A challenge to christians: Stop eating meat
Do we grow in spiritual strength if we are vegetarians? Do we become more compassionate, one with nature, and closer to our Creator when we give up meat for a plant-based diet?
Is there a direct link between what we eat and our level of spirituality? These questions have long been answered by followers of Eastern-based religions, especially Jainism, and Hinduism, to some degree. This discourse among Christians, though, is relatively new.
But recently, there has been a groundswell of awareness that compassion is a broad concept that extends beyond our treatment of fellow human beings.
The subject is a contentious, even volatile one. Activist groups, such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, have been aggressively loud and dramatic in their efforts to stop the unwarranted slaughter of animals for capricious purposes.
Their tactics have not always been well received, drawing the ire of many.
Other organisations have adopted a more measured approach, appealing to reason and sacred scripture to bolster their argument. One such movement is the United States-based Christian Vegetarian Association.
Its spokesperson, Dr Stephen Kaufman, an ophthalmologist, says it has seen its membership increase exponentially since its inception in 2000.
Now with close to 8,000 members, this non-denominational group is highly focused on delivering an understandable, crystallised message that is supported by biblical references and rational thought. Interestingly, this approach has not shielded it from hostile detractors.
Kaufman is expertly aware of the ecological and environmental arguments in favour of vegetarianism. Who can ignore reports by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation that, "meat production causes more greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, that spew into the atmosphere, causing global warming and other forms of climate change."
But Kaufman opts for a scriptural approach, citing several biblical verses that a vegan diet is prescribed for spiritual wholeness. He is cautionary, though, not wanting to be misconstrued as rigid and insular.
"I know that there circumstances and situations whether cultural or socio-economic, where eating meat is the only option."
What concerns Kaufman is meat eating as the preferred choice although we are mindful of the brutal treatment of animals before being wantonly slaughtered.
He refers to Genesis 1:29-30: Then God said, "I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground everything that has the breath of life in it I give every green plant for food."
According to Kaufman: "This is demonstrative of God's intention for us," He concedes that it is idyllic but adds it can be realised with some effort.
Kaufman follows with Isaiah 11:6-9 that depicts a world where meat eating is non-existent. And later, Deuteronomy 22:10 and 24:4 that advocate compassion for animals. Kaufman asks that we strive towards perfection; that savouring our culinary desires at the expense of compassion is highly questionable, spiritually.
In fact, some 65 billion animals exist under insufferable conditions in Confined Animal Feeding Operations.
While the Old and New Testament allowed shechita, or the slaughter of animals for food (within strict religious parameters), Kaufman cautions that there was always an uncompromising emphasis on compassionate treatment.
"Kosher law prohibits eating the flesh of a live animal. That law also dictated the swift slicing of the throat with a sharp blade; the least pain to the animal was the overriding concern."
LOVE AND COMPASSION
Notably, Kaufman who penned, Faith of Christ: Seeking to Stop Violence and Scapegoating, that examined the esoteric meaning behind animal sacrifice in the Old Testament is committed to sharing Jesus' lifestyle of love and compassion.
"What would Jesus, the 'Prince of Peace' say and do about the deplorable conditions and treatment of animals to satisfy our consumption needs?" he asks.
"Clearly, disregard for this cruelty runs counter to Christian values and may indeed compromise our spirituality."
He acknowledges, though, that Jesus did eat fish after his resurrection.
Kaufman dismisses arguments that animals were made subject to man, said to be supported by Genesis 1:26 that reads: Then God said, "Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."
"This does not support cruelty or abuse of animals," argues Kaufman as he makes reference to good kings and their subjects.
"Genesis 1:26 clearly means that we should be good stewards, protectors of the weak and disadvantaged, and that includes animals."
He elaborates that not every animal was created within man's reach and therefore, "we cannot believe that all life was created for us to control".
"Sadly," he says, "we have a tendency to interpret scripture in a self-serving way."
While Christian leaders support a vegan lifestyle for health-related purposes, most reject it as essential to Christian lore. The Christian Vegetarian Association, on the other hand, is working tirelessly towards changing that view.
- Dr Glenville Ashby is the president of Global Interfaith Council Corp.
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