Sunday, February 10, 2008

Why I’m a Vegetarian

For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other. Indeed, he who sows the seed of murder and pain cannot reap joy and love.
Pythagoras (6th century BC)

I used to be a carnivore. I especially used to love rare steak. When I’d order meat in a restaurant I’d tell them to cook it “as little as possible.” Well, I’ve now gone four and half years without consuming any meat or fish (my policy is, if it has parents and could bear offspring, I won’t eat it). This wasn’t easy for me, especially at first. But I’ve never regretted my decision.

I often get asked why I became and remain a vegetarian, so in the next couple of blogs I’m going to explain myself. My goal is not to convert anyone to vegetarianism. In the New Testament this is considered a personal decision that cannot be made into a doctrine (Rom 14:6). At the same time, I hope my reflections are a catalyst for thought on our call as Kingdom people and our responsibility to animals.

In this blog I'll give the primary reason I became a vegetarian and two reasons why I remain a vegetarian (which are really just two benefits I've discovered since becoming a vegetarian). In the next blog I'll give a couple of theological and philosophical arguments that I think support abstaining from meat.

1. God Told Me To
The most fundamental reason I became a vegetarian is simply that I felt God told me to. It’s that simple. God has the right to forbid for one what he allows for others, and he just told me, very clearly, I wasn’t supposed to eat meat. It's not that the Bible forbids it. It doesn't. It's just that God forbids it for me. In fact, I felt very strongly the Lord wanted me to enter into a covenant of complete non-violence with him.

I am never to harm anything if I don’t have to -- not even a bug. And I'm never to harm humans even if it seems (by normal standards) that I "have to".

2. Increasing the Capacity to Love
Almost immediately after making this pledge I began to understand why the Lord had wanted me to make it. Scripture says a little yeast leavens all the dough (1 Cor 5:6). Well, I discovered that the little yeast of my willingness to engage in violence towards animals and other creatures for self-serving reasons (e.g. appetite, convenience) was polluting my heart and to some degree compromising my capacity to love. It felt like – and still feels like – my commitment to total non-violence has had, and is yet having, a purifying effect on my heart.

Along the same lines, my commitment to purge violence completely from my life has increased my sensitivity to the ugliness of violence, both in my own heart and in the world. Jesus taught that harboring hostile thoughts towards others and speaking hostile words towards others is a form of violence. In fact, he says it’s equivalent to murder (Mt. 5:1-26)! Numerous other passages in the New Testament instruct Kingdom people to purge all hatred, bitterness, anger, unforgiveness, judgment and malice from our minds as well as our speech. All these things are forms of violence and are antithetical to love. I have found that my commitment to non-violence has helped me wake up to all of the violence I have in my thoughts and speech, which in turn has helped me get free from this ugly violence. And this, in turn, has deepened my capacity for love.

Five years ago I never dreamed there was a connection between eating meat, anger in the heart and my ability to love. But for me at least, there definitely was. A little yeast leavens all the dough.

3. Seeing the Sacred Beauty in All Living Things
Along the same lines, I discovered that the little yeast of my willingness to participate in violence towards animals and other creatures for self-serving reasons had been leavening my capacity to see their intrinsic worth. My pledge not to harm creatures raised their value in my mind and this in turn allowed me to see their intrinsic value.

Animals are not just food, and insects are not just inconveniences. They are works of art by the eternal Creator and they have their own intrinsic, sacred worth. But I couldn’t see this worth very clearly when I thought of them primarily as food and inconveniences. Becoming a vegetarian and committing to complete non-violence has significantly deepened my capacity to experience the sacred beauty of God’s creation. This experience brings with it a new dimension of delight and joy over creation.

Genius that he was, Pythagoras saw all this. There's a connection between violence towards animals and violence towards people, and a connection between violence in general and our capacity for love and joy.

I’ll share other reasons why I became and remain a vegetarian in the next blog. Until then,

go enjoy a nice carrot! :-)