Although it is the Eastern religions like Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism that are primarily associated with Ahimsa or non-violence- all religions endorse respect for nature and compassion for living beings. True religious leaders have consistently recognized that a compassionate God would care about all beings of every shape that have a desire to live and experience pleasure and pain. The principles of compassion and justice must be universal because as the Rev. Martin Luther King rightly observed, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."All religions acknowledge that humankind depends on nature for its own survival avoidance of meat has been a part of religious practice in nearly all faiths". Universal religious thought promotes universal compassion and condemns the opposite-the unnecessary slaughter of animals-as fundamentally irreligious" quotes Steven Rosen in Diet for Transcendence.
In the Old Testament, the foundation of Judaism, one of the Ten Commandments instructs 'Thou shalt not kill.' This is traditionally misinterpreted as referring only to human murder. But the original Hebrew is “lo tirtzach “ and Dr. Reuben Alcalay's Complete Hebrew/English Dictionary says that the word tirtzach, in classical Hebrew usage, refers to "any kind of killing," and not exclusively the murder of a human being. Those who draw distinctions between the two are concocting their own laws. There are other pointers that Judaism regarded vegetarianism as the rightful path. Jews believe that before the coming of the Messiah, man must demonstrate the utmost regard for all animals - as first seen in Eden. Therefore, vegetarianism is a Judaic ideal, and keeping kosher is a compromise between this ideal and the reality of life on Earth. The rules for keeping kosher are very complex: The following are forbidden: animals and products from animals which do not both chew their cud and have a split hoof (this includes pigs, rabbits, hares, horses, dogs, and cats), any fish and seafood which do not have detachable scales and fins (shellfish and crustaceans), and the cooking or serving of meat or poultry together with milk products. This latter is considered equivalent to cooking/eating an animal in its mother's milk. In addition to fasting, Jewish law directs that no leather be worn on Yom Kippur because one cannot ask for compassion while dressed in the products of slaughter.
Islamic texts too advocate animal welfare. The Koran quotes the prophet Mohammed as saying, "A good deed done to an animal is as meritorious as a good deed done to a human being, while an act of cruelty to an animal is as bad as an act of cruelty to a human being." "There is not an animal on the earth, nor a flying creature on two wings, but they are people like unto you." Mohammed called it "a great sin for a man to imprison those animals which are in his power," banned all animal fights and forbade any commercial trade in animal skins. Islamic imam Al-Hafiz Basheer Ahmad Masri, an expert on Islamic teachings on animals, says that "any interference with the body of a live animal which causes pain or disfigurement is contrary to the Islamic principles “
Many Christians believe that Christ ate meat based on the many references to meat in the New Testament. But study of the original Greek manuscripts indicates that these references to meat might be entirely false. The vast majority of the words translated as "meat” such as "trophe, brome," and other words simply mean "food" or "eating" in the broadest sense. For example, in the Gospel of St. Luke (8:55) we read that Jesus raised a woman from the dead and "commanded to give her meat." The original Greek word translated as "meat" is "phago," which means only "to eat." The Greek word for meat is kreas ("flesh"), and it is never used in connection with Christ. Nowhere in the New Testament is there any direct reference to Jesus eating meat. This is in line with Isaiah's famous prophecy about Jesus's appearance, "Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call him name Emmanuel. Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil and choose the good." Vegetarianism is in fact far more consistent with Jesus' teachings. Many of the early Christians were vegetarian like the two Ebionites Athansius and Arius. Of the Church fathers Clement, Origen, Tertullian, Boniface, St Jerome and John Chrysostom were vegetarian. St. John Chrysostom considered meat-eating to be a cruel and unnatural habit for Christians.
"We imitate but the ways of wolves, but the ways of leopards, or rather ourselves are even worse than these. For to them nature has assigned that they should be thus fed, but us God hath honored with speech and a sense of equity, and we have become worse than the wild beasts. Clement wrote: It is far better to be hungry than to turn your body into a graveyard for animals.
Mathew ate only seeds, nuts and vegetables. Of the other apostles Peter was vegetarian while Paul had this to say about meat: 'If your brother or sister is being injured by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. Do not let what you eat cause the ruin of one for whom Christ died.
The New Testament repeatedly attacks meat offered to pagan idols, "I require Mercy Not Sacrifice.' Christianity's opposition to animal sacrifice may well have carried into opposition to meat. The Clementines Homilies thought to be based on the teachings of St Peter state: The unnatural eating of flesh meats is as polluting as the heathen worship of devils with its sacrifices and its impure feasts. Through participation in it man becomes a fellow eater with devils.
Genesis (9:4) directly forbids meat-eating. I quote 3 extracts:
"But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat. And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it."
”God is manifest in all creatures. All creatures live in God and God is hid in them. The fruit of the trees and the seeds and of the herbs alone do I partake, and these are changed by the spirit into my flesh and blood. Of these alone and their like shall ye eat who believe in me and are my disciples; for of these, in the spirit, come life and health and healing unto man”
”And the flesh of the slain beasts in his own body will become his own tomb. For I tell you truly, he who kills kills himself, and who so eats the flesh of slain beasts, eats the body of death.”
Is there actually any direct biblical reference to Jesus buying or eating meat? No. Not even in the Last Supper. Though many believe it was a Passover meal, significantly there is no mention of the traditional Passover lamb dish.
What about fish? The only two occasions on which Jesus is believed to have eaten fish were AFTER his death and resurrection. Besides the fish was a well known mystical symbol among the early Christians. The Greek word for fish (Ichthys) was used as an acronym that meant Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour. So there is some grounds to believe that all of the fish stories in the gospel were actually intended symbolically rather than literally.
Another pointer that Jesus was vegetarian comes from what we know of the people among whom he was born and lived-namely the Essenes, Nazoreans and Ebionites. The Essenes were Jews who were remarkably similar to the early Christians .The first Christians were known as Nazoreans and the Ebionites were a direct offshoot from them. All three groups were vegetarian. Eusebius, the first church historian reports that James the brother of Jesus drank no wine and ate no animal food. If James was raised as a vegetarian, it seems reasonable to suppose that so too was Jesus.
Historically, asceticism demanded vegetarianism. Athaniuis wrote thus about St Anthony-the founder of Christian monasticism: his food was bread, salt and water for meat and wine is never found among the zealous. St. Benedict, who founded the Benedictine in A.D. 529, forbade meat for his monks. The Trappist order uniformly prohibited meat, eggs, and other flesh foods. Early Christian saints did not merely avoid meat, but they also befriended and helped animals. When God ordered Elijah to flee into the wilderness, he asked the ravens to feed him. Like Daniel in the lion's pit, these early
Christians demonstrate that friendship with animals is a special sign of holiness. Later books of the Bible also condemn killing and meat.
Isaiah (1.11) states, "To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? Saith the LORD: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of the goats. "And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood." the killing of cows is particularly abhorrent: "He that killeth an ox is as if he slew a man."
According to the Bible, man was created as and intended to be vegetarian. The Garden of Eden, God's perfect world, was vegetarian. Genesis records God presenting Adam and Eve with the menu of Paradise: ""Behold, I give you all plants that bear seed everywhere on earth, and every tree, that bears fruit.
They shall be yours for food.' In this perfect state, it seems that not even the animals ate flesh. "And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for food; and it was so." (Gen. 1:29-30).
In Isaiah 11, the prophets tell us that the peaceable kingdom will be nonviolent and vegetarian; even the lion will lie down with the lamb.This range of Scripture passages, from the Genesis account of the diet of Eden to the apostle Paul's admonition to treat the body as a temple, all favour vegetarianism as consistent with the spirit of early Christianity, a faith that shunned pomp and extravagance for compassion and love of all God's creation.
The question then arises as to why and when Christianity abandoned its vegetarian roots. In his book Food For the Spirit, Steven Rosen reveals that Christianity was vegetarian up to the 4th century when Constantine decreed it illegal. A meat-eating version of the Bible was officially adopted by the Roman Empire and vegetarian Christians were persecuted as heretics. In 1052 in Southern France, a group of Albigensian vegetarians (a Cartharist religious group) were hanged to death for refusing to kill a chicken.
But even up to medieval times in England, meat continued to be forbidden in monasteries. Meat was prohibited by papal edict. But gradually as monks no longer confined themselves to the cloister and rules began to be relaxed, in 1339 the Pope conceded that since prohibition was unenforceable, meat was to be allowed to half the order at a time while the other half maintained the vegetarian rule. Again this would indicate that the Church considered meat a sinful luxury rather than a natural or necessary diet.
Vegetarianism made a comeback in England when the Bible Christian Church of 1809 became the first to defend and require vegetarianism on orthodox theological grounds.
The Garden, the Ark and stories about saints provide the background for a distinctly Jewish-Christian emphasis on the potential harmony between man and beast and the importance of forging that harmony. Even a simple look at Jesus’ own birth and death indicates the close affinity between man and beast. Jesus was born in a manger in the midst of animals. Even his impending birth is first disclosed to shepherds or those who tend animals.
When Jesus first started to preach, John the Baptist who had predicted the manner of his death, declared him the Lamb of God. Like the lamb, Christ did not retaliate against those who wanted to kill him. When the soldiers came to arrest him, he stopped his followers from attacking them “Put your sword back for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. (Matthew) He went to his death like 'a lamb led to slaughter". Just as animals were sacrificed because men deemed this to be pleasing to God, so too was the supposed blasphemer, Jesus of Nazareth. Christians whose eyes are fixed on the awfulness of crucifixion are in a special position to understand the awfulness of innocent suffering. The Cross of Christ is God's absolute identification with the weak, the powerless, and the vulnerable, but most of all with unprotected, undefended, innocent suffering." Or in the words of Elizabeth Farians ""To try to picture the Christ, the one whom Christians call 'Agnus Dei', the Lamb of God, chewing on a leg of lamb seems incongruous to me."
If it is the quest of religion to lead man to salvation, to bring him to health, happiness, peace and justice, then vegetarian becomes an obvious Christian priority as the way to respect His creation with a vegetarian diet and lead the human race out of the violence and selfishness that have made a hell out of the paradise that God prepared for all creatures.
As Plutarch asks, "For my part I rather wonder both by what accident and in what state of mind the first man touched his mouth to gore and brought his lips to the flesh of a dead creature, set forth tables of dead, stale bodies, and ventured to call food and nourishment the pets that had a little before bellowed and cried, moved and lived... It is certainly not lions or wolves that we eat out of self-defense; on the contrary, we ignore these and slaughter harmless, tame creatures without stings or teeth to harm us. For the sake of a little flesh we deprive them of sun, of light, of the duration of life they are entitled to by birth and being."
Listen to Mahatma Gandhi and think on the New Year: It ill becomes us to invoke in our daily prayers the blessings of God, the compassionate, if we in turn will not practice elementary compassion towards our fellow creatures.