Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Dialogue on the Ethics of, and Biblical Support for, Vegetarianism (Part I) (vs. Sogn Mill-Scout)

By Dave Armstrong (9-7-05)

Sogn's words will be in green.

* * * * * 

Thanks for a well-stated and articulated position. I hope we get lots of discussion on this. Here are my own initial thoughts:

Most people in our society would agree that peace is a laudable goal toward which we should exert considerable effort. It is self-evident to most of us that peace is intrinsically desirable, largely because human beings flourish in peaceful conditions.

Yes. Whether this includes animals is not self-evident. "Peace" is usually assumed to refer to human relationships.

In the history of humanity we can discern a series of advances in terms of popular understanding of what peaceful coexistence implies. At one time it was normal to regard only the members of one's own tribe or clan as legitimate objects of moral concern. All others were outside the circle of moral obligations.

Gradually people learned to look outside their local groups to regard others who were previously outcasts as worthy of concern. In our nation's recent history, blacks were long considered inferior to the white majority. Similarly, women were second class citizens in a male dominated society. Now, however, there is a more widespread inclusion of formerly outcast groups within our consensual circle of ethical concern.

Yes, particularly preborn human babies, who can be wantonly (legally) slaughtered in the abortion slaughterhouses; oftentimes including severe torture. They are ripped limb from limb, or burned over their entire bodies with saline solution, or sucked into a vacuum cleaner, or stuck in the neck with scissors, in order to suck out their brains (so-called "partial-birth abortion").

In the eyes of most people, humanity still defines the outer limit of their moral obligations. I submit that this fixation on our own species is an arbitrary and unjustifiable boundary to our moral sensibility. Just as our civilization has gradually expanded the perimeter within which individuals and groups are recognized as making moral claims upon us, now we have the opportunity to see ourselves as members of a much larger group. 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 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.

The challenge we face is to recognize that there is no morally compelling reason not to take this step into moral solidarity with non-human beings. We have the great opportunity to enlarge the circle of our moral concern to its logically utmost extent.

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.

It is a way of life that strives to bring about genuine peace on earth by renouncing violence

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

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).

What I've written here to this point does not depend on any particular religious or philosophical outlook. It presupposes nothing more than the capacity to feel compassion for any being capable of suffering.

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

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. Most of us do that in one way or another. You're certainly not alone in that.

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. This makes it all the more tragic that Christendom - i.e. Christianity as a set of denominational institutions - has failed to fulfill its proper role in the vanguard of those who would bear the love of Christ in their hearts and bodies, and bring peace to a blood-soaked world.

Well, we'll see how well strict panzoism holds up in light of Scripture.

Most meat-eating people in our society are able to live in a state of blissful ignorance regarding the violence inflicted on thousands of innocent beings every day in the routine course of providing the masters of the food chain with the meat they crave. Most of us never have to handle or interact with the animals we devour, much less kill and dismember them.

This is very true.

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 (not all wealthy capitalists — I hasten to add — , but many, fall into this category). And of course I am against abortion on these same grounds, and you should be, too — ALL abortion. I don't see you arguing that this hog here ought to be allowed to be tortured and killed because it's mother was raped by another hog, or because it was conceived as a result of sex between its father-hog and sister-hog.

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. 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.

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.

In my experience of discussing panzoism with other Christians I have found all too many of them far more interested in finding biblical excuses to continue their carnivorous habits than in honestly confronting the magnitude of suffering to which they contribute with
their blood money.

I think that is true. 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.

Instead of asking, "Is this an opportunity to show the merciful love of Christ," their question seems to be "what can I get away with in the name of some bible verses?"

That may happen a lot, but there is also much biblical data that you have insufficiently grappled with, as I will show.

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). 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, intrinisically 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.

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

He could not have made such an analogy if it was based on a practice itself wicked and indefensible and unloving. For that would mean that Jesus sinned and lacked charity, and that is not possible. 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?"

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. He 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 Cor 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). So much for biblically harmonious ethically-obligatory vegetarianism . . .

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?

Lastly, God gave the Jews in the wilderness quail to eat (Numbers 11:18-33).

The biblical evidence seems compelling then: meat may be eaten and it is no sin at all. Jesus gave no indication that this was to cease. But I see no indication of mistreatment of animals, unless you include what fish experience when they are caught.

As for Jesus' consumption of fish (the only flesh he his documented as eating, the sometimes-assumed Passover lamb being nothing more than conjecture),

It's not conjecture at all. It is historical fact that He observed Passover, and that eating a lamb was part of that. No one can dispute this. His own description as the "Lamb of God" reflects this, because He, too, was sacrificed as an atonement for sins, and His flesh and blood were eaten sacramentally and miraculously in the Eucharist.

it is irrelevant for us today, in American society, unless the only meat you ever eat is fish.

Not at all. As I showed, God and the disciples explicitly sanctioned meat-eating. Paul even says, "eat whatever you find at 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.

Consider the recently popular WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) motto and then ask yourself: 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 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.

The rubber meets the road here. Christians who seriously consider the issue of vegetarianism need to confront their beliefs about Jesus and his compassion. I think in order to justify
continuing one's economic participation in our carnivorous culture, such a Christian would have to conclude (most implausibly) that Jesus would give his blessing to our industrial abattoirs. If you can believe that, I can't imagine anything that could change your mind, and wouldn't waste my time trying.

He would oppose mistreatment, I firmly believe.

Another point to be made to meat-eaters who cite Jesus' fish-eating in their defense, is that Jesus - and the Bible in general - tolerated slavery, yet virtually no Christian today would dream of defending slavery on that basis (though, sadly, this was done not so many generations ago).

The Bible gives the principles which would eventually render slavery obsolete. And even the slavery it did sanction was under many ethical injunctions as to proper treatment (this was not followed by many American slaveholders, needless to say). With meat-eating, however, there is no indication at all that it is a sin or that it would or should eventually be abolished. Quite the contrary; it is positively recommended, as shown. Peter is virtually commanded to kill animals and eat them, in a supernatural vision.

In general I find that the use of Scripture in defense of one's preferences or habits is extremely selective.

Oftentimes it is, yes. But if you wish to dispute all that I have produced above, you have your work cut out for you, believe me. You can always, of course, pick and choose what you like and don't like in Scripture, according to your preconceived preferences and opinions. But then you would be doing what you just condemned, wouldn't you? So you have to overthrow all of the above data. Good luck!

The simple question I pose to anyone who is genuinely willing to face this issue is this: Why should we continue needlessly to do violence to innocent beings? It is a plain fact that we in the technologically advanced nations do not need to harm other creatures in order to pursue our lives happily.

We shouldn't do it "needlessly." I completely agree, as you know.

Therefore, we all ought to answer this question: Is there any reason which could possibly justify such practices?


I believe that most people, when they openly and honestly grapple with this question, will find it difficult if not impossible to continue a violence-based, exploitative lifestyle. And if they are also Christians, they must bear an extra burden of conscience whenever the
subject of innocent suffering is raised.


Having asserted that there is no need to harm other beings, I may be challenged to defend this claim. Let us consider the issue together. First, 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, dairy products (if you allow that).

We are omnivorous in the strict sense, in that we are capable of digesting both vegetable and animal foods. However, 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. (There may be cases of medical conditions - Dave Armstrong cited his own situation - in which an individual is unable to thrive on a vegetarian diet, but this is rare and of no avail to the vast meat- eating majority.)

My choice is not based on a "medical; condition" but purely on aesthetics. I simply grew tired of red meat 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 occasionally. 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.

Secondly, it is not necessary to wear clothing derived from animal products, though avoiding all such clothing does pose a much greater challenge than abstaining from meat.

I don't see how. It's easy not to buy a fur coat. There are plenty of synthetic insulations. I'm not sure if down harms the ducks and geese it is taken from. Getting wool doesn't harm sheep. I don't know how leather works: what is entailed in that. I've wanted a black leather jacket my whole life, and finally got one last year. Cotton and all the synthetic fibers involve no animals at all. What I have on right now is virtually all cotton, with maybe a little synthetic stuff. I have a leather watchband. :-)

It is gradually becoming more feasible to do this because there are synthetic alternatives to every essential article of animal-derived attire.


However, whether it is feasible for any particular person to completely avoid animal-derived clothing depends on how this would affect that individual. For example, a person whose feet are uninjured and of a typical size may easily obtain appropriate synthetic shoes, but if one needs an unusual size shoe, or orthopedic shoes, or must use orthotic devices, the search for synthetic shoes can be almost impossible (just as it might be for leather shoes).

I would like to learn what is involved in leather production.

It is also very feasible to reject many common items of everyday use that are derived from animal byproducts and/or tested on animals. Cruelty-free alternatives are widely available for cosmetics, household chemical products like detergents, shampoos and deodorants, and sundry other such items taken for granted in our civilization.

That would be a huge project, too. But I agree in principle.

Beyond that point the issue becomes more challenging and controversial. What about medical drugs and medical procedures that have been tested on animals or manufactured with animal byproducts? This is a very divisive issue, and understandably so. People are inclined to pose the issue in stark terms, as, for example, a choice between the life of my child and the life of a rat. Although this is a simplistic and rhetorically charged view of the problem, we can't deny that there is a real ethical issue that is confronted by anyone who wants to forego all violence, yet must turn to medical science when seeking relief for the suffering of themselves or their loved ones.

I'm inclined to think that God would permit such testing for the sake of human beings, but I agree that this poses somewhat of an ethical dilemma, far more than not eating meat, where I see no case whatsoever in the Bible.

CS Lewis, for example, was an outspoken anti-vivisectionist and Christian, but I doubt that he abstained from medications - and, in any case, he (inexplicably!) ate meat.

Yes. I'm not sure how all that is connected. For what purpose do they do vivisection?

There are some proponents of animal liberation that are intransigent on this issue no less than on vegetarianism: 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.

One might even try to draw an analogy to the horrific death of Christ, which was, paradoxically, our greatest good. This is why I would assign this issue the lowest priority of moral persuasion, and vegetarianism the highest.

The OT system of animal sacrifice was all meant to prefigure Jesus' death. He is the "Lamb of God" and the "Passover Lamb." Therefore, it was good.

Nevertheless, 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, which is extreme pacifism. We don't have to make animals suffer if we kill them swiftly. Hunters perform a great service to, e.g., the deer population, because it is a known fact that without hunting, a great many of them 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.

In such a world the present situation could not even arise, where we are faced with the option of availing ourselves of medical methods of dubious moral status when we face desperate situations.

Being kind to animals is a good Christian virtue. But we can kill them for food. There is nothing wrong with that, according to God, as He has revealed to us in His revelation.

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. Well-stated.

I recognize the difficulty involved in making sweeping changes in one's everyday lifestyle and behavior, especially when living in a society that is generally so hostile to the commitment to peaceful existence.

Christians must make a lot of difficult choices, if they are to be consistent disciples of Jesus.

It is nevertheless imperative that we all take some steps toward establishing our civilization on a foundation of peace among all the inhabitants of our planet. The cost to each of us, especially for vegetarianism alone, is some inconvenience and psychological adjustment. The cost of rejecting this noble goal, however, is continued bloodshed and suffering on a terrifying scale.

Nothing is more terrifying and evil than abortion. I will always see that as a gross inconsistency in your position, but maybe you are changing your mind, as you have indicated is a possibility.

Dave Armstrong has recently written: "Christians ought to oppose all unnecessary cruel treatment of animals (e.g., painful traps, excessive hardships in research and caged environments …" Yet he views vegetarianism as optional. 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. 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.

I wonder if so many conservative Christians would be so antagonistic to animal liberation if they really believed, like Dave Armstrong, that it's a biblical idea that people have a moral obligation to treat animals well and minimize their suffering, "to oppose all unnecessary cruel treatment of animals." Clearly most Christians do not believe that. Does any informed person seriously believe that industrial slaughterhouses treat animals well, much less minimize their suffering?

If they killed them quickly, with minimal suffering, they could be ethically justified.

What I often observe is Christians giving lip-service to an ethic of kindness to animals, while continuing their habit of procuring meat from the local supermarket. This is, at best, culpable ignorance, and, at worst, hypocrisy in need of repentance.

I want to hear other opinions, too. I like provocative discussions. I've almost made a career out of them. :-)

I'm sure that most Christians, if asked by a pollster, would say they care about animals and would claim to treat animals well and avoid unnecessary cruelty. People do like to feel good about themselves, after all, so if forced to confront this issue, most Christians would
say what one 'should' say. But after the question or discussion has passed, they resume their typical American consumer lifestyle and give nary a thought to how that meat in the supermarket was treated while it was still alive.

That's true. We give very little thought to anything at all, I'm afraid. That's part of what my ministry is about, too: to get people to think, and to think Christianly.

Furthermore, even if, as Dave Armstrong and countless Christians contend, we are permitted by God to eat animals, and thereby permitted to kill them for that purpose, it by no means follows that we are permitted to give financial support to the meat industry.


After all, as Dave says, we shouldn't support "unnecessary cruelty." And thus 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 don't mean to single out Christians for criticism; most people, Christian or not, conduct their lives in terms of relatively unreflective convenience. The reason I'm discussing Christians specifically now is because of Dave Armstrong's invitation to me to hold forth on the relation between Christian faith and panzoism (vegetarianism and/or animal liberation).

Understood. And because you are a Christian yourself, and need to synthesize your beliefs with biblical revelation and almost universal Christian practice in eating.

I have also observed that some Christians who oppose the cause of animal liberation (Charles Colson comes to mind) like to characterize panzoism as an anti-Christian, even naturalistic and Darwinian, philosophy.

I will make that determination as I observe how you deal with the biblical texts I produced. :-) If you try to dismiss them 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.

This would be funny if the slander weren't so widely accepted. The truth is that no ideology could be less conducive to panzoism than Darwinism. And I don't know where one would get the idea that panzoism is essentially naturalistic.

That's a good point. Naturalism causes immense suffering. "Dog eat dog." But that doesn't mean there are no "anti-naturalistic pagan, non-Christian philosophies.

Of course it's true that there is not a singular and consistent metaphysical philosophy underlying the animal liberation movement. For example, Peter Singer, a utilitarian and atheist, is one of the principal philosophers behind the movement.

Just as there are atheist pro-lifers, such as Nat Hentoff and (formerly) Bernard Nathanson (he is now a Catholic).

However, there is nothing essentially naturalistic about panzoism, any more than it's essentially theistic.

Granted. But revelation would give it an objectivity and obligatory nature on a more solid ground than atheism could.

In fact, I believe panzoism's proper and logical foundation is Christian theism and the biblical concept of humans as benevolent stewards of God's creation. It is our glory as creatures bearing the divine image - albeit tarnished - that we can choose not to kill or harm weaker creatures.

God has a big ethical problem then (which becomes your problem in defending this).

You can't get less Darwinian and more Christlike than that. And I'm happy to see that Christians are increasingly coming to the awareness that they belong in the vanguard of the animal liberation movement, just as they once were in the anti-slavery movement, and are now in the anti-abortion movement.


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.

May God grant us wisdom!
Isaiah 11:6-9; Romans 8:19-22

Thanks for your thoughts. I enjoyed this, and look forward to your reply.


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 which 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.

Sogn has already indicated his way out of all this: he will simply assume a critical stance towards the Bible where it disagrees with his view. I refuse to argue that in this context, as biblical inspiration and inerrancy is an entirely separate discussion (involving examination of the usual unsavory and incoherent liberal so-called "higher critical" methodologies).

I'm interested in biblical (not higher critical) 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 — if not in so many words, then by virtue of his actions.

I don't mean to be presumptuous, but this was the impression I got from some of Sogn's remarks. If I have incorrectly stated my objection and his views, I apologize and eagerly await Sogn's counter-exegesis of the abundant biblical evidences against vegetarianism that I have compiled.

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