Should Christians eat meat?
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The following is taken from an interview with Bruce Friedrich,
Vegan Outreach Director.
Bruce Friedrich is a Catholic from the Midwest
who was recently rated No. 5 on Details magazine's 2003 list of "The 50
Most Influential People Under 38" -- ahead of Tiger Woods, Leonardo di
Caprio and Justin Timberlake. What has Friedrich done to deserve his high
standing? Surprise answer: He's an animal rights activist on the governing board
of the Catholic Vegetarian Society and the advisory board of the Christian
Vegetarian Society. He is also a founding member of the Society of Religious and
Ethical Vegetarians, and he's director of vegan campaigns for People for the
Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). I interviewed him via telephone as he was
flying from PETA headquarters in Virginia to an assignment in India.
Hi, Bruce. Your opinion is that Catholics --
and all other Christians -- should be vegetarians?
Jesus' message is about love and compassion, but
there is nothing loving or compassionate at factory farms and slaughterhouses,
where billions of animals endure miserable lives and die violent deaths. Jesus
mandates kindness and mercy for all God's creatures. He'd be appalled by the
suffering that we inflict on animals today to indulge our acquired taste for
Catholics, and all Christians, have a choice.
When we sit down to eat, we can add to the violence, misery and death in the
world, or we can respect God's creatures with a vegetarian diet. I believe we're
obligated to make choices that are as merciful as possible, and we can all do
that at the dinner table with a vegetarian diet. There won't be any factory
farms and slaughterhouses in heaven.
So, you think the God of Christians never
wanted people to eat meat?
The Garden of Eden, God's perfect world, was
vegetarian (Gen. 1:29-30), and God called this nonexploitative relationship
"good" (Gen. 1:31). After Eden there were many, many years of fallen
humanity, when people held slaves, waged war, ate animals and committed various
other violent acts. But the Old Testament prophets tell us that the final,
peaceful Kingdom of God will be nonviolent and vegetarian; even "the lion
will lie down with the lamb," according to the prophet Isaiah. That is,
even the carnivorous animals will go back to the vegetarian state. I find it
empowering that we can begin to live that vision now.
That's all very Old Testament. Is there any
more recent church doctrine that supports vegetarianism? Do you think eating
meat is a sin?
The catechism says explicitly what we all know
to be true in our hearts: Causing animals to suffer needlessly is a sin. Since
no one has to eat meat, and in fact we'd all be better off without it, then it
is a sin to eat meat. The church has a way to go before it recognizes this fact
explicitly, but there it is, an official part of church doctrine.
The church will have to support a vegan diet
eventually, but it may not move to that position quickly. We in the Christian
and Catholic Vegetarian Associations are pushing, though! There was a marvelous
piece in the Vatican's paper a few years ago, a strong condemnation of factory
farming. It pointed out that God designed animals to raise their families, to
breathe fresh air, to feel the sun on their backs. Modern farms don't allow
animals to do any of these things -- they're playing God, basically, acting like
they know better than God. And the mutilations and drugs -- the processes -- are
so cruel, merciless and ungodly that I'm convinced that all faiths will come to
denounce eating meat as surely as they came to denounce slavery; it's just a
matter of time.
What about hunting? Working in a
slaughterhouse? Should those activities be considered sinful?
I believe we're all challenged to live as
mercifully and compassionately as possible. If you choose to support cruelty and
violence when you could support kindness and compassion, that's something you
should change. Hunters should hunt with a camera.
Have you ever thought about becoming a
Buddhist or a Hindu? They seem more concerned with animal rights.
My faith is not a function of my mercy and
compassion for animals. The reverse is true: My concern for compassion is a
product of my faith. That said, I agree with Gandhi -- and the pope -- that
what's important is not your professed faith but how you live your life.
Tell me how you got involved in the animal
I became a vegan in college after reading Francis
Moore Lappé's "Diet for a Small Planet," because it helped me realize
how a meat-based diet contributes to environmental devastation and global
poverty, as well as animal suffering.
After college, I spent six years working in a
homeless shelter and soup kitchen in Washington, D.C. While I was there, a
friend of mine sent me a book written by Dr. Andrew Linzey, a theologian at
Oxford University, who argues that animals were designed with certain needs,
desires and species-specific behaviors and that animals have the same capacity
for pain and suffering as human beings. Any introductory physiology course will
teach you that birds, mammals and fish have basically the same capacity to
suffer as human beings.
Linzey's perspective is that denying animals the
life they were designed to have and inflicting pain on them for our convenience
is categorically unethical. Linzey believes that causing pain to an animal is
the moral equivalent of causing pain to a human being. The logic of Linzey's
argument spoke to me on a deep level. And, of course, if animals have the same
right to be free of pain as humans do, then we certainly can't eat them, or
experiment on them, or rip their skins off to wear them as clothes, or beat them
into doing senseless acts in circuses and rodeos. It was really Linzey's
argument that caused me to become a animal rights activist and work for PETA.
Animal pain is as important as human pain?
God's design for animals is as important -- as valuable -- as God's design for
God created every animal with needs, wants and a
design for its life. God designed pigs to root around in the soil and play with
each other. God designed chickens to make nests, lay eggs and raise their
children. Jesus compared his love for humanity to a hen's love -- not instinct,
love -- for her brood. God designed all animals with a desire for sunlight,
fresh air, fresh water and so on, and he designed all animals to grow at a
certain rate that won't tax their limbs and organs.
But all of these things are denied to animals
who are turned into food by the meat industries. Scientists are playing God by
manipulating animals to grow so quickly that their hearts, lungs and limbs can't
keep up. The upper bodies of chickens grow six to seven times faster than they
did 50 years ago, and turkeys can't even mate naturally anymore. Everything
natural is denied as they're packed into excrement-laden sheds. Basically, God's
will is denied completely by the industries that have decided that they know
better than God how God's creatures should be treated.
On today's factory farms, animals are dehorned,
debeaked and castrated without anesthesia; they're crowded together into tiny
spaces and they're genetically bred so that many suffer lameness, crippling leg
deformities and bone breaks because their legs can't keep up with their
scientifically enhanced bodies; and, finally, they're trucked without food or
water to a hellish death at a slaughterhouse.
Does it seem odd to you that many devoted pet
owners continue to eat the meat of creatures that are as smart as their dogs and
Everyone agrees that dogs and cats should be
protected legally from the worst abuses, but other animals that are raised for
food have no legal protection at all from mutilations without pain relief,
drugging and breeding that crippled them and so on. The disconnect must be
pointed out: If castrating a dog without painkillers is not OK, if drugging a
cat so that she grows up so fast she can't walk is not OK, if chopping off the
toes of a dog or cat is not OK, if slitting a dog or cat's throat open and
hacking off their limbs while they're still conscious is not OK, then it is
equally repugnant to do these things to any animal.
When Cameron Diaz found out that pigs do as well
on cognition tests as 3-year-old human kids, she gave up eating pork. In fact,
pigs play video games more effectively than some primates, and they interact
with one another in ways that have previously been observed only in primates.
Chickens also learn from one another, and they form complex social groups and
they are interesting individuals, just like any cat or dog we might know.
You also think eating meat is unhealthy?
Last year, there were 50 million incidences of meat
making people sick in the USA, 50 million cases of meat-based pathogens,
salmonella and E. coli and campylobacter [a bacteria that causes food
poisoning]. And, now, of course, there's also mad cow disease.
Other than Francis Moore Lappé and Dr.
Albert Linzey, are there any other writers that have had a profound influence on
Alice Walker wrote the introduction to a book
entitled "The Dreaded Comparison," by Marjorie Spiegel. In this book,
Spiegel compares the treatment of animals today to that of human slaves in the
16th through 19th centuries. Alice Walker agrees, saying, "The animals of
the world ... were not made for humans any more than black people were made for
whites or women were created for men." That's quite a statement, and it's
true; the animal rights movement is a movement for justice, just like abolition,
suffrage, civil rights and women's rights.
Dr. Albert Schweitzer stated that
"compassion...can only attain its full breadth and depth if it embraces all
living creatures and does not limit itself to mankind." Nobel laureate Dr.
Isaac Bashevis Singer called species bias the "purest form of racism"
and animal rights the purest form of justice advocacy, because animals are the
most vulnerable of all the downtrodden. The animal rights perspective has been
historically embraced by a wide range of brilliant thinkers and humanitarians,
like Pythagoras, Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Harriet Beecher Stowe, C.S.
Lewis, Susan B. Anthony, Leo Tolstoy, Dick Gregory and Mahatma Gandhi.
Kosher Meat Info- Did you know? Kosher meat comes from the same
abusive factory farms as other meats. There are no standards to ensure that
kosher slaughter is any less cruel than conventional slaughter. In some
instances, it's been shown to be much worse. Click the
for more information.