning the Development of Catholic Moral Doctrine (Usury, Marriage, Slavery, Religious freedom) (Patrick M. O'Neil)


Catholic Encyclopedia: ETHICAL ASPECT OF SLAVERY

On Slavery in the Old Testament (Luke Wadel)

Are slavery and genocide merely options we modern sophisticated Christians just don't happen to opt for?

We are not God. Our designs to wipe out entire races has nothing to do with God's prerogative to judge. Christian just war theory obviously rules out such hideous genocides. Slavery as it was in America was rightly opposed by the abolitionists. It was not biblical slavery. And we see that its basis was often explicitly racist. Stupid stuff like the "cure of Ham" and so forth was sometimes used to justify it.

The Nazis chose the other (biblically sanctioned) option, however. Talk about situationalism and relativism!

Not at all. All you have shown is that you have not sufficiently thought about how God's perspective (and position in the scheme of things) is vastly different from ours, and the distinction between ancient slavery and American slavery.

It is impossible, I will argue, to make this entire argument and also accept a Bible which is an inspired revelation from God. You are a Christian, so your task is to harmonize biblical teaching with your beliefs on this score. Frankly, what I've seen thus far has done a very poor and insufficient job of doing that.

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.

so perhaps you can explain how you maneuver around the genocide and slavery issues before you conclude that I'm in an unusually untenable position vis-a-vis vegetarianism and panzoism.

Just did . . .

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, infallibility, and inerrancy 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, and at times, arguably a different religion altogether.

Being a Catholic means, more or less, that the entire interpretation of the bible is prefabricated by centuries of accumulated dogma sanctioned by the Magisterium.

That's not true. We are merely constrained by certain dogmas, just as Protestants are by theirs. The Church has only officially declared on less than ten verses, in terms of compulsory meaning.

I suppose there must be some individual latitude on minor points, but on all major issues you essentially get your biblical interpretation out of the Catechism or the Catholic Encyclopedia.

Not true (but this is a widespread stereotype). See my "Freedom of the Catholic Biblical Exegete."

I, however, being outside both the Catholic and Orthodox Churches with their well-defined, inherited, traditional reading of scripture, along with entire systems 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. I'm sure one or more of the Protestants who frequent this blog can verify this. As I said, this is not a "Catholic thing" at all.

That means that I try to treat the bible, on the whole, reverentially, diligently, and honestly, and try not to treat it cavalierly or capriciously. What I can't do, being neither Catholic nor Orthodox, is simply look up the answers in the back of the book, so to speak. I have to try to find some middle ground that allows for individual interpretation and progressive revelation (or development of doctrine), along with respect for tradition, i.e. all the wise Christians that have come before me - the "great cloud of witnesses" (Hebrews 11), and the "Democracy of the Dead" (Chesterton). Believe me, this is no picnic!

Development or progressive revelation is not what you are talking about here: but wholesale biblical skepticism. Apples and oranges. This will become more clear if you actually tried to counter-respond to my many biblical examples contra "ethical vegetarianism."

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. Four points suffice to answer it:

1. 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.

2. Plant pain would serve no theistic purpose for the same reason; the primary purpose of pain - warning to fight or flee predation - is the same whether naturalistic evolution or God's creative agency is the ultimate explanation of life. If we look to God to explain life, plant pain is sadistic.


3. We can only be responsible for causing or preventing suffering we KNOW as such. The only suffering we can be sure about, based on similarity to us in both behavior and internal structure, is that of vertebrates. Anything beyond that is conjectural at best.

My example was a hypothetical one.

Is chopping down a tree violence? If so, that would take out all wood products.

'Violence' is a word that could be used in that context, depending on the attitude of the tree-choppers, but it does not denote the capacity to inflict suffering, so far as we have any reason to believe.

Okay, good. I rather like the nice wood stuff we have in our house, so this is good news.

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. She made much the same point as you do here, and it was my oversight to omit it.

Living an upright life in our twisted, depraved, and unfathomably complicated world is far from a case of either/or, saint or evildoer. If we life a live of any significant or normal engagement with the world, i.e. with our civilization, as opposed to becoming a self-sufficient hermit, we must necessarily be content with finding a manageable place on the continuum between depraved indifference to suffering and saintly, heroic, constant amelioration of suffering.

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. However, as I just observed, understanding the practical exigencies of life, especially managing a family, I would be heartened if people would even make a noticeable reduction in their purchase of meat from supermarkets and their industrial suppliers.

As Dave correctly points out, the same entanglement in a corrupt world confronts us with regard to many evils besides those inflicted on nonhumans. If one's heart is large enough to care about all the innocent suffering in our world, human AND nonhuman, abortion clinics AND factory farms, one will want to take SOME steps, make SOME effort, enact SOME change in lifestyle related to those evils. But 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.

As a Christian, you have an obligation to explain your ethical system as consistent with biblical revelation.

Consistent with, yes; clearly and indubitably mandated therein, no.

Mandatory vegetarianism certainly isn't consistent with the biblical record.

You may have retained elements of a pagan philosophy (however praiseworthy in itself, and in intent) that are in disharmony with biblical revelation. Most of us do that in one way or another. You're certainly not alone in that.

I believe that if we had not already been panzoists, we would have been far less receptive to the claims of Christ.

That goes back to my point that you raise vegetarianism to such a high level on the ethical plane, that it would even cause you to not consider accepting Christ if you had not adopted it.

Our hearts, after all, would have been that much more cramped and hardened.

That doesn't follow. I agree with you about the treatment of animals (and I think many would), but merely the killing of animals and eating meat does not make one tend to be, or inevitably become, "cramped and hardened." This is the language, I'm afraid, of prejudice.

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 silliness your position entails.

And 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.

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 which precludes that 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.

I do agree that there is a certain disconnect between the two scenarios.

That's an understatement!

So will your counter-reply be, I suspect . . . :-)

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.

I would hate to get sidetracked by pacifism, but while I can imagine killing people without hating them, I cannot imagine killing them while loving them.

Why is it so difficult to move from "not hate" to "love"? If you don't desire harm to come to a person, then you desire for good to come to them.

At least I have no idea what such love amounts to. Do you?

Sure; I need not have any malice towards an enemy in war; I can love them like I love all other people. But it so happens that he is fighting for his country or cause, and I am fighting for mine. So I can kill without ceasing to love the person, because I don't desire bad things for him as an individual. We're just in a sad situation that requires people getting killed. This is the human condition, unfortunately.

Let's try to keep that tangent under control. And bear in mind that I'm not a pacifist, I merely have a very strong attraction to it, partly because I don't see how to reconcile the Sermon on the Mount with war.

I've dealt with that elsewhere. The Sermon on the Mount is primarily about individual morality, not social. That's the short answer. You need go no further than Paul. When he was falsely accused, he didn't turn the other cheek. He appealed to his Roman citizenship and then to Caesar himself.

Getting back to the panzoism subject, your reply is irrelevant since based on a faulty analogy (if that was the intent). My point is that cows and pigs are no more my enemies than the cats who share my home.

That's correct. They don't have to be my "enemies." We are allowed by God to eat them. He calls the shots: not the radical vegetarianism crowd.

So again, why would I - or anyone - DESIRE to kill the former but not the latter? Saying "the bible permits us" doesn't answer the question, and comparing it to war is irrelevant. If you want to say you have a right to kill a cow or pig in self-defense (now there's an intriguing scenario!), I won't disagree, but again, it's beside the point.

I gave my reasoning. You yourself draw similar distinctions where people are involved. You have said self-defense is understandable. That is killing a person. Yet you wouldn't desire to kill your wife. So if the distinction holds with regard to people, then certainly we can comprehend that there could be differential situations with animals. But it is nonsensical to talk of "murdering" an animal, anyway. If it were murder, then God would have revealed that to us in His revelation.

Inflicting suffering is a much more clear-cut case than all killing or use of animal products for food.

Then I will be happy to focus on whether it's right to support the meat industry as we know it. If we can take even a small bite (pun intended) out of the systematically cruel meat industry, at the cost of a little inconvenience, shouldn't we do so? Is even one vegetarian day a week too much to ask - especially of Christians, who are, ideally, to be known by our love?

This at least is arguable, and I support you in it. How we changed our behavior would be related to what happens in the animal processing. I have asked about fish. Do you contend that they suffer so much after being caught that it is unethical to eat them? I asked about free-running Amish hens. Would that be permissible to eat them?

Again, I note that to kill an animal swiftly is ethically different from causing them to suffer for months or years in order to be used in some fashion.

Yes, it's different. But then the same could be said for preventing gestation of a human zygote versus ripping apart a third-trimester baby in the infamous partial-birth abortion. The huge difference does not imply that the former act is morally innocuous.

You can prevent gestation in Catholic thought, as long as you don't deliberately thwart THIS act of sexual intercourse by artificial means, which pervert the natural order of things. Natural Family Planning (with sufficiently serious reasons) does not do that.

There is also much biblical data that you have insufficiently grappled with, as I will show.

Nothing you can produce from the bible will justify the treatment of animals in the factory farming meat industry, as you have all but admitted. I'm disappointed if meat-craving Christians refuse to anticipate the Eschaton by renouncing meat altogether,

Why? Again, why do you even have this disappointment unless you think killing animals is murder and inherently wrong?

but, as I've said several times, I'll be gratified if they will renounce the cruelty of our meat industry and at least enact something like a weekly fast from flesh (cows, pigs, chickens). There is nothing you can possibly argue from the bible in support of unqualified, full-time support of our meat industry. Again, you've all but admitted this.

I have. That's not my beef with you (sorry!).

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 that Keith Akers described, 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.

No, on the contrary, even if Christians remain convinced that God permits them to inflict merciful death on animals and, given that condition, consume their flesh,

Of course we do, because this is what is clearly taught in Holy Scripture.

they are still morally obliged to respond in a biblical (i.e. merciful) manner to the way 'food' animals are ACTUALLY being treated in the ACTUAL meat industry. And this will require at least SOME limited modification of their lifestyle -whatever sacrifice they and their families feel they can bear, even if it's only the weekly meatless fast I suggested.

I've done that, but I can't really take credit for it on this basis, because it was mostly an aesthetic thing. I'm happy if it means that less animals suffer because of how I eat.

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).

"Possibly"? There is no doubt about it:

[1:26] God said, "Let us make man in our own image, in the likeness of ourselves, and let them be masters of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven, the cattle, all the wild animals and all the creatures that creep along the ground." [27] God created man in the image of himself, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them. [28] God blessed them, saying to them, "Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it. Be masters of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven and all the living creatures that move on earth." [29] God also said, "Look, to you I give all the seed-bearing plants everywhere on the surface of the earth, and all the trees with seed-bearing fruit; THIS WILL BE YOUR FOOD. [30] And TO ALL THE WILD ANIMALS, all the birds of heaven and all the living creatures that creep along the ground, I GIVE ALL THE FOLIAGE OF THE PLANTS AS THEIR FOOD." And so it was. [31] God saw all he had made, and indeed it was very good.

Fair enough. Without doing further study on this, it appears that it is vegetarianism, prima facie.

The first of the two creation stories in Genesis is unequivocal in its description of a completely vegetarian biosphere on the earth when humanity was created.

But I wonder: are you claiming there was no food chain whatsoever, even in nature? This is hard to imagine, from a scientific standpoint.

And even the second story (chapters 2-3), while not quite as explicit as the first, gives no indication that humans ate flesh at any time before the Fall, or even for some indeterminate time thereafter:

[3:17] To the man he said, "Because you listened to the voice of your wife and ate from the tree of which I had forbidden you to eat, Accursed be the soil because of you! Painfully will you get your food from it as long as you live. [18] It will yield you brambles and thistles, as you eat the produce of the land. [19] By the sweat of your face will you earn your food, until you return to the ground, as you were taken from it. For dust you are and to dust you shall return."

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

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

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.

And yet the sacrificial system was condemned by some of the prophets!

Jeremiah 7:22-23
[22] For in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. [23] But this command I gave them: ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.’

Hosea 6:6
For I desire mercy, and not sacrifice; And the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.

Quoted by Jesus in Matt. 9:13:
Go and learn the meaning of the words: Mercy is what pleases me, not sacrifice.

Psalm 50:7-15
[7] "Hear, O my people, and I will speak, O Israel, I will testify against you. I am God, your God. [8] Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you; your burnt offerings are continually before me. [9] I will not accept a bull from your house, or goats from your folds. [10] For every wild animal of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. [11] I know all the birds of the air, and all that moves in the field is mine. [12] "If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and all that is in it is mine. [13] Do I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats? [14] Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and pay your vows to the Most High. [15] Call on me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me."

And the most unequivocal of all the prophets:

Isaiah 1:10-17
[10] Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom! Listen to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah! [11] What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. [12] When you come to appear before me, who asked this from your hand? Trample my courts no more; [13] bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation-- I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity. [14] Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them. [15] When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. [16] Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, [17] learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.

"Your hands are full of blood." Indeed!

Isaiah 65:1-4
I was ready to be sought out by those who did not ask, to be found by those who did not seek me. I said, "Here I am, here I am," to a nation that did not call on my name. [2] I held out my hands all day long to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices; [3] a people who provoke me to my face continually, sacrificing in gardens and offering incense on bricks; [4] who sit inside tombs, and spend the night in secret places; who eat swine's flesh, with broth of abominable things in their vessels ...

Then there's Isaiah's eschatological capper:

Isaiah 11:1-9
A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. [2] The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. [3] 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; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. [5] Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins. [6] The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. [7] The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. [8] The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder's den. [9] They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.

This is reiterated by the prophet (the second Isaiah?) later on:

Isaiah 65:17-18; 24-25
[17] For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. [18] But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight. ... [24] Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear. [25] The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent--its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the LORD.

None of this condemns the sacrificial system per se. This is very shallow biblical exegesis; in fact it is eisegesis (reading into the text rather than out of it). Jeremiah 7 is God telling Israel that they followed Him before the Law was instituted (i.e., following God is prior to, and above the Law). It doesn't follow that the Law is worthless or rendered null and void. Hosea 6 makes a similar point: there are things higher than the Law: which points to them. Psalm 60, Isaiah 1 and 65:1-4 are teaching that sacrifice is useless without holiness. Isaiah 11 and 65:17-25 refer to the kingdom to come, not this one, so they don't (technically) apply to the present age.

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.

Hosea was inspired to write essentially the same promise of things to come, when God's purpose is fulfilled:

Hosea 2:16-20
[16] On that day, says the LORD, you will call me, "My husband," and no longer will you call me, "My Baal." [17] For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth, and they shall be mentioned by name no more. [18] I will make for you a covenant on that day with the wild animals, the birds of the air, and the creeping things of the ground; and I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land; and I will make you lie down in safety. [19] And I will take you for my wife forever; I will take you for my wife in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love, and in mercy. [20] I will take you for my wife in faithfulness; and you shall know the LORD.

There is a clear Biblical implication 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 will be 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.

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.

The original context in which God's permission to eat animals is expressed, coming immediately after the Flood, may also have reflected a dearth of arable land.

No particular comment . . .

Viewing God's tolerance of meat-eating as a temporary concession to various conditions in our fallen world seems to be the only way to make sense of the bible as a whole. Otherwise we have the bizarre and incoherent scenario of meat-eating being originally evil (Eden),

Saying it wasn't done is not the same as saying it was evil. That is an unwarranted logical jump that you make.

then somehow becoming good, as most Christians claim (history since the fall), and then somehow reverting to the status of evil when God fulfills His purpose in the restoration of creation in the next age. How do you propose to make sense of that?

By the preceding comment.

The system of animal sacrifice as described in the Jewish scriptures may also be viewed as a concession, inasmuch as the Hebrews seemed hopelessly bent on imitating the religions of their neighbors, some of which sacrificed humans. Perhaps, like the case of conceding kingship to Israel, God chose to channel the Hebrews' natural religious impulse toward propitiation of a deity or deities into a narrowly prescribed structure, which could later be redeemed by the only truly necessary sacrifice - Jesus.

This makes little sense to me. What was binding was not a "concession." This was God's chosen way to reveal the nature of sin and its cost. God instituted the sacrificial system. Therefore, it cannot be evil.

No comments: