Tag Archives: ritual

Why do Christians eat meat? (3)

On my recent visit to York Minster I was captivated by a poster that asked how the Romans transitioned from their old pagan religious rituals to Christian rituals after Constantine adopted the Christian God as the state God. It’s a good question. It is challenging on a number of fronts.

After the visit I went online and found this summary of end of sacrifice.

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I understand sacrifice simply to represent slaughter and safe processing of the meat that can be eaten from carcasses and critically the safe disposal of what was left over. This was overlayed with prayers of thanksgiving but the aim of the practice and ritual was to ensure meat was safe to eat. It had to be free from disease and for sure there were public health consequences is the unusable carcass was not disposed of safely.

Clearly in Biblical times and earlier there was not concept of bacteria but it is not difficult to understand that the priests of the day would have made an association between bad practice and disease. Disease would easily have been construed as punishment – especially for the maltreatment of animals at slaughter in particular.

The screen grab starts with the pro-vegetarian attitudes of pre-Christian religions originating in Asia and the Orient. No doubt some of these ideas must have spread westwards. At least the most devout and pious followers of many religions were questioning the practice of eating meat. As it was Jews and many other cults had long since recognised the need for centralised slaughter under the supervision of priests. Slaughter/sacrifice was typically done on a special occasion when there was a reason for a large family or community gathering (a street party, you could say).

John the Baptist, Jesus and their immediate associates appear to have been vegetarian and as a consequence disengaged from the tradition Jewish slaughter practice. We know from the gospels that Jesus fell out with the Temple authorities big time and the principal business of the Temple was slaughter. The Temple was the public slaughterhouse of its day. As well as merely killing animals to eat priests performed what today we know as “meat inspection”. Priests had worked out was constituted wholesome or healthy meat.  They had also worked out that the safest way to find dispose of what was left over was to burn it. The smell must have been something. Incense was used to mask it. When they gathered for the Passover festival the slaughter must have appeared very gruesome. If you had a prior aversion to killing animals just for their meat the whole experience would have been off-putting (as would a visit to a large commercial slaughterhouse today if they weren’t so secretive).

Critically the whole meat-eating process was controlled. In Greek tradition I read that meat had to be eaten within the confines of the sacred place, temple, or consecrated ground. Today we run into trouble if we store meat badly. Very clearly the priests were aware that if people took meat away to eat later and let it go off, because they didn’t know how to and did not have facilities to keep meat pure, the consequent food poisoning would not be good. The priests and community leaders would not uncontrolled disposal of meat in spoil pits or middens, which could attract rats and potential infection from them.

The origin of prayer at slaughter can easily be surmised. People clearly had a concept of the sanctity of life and guilt at taking life – witness the vegetarian ideology of Hinduism and the religions associated with it. The prayer thanks Our Maker, The Giver of Life, or whoever, for His bounty while seeking forgiveness for taking a life. You could also interpret it as asking the animal, even, for permission to take its life. One way or another it is intended to be a spiritual and solemn occasion – unlike modern Secular industrialised slaughter.

Most of this knowledge was held by priests and passed down from generation to generation by word of mouth. Novice priests would have taken years to train. The meat inspection, for example, could not be taught from illustrated text books. They also would need to have learn how to craft or supervise the crafting of knives to provide a blemish free blade. A blade that had nicks in it would tear flesh as it cut and cause pain. If the animal pulled away from a blunt blade the cut may not be quick and successful thereby causing great suffering.

Now assuming that Jesus and his associates were not engaging fully with the Temple authorities they would not be understanding the import of the ritual. Indeed they had issues with washing hands before eating. (Mark 7:5; Matthew 15:2; Luke 11:38)

This interaction between Jesus and his associates and the Temple authorities was/is hugely significant. None of these gospel writers were contemporaries of Jesus. Matthew and Luke worked from Mark’s gospel. The import is that the occurrence was significant enough to have been remembered and passed down.

When the Romans destroyed the Second Temple in 70CE the public slaughterhouse was destroyed and the Jewish authorities codified the ritual thereby enabling others to perform slaughter safely. In the meantime as St Paul took the Christian message into Southern Europe it seems that they adopted gentile practices that were far less strict than kosher – seemingly pigs were on the menu – but they were not so far removed that they bore no resemblance to kosher. The method of kill was more or less the same; there were meat inspection; and the remainder was burnt.

I am undecided to what extent Christians ate meat. Was the persecution of Christians in part because they were not following good sacrificial practice? How many Christians were there in the Roman Empire because of the persecution? Seemingly until his conversion Constantine punished vegetarian Christians. Christians had to keep their vegetarianism secret –  presumably avoiding public festivals. Constantine’s wife was Christian but presumably cannot have been vegetarian. How could she have kept that from her family members? I can only assume that many Christians were meat eaters. Constantine accepted Christian practice and ended their persecution.  The adoption of Christianity came about fifty years after his death. There may not have been any momentous change in practice in the Principia at York.

The tone from the screen grab suggests that as the Roman Empire came to a close formal organised sacrifice/slaughter had all but been abandoned with Christian emperors making sacrifice illegal. But what was made illegal and why? If the whole population of the Roman Empire had been banned from eating meat we have to assume that Europe and most of the world that came under its jurisdiction at some point would still be vegetarian today. That is not the case. What was abolished was the formal humane slaughter and hygiene practice. Animals were still sacrificed and eaten but without any reverence.

We have to assume that Christians may even have associated sacrifice with idol worship.

Fast forward to the industrial revolution and we see that in Britain the increase in meat consumption, as people migrated to towns and cities, placed huge strains on the supply side. Conditions in many slaughterhouses were dire. Keir Robertson,  writing about “The Bovine Scourge” painted a grim picture of rat infested facilities. One can only assume that attention to humane slaughter may not have been brilliant. Kosher practice on the other hand was highly regulated and must have been several orders of magnitude superior – leading to exemptions for religious practice. Secular authorities introduced the idea of the public slaughterhouse where health and hygiene practices could be supervised and regulated – thereby mimicking ancient religious practice.

The last two sentences in the screen grab are of interest.

The Roman Empire, at least in Western Europe, fell within a hundred years of Christian being adopted formally as the state religion at the back-end of the fourth century. Why?

Could it be that the learned structures than must were associated with temples acting as effective community and municipal centres disintegrated? That’s really speculative, or is it?

The last sentence in the screen grab says that when Mohammed and Islam took centre stage on the seventh century sacrifice was not included as one of the Five Pillars of Islam. On the other hand at this time the principles of good animal welfare, especially at slaughter, and hygiene were re-introduced. In parts of Africa slaughterhouses are co-located with mosques. Mosques are community centres. Slaughter was once again brought under the supervision of community leaders (imams, presumably). Hygiene and spirituality are essential components of eating meat, which early Muslims presumably did only on special occasions – seemingly gathering at their community centre to do so. Coincidentally Islam flourished and as it flourished so science advanced – eventually, it seems, spreading west and laying the foundations of western academia.

This post is the third of a series asking, “Why do Christians eat meat?” There is no reason why they should but my reading is suggesting very strongly that the first Christians were vegetarian and zealously opposed eating meat. As a consequence the “inner circle” or “controlling mind” of the first Christian movement disconnected from essential rituals that were integral to the practice of preparing and eating meat. Having done so the movement’s followers were never going to be taught the importance of hygiene. Indeed it seems that hygiene was actually eschewed.

What I am seeing is that good practice promulgated by Jews before Christianity to this day was corrupted under Christian influence until Mohammed and Islam re-codified the practices. Islam never penetrated far into Western Europe. It reached Southern Spain but was expelled. Turkey marks the boundary of Islamic influence in Eastern Europe. Curiously Western Christianity has retained the vestiges of sacrifice in many of its rituals, which now have symbolic form.

I believe that Christians disconnect with sacrifice is a cause of many of today’s ills. There can be no doubt that anti-Semitism (anti-Jewish sentiment) is in part fuelled by Christianity’s disconnect from Jewish rituals. Muslims more or less follow many or most food hygiene practices so it is no surprise that Christians have difficulty accepting Islam.

Secularists need to join up their thinking on meat consumption

I have just engaged is a longish Twitter chat with someone very opposed to non-stun slaughter. I know, it’s a pointless exercise as Secularists have made up their minds and follow Secular scientists with a religious zeal that matches any Muslim. Below I show a section of the thread but first, let me state my position.

Our demand for large quantities of cheap meat requires industrial scale slaughter and not to stun is unconscionable. I have recently read that in Israel one, if not two kosher, slaughterhouses have been shut down on welfare grounds. Issues have also been identified in the USA. I am in no doubt that except in well-designed facilities non-stun slaughter does not scale up easily. In addition there are issues relating to training.

Fully trained Jewish shochet train over seven years or so. It’s a long period. One hundred years ago when farmers prepared their own meat for market many would also have undergone extensive training. My father was so trained and I gather that he did not stun sheep or pigs. Large beef steers were another matter. Eye witnesses say that sheep and pigs merely slipped away.

Dr Temple Grandin has written a great deal on slaughter welfare and advocates stunning but she has studied non-stun practice and attests that when done correctly it does not appear to cause pain. Here website is extensive. Here is a link to one of her papers.

Religious slaughter and animal welfare: a discussion for meat scientists.

She is clear non-stun slaughter performed to good standards is not unacceptable. When performed with unsuitable kit non-stun slaughter is not good. My support for non-stun practice is heavily qualified, as is Dr Grandin’s.

The Tweet that caught my eye:

MJ: … Even Tariq Ramadan has condemned the cruelty and waste.(See Tariq Ramadan Twitter).

BB(me): There plenty of good reasons to question our love affair with meat. Waste is surely a bigger issue with secular practice. Waste is an animal dying in vain

MJ: The animal wouldn’t care about whether it was wasted. Just pain and fear. Put yourself in its position

Discussion:

The name Tariq Ramadan is indicative of his being Muslim. Clearly his comments must allude to more than the issue of stunning. The Muslim position condemns cruelty. An animal that has suffered (at the hand of man) both in life and death cannot be considered halal.

The word “waste” caught my eye. In Biblical times the peoples who ate meat for sure understood the “sanctity of life”. Sacrificial rituals in part reflected their guilt for taking a sacred life. They worked out a right and wrong way of doing it humanely and hygienically.

Apart from birds most animals that they deemed suitable to eat were too big for the nuclear family to eat so they were shared around in the context of festivals, community gatherings at which the proverbial fatted calf was eaten. These festivals are one origin of charity or poor relief that is a strong feature in Isalm. Quite probably nothing that could be eaten or used, for example fleeces and hides, was wasted. To simply waste edible meat would have reinforced their guilt. What was inedible or used was offered to the Gods. It was burnt, in effect sterilised, so that the skeleton could be thrown away safely and not attract vermin. Nothing that could be utilised was wasted.

Tariq Ramadan must surely have been alluding to this thinking and practice.

That said, the word “waste” caught my eye for another reason. How much meat slaughtered to satisfy secular meat eaters is thrown away? How many unsold meat filled sandwiches do food retailers throw away? How many cook chill prepared meals are simply wasted because they have not been sold before a reasonable best before date?

How many of us think about where our meat came from when we consume it and how well it was actually treated – especially at death? How many of us offer a wee prayer to “Our Maker” thanking him for His bounty and by way of seeking forgiveness for taking a life to satisfy our needs. If we do not believe is a God or a Creator there is no one to thank and we can therefore only see animals and meat as a commodity. Therein lies a paradox. We do have feelings of guilt and we do have a concept of the sanctity of life requires us to give an account of our actions to ??? Would that ??? be God, or a god, or some other spiritual Supreme Being? That’s a discussion for another day.

MJ’s “The animal wouldn’t care about whether it was wasted. Just pain and fear. Put yourself in its position” suggests to me someone who needs to join up his/her thinking

Of course animals won’t know if they are about to be killed merely to be thrown into landfill or composted or burnt for energy. If they are killed on their own and in the absence of cues that suggest death they will have nothing to fear. However, pack them into a big lorry, however, drive them to the other end of the country, unload them straight into the slaughterhouse without any time in lairage in order to relax and chill out and they could well be stressed. If they are stressed they may not stun easily and their trauma will be compounded.

Now, to be frank this applies equally whether stunning is deployed or not. Animals that are agitated and tense when they cut will not cut easily. If the knife is not well sharpened and nick free it will lacerate or tear surrounding tissue and there may be bruising – both causing pain. Despite the blood a razor-sharp knife actually damages very little and presumably cuts through many nerves in its pathway. I do not doubt that nerves are stimulated but what sensations will the animal feel, when and for how long? Obviously we cannot be sure but most men will have experienced shaving nicks. Most of us have experienced the lightheadedness that precedes a faint. Neither can match a severe headache that must surely follow a mis-stun. How painful will an electric shock be if it is not effective first time?

Conclusion

The welfare of animals at slaughter is a big issue but let’s not kid ourselves that secular slaughter with stunning ritual and the religious fervour generated in defending it is fully informed. Very few people see what happens between the farm gate and the supermarket shelves. If we did care we would ask many more questions than we do. The people who slaughter on our behalves often detach themselves from the process. Slaughter is not a pretty site. It’s made slightly more tolerable because machines do the final deed. Even if operated my man there is a barrier between the man and the beast. That’s critical to our thinking.

True halal and kosher practice and custom creates a personal connection between man and beast. It’s close and personal. Now, that may well be the real issue in this debate. Secular practice is impersonal and we simply do not think or even care about it (until prompted) but so-called “religious” or “ritual” slaughter requires the consumer to reflect on the situation. Do Jews and Muslims reflect enough? Probably not but that’s a discussion for another day – except to say that bad practice can be found in both kosher and halal slaughter facilities trying to produce cheap meat in quantity while we rarely see what occurs in our secular slaughter temples.

Christians do do halal

http://www.iera.org/press-releases/halal-kosher-meat-controversy

A good read in which reference is made to Christians observing halal or kosher practices. 

Why would they not? Halal and Kosher slaughter practices that we often call religious or ritual slaughter. Apart from a prayer, that effectively thanks Our Creator or Our Maker (to keep this secular) there is no other aspect of slaughter practice that is remotely theological. Again to keep this secular most of us have some concept of spiritually and almost all of is have a sense of “sanctity of life”. Life is obviously given by Our Maker and arguably it’s in His remit to take. When mere mortal takes a life he owes it to the animal and Our Maker to seek forgiveness. 

There being only One Maker it makes little sense for Christians not to have retained the cultural practices of the region where Christ lived.

If there is any ritual in slaughter practice it will the procedure for sharpening the knife and checking its sharpness.

I difficulty understand why Christians disown their Muslim Brothers and Sisters. They do and one Christian community leader recently seriously attacked Islam in the print media. His Christian Brothers initially refused to reign in their wayward Brother. 

Some Christians believe their Muslim Brothers and Sisters follow a different deity and use the belief to reject their Brotherhood. But that argument does not add up. How can there be more than One deity? There can only be One Creator and both Christians and Muslims equate The Creator to God and Allah respectively. God and Allah must be One. 

I am no theologian but my simple brain gets this. Why do our learned spiritual leaders struggle with this and in turn “disown” their historical traditions?

Bruce Brown

The real reality of the halal slaughter debate – May 2104

The background to the halal slaughter debate may be a eureka moment in which secularists, even Christians, have woken up to the fact that killing animals to eat is messy.

Secularists and atheists in effect “believe” that you can depersonalise the process by placing technology or machines between the man and the animal. Stunning is anything but a fool proof procedure. It’s not clean and not clinical.

Muslims, it seems, have a closer relation with God than Christians. For them a man must confront God and the animal to be killed. The man says a prayer that in effect thanks Our Creator for his bounty and seeks forgiveness for taking a precious life. Who can object to this relationship between man and our Creator?

For those who do not “do God” and have no concept, however minimal, of a Creator, atheists for example, animals can only be just another commodity. I think that most of us do have some sense of spirituality – who am I; what am I here for; where am I going – and we have respect for life be it human or animal.

Underpinning Islam and far eastern religions is spirituality and how we manage our relationship with nature. We do not have to be religious to experience that relationship.

Most of us have more empathy with the Muslim approach than we may have thought.

Returning to the halal debate or debates – do we label halal and non-halal; do we label stun and non-stun; is non-stun processing cruel; and so on – are we denying the elephant in the room?

Halal slaughter is not the issue. It is not the issue because most halal certified meat is derived from animals and birds are stunned before slaughter. They are then broadly speaking slaughtered in the same manner in industrial complexes that do not lend themselves to proper non-stun slaughter, which Jews know a shechita and Muslims known as zabiha or dhabiha (the two words are the same and are only spelt differently because the actual pronunciation is somewhere between the “z” and “dh”).

Shechita or zabiha does not scale up. For small farm animals this is the procedure that British farmers must have used on their farms when they butchered their own meat and took to market in towns. (If they stunned routinely after stun guns had been invented I stand to be corrected.) Once slaughter was transferred to large slaughterhouses stunning became necessary in order to facilitate and process slaughter in volume. Stunning is a product of commercialisation. Muslim halal certification boards recognise this and much halal meat worldwide is derived from stunned animals.

The current debate has arisen because Secularists, and I guess Christians, have woken up. They have discovered that the reality between the farm gate and plastic covered joints sitting on supermarket shelves is a gruesome world that they never knew about, or chose to ignore. The journey from farm gate to stunning pen is not a pleasant experience for animals. Stunning itself is not a pain free clinical procedure. It’s prone to failure more often than we may imagine.

Recently the UK Food Standards Agency produce data on the frequency of stuns that was so good that UK authorities have kept the information secret for four or more years. The information was released as a table with notes in answer to a Parliamentary Question from the Associate Parliamentary Group on Animal Welfare (APGAW). The methodology for the data collection has not been subject to public peer review. Despite that the British Veterinary Association represented the information and came up with a mis-stun rate of 0.0004% – i.e. negligible.

How odd the European Food Standards Agency met as recently as December last year to design an EU wide tool for measuring the rate of mis-stuns. Although across the EU standards have improved not so long it was reported that as many as 1 in 3 animals were mis-stunned. I am sure that there has been improvement but no one really knows what the true incidence is.

An expert in the USA suggests that 6% mis-stuns 1 in 15 may be acceptable but in human medical terms even 1% or 1 in 100 would be considered clinically significant.

Secularists who are close to where it’s happening are telling me that the secular “ritual” for slaughter using stunning is superior to non-stun processing. Really? Jewish shochet are highly trained – trained over seven years – and some will have a lifetime of experience actually killing animals.

Secularists say that this debate is not about religion. Why then are they not engaging with shochet and their Muslim counterparts to discuss the issues?

This subject has come to light because Muslims are asking where their meat is coming from and how it’s been produced. Secularists are hiding behind a stun gun and are in denial. All slaughter is messy. In its place non-stun slaughter is humane. For its part stunning is a commercial intervention rather than a humane one. We need an open and informed debate. Muslims are up for it. Secularists?