(I know that topics such as Vegetarianism are not considered as progressive in India today. However, I have posted this article written by Maneka Gandhi with the hope that if atleast one person takes a wow to become a Vegetarian, I would consider my effort as fruitful)
Vegetarianism in Christianity
Last month I received a call from an American writer doing a thesis on Hinduism and the protection that it affords to animals. He wanted me to confirm his romantic view that Hindus are gentle people, co-existing and caring for all their animals and plants, setting a good example to the rest of the world. He was extremely irritated at having this theory rubbished when I told him that India is the largest exporter of meat in Asia, that 36 per cent of our crop is not going for our own food but to feed Europe’s meat animals, that 41,000 cows are killed in abattoirs daily, that young calves are being smuggled in their thousands across state borders to be killed, and eggs from factory farms are the norm.
In fact, the only relationship that Hinduism has with animals is to kill them as sacrifices: the Kali Bari in Calcutta that decapitates thousands of goats till the sewers run with blood into the sea; the festival in Andhra at which professionals are brought in by the temple authorities to tear out the throats of lambs and throw them down the hill, the Makar Sankranti festival of Karnataka during which foxes are whipped and pierced and then set alight; the Nagpanchami festival of Maharashtra when over two lakh snakes die in one day; the Uttar Pradesh hill festivals at which bulls are cut into little pieces by bystanders...all this is Hinduism now.
The American paused and then went on bravely. ‘But this is the exception,’ he said, ‘you have Jains and Buddhists who don’t eat meat.’ Again, I had to tell him the truth: a Jain was the manager of Al Kabeer, the biggest slaughterhouse in India; a Jain adulterated vanaspati cooking oils with beef fat for years; a large number of young Jains think it is progressive to eat meat; and Buddhists in Ladakh eat meat. The American presented his final argument, ‘But, as in Christianity, the books and the religion don’t tell you to eat meat,’ he said. I could not answer his question then as I did not know enough about Christian teachings. Also, we have always taken it for granted that Christians eat meat. So I looked for books to teach me. And this is what I found about Christianity and vegetarianism.
Not a few Christian scholars have concluded vegetarianism to be the more consistent ethic with respect to the spirit of Jesus’ teachings. For example, we have the Ebionites, Athanasius and Arius. Of the early church fathers, we have Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Tertullian, Heronymus, Boniface, St Jerome and John Chrysostom. Clement wrote: ‘It is far better to be hungry than to have your bodies act as graveyards for animals. (Incidentally, you read the same statement in many of the Muslim hadis as well.—MG.) Accordingly, the apostle Matthew partook of seeds, nuts and vegetables, without flesh.’ One of the earliest Christian documents is the ‘Clementine Homilies’, a second-century text thought to be based on the teachings of St Peter. Homily XII states: ‘The unnatural eating of flesh meats is as polluting as the heathen worship of devils, with its sacrifices and its impure feasts; through participation in it a man becomes a fellow eater with devils.’
For those who read the Testaments, remember the line ‘I Require Mercy, Not Sacrifice’ (Matthew 9:13 & 12:7). This is a significant message when read in the context that sacrificial offerings often entailed meat consumption and a strict reading of Leviticus 17: implies that, indeed, all meat consumption necessitated sacrifice. Also, we all know the story of the confrontation between Jesus and the moneylenders in the temple. But not only was he displeased by the desecration of the temple by these parasites, but also by ‘those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons’ (John 2:14-15) since these animals were being sold for sacrifice before being eaten.
Is there any biblical reference to Jesus buying or eating meat? No. Consider the verse in which it is said that Jesus’ disciples ‘were gone away unto the city to buy meat’ (John 4:8). This line from the King James version has been misunderstood as to mean ‘meat’ literally. In fact, the Greek word for ‘meat’ (on which the James translation is based) simply meant nutrition in the generic sense. Hence, the Revised Standard Version now simply translates this same passage as ‘his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food’. Lewis Regenstein notes that nowhere in the New Testament is Jesus depicted as eating meat and ‘if the Last Supper was a Passover meal—as many believe—there is, interestingly, no mention of the traditional lamb dish.’
Studies of the original Greek manuscripttts also show that words translated as meat are ‘trophe’, ‘brome’ and other words that simply mean ‘food’ or ‘eating’. For example, in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus raised a woman from the dead and ‘commanded to give her meat.’ The original word translated as ‘meat’ was ‘phago’ which means ‘to eat’. So what Jesus said was ‘let her eat.’ The original word for meat is ‘kreas’ (flesh) and it is never used in connection with Jesus anywhere in the New Testament. In fact, Isaiah’s famous prophecy about Jesus’ appearance is: ‘Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil and choose the good.’
Did Jesus eat at least fish? Remember the famous loaves and fishes story? The only two occasions on which he is said to have eaten fish were after his death and resurrection. Also, you should know that fish was a well known mystical symbol among the early Christians. The Greek word for fish (Ichthys) was used as an acronym which, in Greek, stood for ‘Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour’. Given how the early Christians employed the term, there is therefore good historical evidence for the argument that all of the ‘fish stories’ which managed to get into the gospels were intended to be taken symbolically rather than literally.
What is the indirect historical evidence that Jesus was vegetarian? Knowledge about how the Essenes, the Nazoreans and Ebionites lived suggests that Jesus was probably a vegetarian. The Essenes were Jews who were remarkably similar to the early Christians as evinced in their de-emphasis upon property and wealth, their sense of community (in the sense of sharing, not divisiveness) and in their rejection of animal sacrifice. The first Christians were known as Nazoreans (not to be confused with Nazarenes), and the Ebionites were a direct offshoot from them. All three groups were vegetarian which is suggestive of the central role such dietary practice played in early Christianity.
The New Testament also makes repeated attacks on meat offered to pagan idols (Acts l:20 Revelation 2:14). The apostle Paul gives assurances that eating such flesh is allright if no one is offended (Corinthians lO:l4-33). But Paul finds himself in opposition to all these early Christians and a large number of fellow Christians, it would seem, took issue with him. Paul, if he is consistent with his words of not offending anyone, would have been vegetarian. Clementine ‘Homilies’ and ‘Recognitions’ claim that Peter was also a vegetarian. Both Hegisuppus and Augustine testify that the first head of the church in Jerusalem after the death of Jesus, namely his brother, James the Just, was a vegetarian and raised as one! If Jesus’s parents raised James as vegetarian, then it would be likely that Jesus was also so raised.
Given the above pointers, it is reasonable to infer that vegetarianism was consistent with the spirit of early Christianity, a spirit that advocated kindness, mercy and non-violence and showed disdain towards wealth and extravagance. Meat eating would hardly have been considered the way of love for all of God’s creation. Hence, the orthodox early church father, Christian Hieronymous could not but be compelled to conclude: ‘The eating of animal meat was unknown up to the big flood, but since the flood they have pushed the strings and stinking juices of animal meat into our mouths, just as they threw quails in front of the grumbling sensual people in the desert. Jesus Christ, who appeared when the time had been fulfilled, has again joined the end with the beginning, so that it is no longer allowed of us to eat animal meat.’
Maybe an even more important question than whether or not Jesus was a vegetarian, was why Christianity later abandoned its vegetarian roots. Steven Rosen in his book, Food for the Spirit (1987), argues: ‘The early Christian fathers adhered to a meatless regime.... many early Christian groups supported the meatless way of life. In fact, the writings of the early Church indicate that meat-eating was not officially allowed until the 4th century, when the Emperor Constantine decided that his version of Christianity would be the version for everyone. A meat-eating interpretation of the Bible became the official creed of the Roman Empire, and vegetarian Christians had to practise in secret or risk being put to death for heresy. It is said that Constantine used to pour molten lead down their throats if they were captured.’ Ironic indeed that pagan Rome would have this long-standing influence upon Christianity. To cite a subsequent sad example: in southern France, a group of Albigensian vegetarians (a Cartharist religious group) were put to death by hanging in 1052 because they refused to kill a chicken!
Yet vegetarianism was known in mediaeval England, particularly in the monasteries. ‘This was the period in which monasticism flourished most usefully and profitably in England, many monasteries were seats of learning and centres of art. In them noble chronicles were compiled and beautifully illuminated; charity and hospitality were dispensed; abbots were called upon to lend their wisdom to the rulers of the country; kings and nobles made gifts of land and money to respected houses and hoped in return to save their souls; schools and hospitals were established; lovely buildings were erected; the wool industry expanded as sheep, under the skilful care of the monks, cropped the grass of the dales... Since then however, these earlier virtues of monasticism had been gradually eroded, as religious houses grew so wealthy that their income seems to have been, at one time, almost a fifth of the whole national income. The original strict rules imposed on the order began to be widely ignored. No longer did monks confine themselves to the cloister, observe the regulations about obedience and poverty, conscientiously say the Masses enjoined upon them by past benefactors, or pay too strict a regard to the rules framed to limit their diet. Meat, once provided only for the sick, was now enjoyed by all in the infirmary, and when this was forbidden by papal statute, in a “misericorde”, the “chamber of mercy” between the infirmary and the refectory, where meat was freely allowed on the table. This, too, was prohibited by papal statute; but in 1339, the pope, recognizing that the prohibition was unenforceable, conceded that the monks might continue to relish their meat in the “misericorde” provided that only half their number did so at a time, the other half maintaining the vegetarian rule elsewhere.’ (Thomas Wright, The Homes of Other Days: A history of domestic manners and sentiments in England, 1871).
So the pope was promoting vegetarianism! The monasteries had apparently been vegetarian during those earlier times of their greatest achievements, and the above seems to imply that the Church saw meat-eating as a somewhat sinful luxury rather than a necessity. You might also take a look at what Reverend Dr Andrew Linzey, the Director of Studies, Centre for the Study of Theology, University of Ess*x has written in a book called Christianity and the Rights of Animals (Crossroad Publications). He quotes from Genesis which says: ‘Only eat plants.’ The following extracts are relevant. ‘Not by shedding innocent blood, but by living a righteous life shall ye find the peace of God ... Blessed are they who keep this law; for God is manifested in all creatures. All creatures live in God, and God is hid in them... The fruit of the trees and the seeds and of the herbs alone do I partake, and these are changed by the spirit into my flesh and blood. Of these alone and their like shall ye eat who believe in me and are my disciples; for of these, in the spirit, come life and health and healing unto man.’ (From The Gospel of the Holy Twelve, translated by G. J. Ouseley.) ‘And the flesh of slain beasts in his own body will become his own tomb. For I tell you truly, he who kills, kills himself, and who so eats the flesh of slain beasts, eats the body of death.’ (From The Gospel of Peace of Jesus Christ by the Disciple John, Translated by E. B. Szekely, C. W. Daniel, London, 1937.)
What attitude does the Christian faith actually promote? Perhaps many Christians have not read their sacred books. As Hindus have not. But, in a nutshell, this is the gist of the Christian teaching as interpreted by leading theologians: The natural life of a spirit-filled creature is a gift from God; when we take over the life of an animal to the extent of distorting its natural life for no other purpose than our own gain, we fall into sin; there is no clearer blasphemy before God than the perversion of his creatures. The Christian argument for vegetarianism then is simple: since animals belong to God, have value to God and live for God, their needless destruction is sinful.