Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Should We Eat Meat?

I’m sure most parents would love if their children took to heart the lessons that I learned and wrote about from Charlotte’s Web. But, unfortunately, most children—and adults, really—probably won’t read that deep into things. Instead, they possibly will be left screaming at the dinner table, “I WON’T EAT WILBUR!!!” Just as children wanted to flush "their Nemos" down the toilet so they could "be free" after seeing Finding Nemo.

This brings to my mind the usually docile topic of herbivore versus omnivore, vegetarian versus meat-eater, etc.

Most Christians agree—for good reason—that eating meat is acceptable. Those who refrain from such a habit generally do so either because of preference or health. However, two more reasons can pervade the vegetarians mind: first, that eating animals is wrong BECAUSE of cruelty to animals as they are processed. In this way, it is an act of principle upon the meat industries. This, when taken to reasonable lengths and not to extremes, illustrates the Christian principles of stewardship, mercy, etc.. The other reason is that eating animals is just plain WRONG. This stereotypically comes from the belief that we are basically equal to animals. Although the Christian instinct immediately sounds off on this notion—and rightfully so—all of us are affected by it a little bit. Can you really see slicing your cat up and frying her in butter? Even if you are starving? I didn’t think so. Then there is the other thing we have to own up to: back when this world was flawless, animals were not eaten, and one day they will no longer be eaten. Do we not wish to “think on things above” (Colossians 3:2) and be “perfect, as our Father in heaven is perfect” by fostering habits that can continue for all of eternity?

Although I doubt that these problems I just posed will stop you from picking up a hamburger today, the question must be addressed: how do we resolve this issue?

I believe that the answer is three-pronged: first, we must look at what the Bible says about eating meat; this we will do by taking a short-trip through the Bible. Secondly, we must look at animals’ place in the world—the proverbial “chain”—and how they should be viewed. Thirdly, and finally, we can look very briefly at the health factor.

To begin, let’s take a summarized trip through the Bible to see how God has addressed the topic of carnivorous humans over the millenniums.

Animals were not eaten, for there was no death at all (Romans 8:20-22) and man was in harmony with the animals, so much so that God brought forth all the animals to Adam before creating Eve, a “helper suitable for him.” (Genesis 2:18-20) Adam and Eve had all the pleasure, and nutritional value needed (Genesis 2:9) through fruits—and probably vegetables, as well.

Death had entered into the world through the curse (Genesis 3:14 ; 3:17 ; 3:19 ; 3:21 ; Romans 8:20-22). God partially cleansed the wickedness of the world through the Flood, allowing only Noah, his family, and at least two of every kind of animal to survive. (Genesis 6-8) After the Flood, God gave humans permission to eat meat, although it appears that that might already have been occurring (Genesis 4:2 ; 4:10). He said they could eat any animal, as long as they did not eat its blood. (Genesis 9:3-4) [This was a temporary provision, as we will see.] The formerly close relationship with undomesticated (“wild”) animals was severed. (Genesis 9:2)


God later put in place precise definitions of “unclean” and “clean” animals. (Leviticus 11 ; Deuteronomy 14) That which were clean could be permissibly eaten; the unclean were not to be eaten. While the list contains animals we would likely never think of even taste-testing, such as “the eagle and the vulture and the buzzard,” (Leviticus 11:13 ; Deuteronomy 14:12) an animal on this “banned” list that 21st century humans often enjoy is the pig. (Leviticus 11:7 ; Deuteronomy 14:8) Another animal that God prohibited Israel from utilizing for food that we might occasionally—but not frequently—enjoy today is the rabbit. (Leviticus 11:6 ; Deuteronomy 14:7) Also, the rules to be followed for sea creatures are not fully followed today. (Leviticus 11:10-12 ; Deuteronomy 14:9-10) Other than that, most animals on this "X"-list would only be eaten now-a-days in some type of extreme emergency.
It should be noted that these commandments from God, although commands and NOT suggestions, ultimately were for both the physical and spiritual health of His people.

Daniel and his men refused the ration of King Nebuchadnezzar’s choice food and wine, not wanting to defile themselves, opting instead to be fed only vegetables and water. (Daniel 1) After ten days, Daniel and his men were healthier and fatter than those who had eaten the choice food.
Here we notice that, by implication, the king’s choice food probably consisted of meat—since Daniel asked to be fed only vegetables. By not wanting to “defile” himself, Daniel suggests that the meat was of the unclean variety.
Although there may be significant health implications to this story, it should be recognized that the moral of the story is most closely tied to the results of loyalty to God and His commands rather than assimilation to the pagans.

In the New Testament, Jesus cleanses all foods by telling us that it is not what enters into a man through his mouth that defiles Him. (Mark 7:18-23) “Thus He declares all foods clean.” (Mark 7:19) This sentiment is repeated in Acts at least twice: “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.” (Acts 10:15; 11:9) Paul makes it clear that all foods are clean, though some don’t believe so: “I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.” (Romans 14:14) Those who don’t believe are considered “weak in faith” (Romans 14:2), but they are not to be condemned, judged, or held with contempt (Romans 14:3,4, 13, 15). They are compelled to hold to their beliefs, because, “…he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.” (Romans 14:23)
A good conclusion is Paul’s statement: “…the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:17)

Life in the “new heavens and the new earth” will not contain meat-eating. As the earth is restored to its original—non-fallen—state, death will once again cease and nature will finally have peace. (Romans 8:20-22)

So, we see that, for the Christian, eating the meat of ANY animal is inherently acceptable on the spiritual level. But, that doesn’t jump the mental hurdle and the other aspect—that of health.

What I mean by the mental hurdle is that, despite the fact that the Bible gives us permission to eat of any animal, the thought of killing another creature for one’s own survival—or pleasure—is still quite grotesque. The Christian should not be bothered by this internal sentiment: it is sin that brought such a state of existence, and it will one day end. But, remember that “God causes all things to work together for the good of those who love the Lord.” Therefore, we see that God has made meat-eating pleasurable and nutritionally prosperous.

Still, though, to truly be at peace with the idea of devouring another life, we need to look more closely at animals, and there place on this earth.

1.) First of all, as Christians, we should be very careful not to equate animals with human beings. Mankind is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26); animals are not. Men and women are more important to God than animals, although God does care for animals. (Matthew 10:29-31)
On the other hand: just because other animals are not made in the image of God, does not mean that they cannot exhibit attributes of God. For instance, a peaceful animal pictures the Prince of Peace; a graceful animal pictures God's grace; a ruling/authoritative animal pictures God's power and authority, etc., etc.. God often uses animals or parts of animals to describe Himself or His actions in analogical form.
Romans 1:20 could be interpreted in this way.

2.) Secondly, we should recognize that all animals—in fact, no animals—are like Wilbur, Babe, Bambi, Rudolph, Nemo, ad infinitum. By definition, these fictitious characters have been PERSONIFIED. In other words, they have artificially and fictitiously been made to be more like humans. Remove their ability to talk, and suddenly our attachment to them lessens. Remove other attributes generally reserved for humans and unobserved in specific creatures, and it lessens all the more. This is not to say that some animals don’t have great intelligence, personalities, or beauty and grace, for they most certainly do. It is to say that many animals do not match-up to a level of which we would easily feel a connection, and that no animals--at least that we frequently eat--match-up to the levels which would seriously cause us to rethink our philosophies—like, let’s say, little Wilbur or Bambi might cause a child to do.

3.) Thirdly, in relation to the second point, it should be noted that we personally personify animals—especially our pets. In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis writes about us actually MAKING THEM “MORE HUMAN.” By the way we treat them, whether it be hugs and kisses or an intimate conversation, we thereby make them more like us. To a certain extent, this may be literal. But, in a much more prevalent case, it is figurative and mental. It is more the relationship with the pet that is “personal” and “human,” and less the pet itself. (Atheists might say that this is the same case with a Christian’s “supposed” relationship with God, but that is a whole other bucket-load of shenanigans that I will not endeavor to dump out here.)
This is not to say that some animals aren’t more "LIKE" humans than others. Just as animals may demonstrate attributes of God--in their own finite ways--so they can show attributes of humans. And, certainly, relationships between humans and animals do exist, but these relationships most often and seriously exist involving dogs, cats, horses, or even creatures like dolphins. Rarely are these bonds formed between humans and…say, dung beetles. (Not that they are relevant to the discussion. Who eats them?) Also note that domesticated animals are, by definition, more like humans in many ways than wild animals that flee at the scent of human flesh, while, on the other hand, the dullness and dependence that frequently accompanies domesticated animals makes wild animals seem more human in that they illustrate mankind’s “wild-at-heart” nature and relative independence.
Looking at the previous points, we can come to a couple points of conclusion: first of all, eating a hamburger is not the same as eating your dog, although, if you live on a farm, you might fall in love with a baby calf. Cows mass-produced, fed, and transported suddenly become less personal and exert a less emphatic call for compassion. Similarly, eating chicken nuggets is not the same as eating your cat (or even your pet bird), although you heartstrings may be played like a harp when you hold a chick. Likewise, eating a salmon is not the same as eating a beluga whale. Eating a pig is not the same as eating a “Wilbur.” Compare the fictitious attributes of Wilbur and the relationship that Fern fostered with him to the competing pig in the County Fair. See what I mean?

This breakdown won’t end your or my qualms about slaughter-houses (merciful or not) or hunters, but it shouldn't. As I stated before, we should look forward to the day when Christ reigns, and death is no more. But it does put things into perspective.

That brings us to the last segment: health. Now, I am not a doctor or a health expert, so I am not going to pretend to be one here. But, eating meat clearly has its advantages and disadvantages. One of the most infamous disadvantages is cholesterol, while the classic advantage is red-blooded, American "strong bones and big muscles." Differentiations also must be made, though, between such things as coldwater fish with their greatly positive health effects, to bottom-feeding shellfish, catfish, farm-raised fish, etc., with their less than appealing nutritional contributions.

Considering they sell books on such things, I will not try to summarize one here. However, I will leave you with two passages that should motivate us to live healthfully.

" you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body." (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

"Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." (1 Corinthians 10:31)

~Kingdom Advancer


Austin said...

You did a good job of summing up most of my beliefs on this subject. I don't have anything to add, except a few interesting verses.

It's interesting that you bring up pets. David clearly held an emotional attachment to pet-like animals, as we can see in this verse from 2 Samuel. Nathan was using it as a metaphor for what David had done, but David clearly believed the story and was touched by it:

The LORD sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said, "There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.
"Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him."

David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, "As surely as the LORD lives, the man who did this deserves to die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity."

Actually, my reaction to the story the first time I heard it was almost the same as David's, even though I hadn't yet read David's reaaction.

Notice that the poor man considered his little ewe lamb to be "like a daughter to him," thereby humanizing it - making it more like us.

Now, about what we can eat:

" Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, "Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a man can make him 'unclean' by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him 'unclean.' "

After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. "Are you so dull?" he asked. "Don't you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him 'unclean'? For it doesn't go into his heart but into his stomach, and then out of his body." (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods "clean.")

Here's another interesting one:

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.

Kingdom Advancer said...

Thanks, Austin.

I didn't think of the story that Nathan told David. That's a good addition to the discussion, though, like in the case with Daniel, the point of the story didn't necessarily have to do directly with meat or animals. However, you can see that eating one of the man's many sheep would've been no big deal. But, not only was it plainly unjust to take the poor man's ewe, but it was cruel, too, because of how much the ewe was loved.

P.S. Are the last two passages you listed the same as the ones I did, or are they different passages saying basically the same thing?

Austin said...

I tried to put different ones, but maybe I accidently missed one of your references or something.

Ernie said...

More Bible verses to support your stand:
Not All Meats Are Food

Anonymous said...

this is where actual meaning is lost in interpretation based on ones own perception instead of God's; when God granted that man eat meat after the flood because man was already living of a sinful nature does this then mean we should overlook the very curse which makes us unclean which is the eating of meat? Should we then live in that sinful nature as God probably hopes we do not or should we rather turn from that wicked way and build up the will power to keep ourselves clean? the argument presented above regarding the eating of meat is comparable to a parent telling a child not to hit a dog as it will bite him in defence, the chikd persists and eventually says 'welll if u not going to listen then go ahead and hit the dog so that u will then learn for yourself'....we all know the outcome of that situation

The next argument everyone completely gives a blind eye to...'thou shalt not kill', in this commandment it is not said thou shalt not kill man, it says thou shalt not kill, therefore killling of animals thou dhalt not do, but of course the way of the ones who eat meat is just always the same as the response here would be the quotations above regarding what goes into yr mouth been not clean, here jesus spoke knowing that there was a system of what should be eaten (clean as opposed to unclean) therefore if u follow his commands even if not moving to the extent of becoming vegan and have to eat meat then this verse does not make it 'ok' to eat pig which eats of the dirt as well as human flesh, shell fish and catfish etc (which also eat the dirt of the ground) , instead it confirms that if we eat right THEN nothing that enters our mouth will make us unclean, otherwise lets all take drugs and alcohol as it shall not make us unclean...

The bible is said to be the word of God and yet man so easily tarnishes it with his own perception used only to give reason for doing wrong and continuing to do so

The bible also in isaiah speaks of a time when after judgement all will be as in inning where animals and humanity will walk side by side again, maybe this is the path we should be leading our children on rather than spilling more and more blood of animals of which one day we have to befriend...mind u there are limited seats on that bus load to a new earth...i hope what i say is not taken in offence, i am merely voicing my own opinion as well which i hope will provide more clarity or rather the true reason in my understanding as to why we should not eat meat, if we were meant to be carnivores dont go to the butcher who does all the dirty work for u but attack an animal with yr teeth and claws kill it and then eat of it...sounds rather like vampirism to me but i guess thats just my perception...thank you