Abrahamic religions’ perceptions of nonhuman animals—and for that matter, human animals under patriarchal control, be they women, children, or slaves—reflect the decision to settle for what the creator of the universe Himself considered to be second best. A world of animal killing, eating and exploitation was not the creator of the universe’s original intention for humans. The creator of the entire universe had a better plan, a plan that was His first choice.
The Bible explains that in the beginning God’s plan was for all creation to be vegetarian, as He announces when speaking of his provisions for Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden:
And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so (Genesis 1:29-30).
We have all seen the images of the vegan Eden, Wenzel Peter’s Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden above, for example, with its crowd of happy animals living harmoniously. Have you ever seen a more cheerful camel? It was the mythical time, as told in James Thomson’s “The Seasons,” when humanity was
A Stranger to the Savage Arts of Life,
Death, Rapine, Carnage, Surfeit, and Disease,
The Lord, and not the Tyrant of the World.
And of course all creation apparently remained vegan up to and including the journey of Noah’s ark. Even after Adam and Eve were cast out of Eden, they continued to be vegan exactly as God had wished, or perhaps became vegetarian—forced to work, they might have made cheese.
No significant change came until after the Great Flood, when God introduced an omnivore diet into the world (never mind Abel’s killing of a firstling in sacrifice because we are required to believe he ate none of it). According to the Bible, all creation would still be vegan as God had intended if it had not been for original sin. God’s first choice, His greatest wish, His ideal diet for the pinnacle of His creation was the vegan diet.
Is it not strange, then, that the vast majority of Christians have no intention whatsoever of emulating this divine mandate, no thought of aligning their dietary habits with the creator of the universe’s original and most ardent wishes, no desire of even attempting the vegan diet their god originally wanted for them out of His love for humanity?
There is no arguing about what God wanted. The fact that no mention is made of animals as food in Eden is a clear indication that God the Creator did not intend them for food. Whether or not Christians find it practicable or desirable, whether they like it or not, the diet assigned to men and beasts by God the Creator was vegetarian. Thus the supremacy given to man over animals is not one of life and death.Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, Volume 3.1, trans. G.W. Bromiley, et al. (New York: T. & T. Clark, 2010), 208.
Why are most Christians lukewarm on aligning themselves with their Creator? Is it because of mere inconvenience? Pose the question and you will encounter all manner of arguing and excuses about what God wanted, the main one being that God permitted Noah and company to begin eating meat. While you do get theologians interpreting that animal slaughter and meat eating were sanctioned in Eden—since for instance Adam and Eve wore “garments of skins” (Genesis 3:21) and Abel kept sheep—most interpretations acknowledge God’s original choice of a vegetarian diet. It remains His primary diet of choice.
What is more, when the right conditions again prevail, it is God’s plan for the world to revert back to veganism or vegetarianism. During Christs millennial reign, as told in the Bible (Revelation 20:1-10), believers can expect all creation to once again become vegetarian. Isaiah said so:
And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea (Isaiah 11:6-9; also Hosea 2: 18).
All animals will behave as they did in Eden too, and “the lion shall eat straw like the bullock,” and there is no doubting this because “saith the LORD” (Isaiah 65: 25). A long-overdue moral reform, it would appear.
Why are Christians not following the vegan ideal already, then, refraining for the world of predation and praying on the weak? It seems astounding, with such an easy choice and easy thing to do, most Christians balk at the thought of given up their precious animal flesh to following the moral and spiritual guide of God’s original intentions, their god’s first, ideal, and ultimate wish for them. Perhaps they just don’t love God enough.
A Chosen Hell on Earth
We are entitled to ask believers, What is the explanation for your actions between the beginning of creation and Christ’s kingdom? The world has lurched from a vegan Eden to people like Descartes’ insisting that animals were automata and torturing them to death. Human beings have made a hell on earth for many nonhuman creatures, and ecclesiastical teaching is to blame for preventing humanity become a more “harmless species,” writes Esmé Wynne-Tyson in The Philosophy of Compassion,
By entirely ignoring the necessity for compassion, and quoting certain discreditable utterances ascribed to Jehovah in the Old Testament, it has been possible to argue that flesh-eating is morally right and according to the will of God.”Quoted in Jon Wynne-Tyson Ed., The Extended Circle: A Commonplace Book of Animal Rights (New York: Paragon House, 1989), 421.
Following twisted moral precepts developed out of theological dogma, the pious have rejected the vegan ideal, taken souls away from animals and given them a hell on earth, while assigning themselves a spot in heaven. They have effectively erased from history the spiritual and ethical treatment of nonhuman animals that their God had first wished for and blessed.
No doubt gluttonous weakness—the yielding to carnal desire for meat—has been in lockstep with invented doctrine through the ages. Christianity has been a religion quite amenable to meat eating and Christian theologians did their best to keep it that way. In defiance of scripture but not against the passion for invention among magic thinkers, Aquinas thought it “unreasonable” that animals behaved harmoniously in Eden and that they did prey upon each other there, as “there would have been a natural antipathy between some animals.”Summa Theologica, I, Q96, art. 1, ad. 2. Aquina, like most theologians, also preferred the primary teleological argument that animals were made for humans by God for the purpose of eating.
But as Tom Regan rightly points out in The Struggle for Animal Rights—and all Christians please take note,
God gave us the choice to eat animals. To act on that choice thus is a sign of our disappointment of God’s original hopes for us.”Tom Regan, The Struggle for Animal Rights (International Society for Animal Rights, 1987), 71.
This idea is inherent in the words of Tolstoy, which Regan quotes, which is that the “vegetarian movement” should gladden
those who have at heart the realization of God’s kingdom upon earth…. because (the decision not to eat animals) serves as a criterion by which we know that the pursuit of moral perfection on the part of man is genuine and sincere.
The corollary, of course, as Christians must surely recognize, is that by rejecting the choice of vegetarianism, they have flatly snubbed their Lord!
The religious who defend animal killing and eating on religious grounds have, in Regan’s assessment, “a graceless religious faith, one grown fat and sloppy from lack of spiritual exercise, that happily accepts humanity’s permanent alienation from God.”Tom Regan, The Struggle for Animal Rights (International Society for Animal Rights, 1987), 71. But you can hardly fault Christian leaders their practicality over the ages, since we all know that Christianity would have gotten nowhere as a religion without the liberty of meat eating.
Despite all the arguments, nothing even close to a vegan Eden, a peaceable kingdom, exists into the 21st century—not after centuries of twisted morals that have perverted attitudes to animals and perpetuated cruelty. How ironic Humphry Primatt is in The Duty of Mercy, when he proclaims that—and please take note again Christians!
we may pretend to what religion we please, but Cruelty is Atheism. We may make boast of Christianity, but Cruelty is Infidelity. We may trust to our orthodoxy, but Cruelty is the worst of Heresies
Cruelty is exactly what Christianity and other religions have exacerbated, ignored, supported, and even asserted as a right.
Thanks to invented doctrine, Christians have completely ignored animal interests. One outcome is a resulting ignorance of the reality of the natural world, including a denial of evolution—there is a “the persistent refusal to examine the relevance of other animals’ actual realities,” as Paul Waldau describes of Christianity, is “so characteristic of speciesism.”Paul Waldau, “Religion and Animals,” In Defense of Animals?: the Second Wave (Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2006), 76. So not only is the vegan ideal of Eden ignored, a major part of reality, their god’s reality, the animal kingdom is ignored. If a god existed, he would be so disappointed in Christians.
William Cowper phrases a nice summary of the history of Christian animal activism in his book of poems, The Task:
The sum is this: if man’s convenience, health,
Or safety interfere, his rights and claims
Are paramount, and must extinguish theirs.
Else they are all—the meanest things that are—
As free to live, and to enjoy that life,
As God was free to form them at the first
Everything is wrong with such a monstrous self-centered worldview, yet the religious will proclaim themselves in every way right for believing it. Dominion has resulted in a hell on Earth for animals at the convenience of the planet’s most conceited apes.
Karl Barth, regarded as the greatest theologian of the 20th century, argued that because God chose to become incarnate in human form it showed that humans were more important than all species and that dominion was central to all life. Here is another example of how red herrings are all theologians can ever come up with. It is because the religious have chosen to ignore their gods primary ideal wish for them that a moral stasis has resulted and many nonhuman animals endure a hell on earth.
As Sam Harris writes, once “we realise that morality relates to questions of human and animal well-being,” we can see that “certain people are not worth listening to on the subject of morality” and that religious institutions do not offer “an alternative moral framework,” they offer “a false one.”Sam Harris, “Morality: ‘We Can Send Religion to the Scrap Heap,’ New Scientist, 2782 (October 20, 2010), http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20827822.100-morality-we-can-send-religion-to-the-scrapheap.html. Perverted religious ideas justifying the dismissal of nonhumans from moral concern still have not been relegated to the scrapheap history. They are perpetuated—insultingly and embarrassingly—by today’s spiritual snake-oil salesmen and religious capitalists. Because they continue to reject their god’s ideal, they hold us all back, human and nonhuman, from greater well-being and a peaceable kingdom.
Notes [ + ]
|1.||⇑||Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, Volume 3.1, trans. G.W. Bromiley, et al. (New York: T. & T. Clark, 2010), 208.|
|2.||⇑||Quoted in Jon Wynne-Tyson Ed., The Extended Circle: A Commonplace Book of Animal Rights (New York: Paragon House, 1989), 421.|
|3.||⇑||Summa Theologica, I, Q96, art. 1, ad. 2.|
|4.||⇑||Tom Regan, The Struggle for Animal Rights (International Society for Animal Rights, 1987), 71.|
|5.||⇑||Tom Regan, The Struggle for Animal Rights (International Society for Animal Rights, 1987), 71.|
|6.||⇑||Paul Waldau, “Religion and Animals,” In Defense of Animals?: the Second Wave (Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2006), 76.|
|7.||⇑||Sam Harris, “Morality: ‘We Can Send Religion to the Scrap Heap,’ New Scientist, 2782 (October 20, 2010), http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20827822.100-morality-we-can-send-religion-to-the-scrapheap.html.|