Here I want to unpick the Christian practice of saying grace or praying at meals. I will explore the nature of God and the primacy of the sanctity of life. I am prompted mostly but not exclusively by my Twitter encounters.
There are times when you have seriously to question how many people using Twitter and the social media actually believe what they post or merely write to goad and infuriate others. One person I engage with from time to time on Twitter does not have a profile but claims to be Christian. Her avatar has a red poppy (twibbon covering a UKIP twibbon) and supports the Israeli national emblem.
This person’s tweets are anti-Islamic for sure but are they genuine feelings or beliefs? I have assume that they are – not least because of the UKIP twibbon and whether it wants the association or not UKIP has rallied many racists under its battle standard.
What I do know is that many Christians struggle with the concept that Muslims follow the same Creator God as Christians. One local evangelical vicar challenged my Islamic sympathies a year or so ago. I work with pentecostal Christians who believe that Muslims follow a satanic God. I have met school religious education teachers who have difficulty accepting that the One Creator God worshipped by Muslims is the same as the One Creator God of Christians and Jews.
Jews, Christians and Muslims all claim a common history down to the time of Abraham. We have to assume that Noah and his successors were monotheists and that Abraham recognised One God. To be frank and very blunt here. Even if you do not believe that the Old Testament record of history as anything other than myth it is a myth common to Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.
LIkewise whatever your views and beliefs of the Creation there was only One Beginning – unless you believe that we live in parallel universes defined by religious beliefs. It does not matter how we perceive the creation of the universe it only happened once. It follows that if you believe in a Creator God there can only be One. Thus the God of Christians and Muslims is the same God – One Supreme Being, One Grand Conductor in life.
That there can only be One God, if you believe in God, does not mean that we all have one image of God. If two people stand side by side in Trafalgar Square they will see one statue but their actual views will be different. Indeed one person actually sees very slightly different images on each eye but there is still only one statue. Stand on opposite side of the Square and the views will be very different – but it is still the same statue.
Now let’s look at the sanctity of life. We know that most if not all religions pay due regard to the sanctity of life. The Eastern Asia and Indian religions most certainly do. Jainism takes this very seriously indeed but so does Hinduism and the religions that evolved from it. Confirmed or orthodox Sikhs do not eat meat.
In the secular world even atheists and humanists have a regard for the sanctity of life – without a belief in a God. They all argue for humane animal welfare and slaughter that causes least pain and discomfort. There is common agreement that intensive farming may compromise welfare.
My researches have taken me to a book by historian Martin Henig in which he writes about religions or cults in Roman Britain. in just one paragraph he unpicked religious sacrifice. People would have felt guilty for taking the life of an animal to eat. He then describes how “what was sacrificed to the gods” was the inedible remains – the viscera, bones and so on. Why would they do that?
Well, why not? Quite simply the prophets or seers or priests of the day would surely have clocked that short of digging a very deep pit the rotting remains would have presented a hygiene issue and an invitation to rats or scavenging birds or whatever – a Biblical plague.
Clearly in those times they would have no way of understanding germs but they would have recognised the effects of not doing it right. Their only explanation was that their Creator and giver of life was punishing them for their taking a precious life.
Rationally, therefore, they would have prayed at slaughter that their Creator would forgive them the sin of taking life. At the same time no doubt they thanked the Creator for His bounty.
I was brought up a Christian. I was probably brought up with a tradition of saying grace at Sunday lunch in particular when we would have sat down together as a family. The typical grace is “For what we are about to receive may The Lord make us truly grateful.” We may have added “… and ever mindful of the need for others.”
We nominally eat five times during a working day. At the start of the day, at a morning coffee break, midday, afternoon tea and a meal at the end of the day. Monks pray five times a day – presumably at times associated with meals. Muslims pray five times a day. They perform ablutions before prayer indicating that the act of prayer at one time was associated with the need for hygiene when preparing meals.
If we connect praying to eating we can see that Christians and Muslims are actually following a common practice. Muslims have a separate prayer. They recite bismillah “In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful“. They do so when the animal is alive – in effect also asking it for its foregiveness.
I will close with a challenge to Christians. Jesus was baptised by John. Why? In those days baptism was a “priestly” cleansing ritual. Priests worked from the Temple. Priests (Cohen) supervised sacrifice (bluntly slaughter). Was Jesus training to be a priest and if so would he not have been learning what we now know as kosher rituals?
In summary I have shown how Christians and Muslims can only have One Creator God. They would have feared their God because if they cared for, slaughtered and cooked their animals in the wrong way God would have delivered unto them a plague.