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    Environmentalism v. Taking Dominion {Part V}

    June 23, 2008 by Brandy Vencel

    I mentioned before that environmentalism is beginning to put pressure on the way people eat. I used the Eat Local movement as an example {while also pointing out that I think eating local has many benefits}.

    Corresponding to the Eat Local movement is another movement, that of “compassionate eating,” which involves vegetarianism or veganism. At a secular level, this is usually rooted in Darwinism, where, as Ingrid Newkirk, co-founder of PETA once explained,

    a rat is a pig is a boy is a dog.

    Si discussed this in his class on Sunday. If we all come from the same primordial ooze, we all have the same amount of value. We are all equal.

    There is also still the vague impression I always get from the environmental movement that human beings just don’t belong. When we think about it, “eating compassionately” is applying a double-standard. After all, other animals are carnivorous. But somehow, it can be said that it is “wrong” for a human {who, by the way, produces all the enzymes necessary for digesting meat} to eat an animal.

    There are always fringe groups out there defining their own morality. What concerns me more is the Christian vegetarian/vegan movement.

    But before I go on, please let me clarify that I do not think it is morally wrong to be vegetarian or vegan. I don’t want to be misunderstood. In the New Testament, there were lots of eating battles. Two cultures were attempting to merge into one Church {Jews and Gentiles were both believing in Jesus}. There were debates about clean and unclean meats and the place of the old Jewish dietary laws. There were also debates about meat that had been sacrificed to idols. Some folks’ consciences couldn’t handle the idea that their food had been given to some false god. One of the key passages concerning vegetarianism is in Romans 14:2-3:

    One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him.

    Here was the perfect opportunity for Scripture to condemn vegetarianism, and yet it never does. Because of this, I have no right to condemn it myself. This passage makes it very clear that we are to seek peace rather than fight about how we eat. In fact, Paul says in I Corinthians 8:13

    Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.

    I would connect these two passages and say that since vegetarianism is a sign of “weak faith” {other versions just say the person is simply weak, which might be a sign of having a sensitive spirit?}, we carnivores might need to defer at times. Most vegetarians I have met are very emotional and compassionate people. Our God is tender towards His people, and so we should be tender toward each other. We should protect those with weaker spirits; that is always the job of the strong.

    However, comma…

    There is now a full-fledged Christian vegan movement that will need to be checked in the next decade or so. After all, Romans 14 applies to both groups in that neither is to look down on the other. The Bible is clear that we are not to wound each other’s consciences {i.e., I Corinthians 8:12, I Corinthians 10:27}. If the strong are to protect the weak, it logically follows that the weak should not be making attempts to bring down the strong.

    The strong are in a unique position, a position which calls for a lot more wisdom. I can relate to the weak since my family has its own “dietary laws” brought on by food allergies. Allergies make a family legalistic about food–there are “good” foods and “bad” foods and, if the allergy is severe, there are no exceptions. But the strong make choices. For instance, there is moderation. Strong drink is acceptable, and so is meat, but the wisdom of Proverbs reminds us

    Do not be with heavy drinkers of wine,
    Or with gluttonous eaters of meat…

    As mentioned above, the strong also have to consider who they are eating with. If they are with someone particularly weak, or in an area where meat has been sacrificed to false gods, they must eat with extreme caution and perhaps abstain.

    Strength without wisdom is detrimental to the community and threatens the conscience of the weak. This is sometimes inconvenient, but it is part of the responsibility that comes with being strong. However, weakness, supported by secular fads, can threaten the strong and invent a new morality in the process. The weak will need to be gently reminded that the kingdom of God is not concerned with eating and drinking. However, while we are here on this earth {just as in eternity}, the most important thing is God’s glory:

    Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
    {I Corinthians 10:31}

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  • Reply Anonymous June 25, 2008 at 4:05 pm

    Nate said:

    I forgot to note that I am not the original anonymous! I just couldn’t post under my own name…

  • Reply Anonymous June 25, 2008 at 4:04 pm

    This is Nate, posting from the road. Thanks to Kristie for alerting me to this thread. Lots of good things to discuss here…

    I thought I’d pass along the following link to some videos which show what goes on at some factory farms:

    These videos are not for the squeamish. But I think it’s important to remember that the main moral issue behind the anti-factory farming movement is not that factory farming practices are aesthetically repugnant. Rather, it’s that these practices cause a great deal of suffering–suffering that could be prevented.

    Most Christians I know who are refuse to eat meat produced by factory farming do so simply because they see it as their Christian duty to prevent suffering, especially when that suffering is not essentially related to human health (as it is not for many middle class Christians who can afford to eat meat from humanely raised animals, or who can find adequate nutrition from vegetarian sources).

    Christians who oppose factory farming are often branded “Darwinist” or associated with some other label that they would reject. So I think it’s important to note that such Christians often explicitly reject the following claims:

    1. Humans are merely animals, and are no more morally valuable than non-human animals.

    2. Suffering is the only morally relevant factor in choosing to eat / not eat meat.

    3. It is intrinsically wrong to eat meat or kill animals.

    Some people who are against factory farming endorse these claims, but they are not essential to the case against that practice. In fact, to focus on these claims is to detract attention from arguments which begin with a premise to which everyone agrees: suffering is a bad thing (unless it is essentially linked to some good which outweighs it).

    On the flip side, it is important to note that many Christians who oppose factory farming explicitly ENDORSE claims like the following:

    4. Because they are made in the image of God, humans are immeasurably more morally valuable than non-human animals.

    5. Eating meat is morally permissible when it is necessary for human health.

    6. Eating meat is morally permissible even when it is NOT necessary for human health, provided that the meat comes from humanely raised animals.

    Finally, many of the Christians I know who oppose the factory farming movement are careful to avoid the fallacy of attributing to animals suffering that is on a par with human suffering. OF COURSE humans are capable of greater suffering than animals. And OF COURSE we should care more about human suffering than animal suffering. And OF COURSE we can’t know exactly how much animals really suffer from factory farming.

    But it doesn’t follow that we shouldn’t care about animal suffering. Rather, the Christian thing to do is to be consistent and do what we can to prevent suffering across the board. If we can’t know how much animals suffer from factory farming practices, then surely our default position should be to avoid these practices until we have good evidence that they don’t cause unnecessary suffering.

    I’m not yet a vegetarian or anti-factory farming advocate. But I think that some of these folks have arguments that are worthy of serious attention.

  • Reply Kristina June 25, 2008 at 3:27 pm

    In response to Anonymous: While I am not currently a vegetarian, I think it’s important to note a few things regarding the debate.

    I understand that the O.T. animal sacrifices, while gruesome, were set up by God to cause minimal suffering to the animals. Slitting the throat, for instance, caused instant death rather than prolonged suffering. Further, I’m not sure the existence of sacrifices in the OT is relevant to the way the current meat industry handles meat production. To make such an argument from one in favor of the other requires a big jump that I would need to see spelled out.

    If efficiency is the concern, I would question whether meat from factory farms actually goes to feed the starving poor, and whether there are more efficient ways to feed them. It would be best if man, in his created intelligence, could find a way to feed the hungry while maintaining proper treatment of animals. I am not sure a case has yet been made that factory farming is the best answer to feeding the hungry. I understand that many cultures throughout the world survive on vegetarian diets.

    I think this is becoming a more complex and difficult topic than it used to be. Hopefully this gives everyone a little more to chew on… =)

  • Reply Jeana June 24, 2008 at 10:27 pm

    Whoops! So you did. How did I miss that?

  • Reply Anonymous June 24, 2008 at 4:31 pm

    “that the factory farming is unnecessarily cruel toward animals, therefore poor stewardship of the earth and its resources (you could call this abuse of man’s rightful dominion).” I have a problem with this statement because again I think we have all watched too many Bambi movies. Factory farming has made man’s dominion more efficient because it takes less resources to feed more people, otherwise there are fewer people starving or having other nutritional health problems because of poor diets. We can all afford to eat meat which isn’t true where other methods of production are used. My emphasis is placed on the fact there is less human suffering.

    The second point about being cruel to animals is a little harder because I know there is abuse in some places but some of this notion comes from our humanization of animals and assume they feel as we do, which is Biblically unsupportable. We must remember that God had the Jews sacrifice animals by slitting their throats, which by our standards seem somewhat cruel and not for the squeamish. I remember watching my father butcher some animals and I must say I didn’t like it but in hindsight I wish he had made me be more involved because I think it is important to know where our food comes from. Who knows, I might have been a surgeon if I could have dealt with the blood and guts.

  • Reply Brandy June 23, 2008 at 7:11 pm


    In writing this I had TOTALLY forgotten that perspective, even though I’ve heard it before. That actually ties in nicely with the Taking Dominion issue, which I didn’t really touch on this time. If part of dominion is animal husbandry, if we are to care for the things God has put under us, if a righteous man cares for his animals, then surely this part of the issue must be taken into consideration. I know that, for our family, we hope to purchase Khaki Campbell ducklings next spring. We will begin to raise our own eggs in a manner that is caring towards the birds, and it should also maximize the nutrition for our family.

    Excellent point, Kris! Thanks for giving another perspective. This is what I love about blogging…

  • Reply Kristina June 23, 2008 at 6:46 pm

    The Christians I know who are considering and/or pursuing vegetarian diets do so on the grounds that the factory farming is unnecessarily cruel toward animals, therefore poor stewardship of the earth and its resources (you could call this abuse of man’s rightful dominion). I don’t have all the research at my fingertips, but I see this as a moral reason in favor of vegetarianism, and not as indication of “weakness” in the way Paul refered to weakness. I thought you’d want to be aware of this, and I think you’d agree this changes the discussion from “Is it sinful to eat animals?” to something more like “Is the current means of meat-production and our support of that industry for our consumption unethical?”

    Just some thoughts for you to chew on (no pun intended!)

  • Reply Brandy June 23, 2008 at 6:08 pm

    Yes, definitely moral reasons! I have met people who truly seem to feel better on a low-meat or no-meat diet. I have met people with pancreatic issues who do not produce the enzymes for digesting meat anymore. So I can see that there are practical reasons some folks would choose to be vegetarian or vegan. But I have recently encountered Christian vegans who are very close to declaring meat-eating a sin, and that is where we need to be careful. The “sin” issue usually stems from the idea that eating meat is against man’s design (of course, it would need to be explained how the sinless Christ regularly consume fish), or that it is immoral to kill an animal.

    By the way, I think I tackled the procreation issue a little bit in Part III if you are interested.

  • Reply Jeana June 23, 2008 at 5:53 pm

    I’m assuming you mean Christians who are vegetarian/vegan for moral reasons, not because they think it is nutritionally a healthier diet?

    Well thought out as always, Brandy. I wondered if you would bring up people who are choosing not to have children because it’s “the best thing for the environment” not to procreate. ??!!

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