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News :: Education : Environment : Human Rights : Labor : Social Welfare
Jesuit Priest & War Resister: Vegetarianism An Ethical Imperative
27 Jul 2008
animal rights, energy, environment,
world food, health, and origins in
Christian history of vegetarianism

by Fr. John Dear, S.J.

(These beautifully printed pamphlets done with purple print and pictures are available in bulk from PETA for distribution at churches and elsewhere. 501 Front St. Norfolk VA 23510 USA
757 622 7382 Please request
they be printed on recycled paper, if they are not already.

My name is John Dear and I'm a Catholic priest, a peace activist, a writer, and a vegetarian. I've traveled the world promoting peace and nonviolence and served as the executive director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the largest and oldest interfaith peace organization in the United States. I'd like to reflect with you about Christianity and vegetarianism.

When I look at the world today, I see a culture addicted to violence. As I write, there are more than 30 wars being waged. There are more than 1 billion people suffering from malnourishment and its effects. There are more than 2 billion people without access to clean water, barely surviving in dire poverty.
According to the United Nations, about 60,000 people, mostly women and children, die every single day from starvation and starvation related diseases. Right here in the U.S., we see executions, rampant homelessness, and injustices of all kinds, including racism and sexism. And in the U.S. alone, we kill more than 9 billion land animals each year by slitting their throats, sometimes while they're still conscious. We also kill more than 15 billion sea animals, generally by suffocation, bodily decompression, or crushing, every single year.

I agree with Mahtma Gandhi, Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker movement, and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that the only way out of the culture of violence is through the ancient wisdom of nonviolence. I remember what Dr. King said the night before he was assassinated. "The choice before us is no longer violence or nonviolence; it's violence or nonexistence." That's where we stand today, on the brink of a new culture of nonviolence or the
brink of nonexistence.

Nonviolence begins with the insights that all life is sacred, that all human beings are children of the God of Peace, and that as God's children, we are
under certain obligations. Of course, we should never hurt nor kill another
human being, wage war, build nuclear weapons, or sit idly by while millions
of human beings starve to death each year. Nonviolence invites us, also,
to reevaluate the way we treat animals in our society. While we resist
violence, injustice and war and while we practice nonviolence, seek peace,
and struggle for justice for the poor, we are also invited to break down the species barrier, extending our belief in Christian compassion to the animal
kingdom by, among other things, adopting a vegetarian diet.

As I look at the world and reflect on the urgent question of violence and
nonviolence, I turn, as a Christian, to Jesus. Gandhi said that Jesus was
the greatest practitioner of nonviolence known in history. If we know
anything about Jesus, it is that he rejected and resisted violence and practiced nonviolence. As the soldiers were taking him away to torture and
execute him, another victim of the death penalty, his last words to his
community of friends were, "Put away the sword". After his execution, God
raised him from the dead, and he returned to his friends with the greeting
of peace, inviting them to follow him into God's reign of peace and justice.
He invites us to follow him as well.

Since 1982, I have been attempting to take seriously Jesus' call of nonviolence. I have organized demonstrations, been arrested for acts of
civil disobedience, and taken every opportunity to speak out, in books and
articles and retreats, from college auditoriums and inner city streets to pulpits
across the country, about Christian nonviolence. I've also traveled into the
war zones of the Middle East, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Haiti, Northern Ireland, and Iraq to learn about and speak out against the injustices
that we inflict on so many people.

When I began my journey of Christian peacemaking 20 years ago, I read several books about Mahatma Gandhi, that great teacher of peace and leader of revolutionary nonviolence. Gandhi was seeking personal and spiritual
wholeness. He had lived and worked for justice in South Africa, struggled nonviolently for India's independence, and spent two hours of every day in
meditation and prayer. He vowed to live simply, to speak the truth, and to practice nonviolence. And he refused to eat meat or fish, declaring that
'the life of a lamb is no less precious than that of a human being.'

I was inspired by Gandhi to profess a vow of nonviolence, as he did, so that I could take this spiritual commitment seriously for the rest of my life. And
in 1982 I became a vegetarian. I feel that Gandhi and his example have
helped me to be a better follower of Jesus, to walk the way of nonviolence,
and to move toward greater wholeness as a human being.

Vegetarianism As A Way To Help End World Hunger.

At about the time I was studying Gandhi, I read a powerful book by Frances
Moore Lappe called Diet For A Small Planet. Lappe argued that we
could help end world hunger by redistributing our wealth and resources to the
poorer people of the world, cutting back on our militarism, and becoming
vegetarians. She pointed out that more and more basic grains around the
world, instead of going to local communities of malnourished people, are grown
and given to animals who are used for their milk or eggs and later slaughtered
or who are raised only to be slaughtered for meat. In both instances, the
animal products are consumed by the people of the developed "First" World
and their few rich emissaries in the developing world, rather than by the
starving masses.

Ten years ago, China was a net grain exporter, and it seemed certain that it
would continue to export grain. But instead, as a direct result of increasing
consumption of animal products, primarily pigs, China is now one of the
world's top grain importers. The practical effect on people is only beginning
to be felt in China. According to groups like the Worldwatch Institute, all
developing countries that rely on animal agriculture will experience similar
consequences and the resulting increase in starvation and misery as well.

It is profoundly disheartening to remember that during the famine in Ethiopia
in the mid-1980's and during the famine in Somalia in the early 1990's, those
countries continued to export grains to Europe to feed its cows, pigs, and
chickens so that First World people could eat meat. Likewise, while people
suffer and die in Central and South America, the countries there ship their
grains to the U.S. to feed our cows, pigs, and chickens so that we can satisfy
our desire for animal flesh, milk, and eggs.

Frances Moore Lappe argues rightly that we should all work to eliminate
hunger and protect the environment and that one important step we can each take is to become a vegetarian. To me, working to abolish hunger, war,
and violence is a basic moral and ethical duty for everyone. Furthermore, for me as a Christian, it is a basic religious and spiritual obligation -- a commandment, required by God. Frances Moore Lappe helped me to make the
connection between justice, solidarity, and the life of nonviolence, and I
quickly became a vegetarian. I hope that others will, too, and that we can all
take another step toward a more nonviolent, more just world.

The Biblical Vision of Compassion and Nonviolence

There are other good reasons for becoming a vegetarian, and I'd like to review
a few of them, including the witness of the scriptures, a basic reverence and
compassion toward God's creatures, responsible stewardship of the Earth,
and respect for ones own health.

In God's initial and ideal world, represented in the book of Genesis by the
Garden of Eden, there was no suffering, no exploitation, and no violence at all. People and animals were vegetarians, as we read in the first chapter of
Genesis. "God said, 'See I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the Earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you
shall have them for food.' " (Gen 1:29) Immediately after creating this
beautiful, nonviolent, non-exploitative world, God describes it as "very good".
This is the only time in the narrative that God calls creation "very good"
instead of merely "good" -- and this immediately follows God's command with
regard to vegetarianism.

But after the Fall, people waged war, held one another as slaves, ate meat, and committed every atrocity imaginable. After the flood, when the world's
vegetarian was destroyed, we are told, God allowed humans to eat meat.
Scholars argue that within the context of the story, this was only a
temporary permission, based on human violence and sinfulness. God gives us
free will and allows us the freedom to reject God and God's way of nonviolence, but God tried to help us to become less violent by commanding
people to observe God's laws. In the Mosaic legal system, there are more than
150 laws regarding meat-eating, but the vision of Eden is still the ideal and
the goal. Indeed, Leviticus strictly prohibits the eating of anything with fat
or blood, and many argue that the law of Moses actually forbids the eating of
flesh entirely, because it's impossible to get blood totally out of meat.

The best example of a vegetarian in the Bible is Daniel, the nonviolent resister
who refuses to defile himself by eating the king's meat. He and three friends
actually become much healthier than everyone else through their vegetarian
diet. They also become 10 times smarter, and "God rewards them with
knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom." Throughout the marvelous stories that follow, we hear of someone who remains faithful to God, refuses to worship the emperor's false gods and unjust ways, and practices a steadfast nonviolence. And this marvelous story begins with divine approval
of vegetarianism.

The book of the prophet Isaiah proclaims the vision of the peaceable kingdom,
that new realm of God where everyone will beat their swords into plowshares,
refuse to study war, enjoy their own vine and fig tree, and never fear again.
Several passages condemn meat-eating and foresee a day when people and animals will adopt a vegetarian diet, when "the wolf shall dwell with the lamb
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid... They do no violence, no harm,
on all my holy mountain." (Is 11: 6-9). Of course, God's covenant is always with "all flesh", animal and human, and in the conclusion to Isaiah, God speaks
of those who kill animals in the same way as those who murder people and heralds the dawn of a new day of peace.

According to the prophet Hosea, God says, "I will make a covenant on behalf
of Israel with the wild beasts, the birds of the air, and the creatures that creep on the earth, and I will break every bow and sword and weapon of war
and sweep them off the Earth, so that all living creatures may lie down without living in fear."

All these beautiful visions of the prophets reach their fulfillment, according to
Christianity, in the life of Jesus. Jesus is "the new Adam," who returns us to
the totally nonviolent Garden of Eden. He is "The Prince of Peace" who ushers
in God's vision of nonviolence, mercy, and justice. Jesus spent his life healing
the broken, liberating the oppressed, calling for justice, practicing nonviolence, and confronting the structures of oppression by turning over the
tables of injustice. By the time he was 33, the ruling authorities had had
enough and they executed him.

As I consider what it means to be a Christian today, reflecting on the radical,
nonviolent life of Jesus, I believe that today Jesus sides with the starving,
the homeless, the refugees, and the children of the world, who continue to be crushed by First World greed and warmaking. If Jesus lived in our culture
of nonviolence, he would do everything he could to confront the structures
of death and call for a new culture of peace and life. He would want us to change every aspect of our lives, to seek complete physical, spiritual,
emotional and ethical wholeness, to become people of nonviolence, children of the God of Peace. Anglican priest, theologian, and Oxford professor the
Rev. Dr. Andrew Linzey suggests that following Christ means casting our lost with the most oppressed. In his book Animal Theology he says that today, no beings are more oppressed than the animals who are treated so badly by
the meat industry. I conclude that, as Christians, we must side with the poor
and oppressed peoples of the world and with animals.

In fact, the Gospels are full of favorable references to animals and reveal that
Jesus had a great reverence for animals and nature. As Lewis Regenstein
points out in his book Replenish The Earth: A History of Organized Religions'
Treatment of Animals and Nature, Jesus calls his followers 'sheep'. He compares his concern for Jerusalem with a hen's caring for her brood. He likens himself to animals, such as a lamb and a dove, because of their innocence and meekness. "Behold the birds of the air" Jesus says, "They do
not sow, they do not reap, nor do they gather into barns, yet your heavenly
Father feeds them." (Mt. 6:26). "Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies?"
Jesus later asks. "And yet not one of them is forgotten by God." (Lk 12:6)

Indeed, in John's Gospel, Jesus describes himself as a "Good Shepherd" and notes that a good shepherd lays down his life for his flock of sheep. Dare we
conclude that Jesus supports the ultimate act of compassion and love, to die
nonviolently, even to protect animals?

Jesus embodied nonviolence and compassion. The rest of us are called to follow in his gentle footsteps. Yet few have approached him. I think of St.
Francis of Assisi, who walked among the poor, preached peace, and in particular, loved and celebrated all of creation, including animals. "Not to hurt
our humble brethren, the animals", he said, "is our first duty to them, but to
stop there is not enough. We have a higher mission: to be of service
to them whenever they require it. If you have people who will exclude any of
God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity," he said, "you will
have people who will deal likewise with other people."

Rev. Dr. Linzey suggests, like St Francis, that human beings should act not as the master species, but as the servant species. Chrsit came as a humble
servant and called us to love and serve one another and not to harm anyone.
Linzey suggests that the Gospel call to service includes selfless service and
justice not only to the poor and oppressed, but to all creation, including
animals. In this, we become more Christlike.

Many early Christians advocated vegetarianism, including Tertullian, the great
advocate of nonviolence, St John Chrysostom, the patriarch of Constantinople, and St. Jerome, a doctor of the church and an early translator of the Bible. The theologian Clement of Alexandria urged Christians
to become vegetarians, saying "It is far better to be happy than to have your
bodies as graveyards for animals."

It is clear that for the first three centuries after Christ, a Christian could not
kill or participate in war. Christians were nonviolent. Some scholars argue that most early Christians were also vegetarians and that meat-eating was
not officially allowed until the fourth century, when the church embraced
Constantine and the Roman Empire. Then, just as Christians rejected Jesus'
nonviolence and devised the heresy of the so-called "just war theory", they
deliberately approved meat-eating.

Regardless of this past practice, though, the question we Christians have to
ask ourselves is how can we become more Christlike and more faithful to the
nonviolent Jesus. Where in our lives could we be more merciful, more
compassionate? In our own times, Christians around the world are waking up to the Gospel imperative to pursue peace and justice for all people, to reject
war, and to practice the active nonviolence of Jesus. They are also rethinking our mistreatment of animals and the rest of creation. Many are
becoming vegetarians. In 1966, the Vatican newspaper wrote for the first
time "To ill-treat animals and make them suffer without reason is an act of
deplorable cruelty to be condemned from a Christian point of view." Other
bishops began to include cruelty toward animals under the basic sin of
violence. In December of 2000, the Vatican newspaper pointed out that the
Catholic Catechism says it is "contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly." The article went on to question the way animals
are raised and killed for food today.

Theologian Thomas Berry sums up the growing trend among Christians: "Vegetarianism is a way of life that we should all move toward for
economic survival, physical well-being, and spiritual integrity." In other words,
one more way that we Christians can welcome Christ's reign of nonviolence is
by becoming vegetarians.

So, when we sit down to eat, when we say our grace and invoke the
blessing of Jesus, we should also choose to adhere to his life of compassion and nonviolence by maintaining a vegetarian diet. And we know that as we
practice mercy to one another and to all God's creation, we too shall receive
mercy and blessings, as Jesus promised in the Beatitudes.

Yet the reality today for God's creatures is neither compassionate nor merciful. Our treatment of God's animals is cruel and gruesome. Each year,
the United States raises and kills about 9 billion land animals and slaughters another 15 billion sea animals. Laying hens, who are raised for their eggs,
spend their entire lives crammed into wire-mesh cages not much larger than
file drawers and stacked in warehouses with tens of thousands of other birds.
Conditions are so horrendous that their feet often grow through and around
the wires. One-third of the birds suffer broken legs on the packed and painful
ride to the slaughterhouse, which often entails days without food or water
through all weather extremes. One egg represents 34 hours of suffering for a
hen, not to mention the ride to the slaughterhouse and slaughter itself. Two
hundred and fifty million male birds are suffocated or ground to death. They
are useless for the egg industry and are a different strain of bird from those
used for meat.

Meanwhile, chickens, pigs, turkeys, dairy cows, and beef cows are genetically
bred and fed drugs to make them grow faster, separated from their families
at birth, and mutilated without any painkillers. Chickens have their beaks
chopped off with a hot blade. Cows and pigs are castrated. Cows have their
horns cut off. Pigs have their teeth pulled out with pliers and their tails
chopped off. They all suffer the mental and physical anguish of living in
tiny spaces with no relief, no opportunity to act on any of their natural desires and needs, and no hope for escape.

They are transported without food or water to a hellish death. Dairy cows and other animals who can no longer walk are dragged from the trucks, breaking more bones in the process. They are killed by being hung upside down and bled to death from a slit throat, often skinned and hacked to bits
while still conscious. "If slaughterhouses had glass walls," as Paul McCartney
says, "everyone would go vegetarian."

If these farmers, slaughterhouse workers, and truck drivers treated dogs and cats in this manner, they would undoubtedly be prosecuted for animal abuse.

It is important to remember also that most animals raised for food are like
"Frankenstein" animals. They have been genetically bred to grow so quickly that their hearts, lungs, and limbs cannot keep up. Chickens, for example, now
grow more than twice as quickly as they did just 30 years ago and are slaughtered before they are even 2 months old. On average, cows give about
4 times as much milk as they would naturally, and many give 10 or 13 times
as much milk, their udders literally dragging on the ground. Turkeys have
been genetically bred so that they can't even mate naturally anymore.

In fact, a few years ago, the Washington Post published a Thanksgiving
story about turkeys entitled, "Techno-Turkeys: Serving Up Science For
dinner." We are playing Dr. Frankenstein with God's creatures. We are pursuing our demonic addiction to violence with our unimaginable cruelty not
only to one another but to God's creatures as well. Gandhi said that you can
judge a society by the way it treats its animals. And yet, every single day,
we inflict pain, suffering, and death on millions of God's animals.

Tolstoy insisted that "vegetarianism is the taproot of humanitarianism." Vegetarianism proves that we're serious about our belief in compassion and
justice, that we're mindful of our commitment, day in and day out, every time
we eat. We are reminded of our belief in mercy, and we remind others. We
begin to live the nonviolent vision right here and now.

Over the centuries, the human race has grown slowly in its awareness of and respect for human rights, including the right to life itself. It is now generally
understood that oppression and exploitation of human beings because of their
race, gender, religion, age, and physical ability are unacceptable. As we
continue to grow in our moral consciousness, we will learn to abolish war,
nuclear weapons, and violence itself. We will also learn to protect the Earth and break down the species barrier while embracing our responsibility toward
all creation.

Albert Einstein called human bigotry against other species an "optical
illusion of consciousness". Our task, he said, is "to free ourselves from this
prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures."

The great humanitarian and theologian Dr Albert Schweitzer, in his Nobel
Peace Prize acceptance speech, stated, "Compassion, in which all ethics must
take root, can only attain its full breadth and depth if it embraces all
living creatures and does not limit itself to humankind."

Many Christians who agree that harming a dog or cat is wrong think nothing
of harming cows, pigs, chickens, fish, and other creatures. We need to understand that if we're eating meat, we are paying people to be cruel to
animals. For the simple reasons that all animals are creatures beloved by God
and that God created them with a capacity for pain and suffering, we should
adopt a vegetarian diet.

Vegetarianism As A Way To Protect The Earth

Another reason for becoming vegetarian is to help protect the environment. Mainstream environmental groups such as the Sierra
Club, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the World Watch Institute, and the National Audubon Society are drawing attention
to the environmental havoc generated by raising animals for food and commercial fishing. In fact, one cannot be a meat-eating
environmentalist; it's a contradiction in terms.

The harsh reality is that raising animals for food is steadily polluting and depleting our land, water, and air. In the U.S., 20 times as much energy is required to produce a calorie of animal
flesh as the amount needed to produce a calorie of vegetable
food. We wastefully cycle 70 percent of all that we grow, such as soy, corn, wheat, and other grains, through animals, rather than eating these foods directly. Likewise, more than half of all the water used in the U.S. is used to raise animals for food, which is why meat-eaters require at least 14 times as much water for their
diets as do vegetarians. Also, the intensive production of animals
for meat requires about 25 times as much land as the production of the same amount of food from vegetable sources.

And that's not all. It's not just inefficient to eat animals. The 9 billion land animals that we raise for food in the U.S. excrete 130 times as much waste as the entire human population of the United States--130 times! And there are no waste treatment systems for animals.That stuff is swimming with bacteria, hormones, antibiotics, and insecticides. Quite simply, it's toxic waste, and it is the number one source of water pollution in the U.S.

Meanwhile, the fishing industry is steadily ruining the world's delicate marine ecosystems. The fishing industry drags driftnets
that are miles long along the bottom of the ocean, destroying everything in their path. Factory trawlers are vacuuming the oceans of sea life at an alarming pace. Thirteen of the 17 major global fisheries are either depleted or in serious decline. The other four are "overexploited" or "fully exploited". These same trawlers dump unprofitable, often dead, animals back into the oceans, along with massive amounts of debris and spent fuel.

A former cattle rancher named Howard Lyman, now executive
director of EarthSave International, urges people to become vegetarians, arguing that among other things, meat-eating is destroying valuable and irreplaceable topsoil. He's the person who was sued, along with Oprah Winfrey, by Texas cattle ranchers after he discussed the possibility of Mad Cow Disease in the U.S. -- and the jury ruled in his favor. Lyman points out that our soil used to be teeming with life, but now it is lifeless brown dirt. In fact, 85% of topsoil erosion in this country is a result of raising
animals for food.

So, if you're reusing bags, using a shower saver, turning off lights when you leave the room, and trying to walk and bicycle rather than driving, that's great! But to become even better stewards of the Earth and God's creation, we also need to take the next step and become vegetarian.

Recently I asked a young Christian friend why he became a vegetarian. He said that the change took place when he learned of the environmental destruction caused by the corporate meat
industry. He could not in good conscience and good faith continue eating meat knowing that he was supporting the destruction of the planet. It went against everything he wanted his life to be about. He said "We are destroying the ecosystem by creating massive chicken, cow and hog factories, poisoning the water, and tearing down the rain forests -- all to produce meat. We're destroying the entire ecosystems of most poor countries. This whole corporate meat business is destructive. If millions of us become vegetarian, we will reduce the demand and help save the planet."

Vegetarianism As A Path To Health And Wholeness

Another basic reason to become a vegetarian is to promote good
health. God has given us our bodies as gifts, and we need to treat them well, so that we can serve others and be instruments
of God's peace. Up until about 15 years ago, it was assumed by
most physicians that human beings had to eat meat to survive.
Nowadays, not only is everyone in agreement that our bodies
thrive on a vegetarian diet, medical groups like the American
Dietetic Association (ADA) and the American Medical Association
(AMA) have also concluded that vegetarians are actually healthier.
Vegetarians tend to weigh less and suffer at a fraction of the rate
of meat-eaters from heart disease, cancer, and stroke--America's three biggest killers. Meat is entirely devoid of carbohydrates and
fiber, the nutrients that we need to keep our bodies in good working order. But meat does have heavy doses of artery-clogging
saturated fat and cholesterol.

In particular, the only two researchers who have ever been documented to have successfully reversed heart disease, by far
America's biggest killer, include an exclusively vegetarian diet as
part of their health programs. On the Dr. Dean Ornish and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn programs, patients become "Heart attack proof"
to quote Dr Esselstyn, by getting their cholesterol levels lower than 150, the level below which no one has ever been documented
as having had a heart attack. The average vegan cholesterol level is 128. It's also worth noting that vegetarians, on average, weigh 10 to 30% less than meat-eaters, and people on Dr. Ornish's program lose an average of 20 pounds in the first year,
and they keep it off.

People who consume animal products are 40 percent more
susceptible to cancer and are more likely to suffer from stroke.,
appendicitis, arthritis, diabetes, and food poisoning. Additionally,
meat contains insecticides and other chemicals up to 14 times more concentrated than those in plant foods. If we want to live a
healthy, wholesome, full life, we are wise to become vegetarians.

The Rev. George Malkmus, a Baptist preacher in North Carolina,
argues that Christians should set an example of good health. What
does it say about our faith when we Christians are dropping over
dead from diet-related, preventable diseases at the same rat as
everyone else in this country, he wonders. He thinks that
vegetarianism, because it makes us healthier, makes a good
evangelical tool, and I agree. God wants us to be healthy, to life life to its fullest. Likewise, Rev, Robert Schuller, pastor of the Crystal Cathedral and star of the Hour of Power, recommends what he calls the "Garden of Eden diet". It's the diet that God called us to in the Garden, he says, the diet intended for us, to help us lead long and productive lives. He cites vegetarian fitness
superstar Jack LaLanne as one example of what a diet based on
grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables can do for our vitality.

Vegetarianism As A Way To Support Human Rights

Another reason for becoming vegetarian is simply to support basic
human rights. A vegetarian diet is the only diet for people who care about the suffering of other people. Domestically, slaughter-
houses are dens of death not just for animals, but for the unfortunate people who work in them. Slaughterhouses have the
highest rate of injury, the highest turnover rate, the highest repeat-injury rate, and the highest rate of accidental death of any industry in the country. In fact, slaughterhouse workers have nine times the injury rate of coal mines in Appalachia.

A few years ago, the Center For Public Integrity, a congressional watchdog group, released a report called "Safety Last: The Politics of E Coli and Other Food Borne Killers." This report points out that slaughterhouses are continually searching for replacement workers and have to bus people up from Mexico and Central America to slaughterhouses in Iowa, Minnesota, and
elsewhere. "Just as easily as the meat-packing companies court and transport immigrant labor to their Midwestern plants, " the report says, "they betray them, turning them and their families over to the immigration authorities. And in the ultimate act of cruelty and corruption, the companies then seek out the lucky ones that escaped the immigration raids to hire them back to stand on the killing floor." The same point was made in a more
recent book called Fast Food Nation by investigative journalist Eric Schlosser.

Should Christians support this unjust treatment of workers? Of course not. Jesus put it simply: "Whatever you do to the least of
these, you do to me." He insists that we side with the poor and oppressed--and that includes the undocumented, the immigrant,
the refugee, and the factory worker -- in their struggle for justice.
We can and should withdraw our financial support for this violent and unjust industry by becoming vegetarians.

As we look back on very recent history, we see an astonishing
array of positive social change. Many good and thoughtful people of the 19th Century did not recognize the basic human rights of women, children, Native Americans, or African-Americans. Human slavery flourished until the end of the 1800's in the United States. Women were given the right to vote less than 100 years ago. The very first child abuse case was prosecuted in this country, also, less than 100 years ago. In each case, the Bible was used to bless and defend injustice. But, thank God, we have taken steps toward justice. Yet, unfortunately, we continue to use the scriptures to defend violence and justify war, executions, animal
abuse, and nuclear weapons as if God wanted us to be violent and
kill. I am convinced that God is a God of peace and nonviolence and that Jesus wants us to be people of peace and nonviolence.

We have come a long way in the last century, but we still have a
long way to go. We need to abolish hunger, poverty, war, nuclear
weapons, animal abuse, the death penalty, racism, sexism and
every other form of violence. I think that centuries from now
people of faith and conscience will look back at our times in shock and amazement that we ate meat, permitted people to starve, treated one another so unjustly, waged war, built huge nuclear
arsenals, and remained hell-bent on destroying the planet.
If we are to survive, as Dr. King said, we need to become people
of nonviolence. One simple first step is to adopt a vegetarian

"Nothing will benefit human health and increase {our} chances for
survival," Albert Einstein concluded, "as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet."

Despite all the problems of our times, I remain hopeful. More and more people are seeing the wisdom of nonviolence, including the
wisdom of vegetarianism. In the U.S. alone, more than 1 million
people adopt a vegetarian diet every year. As these trends gain
momentum, they will have dramatic and positive consequences
for our health, our environment, animal welfare, human rights, and,
indeed, our disposition toward compassion and nonviolence.

"The time will come," Leonardo da Vinci said, "when {people] ..
will look upon the murder of animals as they now look upon the murder of men and women." I am convinced that society will look
back on human arrogance and cruelty toward other animals with the same horror and disbelief that we presently reserve for atrocities committed against human beings. And as we stop eating meat and become vegetarians, we take another step into God's way of nonviolence. We will be blessed.

Let me conclude wit a quote from author Lewis Regenstein: "There are compelling moral, spiritual and scriptural reasons to abstain from meat. The raising transporting and
slaughtering of food animals entails enormous mistreatment and suffering to literally billions of creatures each year, in addition to the massive damage to the environment. Indeed, raising livestock is more destructive in depleting topsoil, groundwater and energy resources than all other human activities combined, as well as causing enormous environmental damage such as clearing of forests, destruction of wildlife habitat, and pollution of rivers and
lakes. And the consumption of meat and dairy products... is linked to high rates of cancer, heart disease, strokes, and other potentially fatal health disorders. Therefore refraining from eating meat helps prevent cruelty to animals and promotes protection of the environment and the health of ones body, the "Temple of the Lord". For all these reasons, a vegetarian diet is one good way of maintaining a lifestyle consistent with the humane and ecological spirit of the Scriptures."

A Few Last Questions

Having said all that, I'm sure there are a few questions hanging in the air such as, "But, John, didn't Jesus eat meat?" Some biblical
scholars conclude that Jesus didn't eat meat. All agree that Jesus wants us to practice perfect compassion throughout our lives. As we've seen, the world we live in today is a world of poverty,
starvation, violence, and environmental destruction, and eating meat only entrenches these problems.

So the real question is, what would the nonviolent Jesus want us to do today, in such a world of rampant violence? I believe that he
would want us to do everything we can to help end violence and
turn this into a world of nonviolence and compassion. This would
include becoming a vegetarian.

Others ask, "But doesn't God condone animal sacrifice?" The Hebrew scriptures are filled with stipulations about when and how to slaughter animals, but I do not think that this justifies eating animals. The Mosaic law was trying to reduce violence. The Bible is
filled with laws permitting war, polygamy, slaveholding and other forms of violence, but these laws mitigated evil practices that
were already occurring. Laws about them were, at the time, intended to limit human sinfulness, to reduce our violence, and to
hasten the advent of a new world without violence. When Jesus
entered the picture, he insisted on radical nonviolence and compassion. He let us know that he prefers the sacrifice of our own hearts and lives for the sake of justice and peace. He is far more radical than any of us can imagine.

As Gandhi said, Jesus practices the revolution of nonviolence par excellence. He reveals that God is a God of nonviolence and wants
us to enter that life of nonviolence. The Christian Gospels quote the prophets, call for peace, and uphold God's original vision of the
Garden of Eden. They insist that Jesus called us to live here and now in the reign of God, a reign of peace and nonviolence that includes compassion toward one another, all creatures, and the
Earth itself. The point, Jesus said, was not sacrifice, but compassion, not violence, but nonviolence.

In a world of massive violence and suffering, why not take whatever steps we can to become more compassionate, more nonviolent, more faithful to the peacemaking Christ? Why not become a vegetarian, for the love of God and all God's creatures?
Your health will benefit. The environment will be better off.
Animals will suffer less. And your spirituality will deepen and mature. The only reasons to keep eating meat are selfishness and gluttony, which are not exactly Christian ideals. We can all do
better than that.

The time has come to take another step with Jesus on the road
of nonviolence. The time has come to be a vegetarian.

Thank you for your attention and for reflecting with me on these
questions. May the God of Peace bless us all and help us to become, like Jesus, people of compassion and nonviolence.

John Dean, SJ taught theology at Fordham University. He is
the author of more than a dozen books on Christian discipleship.
He resides in NYC. To join the Christian Vegetarian Assoc. please visit For information on vegetarianism
in general For free vegetarian starter
kits call 1 888 VEG FOOD

(These beautifully printed pamphlets done with purple print and pictures are available in bulk from PETA for distribution at churches and elsewhere. 501 Front St. Norfolk VA 23510 USA 757 622 7382 Please request they be printed on recycled paper, if they are not already. Father Ron Lengwin, Catholic priest on KDKA Radio: Perhaps Adam's apple was the heart of the first murdered animal. Father Mario Mazzoleni, a priest with Vatican Radio, wrote of his vegetarian diet.)
See also:

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