Tuesday, September 4, 2007

And while we're on the subject,

Something I've always wondered: how does eating meat square with Judeo-Christian ethics? I mean, you can't get any less ambiguous than "Thou shall not kill." But of the many vegetarians I've known, not one has cited the sixth commandment as a reason for following that path, and I don't think I've ever met a devout Christian vegetarian at all. In fact, mainstream Christianity is full of meat-eating, from Easter lambs to Christmas goose to fried chicken on the grounds after church on Sunday. So what gives? Is that commandment one of those cutely archaic things in the Bible that we were supposed to wink at, like the advice on how to treat your slaves in Exodus 21?

I know it's sometimes rendered as "Thou shall not murder," which is a better translation of לא תרצח. That would make it ok to kill animals for food or sport, or human beings in the course of a war I guess. But come on. Is that really all there is to the Christian regard for the sanctity of life? It can't be that easy.

Not claiming superiority or trying to start a fight here; I'm genuinely curious.

8 comments:

T said...

All this reminds me of the Christmas I was on a gluten-free diet. Aunt Mary Margaret was genuinely distressed, because (as she said) Jesus wants us all to eat bread! Interesting implications about bread specifically as the "staff of life"--what does that mean for rice-eating cultures, for instance?

Rob said...

Where on earth did she get that from?

Another factor in this is how the official canonical belief set of any religion can be so at odds with how ordinary practitioners interpret it. It's hard to say which is more significant.

An Briosca Mor said...

I don't think the Bible or any Christian church (or even the Jewish faith) has ever considered animals to be equivalent to humans, so the same rules don't apply to both. I guess it's the whole humans have souls, animals don't, humans are made in God's image, animals aren't dichotomy. Even the devil is often pictured with cloven feet and other animal-like features. So while thou shalt not kill, it's okay to kill the fatted calf or slaughter the Paschal lamb and all that.

Actually, it's probably a good thing that animals don't have to live by the biblical rules that apply to humans. True, this does mean they get to be killed and eaten, but it also means that they don't have to be ashamed of their nakedness. It's already bad enough that there are people who dress up their poodles in those little sweaters. Can you imagine what the world would be like if there were huge groups of psycho-Christians going around trying to clothe all the animals in the world?

It would be interesting to see what would happen if an alcoholic with celiac disease wanted to convert to Catholicism. Back in the day when I used to practice Catholicism (before I realized that no matter how much I prcaticed I was never going to get it right) I discovered how rigid the church's rules are on communion, which of course they consider to be really, truly and actually eating Jesus's body and drinking his blood. Not symbolically like many Christian churches, but actually eating and drinking it. At the campus chapel at VA Tech, there was a real live Catholic priest assigned and he said mass there every Sunday. We used to use leavened brown bread for communion instead of the cardboard hosts, which led to interesting problems with leftovers from one week to the next. We called them "Moldy Jesus" and since the rules said that consecrated hosts either had to be consumed or buried, there was a guy who had to go bury the Moldy Jesus every week. But this was back in the good old liberal days, because according to the church's rules the bread has to be made with flour and water only, with no yeast or baking soda, and the wine has to be wine, not grape juice. I think matzoh would qualify for the bread, but for some strange reason they decided round disks of cardboard would be better. But under the rules, an alcoholic with celiac disease would never be able to go to communion, because both the bread and wine would feed his disease, not his soul. I wonder how they'd handle that? With billions of Catholics worldwide, you'd think this would have come up somewhere by now...

T said...

John, I *think* the Catholic Church is allowing other flours than wheat now in congregations with celiac members--especially since Ireland and Italy both have a large population of people with wheat issues. But as for the alcohol thing....

Rob, my best guess about Aunt Mary Margaret's stance on bread is that she was taking the "staff of life" thing a little too literally, and I think she was genuinely concerned about my health, thinking that if I didn't eat bread I'd be malnourished or something.

That begs the question of the ways organized religion may have played into the growth of agriculture--if bread, nigh impossible without cultivation of land, is said to be necessary to life, then agriculture (and the social systems it spawns) gets religious backing as well as political/scientific.

But I suppose Christianity was a lot later in the game than the cultivation of land....

An Briosca Mor said...

Oh, okay, Tes, I guess the church has got it covered then. There's no requirement that you consume both the bread and wine to get your minimum daily requirement of Jesus. One or the other will do, and in fact at many churches those in the peanut gallery don't get offered a sip of the wine anyway. But if they allow other flours besides wheat, do you have to pre-order the rice cardboard instead of the wheat cardboard like you pre-order the kosher meal or the vegetarian meal on a plane? I'd be tempted to start going to church again if I knew that when I got to the front of the communion line the priest was going to have to ask me "Wheat Jesus or Rice Jesus?" like a stewardess asking "Chicken or Beef?"

Which for some reason reminds me of something else. When my niece did her Confirmation a few years ago, there was a lady who was leading prayers before the kids processed into the church. She was Chinese American and had a bit of an accent, so when she got to the end of the Our Father it sounded like "and deliver us from evil Eamonn" instead of "deliver us from evil. Amen." (Catholics don't say the last bit of the OF like the Prods do.) I kept wondering who this evil Eamonn was and why did we need to be delivered from him? Kind of like years ago when I went to a church where there was a priest from Scotland and he kept saying "The Lord be with Hugh." I should have asked him why Hugh needed the Lord so much that the rest of us couldn't hang with him for a while sometime too...

T said...

Ha! That reminds me of a couple of funnies from Irish class this summer:

1. Aifreann = Mass; Ifreann = Hell. Not too different after all!

2. There's a movement afoot to do away with the hyphens that seem random but aren't--the indicate when a grammar rule adds something to the front of a word. So in the old way, with the hyphen, it's pretty clear that the n isn't originally part of the word "athair," "father." Ar n-athair, Our Father.

BUT if the new, hyphenless way catches on, then we get...

Ar Nathair, Our Snake.

Oops.

Mike said...

Colman McCarthy. (Vegetarian and pacifist on the basis of the commandment against killing. Which he also applies to the death penalty, abortion -- though he does not oppose abortion rights, an important distinction -- and various social injustices that shorten life expectancies of the have-nots.)

Rob said...

Ok, that's one.