Thursday, 20 December 2012

Should Christians be vegetarians?

A sketch of William Cowherd from a bust
Rev William Cowherd
This is a picture of Rev. William Cowherd who was an English priest and preached the message of vegetarian living being virtuous.

He believed eating meat was sinful as every living creature was inhabited by God.  This was about 200 years ago when society was very different with much poverty and illness caused by poor diets and ignorance.  Many people could not afford choice cuts of meat and used to eat offal instead.

Cowherd followed the teachings of Swedish theologian Emanuel Swedenborg which brought him into some conflict with the (then) English church and the remainder of his ministry was characterised by being controversial.  And yet he was followed and respected by a significant number and he somehow managed to remain a wealthy person.  He was also a philanthropist and had an effect on his successor in Manchester, Joseph Brotherton, who went on to form the Vegetarian Society in 1847. 

So, should Christians be vegetarians?
If you take on board the teachings of the Reverend William Cowherd, you certainly should but I don't think he's right about his reasoning.  If God was in every living creature, does that apply to fruit and vegetables as He also created them?  No of course not, these things were created for us to enjoy and be sustained by.

Christians should lead lives that are honouring to God.  Often I am reminded by a sermon I heard many years ago which urged people to ask "what would Jesus do?" in any situation where there was a choice to be made.  In our society today we have a huge industrial approach to farming where animals are bred, reared and slaughtered on a virtual production line.  They are often mistreated in inhumane ways.  They are pumped with all kinds of growth hormones and antibiotics in order to maximise efficiency.

In spite of the progress in efficient farming practices, we still have people starving in the world.  After all it is said one billion survive on under a dollar a day. Count those who live on two dollars a day and you have three billion people - many malnourished and involved in producing food for the developed world (ironically this is true).

Nowhere in the Bible does it advise us to be vegetarian; nowhere does it command us in the 21st Century to not eat meat. Indeed the Bible gives us some clues about the diets in Biblical times (including meat, fish etc) but we mustn't get side-tracked into this kind of argument because it distracts us away from what the whole message of the Bible (i.e the good news of the gospel).

So for me, it's simply a matter of personal choice.  This is based on a troubled conscience about the way society behaves and also because I believe I have a healthier diet because I take the trouble to make sure I get everything I need from a wide variety of foods.  I try not to be gluttonous, that clearly does not honour God.  

And me?

My main argument is this.  Being vegetarian does not define me as a Christian, it is not my duty as a Christian   However, it is right for me and I believe it is right for a whole load of reasons.  Yes I think we should all think about reducing the amount of land devoted to meat production (or even the production of Soya for animal feed), lead healthier lives, cut back on the terrible effects of obesity in the UK, USA and other places.  That is the main reason but also because there is such a rich and varied supply of non-meat products to meet our nutritional needs.

What about you?

Any thoughts on this?  If you're a Christian, what do you think?  Perhaps you're a committed vegetarian or meat-eater - all views welcome, just leave a comment below.

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