Why Christians Don’t Impose Veganism

In Environment, Food, Religion, The Big Picture by Stephen M. Vantassel1 Comment

Veganism is the lifestyle philosophy of people that avoid eating, wearing, or using animal products or their by-products. They don’t eat meat or the products that derive from animals, even when the animal is not killed, such as milk. Now the rationales for adopting this lifestyle vary. Some do it for alleged health benefits, others for supposed environmental reasons, and other still on the basis of some ethical theory about not wanting animals to suffer (cf. Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation). Of course, many vegans adopt the lifestyle for multiple reasons.

Now let me be clear. There is nothing sinful or anti-Christian about adopting a vegan lifestyle per se. Being a Christ follower does not require one to eat meat (Rom 14). Now I think that being a vegan is silly. But morally veganism is as important as the decision of getting a tattoo. Christianity allows people to do silly things, we are just not to do immoral things.

Now that being said, if a Christian claimed that he/she was adopting a vegan lifestyle for ethical reasons regarding animal suffering, then there is a problem. It is one thing to say that a particular way animals are treated is questionable. But it is quite another to assert a blanket statement that all meat eating is wrong regardless of how the animal was treated.

Christianity doesn’t impose veganism because such a claim would violate the order of creation. God established a hierarchy. Some creatures are more valuable than others and those lower creatures are to serve the higher creatures. For example, a bird eats a worm. The worm serves the bird. Likewise, a human can hunt and eat the bird. Arguments used by some vegans that suggest humans lack the moral authority to eat animals because we are just another animal flies in the face of Biblical testimony that says humans are made in the image of God (Gen 1:26; 9:6). I would also argue that if we accept the vegan argument at face value (namely that humans are just animals) then my question is “Why can’t I act like an animal and eat meat like the lion?”

Similarly, we have the testimony of Jesus Christ who declared all foods clean (Mk 7:19; cf Acts 10). Now when Christ called food clean, he didn’t mean that the food was previously “dirty”. He was referring to the ceremonial requirement in the Old Testament where God forbade the Israelites to eat certain foods (Lev 11). Interestingly, Christ had the opportunity to further restrict the dietary choices of his followers. But he didn’t. Instead, he expanded their dietary possibilities. Nor can one argue that vegetarianism was unknown in the ancient world because in fact vegetarianism was practiced and taught.

Perhaps the most important reason, why Christians cannot forbid the eating of meat is because Christ ate meat (Jn 21:13). Since he is also the image of God (Cor 4:4) for Christians to condemn meat as immoral, would be to condemn Christ as immoral (cf. Andrew Linzey), which is an act of blasphemy.

Now you may be saying, “but Christ didn’t know about the environmental impacts of meat eating or how much damage it does to the human body.” Perhaps he didn’t. But that argument assumes that the claims of the vegan movement are actually true. I will take up some of those claims in future articles.

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Stephen M. Vantassel is a tutor of theology at King’s Evangelical Divinity. He specializes in environmental ethics. His book, Dominion over Wildlife? An Environmental-Theology of Human-Wildlife Relations (Wipf and Stock, 2009) explains why an animal rights perspective on animals fails to be environmentally responsible.

Comments

  1. This is a much needed article. I wish there was more insight from Romans 14.
    Sorry for taking a detour, but I thought of mentioning the following points.

    From my perspective, I have a lot of Christian friends who have given up meat mainly because of these three reasons
    1) The impact of meat industry on the environment (often they refer to the cattle industry destroying habitats in Brazil)
    2) The use of hormones and the quality of feed.
    3) Humans don’t need protein that come from animals. Our bodies are self sufficient in meeting its necessities by what it acquires from a plant based diet.

    While I agree with the second reason that we don’t have to consume a doped animal stuffed with excessive hormones in their muscles., it is totally dishonest to blame the entire cattle industry or other meat industries for the destruction of environment used to produce cattle feed.

    Regarding the third point, I worked at the Fisheries department in the University of British Columbia. Part of my job was to understand the fisheries economy and why fish based diet is critical to the people from Africa and Asia who suffer from malnutrition. It is impossible to meet the dietary needs of people there – because of the economical condition and the dietary options available to them.

    While I am completely joyful that some of my christian friends are vegans/vegetarians, I am always interested in understanding the reasons behind their choice to be so. I have found most of them lacking a strong and clear reason for the choice. May be they just heard someone claim something (or) read a half-baked report on fitness (or) a philosophy promoted by pantheism which had made its way into Christian environmentalism ?

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