Tag Archives: sacrifice

Why do Christians eat meat? (1)

Hardly a day passes on Twitter when someone does not criticise the Muslim practice of thanking Allah/God at the time they kill an animal to eat. Most people who condemn halal practice and completely disconnected with the methods used to produce the meat that they take for granted on the supermarket shelves. To many meat is just another commodity.

In the UK today many people would probably describe themselves as non-religious and many describe themselves as Christian are probably non-practising in that they do not pray and rarely attend church. Most people, therefore, have no concept of the background to Jewish kosher or Muslim halal practice because they live outside a religious environment. But why are practising Christians dismissive of kosher and halal practice?

Jesus and the sect that he joined were Jews. If they ate meat they would surely have eaten kosher. Kosher codes describe humane animal welfare in life and at slaughter, and hygienic cooking. What could be eaten would have been eaten. Because they could not keep raw meat for more than a couple of days eating meat became community events (hence the concept of holy days and festivals). They may well have gathered to celebrate a significant family or community event.

We probably misunderstand the meaning of “sacrifice”. Everything that could be eaten would have been eaten and not wasted. Hides or skins would have been salvaged and everything else that could not be eaten or used was burnt so that the skeletal remains could be disposed of safely so as not to attract vermin and scavengers that could bring disease.

If Jesus and his colleagues ate meat they would not have abandoned time-honoured good practice that was in fact more or less followed by many if not all religious cults at that time. I’ll hazard a guess and suggest that Jews may have done it better than many other peoples.

Somewhere along the line early Christians have lost touch with their heritage. Well not all of them – some Christians in the Middle East and North Africa have retained their cultural practices. Muslims include Jews and Christians in the term “Peoples of the Book” indicating that Christians living alongside Mohammed in and around what we call Saudi Arabia must have known how to prepare their meat the halal or kosher way.

Western Christians have little empathy with kosher and halal. Some indeed are openly hostile towards Jews and Muslims. A substantial number of Christians do not even accept that the One Creator God that Abraham followed is the same Creator God followed by Muslims. Allah is seen as a false God and presumably the world in which Muslims live is a false world. I know that does not make sense. If you believe in a Creator God there was only One Creation. Whether it was as described in Genesis or a Big Bang it happened once.

Part of the halal slaughter practice is the need for the person taking the life of an animal to thank God for his bounty and to seek forgiveness for taking the life. Many Christians cannot empathise with that. It is worth trying to understanding kosher slaughter. A Jewish shochet is not permitted to kill in anger. Thus if he gets out of bed on the wrong side he is not permitted slaughter that day. The whole process should be performed with a degree of solemnity.

If Jesus and his colleagues ate meat why would they have abandoned such practices? It is inconceivable.

I have seen a number of references to the possibility that the sect that Jesus joined was vegetarian. The Christian story most of us learn is that Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice.

Jill, Duchess of Hamilton wrote an article, “There is no role for animal sacrifice in Christianity”

Here is an excerpt:

Yet bloodless altars are a distinguishing feature of Christian churches. One of the tenets of the faith is that Jesus was the ultimate and final sacrifice. Christians atone for their sins without the shedding of blood. They look to Jesus as the lamb of God who made the ancient belief in sacrifice obsolete.

Sacrifice is how they prepared meat to eat in those days. Today’s word “slaughter” is a close synonym. The ancient skills were passed down by word of mouth, the oral tradition, from one generation of priests to the next. That is until the Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans the year 70CE. They could  no longer gather at The Temple to eat their meat. The practices were then written down or codified so that meat could be safely produced elsewhere. The skills of the priests were transferred to rabbis.

Now I pose the question, if Jesus and his associates ate meat would not all of today’s Christians have empathy with kosher practice and even try to follow it? On the other hand Jesus overthrew the money changers’ table in the Temple. The Temple authorities seemingly had monetized sacrifice and made it a business. Jesus challenged the establishment. This supports the concept that Jesus may have been vegetarian.

If this is so, why do Christians eat meat as they do?

I have just come across this:

Compassionate Eating

The writers drawn attention to the idea of “stewardship” of the planet:

Our Planet – Being the Best Steward You Can Be

In Genesis 2:15, God instructed Adam to “till” and “keep” the Garden of Eden, and by analogy we may see caring for God’s Creation as our sacred task. The typical meat eater’s diet requires up to 14 times more water and 20 times more energy than that of a vegetarian. Indeed, current use of land, water, and energy is not sustainable, and resource depletion threatens to cause great hardships for humankind this century.

A recent report concluded that worldwide livestock production contributes 51% of humanity’s greenhouse gasses. The most important thing people can do to reduce their contribution to global warming is to reduce their use of animal products.

In closing I eat meat but increasingly I look for vegetarian options on menus. I have written this because in my view Christians who oppose halal and kosher practices, especially the former, must seriously and robustly be challenged. Those who promote a vegetarian diet cannot be questioned but those who attack halal but eat meat themselves really do need to study their history.

For people who have no empathy with religion and who struggle with “religious slaughter” I can only say that our religious ancestors did not create ritual just for the hell of it. The academics and/or priests of the day would surely have clocked that there good and bad ways of prodcuing meat. Get it wrong and they were punished for the sin of taking a life in the form of food poisoning and other diseases that would have had a big impact on public health.

 

Christians say grace at meal times

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.