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Vegetarianism

I have decided to become a vegetarian.

When I brought this up with my wife (who has been an on-again-off-again vegetarian for a while) she asked me why the change of mind. What follows is a summary of my change of mind and heart on the matter.

I believe that YHWH, the creator God, is the good God who created a 'very good' world. If we look at the beginning we will see that people, as well as animals, were vegetarian:
Genesis 1.29-31. Then God said, "Look! I have given you every seed-bearing plant throughout the earth and all the fruit trees for your food. And I have given every green plant as food for all the wild animals, the birds in the sky, and the small animals that scurry along the ground—everything that has life.” And that is what happened.

Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good!

So, that is how God's 'very good' creation started -- with everything eating plants. Therefore, because people rebelled and 'death entered the world', some of us (people and animals alike) became meat-eaters. How can I draw this conclusion? Simple. To eat 'meat' means something has to die. And death is part of the corruption of God's 'very good' creation.

But God is redeeming his creation. He is healing his creation. With the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, he has launched the 'New Creation Project.' That is, in the final consummation of the New Creation, there will be no more death (Revelation 21.4; see also 1Corinthians 15).

Isaiah described the New Creation this way:
Isaiah 11.6-7. In that day the wolf and the lamb will live together; the leopard will lie down with the baby goat. The calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion, and a little child will lead them all. The cow will graze near the bear. The cub and the calf will lie down together. The lion will eat hay like a cow.

The goal then is to take us 'back to the garden' as the song goes. One day, we will all again be eating only fruits and vegetables (and the products of those things).

As an aside, but an important aside, yesterday I saw a program on Animal Planet about a lioness who 'adopted' an antelope calf as he own. The calf was still too young to eat solid food and so, along with the lioness, they both were starving for neither one ate anything. This relationship lasted for 15 days. On the last day, a male lion attacked the calf, killed it, and ate it. This lioness 'adopted' 5 more calves throughout her life. Needless to say, the scientific world was shocked and stunned by this. They have never seen anything like it. The host of the program stated that this type of behaviour has never been recorded. I said, 'It has too. In the book of Isaiah.' (Of course, the TV couldn't respond, but I do that a lot -- talk to the TV.) Was this a hint of New Creation creeping out into the 'natural world'? Some would say no. This was a fluke. This lioness was a 'freak of nature'. Well, I would state that she was a 'freak of fallen nature'. But, maybe she is a kind of 'first fruits' of New Creation happening in throughout the rest of the world? Call me a dreamer, but I like to think so.

So, back to my point. The vocation of the church today is to live in anticipation of the consummation of the New Creation. The technical term for this is called 'inaugurated eschatology'. We are called to take some of God's future (if I can put it that way) and bring it into the present. Part of that is to put away death. And part of putting away death is to stop killing animals for food.

Now, I can already hear the arguments (alas, I have used them myself for a number of years), 'People are made to eat meat. Look at our teeth. You can't tell me that the teeth of a lion are made to eat grass. That's ridiculous.' Or 'Maybe someday, in the future, we will be eating only fruits and vegetables and the products thereof. But, we aren't in the future. In this life we are obviously supposed to eat meat. We aren't in heaven.'

Two things with these arguments (and I know that this is what is called a 'straw-man' argument. I create a false position and then knock it down): First, yes, because of the fall we are eating meat, we have eaten meat, and we will continue to eat meat. But again, this is because of the fall. But Jesus 'reversed the curse'. Jesus initiated a new way of being. He started a new people. He started a New Creation. And as St Paul put it, 'If anyone, in Christ, new creation' (That is what the Greek has). In other words, if a person is 'in Christ', they are not just themselves a 'new creation' but they are part of New Creation. If we do not see ourselves within that bigger picture I think we are missing a lot of what salvation actually means. Therefore we should be living like we belong to that New Creation.

Secondly, and I'm sure this will make some a little angry, people and animals have evolved. This is why their teeth look the way they do. Moreover, we are looking at those teeth 'from our fallen perspective'. That is, the lens we use to classify things is based on the only data we have and all of it is in the midst of a fallen world. It's like a friend of mine said regarding global warming, 'The problem with the data is that is only (at least) a hundred years old or so. In other words, there isn't enough evidence to be conclusive one way or the other. The world may do this within itself every few million years.' While I don't agree with his outcome, I think his initial point is spot on. We don't know (because we have never seen or have read) that animals with teeth like a lion can eat only vegetables. Maybe they can. Or maybe their teeth (and the rest of their digestive system) evolved to that. Maybe they will evolve back the other way. I don't know.

Lastly, if we someone came up to us and said, 'Yes, I know it's wrong to abuse women, but I'm not worried because I will be complete and free from that in the consummation of God's kingdom', if we truly loved that person, we would hit them with inaugurated eschatology! 'Sure, you will be holy at some future point. But that is why you strive to live holy now!' That dualist (gnostic) view is part of the problem within Western Christianity. No. We are not supposed to just go on living life like every one else. We are called to live in anticipation of God's final consummated world now. We pray for God's kingdom to come 'on earth' as in heaven. God is creating, through his Church, a New Heaven and New Earth. What we do in the now matters. It is part of the 'building material' for that consummated New Creation (again, look at 1Corinthians 15, especially the last verse).

And for me, part of living in anticipation of that is to not continue bringing death to God's 'very good' creation. In other words . . .

I have decided to become a vegetarian.

Comments

Pinball said…
Aren't you bringing death to God's 'very good' creation by eating vegetables? Weren't they once alive?

Or do you simply mean sentient life?

Niggling questions aside, I like your argument. I've heard many Biblical rationales for vegetarianism, but this one has shades I've never heard before. The eschatological application doesn't surprise me, coming from you! It's a very poetic argument.

I tried being a vegetarian once and God made it clear to me that lifestyle wasn't for me. What I gained from the yearlong experience/experiment was an appreciation for those who choose that lifestyle, and even more of an appreciation for those who are so clearly motivated to it by the Spirit.

I'd encourage you to do research on this topic. There are some connections between that lifestyle and some of the other issues you hold dear. Namely, environmentalism, hunger and poverty.

For example, cows in America consume more grain than most people in third world countries, and they are the primary source of methane gas released into the atmosphere. (I've read these somewhere. Your research might turn up some corroborative facts.) So if we start eating fewer cows, we can slow the population of cows on the earth. That reduces methane gas and frees up grain for human consumption.

That's just a hypothesis at this point, but I'd encourage you to explore it. I'd love to see the long term economic implications as well. If the world were suddenly full of vegetarians, the economic shock to meat producers all along the chain is an obvious repercussion. But once that dust settled, what would the world economy look like? Would it be better or worse.

I also wonder what steps could be taken along the way. If you look at oil companies and auto manufacturers, for example, they are already laying the groundwork for oil- and gas-free vehicles. Hybrids are a step in the right direction. The long term goal is alternative fuels. Well, oil companies have been investing heavily in copper (the core material in electric cells), corn, sawgrass, and other alternative fuel sources for over a decade. (Again, I've only heard this anecdotally, but my purpose here is to give you some leads for your own research.) So they are already positioning themselves to succeed economically in a world that doesn't use oil. How can meat producers do the same thing?

It's a question that Marty and I have raised in the context of organic food vs. chemically and hormonally enhanced or genetically altered food. How can the big agribusiness companies respond to the rising demand for organic foods? At least three ways: 1) Fight it, 2) Co-opt it (through watering down the definition of organic) or 3) Join it. There are companies doing all three. I'd wager that those doing #3 will be the most successful.

It's all about stewardship and sustainability, if you ask me.

Love,
Pinball
odysseus said…
I think 'death' has to do with things with the 'breath of God' within them. This would not be plant life. So, yes, 'death' only pertains to sentinent life.

Regarding the other comments: Just this afternoon, I read an article that sited a 400-page report by the Food and Agricultural Organisation that showed that 'livestock are responsible for 18 per cent of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming -- more than cars, planes and all other forms of transport put together.'

The report also shows how methane (a livestock 'emission') 'warms the world 20 times faster than carbon dioxide'. And that 'livestock also produces more than 100 other polluting gases, including more than two-thirds of the world's emissions of ammonia, one of the main causes of acid rain.'

The report talks about the deforestation brought about by grazing cattle, 'dead-zones' in the seas (because the waste from the cattle is dumped there), the depletion of water ('it takes a staggering 990 litres of water to produce one litre of milk'), etc. You can find the article here: http://news.independent.co.uk/environment/article2062484.ece

While agree that it's about stewardship and sustainability, I don't think it's 'all' about that. Yes, those issues are important. But I also think, as you have already stated, we have to look forward. We have to be creative and find ways of progessing that does not leave God's good creation worse off than we found it.
Pinball said…
My bad. I used a word with a jargon meaning without explaining myself!

My sister-in-law is an Interior Design professor in Seattle. She's probably going to be doing her doctoral work on the subject of Sustainability. You may have heard it used as "sustainable growth" or "sustainable development". The concept is NOT to return civilization to the Stone Age, but to find ways to build, grow and transport ourselves and other things WITHOUT damaging the earth in the process. It is a VERY forward-looking field, and although many (most?) of the Sustainability philosophizers aren't known to be followers of Christ, the ideas they have are QUITE compatible with the charges of Christ to his followers. In fact, I see things like this as answers to my continual prayer that God would save everyone on the planet.
Jackie said…
What a wonderful commitment to a violent free life. Some people think I am not a "good" vegetarian because I do not often try to impose my vegetarian beliefs on to others; sometimes think I need to become more of an activist in this arena. I follow the thread of your argument (not bad for an athiest...right) and you make it eloquently. My argument is simple, vegetarianism is moral and perhaps the first step towards peaceful co-existence with all living beings. Not an easy path but it is an enlightened path. Good luck.
Liew said…
I think vegetarians are sometimes passive-aggressive.

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