Tag Archives: vegetarian

Why do Christians eat meat? (2)

Further to my first post under the heading “Why do Christians eat meat?” I found this:

Vegetarianism and Meat-Eating in 8 Religions

The article looks at eight European/Asian religions and their relationship to eat meat. Of these Jainism can be said to have the  most extreme views. Christianity (and possibly Islam) appears to be indifferent.

Western secular culture has arguably evolved from or been informed by a Christian value system. Atheists and Secularists seemingly eschew religious attitudes towards eating meat. Many perceive that religious taboos or considerations are man-made, artificial and attributed to a belief in a sky pixie or an imaginary friend.

This is a shame because from what I can see all religion is shaped and informed by a spiritual of Humanist attitude to and respect for, at least, sentient life.

The section on Islamic beliefs in of particular interest:

“In ancient times, meat-eating in Islamic countries was predicated on necessity. Pre-Islamic Arabs led a pastoral and nomadic existence in harsh desert climates where it would have been challenging, if not impossible, to survive on a vegetarian diet.”

“According to his earliest biographies, the Prophet Mohammed preferred vegetarian food, particularly favoring milk blended with yogurt, butter, nuts, cucumber, dates, pomegranates, grapes, figs and honey.”

“Mohammed was said to have been compassionate toward animals, and Islamic scriptures often command that all creatures be treated with care. … no creature should be harmed in Mecca …”

In The Prophet’s day people traded over large distances and into the Indian sub-continent where other religions would have been encountered. Did Mohammed’s thinking evolve from these interactions? For that matter the sect that Jesus belonged to seemingly likewise may have developed a vegetarian ideology.

Today for sure Muslims do eat a great deal of meat and animals and meat are traded over large distances in order to satisfy demand in many Muslim countries.

This excerpt raises an interesting point:

“Muslims who choose to abstain from eating meat do so for a variety of reasons. Some argue that, especially in the West, truly halal meat does not and cannot exist–that making meat halal is impossible in today’s industrialized world of factory farming. Even if the technical requirements of a halal slaughter are observed, the animals are not raised in humane and wholesome environments. They are physically abused and may be killed within view of other animals.”

I won’t develop my thoughts on this here other than to say that it confirms my belief that Muslims ought to ask themselves, “How halal is halal?” “Is a label or a halal certificate adequate?”

This statement from above may be hugely meaningful:

“Pre-Islamic Arabs led a pastoral and nomadic existence in harsh desert climates where it would have been challenging.”

I have no idea to what extent we can look at the Old Testament and view it as a reliable historical document but the exodus account must surely be based on something real. There is evidence to suggest that ancient Egyptians were mostly vegetarian. If this is so when the Hebrews under Moses leadership left Egypt they had to re-learn and adopt a nomadic lifestyle that they had forgotten. As I showed above nomadic peoples ate meat because in harsh environments it may not have been possible to live only on a vegetarian diet.

“Scholars of Judaism agree that God’s intention was for man to be vegetarian. ‘God did not permit Adam and his wife to kill a creature and to eat its flesh,’ “

If people were not used to killing animals and preparing meat to eat safely there would have been potentially serious public health consequences. On the one hand tainted meat would have led directly to food poisoning, which would have been a real issue, especially if water was not plentiful. They also had safely to dispose of the parts of the animal that they could not eat, the offal, excess fat and skeleton. You could not simply toss the waste into a spoil pit. It would have attracted scavenging pests, such as rats. That in turn would have presented other infection risks. It was burnt.

The article says of Christianity:

“Both vegetarians and meat-eaters find support in scriptures”

“Scholars tend to agree that many early Christians were vegetarians. St. John Chrysostom wrote: “We, the Christian leaders, practice abstinence from the flesh of animals to subdue our bodies.” Some experts assert that Matthew and all the Apostles abstained from eating meat.”

The idea that the first Christians were vegetarian has many proponents. That is not to say that they expected their followers necessarily to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle, however they were Jews and surely they would have promoted a kosher diet if meat was eaten.

That Muslims regard Jews and Christians, at least those living in what is now Saudi Arabia and around Mecca at the time of Mohammed, as “Peoples of the Book”. The “Book” is in essence the Old Testament, or specifically the Pentateuch, and people who followed it would have adopted kosher or halal practice.  These Christians would appear not to have been vegetarian but would presumably not have eaten pig meat.

For me the connection between Christianity and meat eating is very ambiguous. There seems to be an indifferent approach to the subject. Islam does not expound a vegetarian diet but has adopted codes and a way of life that is supposed to encourage Muslims to think about where their meat comes from.

Somewhere is the time of the early Christians there was a disconnect with traditional Jewish/kosher practice.

Mark 7 (NIV) opens by offering some parenthetical background information on  hygienic practices amongst Jews in the 1st Century CE:

1 The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus 2 and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed.  3 (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. 4 When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)

I have to say this has to provide strong evidence that Jesus had no need to observe the strict Jewish hygiene rules because he was not eating meat, and leaves me with the original question stands. “Why do Christians eat meat?”

 

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