September 18, 2007

But God Told Me To Do It

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:55 pm by nevavegan

A little while ago I posted on vegevangelism and maybe permanently offended the wonderful and inspiring Bazu of “Where’s the Revolution.” She objected not just to the term but to the entire concept as a person who has been burned by proselytizing of the religious sort before.

I tried to clarify that I actually meant only that I thought Animalblawg had a point about borrowing a page from the born again Christians in terms of their success in community building and support systems. We’re already out there talking to people about veganism, but we need to provide support systems for them as well.

I was also sort of making fun of myself for smiling so much when I leaflet. Did I ever tell you the story about when I was working at this stupid warehouse store and I just smiled and smiled all day long, every single day? I actually got in trouble because this man was having a terrible day and was mad about waiting in line and he complained to my manager that it was insulting that I was smiling so much when the lines were so long. I didn’t even remember him, but he wrote in the complaint that I saw him getting more and more upset and smiled at him, and he felt I smiled at him purposefully in order to make him even angrier. He also said that he believed the lines would have moved faster is I hadn’t smiled and said nice things to the customers. Anyway, that’s a side track—I’m just saying that smiling is a dangerous business and you should all watch out.

In any case I find myself somewhat perplexed by recent arguments elsewhere in the blogsosphere that veganism is wrong because God put the animals on this earth for us to eat. I mean, I know carnivorous animals eat other animals, and I also had the unpleasant experience of watching some feral cats in my neighborhood the other day eating a road-killed animal that was pretty much, well, not newly killed or even close to it, but really incredibly rank. But this does not mean that I think it’s ok for me to kill and eat animals, nor do I plan to emulate the cats and chow down on decaying corpses killed accidentally by cars that I find on the side of the road.

But I just have to ask, if God intended us to eat animals, then why would God endow us with empathy and compassion, and give us the intelligence to both make tofu and figure out how complex and meaningful other animals are? Why would God give us the ability to love and cherish non-human animals if our purpose is just to destroy them? If God intended us to eat animals, then why give them personalities or let them feel pain? Is it some kind of cruel joke where God designs people to actually flinch with empathetic pain when we see another hurt, but then send us out with the intention that we spend our entire lives hurting others?

If animals truly had no other purpose than to be food for humans, then why give them so many variations? Why make carnivorous animals at all? And why not just grow animals on trees? Or if there is some spiritual requirement that life cannot be so easy as eating what grows on trees, then perhaps make us dig them up out of the ground, or give them particularly tough husks. If animals have no purpose but to feed us, then why create complex and fragile ecosystems in parts of the world where humans have not traditionally lived? Why create species that need particular environments or food or reproduce slowly? If animals have no purpose except to be our food why create great apes or cheetahs? Why create bees that speak through dance and birds that solve puzzles? And why create species delicate enough that we can rapidly drive them into extinction?

You know because it seems to me that you can look at all of this and think “Wow, God created something incredibly beautiful and complex and I’m not totally sure what all of it means, but I probably ought to try to protect and cherish it.” Or you can look at the world and say “God, schmod, this is one giant buffet table and I intend to eat everything I can stuff down my throat, waste and destroy the rest, and throw my trash everywhere. God wouldn’t have created all this for any other reason except so I can destroy it all.”

I probably over-simplify everything, but sometimes I see a certain value in dumb analogies. I wouldn’t go over to my neighbor’s house and then upend their aquarium and eat all the fish, throw trash everywhere, track mud on the carpets, burn all their house plants, kill their cat, and toss raw sewage onto their bed. So why should I go out into the world and burn forests to raise cattle, pollute the ground water and oceans with animal waste and chemicals running off from farms, kill irreplaceable species either to consume or wear them or just because I want to build factories where they live. How does that make any sense?

I’ve encountered a lot of evangelists in my life, some scarier than others actually. I really don’t find much ground to compare myself to them most of the time. I don’t, for example, corner people on train cars and tell them they’re going to hell. I don’t appear on TV asking for money. I’m always a little suspicious of people who say that they’ve got a direct line to God. I’m even more suspicious when they claim that God tells them to keep doing the things they want to do, even when faced with evidence of the harm caused by those actions. I don’t have the direct line, so I have to muddle through life like an ordinary human being trying to decide the best course using the tools I have, intelligence, empathy, kindness. That was what I was given and I don’t have much else to work with.



  1. Canaduck said,

    That’s just hilarious about that crazy customer getting upset because you were smiling at him. What a paranoid jerk! I hope your boss felt the same way!

    I work in customer service right now and try very hard to be as friendly as possible, however, so I’ll take this story as a caveat.

  2. Gary said,

    Another excellent post! “God put them here for our use” is a disgusting and, in my opinion, blasphemous catch-all excuse for committing violence and oppression. It is an invented psuedo-cosmic fantasy in which greed, gluttony, and other deadly sins are not only approved by God but are part of a system of non-ending brutality, slavery, and cruelty – and resultant suffering – that God put in place. It is to say that God is evil and violates the basic precepts of the bible. It is to project human callousness, selfishness, and exploitative urges onto God. It is to remove all human responsibility for killing and torturing animals for pleasure and foist them onto God instead.

    “God put them here for our use” is the same specious and arrogant rationale that was conjured up to defend human slavery.

    The argument doesn’t even hold up intrinsically; it is blatantly implausible and incongruous within the context of the bible. In Gensis, God created the animals before humans, and they were declared Very Good in and of themselves, independent of human existence or human desire. God’s ideal vision, manifested in Eden, is an ultra-vegan world in which no harm is inflicted on sentient beings, in which there is only love and mercy. Of course, creating animals only to destroy them – for pleasure and profit – is a flagrant rejection of that vision.

    Our penchant for violence and killing is the cause of The Fall, the great failing of humankind. After the flood, speaking to Noah, God grants a concession to humans to eat meat. It is a lamentation, not a change of heart – not an approval! It is but one example in the bible of God reluctantly allowing limited human transgressions in order to prevent unrestrained transgressions from completely destroying Creation. This concession comes with a curse – the animals’ fear and dread of us – and with a long list of conditions that are rarely met today.

    The Source of all good would not desire a world in which the powerful overwhelm the vulnerable. That flies in the face of repeated calls for mercy and of principles like the Golden Rule. It is the opposite of Jesus’ model, in which the powerful sacrifice on behalf of the vulnerable.

    If we have to rely on “But God said we could” in order to justify violence toward the innocent, we should know we are debasing the concept of God.

    The Rev. Andrew Linzey has pointed out that the animals belong to God, not to humans, and that the faithful can show love of God and love of goodness by loving Creation.

    We know in our hearts that kindness is right and that the animals do not want to die or suffer. That we can so completely ignore fundamental morals found in every religion as well as secular systems, and imagine that we are entitled to violently deny others’ most profound interests for inessential and superficial indulgences is frightening; it shows our capacity for evil. I can only hope that our capacity for good is larger.

  3. Gary said,

    The story about “smiling too much” is amusing, and I’m sure the reason for the man being upset was not your smile.

    That said, I suppose there is something to be said for insincere over-smiling toward someone. Hopefully our smiles when doing outreach are not only a way of being courteous but also reflect faith that people have goodness in their hearts and can do the right thing and therefore bring peace to the world. Helping to make that happen is something worth smiling about.

  4. bazu said,

    Oh my gosh, you did not offend me in any way! I always come to your blog to get food for thought, and that post certainly gave me that. Sorry if I gave you that impression- but I definitely see the point in what you’re saying.

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