Home VM NewsOpinion Veganism and Christianity

Veganism and Christianity

by Darryl Grima

Mainstream Christianity has traditionally taught that humans have been granted the authority to consume animals, as depicted in Genesis 9:2-3. This passage states, “Every creature that is alive shall be yours to eat; I give them all to you as I did the green plants.” However, over time, these verses have been interpreted to establish a human-centered faith that has been used to justify the taking of life, environmental degradation, mistreatment of various beings, and even the origins of capitalism, as suggested by Max Weber.

Given this context, a question arises: How can we develop a more animal-friendly interpretation of the Bible, particularly in relation to Genesis? While there is no explicit biblical directive for Jews and Christians to adopt a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle, this should not be interpreted as an affirmation of the opposite. It is worth noting that there is also no single biblical stance on other important issues such as slavery, war, and ethnic cleansing.

The debate revolves around whether Judaism and Christianity are inherently anthropocentric faiths or if they have been interpreted as such. While I am not a Biblical scholar, it seems that over the ages texts have been interpreted in ways that accommodate the prevailing norms, as seen in the cases of women and “slaves”.

One interpretation that challenges the prevailing anthropocentric view revolves around Genesis 1:24-27. In this passage, humans were created on the 6th day, along with all other land-based living creatures, rather than on a separate day. God then gives humans “dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that move on the earth” (Genesis 1:28). However, it is crucial to note that Genesis 1:29-30 continues by stating that God also provides “every seed-bearing plant all over the earth and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit” as food for humans, as well as green plants for animals. This wider perspective challenges a simplistic interpretation of dominion.

God also said: “See, I give you every seed-bearing plant all over the earth and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit on it to be your food; and to all the animals of the land, all the birds of the air, and all the living creatures that crawl on the ground, I give all the green plants for food.” And so it happened

Genesis 1:29-30

Probably the the spark behind the deep rooted Christian view of a world bestowed upon us for us to do whatever we deem fit, and our “natural right” as stated by Thomas Aquinas in an Aristotelian fashion comes from Genesis 1:28, with the use of the word dominion. Aquinas justifies dominion by creating a chain whereby plants use the earth for nourishment, animals use plants, and man uses both plants and animals, therefore man should be master of all!

However, this interpretation overlooks the subsequent verses in Genesis 1:29-30, which emphasize humans’ responsibility as curators of creation. It highlights the idea that humans should preserve and care for what God has made, viewing creation as a masterpiece described by God as “very good” in Genesis 1:31.

Laudato Si

In his encyclical Laudato Si, Pope Francis challenges the traditional understanding of dominion and the entitlement it has been associated with. He states that this notion of dominion, as a justification for exploiting and damaging the planet, is a misinterpretation of the Bible according to the teachings of the Church. Instead, Pope Francis advocates for a different approach, drawing on the phrase “to till and keep” the garden of the world from Genesis 2:15. He acknowledges that the Earth belongs to the Lord and rejects the concept of absolute ownership.

Pope Francis confronts the interpretation of humans being created in God’s image, which has been used to justify human superiority and various forms of exploitation throughout history. He challenges this mindset, particularly in relation to ecological concerns, although the focus on animal liberation is less pronounced.

In Laudato Si, Pope Francis includes references to Saint Francis of Assisi, who is known for his stories of healing and showing compassion towards animals. There are many stories of St Francis healing animals and bring them back from the dead including his pet trout Antonella and his pet lamb Martinello, that were both killed for food and brought back to life. While Pope Francis does not explicitly state that humans do not have dominion over the creatures of this world, he emphasises the importance of respect for all forms of life. This may be seen as a significant step forward, considering the Catholic Church’s veneration of Saint Francis, even though some believers may find it challenging to reconcile with their practices such as consuming animal products.

Overall, Laudato Si encourages a shift in perspective, urging Christians to recognise their role as stewards of creation and to consider the ethical implications of their actions on the environment and all living beings.

If Jesus came today?

Let’s ask the hypothetical question, if Jesus came today would he be vegan? If Jesus were to appear in the present day, it is difficult to say definitively whether he would be vegan or not. He lived in a completely different historical context and the issue on veganism (and animal liberation) can be seen in the same context as we do with with his possible view on other liberation movements like black liberation and slavery, women liberation and gay liberation all of whom were oppressed when Jesus walked on Earth.

Jesus was known for his teachings of love, compassion, and inclusion. He often used parables involving animals and spoke about the importance of kindness towards all creatures. However, there is no specific mention in the Bible about his dietary preferences or whether he consumed animal products or followed a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. Additionally veganism as a holistic lifestyle is a relatively modern concept in the west (as eastern religions like Jainism and also Hinduism and Mahāyāna Buddhism all advocate a plant based harmonious lifestyle). Which is why we should ideally look at his values and see how these relate to today’s world.

If we consider some of the teachings and principles attributed to Jesus in the New Testament of the Bible, we might speculate on his perspective regarding veganism:

  1. Compassion and Mercy: Jesus emphasised love, compassion, and mercy towards all living beings, including animals. He might advocate for a lifestyle that minimises harm to animals and promotes kindness and stewardship of God’s creation.
  2. Stewardship of the Earth: If Jesus were a vegan, he might highlight the importance of caring for the environment and promoting sustainable practices, as animal agriculture can have significant environmental impacts.
  3. Non-Violence: Jesus was known for promoting non-violence and peace. Adopting a vegan lifestyle can be seen as a way to align with these principles by reducing violence towards animals and the environment. As Leo Tolstoy said, “as long as there are slaughter houses there will always be battlefields.”
  4. Healthy Living: Some interpretations of Jesus’ teachings emphasise the importance of caring for our bodies, as they are considered temples of the Holy Spirit. A vegan diet, if well-balanced, can be seen as a way to promote health and well-being.
  5. Challenging Norms: Jesus often challenged societal norms and practices that he deemed harmful or unjust. If he were a vegan, he might encourage others to question their dietary choices and consider the impact of their food consumption on animals, the planet, other humans, and their own well-being.

This choice of lifestyle of whether Jesus today would be a vegan or not, should be looked at from a more holistic perspective and how today’s society is totally different from when he came to earth 2000 years ago. Today’s world hosts 8 billion people growing to nearly 10 billion by 2050. The world is at a precipice with climate destruction and mass extinction. We also have the technology, the knowledge and the means to live a healthy and prosperous life without killing any other life. Our knowledge of food and the advent of cellular agriculture which can replicate meat from a few cells make it possible for us to reproduce with technology the miracle of five loaves and two fish without even killing an animal.

Furthermore by combining animal efficiency, food distribution and environmental impact:

  • Agricultural Efficiency, essentially a shift towards a plant-based diet could free up a significant amount of land and resources currently used for animal agriculture. With more efficient agricultural practices, it could be possible to produce more plant-based food and allocate resources more effectively, potentially eliminating world hunger,
  • with equitable Food Distribution as even with enough food being produced globally, it will not necessarily reach those who need it most due to various economic, political, and logistical reasons,
  • and Environmental Impact since animal agriculture has a significant environmental footprint, contributing to deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions, and water usage. Transitioning away from animal agriculture could mitigate some environmental issues and potentially benefit food security in the long run,

we can possibly achieve the goal to “till and keep” the garden of the world while still sustaining 8 to 10 billion people. While precise calculations are challenging, some studies have estimated that a global shift to a vegan diet could lead to significant land savings. For example, a study published in the journal “Science” in 2018 suggested that if the world transitioned to a vegan diet, it could reduce global agricultural land use by about 75%. Another study published in “The Lancet Planetary Health” in 2020 estimated that a global shift to plant-based diets could free up 76% of the current global agricultural land.

Conclusion

In conclusion, embracing a vegan lifestyle aligns with the core principles of Christianity. By choosing a plant-based diet, Christians demonstrate compassion for animals and strive to be good stewards of God’s creation. Going vegan also fosters a sense of interconnectedness, recognising that your choices have profound effects on the planet and all living beings.

Moreover, a vegan diet promotes optimal health, which enables Christians to fulfil their mission of serving God and others. By nourishing their bodies with wholesome plant-based foods, they can experience enhanced vitality, increased energy, and reduced risk of chronic diseases.

Ultimately, embracing a vegan lifestyle empowers Christians to live out their values of compassion, justice, and stewardship. By making mindful choices in their diets, they can make a positive impact on our health, the environment, and the well-being of all living creatures. A Christian’s choice towards veganism also shows a sense of humility away from the arrogance of dominion towards a life based on compassion, justice and stewardship!

You may also like

Leave a Comment

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More

Skip to content