Animal cruelty and vegetarianism
Published: 25 September 2010 (GMT+10)
This week’s feedback features an email exchange between Julie E. from the United States and CMI’s Lita Cosner, where Lita shows that though animal cruelty is certainly wrong and unbiblical, God has still allowed people to eat meat since the Flood, therefore Christians are not morally obliged to be vegetarians, but are still free to be vegetarians if they so choose.
Julie E. from the United States writes:
Dear Seeker of Christ,
Did you know? Heart disease is the number one killer of Americans. 1961, the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that a plant-based diet could prevent 90–97% of heart diseases. 48 years later the Christian community is still unaware about this information. “If Americans adopted a plant-based diet,” says Dr. William Castelli, director of the Framingham Cardiovascular Center, “then the heart disease epidemic would disappear.” According to the EPA, animal agriculture is the main cause of toxic water pollution! And now there is another possible threat of a swine flu pandemic started by factory farming!
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From a Christian perspective, Satan wants humans to stay uneducated about their health, so they will be sick unnecessarily! Satan wants Christians unaware about how their food is produced, so the suffering of God’s creatures can continue, and God’s earth can be destroyed! Please watch for the Lord:
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This excerpt is from the Christian Vegetarian Association:
The Bible depicts vegetarianism as God’s ideal, and the diet conforms to the central biblical principle of steward-ship. In Eden, all creatures lived peacefully, and God told both humans and animals to consume only plant foods (Gen. 1:29-31). Several prophecies, such as Isaiah 11:6-9, foresee a return to this vegetarian world, where the wolf, lamb, lion, cow, bear, snake, and little child all coexist peacefully. Christian vegetarians, while acknowledging human sinfulness, believe we should strive toward the harmonious world Isaiah envisioned-to try to live in accordance with the prayer that Jesus taught us, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10).
ACCORDING TO THE BIBLE, God granted humanity “dominion” over God’s Creation. More and more, faithful Christians are coming to see “dominion” as a sacred responsibility, rather than as a license to do whatever we want with the earth or God’s animals. Our dominion over God’s Creation should be patterned on God’s loving, compassionate dominion over us. If we fail to show love for God’s Creation or mercy for God’s creatures, should we expect God to protect us from the consequences of our own heartlessness and self-indulgence?
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It’s blasphemy if we don’t take care of our God-given body, God’s earth and God’s creatures!
The videos are about how to enter a covenant of complete non-violence with the Lord.
CMI’s Lita Cosner replies:
We would agree with you that since our bodies are temples for the Holy Spirit, we should be concerned with taking care of them, and diet is a major component. There is evidence that the over-consumption of fatty meat can contribute to numerous health problems, and most Americans consume more meat and fewer fruits and vegetables than nutritionists recommend. It is unsurprising that an excess of any food can cause health problems—huge amounts of grains would also cause obesity and health problems.
In Eden, and probably up until after the global Flood, humans were strictly vegetarian (at least, God had not given permission to eat meat; it is possible that some fallen people who did not obey God ate meat during that time). We know that Abel was a shepherd, but he probably was raising sheep for their wool and milk, and for suitable burnt offerings, not their meat. We also know that Noah had some understanding of clean and unclean categories of animals, and we can deduce that this would be somewhat along the lines of the categories given in the Mosaic Law. But again, before human carnivory, “clean” could simply mean “suitable for a burnt offering”.
But people who argue that Christians today should have a completely vegetarian diet have to ignore Genesis 9:2-3, where God gives Noah and his descendants every animal to eat, just like he gave plants for food. In the Mosaic Law, human consumption of meat is presumed; it is even commanded in the Passover celebration. We know that Jesus ate fish, and the Last Supper was a Passover meal, which would have included roasted lamb along with all of the other traditional components of the Passover meal.
There are several possible reasons God could have given permission after the Flood to eat meat; we know that certain kinds of plant life went extinct because of the Flood, and perhaps the plant life after the Flood was less capable of supplying the nutrients that humans need to thrive, or perhaps plant life had degraded sufficiently because of the Curse that a solely vegetarian diet was no longer able to meet humans’ nutritional needs. Even today, vegetarians have to be very careful to eat a variety of vegetables and beans to get the sorts of nutrients that most get from meat. This sort of variety in diet is only a possibility for people in relatively affluent societies, with the appropriate nutritional knowledge. For instance, In the American south until relatively recent times, people commonly suffered from serious nutritional deficit diseases (including dementia as a symptom) as a result of overreliance on corn as the main source of protein.
In the New Heavens and New Earth, we believe that all creatures will return to a vegetarian diet, including humans. Because there will be no more of the degeneration caused by the Curse, vegetables and fruits (and perhaps animal products like milk and cheese) will be sufficient to give us the nutrients that we need. But in the meantime, God has very clearly given permission to eat meat; the Son of God himself ate meat. If your own conscience forbids you to eat meat, then that is a matter of conscience for you, but since God has given us permission to eat meat, those who choose to enjoy what God has given us cannot be rebuked.
Your email made me think of 1 Timothy 4:1-5:
“The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.”
In this context, Paul is talking about certain false teachers which were a plague to this area until about AD 90, when the church finally threw them out (there is no indication that Timothy himself was successful in combating them, despite Paul’s earnest exhortation). It is hard to know exactly what heresy these teachers are spreading, but it probably amounts to proto-Gnosticism with a strong ascetic element. The emphasis I would place for my purposes here is on verses 4–5; please understand that I’m not saying you’re abandoning the faith, or that you’re a hypocritical liar. I believe your intentions are only good. But Paul is saying that people abandoning the faith will be indicated by forbidding consumption of certain foods which God intended to be received with thanksgiving, so Christians must firmly refuse those who try to forbid us to use what God has given us.
I believe your stewardship point is very important as well, and I agree with much of your argument there. The stewardship mandate was given to Adam in Eden, and was not revoked after the Fall. Basically, the earth and everything in it belongs to God, but He has given it to us to manage, and we will be held accountable for how we use our resources in this life, and how we’ve taken care of what we’ve been given to watch over. But I do not believe that eating meat violates the principles of good stewardship, for some of the reasons mentioned above. You mention the cruelty to the animals who are killed, but, at least in America, there are very strict standards about the treatment of animals slaughtered for human consumption—they must be killed humanely. Most are rendered unconscious prior to being slaughtered, or they are shot in such a way that they die so quickly that they don’t feel any pain.
Creation Ministries International
Julie E. writes:
Hi Lita, Thank so much for responding to my email! I have to say my heart broke for the 10 billion animals that are slaughtered each year and how much suffering & brutality is inflicted on to these helpless feeling animals. I’m sorry but you are very misled if you think the strict standards are upheld in America. I have borne witness too many times to what happens on factory farms where 99% of the animal products come from. Now is your chance to open up your heart & see for yourself and educate yourself what really happens to God’s creatures on factory farms.
Please watch the video and tell me if God would approve of this happening to his creatures. It’s only 6 minutes long. (I really want to know what you think of this video)
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A new [Ed. Reference removed as per feedback rules] undercover investigation reveals unconscionable cruelty to mother pigs and their young piglets at a [meat supplier in the United States]. The hidden camera video provides consumers with a jarring glimpse into the nightmarish world of factory pork production. [The] investigation uncovered:
Workers grabbing piglets by their fragile ears or legs and throwing them across the room and slamming them into transport carts.
Workers tattooing sows by repeatedly driving sharp metal spikes into their flesh.
Sows with untreated rectal prolapses and deep, infected sores and scrapes from constant rubbing against the bars of their stalls.
Workers cutting off piglets’ tails with dull pliers and castrating them by ripping out their testes with their bare hands—all without anesthesia.
Thousands of pregnant pigs confined in two-feet wide metal stalls so small that they could only take one step forward or backward and could not turn around or lie down comfortably.
Injured, sick and runt piglets being tossed into overcrowded gassing kill carts, slowly suffocating from CO2.
Workers firing steel rods into sows’ heads, sometimes as many as four separate times, before the sows fell and died.
Lita Cosner replies:
Thanks for your email. In my last email I may not have made it sufficiently clear, so let me state it here clearly, that neither CMI corporately nor anyone working here would endorse animal cruelty; in fact, the biblical position is decidedly against animal cruelty, and Christians have often been at the forefront of measures to ensure animal welfare (as opposed to animal rights). William Wilberforce, a strong evangelical best known for abolishing slavery, also founded the RSPCA, on which the ASPCA in America was modeled.
Cruelty to animals, including the barbaric practices you cite in your email, and that are shown in the video, is something all Christians should unanimously oppose, and if a certain company can be proven to engage in them, I think Christians should not support those practices by buying that brand, just as many feel that it is unethical to buy pets from pet stores which have been shown to rely on “puppy mills”.
While I agree with you that cruel slaughtering practices such as these should be condemned in the strongest terms, that doesn’t mean that all animal slaughter has to be, or is, cruel. I would suggest that one can consistently eat meat while being against animal cruelty.
That being said, it is a matter of conscience, and no one should condemn a person who for moral reasons chooses not to eat meat. At the same time, the person who chooses not to eat meat cannot claim to be on higher moral ground than the person whose conscience allows meat consumption. As Paul wrote in Romans:
“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. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God” (Romans 14:3–6).
In the context of this passage, the concern was not cruelty to animals, but ritual purity and meat sacrificed to idols. But the principle still holds: in matters like this there is freedom of conscience, and neither side should condemn the other for their practices.
Thanks once again for passing that on.
Creation Ministries International
Thanks for explaining that. I have one final questions that I couldn’t find answers for on your site in regards to Jesus and food. It is about figs. Matthew 21:18–20—Why did Jesus get make the fig tree wither and die just because he was hungry and it didn’t have any figs on it? Instead of using a miracle to kill the fig tree, why not just use a miracle to make some figs appear on it? Also, it says in Mark 11:12–14 something about Jesus saying no man eat fruit of the fig tree hereafter. Does that mean Christians aren’t supposed to eat figs? I love figs.
You’re welcome. While we are very informative, we do specialize in creation-related issues and those covered in our Statement of Faith. My own go-to site for questions about biblical passages not covered here is Tekton Apologetics and Educational Ministry. Indeed, this has Did Jesus wrongly kill the fig tree?
Mark 11:12–14 was addressing that fig tree in particular, and it was a symbol of the fruitless Israel of His day that refused to recognize His messiahship.
Thus you may eat as many figs as you like. See also Are we allowed to eat all animals today?
Please, correct me if I’m wrong, but Jesus entered the temple and drove out those who where buying and selling sacrificial animals. Could this not be interpreted as him being against animal sacrifices?
No it could not. Clue: buying and selling.
Corrupt leaders were exploiting this religious requirement by adding others. First, the requirement was for an unblemished animal, as a type of the sinless Messiah. But if people brought their own animals for sacrifice, the leaders would always invent some blemish. So the people would need to buy an approved animal at the temple, and were forced to pay an exorbitant price. Also, they could not use the ordinary money because it was ostensibly idolatrous—coins had Caesar’s image on the coins. So the people were forced to change this money into acceptable Tyrian currency, for a fee of course.
So the people were being defrauded, hence Jesus’ stinging rebuke in Matthew 21:13:
Thank you for reply, yes I have been searching your site and continue to be impressed that there is an article on almost everything I search for. Yet, I am still not able to locate any further mention of Jesus eating meat, other than fish and the assumption that he ate lamb on Passover, although it doesn’t specifically say that. Do you know of any account of him eating meat? It is my understanding that Jesus was opposed to sacrificing of animals, which I believe was also common practice during his time. Please let me know your thoughts on that as well.
Yes, this site is indeed most useful, with now about 9,000 articles, and a new one every day. The author of the above article said that when she was a teenager:
I found the URL for CMI in a book I was researching, and browsing your Q&A page, I was surprised to find the answers to the questions I had been asking for over ten years in literally the first day I was at your site.
Scripture doesn’t need to say explicitly that Jesus ate lamb , because it is implicit in His celebration of the Passover that He ate lamb. As I've said in Loving God with all your mind: logic and creation:
All things necessary for our faith and life are either expressly set down in Scripture or may be deduced by good and necessary consequence from Scripture.
If Jesus had refrained from lamb, this would have been mentioned. It was not, therefore He did not refrain. This is the valid argument of denying the consequent, also explained in the above article.
Jesus also never objected to sacrificing of animals. Again, this was part of the Jewish Law to which He was subject. But these animal sacrifices could merely cover sin, not remove it. Now that He provided the ultimate sacrifice for sin, this replaces the animal sacrifices (Hebrews 10).
Yes, Jesus ate fish, and possibly he ate lamb once during the last supper, but that is not certain. Does anyone know of another account of Jesus eating meat? I agree that God has given people permission to eat meat provided that they treat the animals humanely with the respect that all of god's creatures deserve. Unfortunately, if you live in the United States the vast majority of the cow, chicken, and pig meat is obtained from animals that are treated in an inhumane manner. That is one reason why I rarely eat meat anymore, except for salmon, mussels, and eggs (because, like Jesus I have to get my vitamin B12 from somewhere :-) But, the main reason I rarely eat meat is because, as this article mentions, a diet high in meat causes many sicknesses and early death. P.S. I also don't eat GMO foods like corn or soybeans, or their byproducts soy lecithin and high fructose corn syrup. Can I get an amen?
Glad you are searching our site now ;), as advised in DNA and bone cells found in dinosaur bone.
Lamb was an essential part of the Jewish passover, and Jesus as a Jew obeyed the Law perfectly. So it logically follows that Jesus ate lamb.
Nutritional advice is outside our mandate, so I will refrain ;)