(Excerpt from the book "Vegetarisch leben", Govinda Verlag)
Mercy and compassion towards the weaker are fundamental ethical values that are highly respected by all religions in the world. But why are they no longer related to animals today? Why does none of the great religions of the present require their believers to stop slaughtering and eating animals?
Wouldn't it be reasonable to assume that God, who wants only the best for his creation, provides a non-violent and healthy vegetarian diet for man? And yet the religious principle of vegetarian life is mostly underestimated or even deliberately played down or denied by the contemporary major churches.
The French poet and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature (1915) Romain Rolland (1866-1944) once wrote in this context: "In my opinion, cruelty to animals and even apathy towards their suffering is one of the most serious sins of the human race. It is the basis of human depravity. If man creates so much suffering, what right does he have to complain when he himself suffers?
Modern religious institutions, however, close their eyes to this sin, some even claim in their official doctrines that the slaughter of animals is permitted to man by God. But if we examine the original teachings of the individual religions, we see that the slaughter of animals was not approved anywhere. In many religions it was even expressly forbidden. In the following we will take a closer look at the five major world religions - Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism - from this point of view.
" Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. (…)
It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble."
(Apostle Paul, Letter to the Romans 14:20-21)
" ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’“
(Jesus Christ, Matthew 25:40)
Early Christian historiography shows that the first generations of Original Christians in the direct following of Jesus Christ usually ate only meatless food. Some apostles are even mentioned by name as vegetarians. In the book Paedagogus (II,1) of Clement of Alexandria (150-215) it is stated that the apostle Matthew "lived on plant foods and touched no flesh". The Greek historian Eusebios (264-339), bishop of Caesarea, points out in his "Church History" (II,2,3) that the evangelist and apostle John was a convinced ascetic and vegetarian. And the apostle Peter testifies in the Clementine Homilies (XII,6): "I live on bread and olives, to which I seldom add a vegetable".
James, the brother or half-brother of Jesus, is expressly described by all sources as a lifelong vegetarian. Eusebios quotes in "Church History" (II,23,5-6) the testimony of the historian Hegesippos: "James was holy from the womb. He did not drink wine or any other strong drink, and he did not eat meat." Epiphanius writes in his writing "Against the Heresies" (78:14) that James died at the age of 96: "He never took meat, and he wore only a linen cloth for clothing. Apparently vegetarians were nothing unusual in Jesus' environment.
Also Jewish writings contain descriptions of the life of Jesus, especially the short, Jesus-critical writing Toledoth Jeshu. It contains a testimony of Paul, which is missing in the New Testament: "Jesus ordered me not to eat meat and drink wine, but only bread, water and fruit [to me], so that I might be found pure when he wants to speak with me.
Other early Christian vegetarians are: St. Clement of Rome (50-97) - Papias (65-130) - Clement of Alexandria (150-215) - Tertullian (160-225) - Origen (185-254) - St. Cyprianus (200-258) - St. Cyprianus (200-258) - St. Catherine of the Holy Gospels (200-258) - St. Cyprianus (200-258) - St. Cyprianus (200-258) - St. Cyprianus (200-258) - St. Cyprianus (200-258) - St. Cyprianus (185-254) - St. Cyprianus (150-215) - St. Tertullian (160-225) - St. Origenus (185-254) - St. Cyprianus (200-258) - St. Cyprian. Anthony (251-356) - Eusebius of Caesarea (264-349) - St. Basil (330-379) - St. John Chrysostomos (344-407) - St. Jerome (347-419) - Benedict (480-547; founder of the Benedictine Order) - Boniface (672-754; the "Apostle of the Germans").
Tertullian, the oldest Latin church writer, even divided the Christians into two groups around the year 200: on the one hand the "true Christians", who lived vegetarian, and on the other hand the meat eaters, whom he called "bodies without souls". And St. Basil, Church teacher and bishop of Caesarea, says: "The body that is burdened with meat dishes is afflicted with diseases; a moderate way of life makes it healthier and stronger and cuts off the root of evil. The vapours of the meat dishes darken the light of the spirit. It is difficult to love virtue when one enjoys meat dishes and feasts."
Nevertheless, not all of Jesus' followers were vegetarians. The apostle Paul occupies a special position in this context. He himself had never met Jesus personally, he was in conflict with the original apostles and preached mainly on his own. And he liked to eat meat, as he openly admits: "If I eat the sacrificial meat in gratitude, shall I then be rebuked for eating something for which I give thanks? (1 Cor 10:30)
The theme of eating meat is often taken up in Paul's letters. This shows that at that time it was still an open question whether one was allowed to eat meat as a follower of Jesus or not. Paul stressed that vegetarianism should not be turned into a stubborn religious dogma, as some Jewish and Judeo-Christian Puritans did at the time. To counteract this tendency, Paul went to the other extreme and proclaimed: "Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. For “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.” If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience.“ (1 Cor 10:25-27)
Here we are dealing with different points of view. Paul emphasizes the practical aspects of missionizing and dealing with people of different cultural and religious backgrounds. The vegetarian followers of Jesus, on the other hand, emphasize the importance of avoiding violence, thinking of the animals and the negative consequences of eating meat. Unfortunately, Christianity soon became an imperial power that even promoted eating meat.
How the consumption of meat became "Christian“
Until the 4th century, the traces of the early Christian communities from Palestine, Byzantium, Greece, Carthage and Alexandria (Egypt) clearly indicate that alcoholic beverages and meat were largely rejected. The Christians at that time obtained their knowledge about the teachings of Jesus from the existing writings and oral traditions. Most of these Original Christian documents, however, were later ignored or rejected by "ecclesiastical" Christianity, the new branch with Rome as its centre.
The Jesus-movement spread in the first three centuries after Christ despite massive persecutions in the whole Mediterranean area and as far as India. This spiritual power also led to abuse and infiltration - and to institutionalization with increasingly secular interests. A turning point with serious consequences occurred when the then Roman Emperor Constantine (280-337) decided no longer to fight this new religion but to instrumentalize it by proclaiming it the state religion in the Roman Empire and "converting" himself to Christianity. Constantine, who did not want to renounce meat and wine, only accepted the Roman form of Christianity and began to fight the other, original (!) form of Christianity, often with brutal use of force.
In the year 325 Constantine convened the Council of Nicaea to clarify certain questions of faith authoritatively. He also commissioned certain scholars (so-called correctores) to "sort" and "correct" the numerous early Christian documents on the life and teachings of Jesus. Only four of the many original testimonies were recognized as gospels and combined into a first canon, which was not uncontroversial. Only half a century later (in the year 382) a canonical selection of texts revised several times by Pope Damasus was recognized as "New Testament".
The theologian and Original Christianity researcher G. Ousley comments on this deliberate change or dilution of the teachings of Jesus as follows: "All these correctores did was to cut off the gospels with embarrassing care by very specific teachings of our Lord which they (or Constantine) did not intend to follow. These are the prohibitions that were directed against eating meat, intoxicating drinks, etc.". (Gospel of the Holy Twelve, Preface)
The original Christians, who continued to live according to Jesus' commandments of simplicity, mercy and non-violence - and thus also left out flesh and alcohol - who thus did not want to subordinate themselves to the aspiring new church, were persecuted and had to hide from their Roman "brothers in faith".
In this way the new form of Christianity gained the upper hand under the patronage of Emperor Constantine, who tolerated neither disobedience nor criticism, and his successors, and began to spread. Constantine was subsequently venerated by the Roman Church as a saint, and his life story was embellished by numerous legends.
In the discipleship of Jesus?
But it was not only the people who suffered from this arbitrary alteration of God's laws by the church institutions, but also the animals, which continued to be slaughtered and eaten unhindered everywhere.
Thus, in 561, the Council of Braga, under the direction of Pope John III, decided: "If anyone considers meat dishes, which God has given man to enjoy, to be unclean and [...] renounces them [...], he is subject to a curse".
And in the Middle Ages Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), whose views were decisive for centuries in the Christian Occident, proclaimed that the killing of animals was permitted by Providence, because animals had no soul. (It is interesting in this context that he also said that women have no soul.) A single opinion from the dark Middle Ages? No, unfortunately not. Later it was also said that the "Indians" had no soul and the "Negroes" had no soul, which is why the Christians were officially allowed to kill Indians and enslave blacks and trade with them as well as with the animals, to maltreat them and kill them if necessary. With the same naturalness animals are tortured, killed and eaten in Christian countries to this day.
Bishop Machens von Hildesheim declared in his "Lenten Letter" of 8 March 1949: "Animals have no spiritual soul and know no survival after death. But that is why they have no dignity on which they can build rights. And indeed, animals have no rights. They have no right to existence and health, to property and good reputation."
In a conversation with the renowned theologian Dr. Heinrich Streithofen, the German magazine „Deutsche Geflügelwirtschaft und Schweineproduktion“ of 26 October 1985 asked the question: "Some animal rights activists claim that animals also have a fundamental right to life, analogous to our basic human rights. What do you think of it?“ The theologian replied: "This is nonsense! That is neither legally nor theologically, nor philosophically durable. [...] Only man is person. The animal lacks the character of a person. [...] In the order of the animal to the benefit of man, not only its use can be justified, but also its killing, or its rearing."
The following quotation from the new catechism of the Roman Catholic Church (formulated by the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, today's Pope Benedict XVI) shows that the great Christian institutions still see no necessity to save animals from death by slaughter and from laboratory death by vivisection: "Thus animals may be used for food and for the production of clothes. They may be tamed in order to make them useful to man at work and in his leisure time. Medical and scientific animal experiments are morally permissible within reasonable limits, because they contribute to the healing and saving of human life. ...] It is also unworthy to spend money on them [the animals], which should primarily alleviate human need. Animals may be loved, but they should not be given the love due only to men." (page 609, sections 2417 and 2418)
So it is not surprising that there have always been voices that speak of a "betrayal of Christians to animals". "What do we expect from a religion if we exclude compassion for animals," asked Richard Wagner, the well-known composer and vegetarian.
And the German chemist Günther Weitzel (1915-1984) writes: "The Christian conscience cannot be satisfied with the non-application of the fifth commandment to slaughter animals. Anyone who has ever visited a slaughterhouse tends to be more or less shocked and disgusted by what they have seen. Almost everyone comes to the conclusion that the brutal slaughter of animals, which were first raised and fattened in order to finally eat them, is unworthy of today's mankind and especially of Christianity".
Eating meat and the Bible
But what does the Bible say about eating meat? The various editions of the Church Bible are based on the Codex Sinaiticus, the oldest Bible text that still exists today. This text is written in Greek and dates back to the fourth century A.D., i.e. to the time after Emperor Constantine's Council of Nicaea! Earlier Bible originals are officially no longer available today. Other recognized Bible texts, such as the Codex Vaticanus and the Codex Alexandrinus, were written even later and, like the Codex Sinaiticus, are only church translations and copies of copies.
This explains why today only fragments of the original teachings of Jesus Christ are available to us, especially with regard to human nutrition. Since we no longer know the conclusive statements of Jesus in this question, there is no need to discuss the diet of Jesus if we want to rely exclusively on the New Testament of today.
Even the Old Testament, superficially speaking, makes no clear statements, but contains contradictory instructions. Certain passages in the text require people to eat vegetarian food, while others allow them to eat meat and sacrifice animals. However, on closer examination, it must be recognized that the meatless diet is clearly preferred.
In the first book of Moses there is a certain permission to eat meat ("Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you.", Gen 9:3), but this referred to the time after the Flood, when all farmland was washed away. Instead of referring arbitrarily to this makeshift (we would then also have to accept the death penalty demanded in Gen 9,6!), it would be better to adhere to the original instruction of God, which can be found on the first page of the Bible: "And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food." (Gen 1:29)
In the verse after the next, God confirms that this kind of nourishment is "very good", whereas the other, which He later mentions (the one with flesh), is only allowed because of the momentary emergency after the Flood - a nourishment that will " The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea." (Gen 9:2).
The much quoted example of quails in the 4th book of Moses makes this point even clearer. After the people of Israel had become tired of the manna, the bread of heaven, on their desert journey and were longing for flesh, it happened that God made quails rain from heaven, whereupon the people greedily collected them and wanted to eat them in a great feast (described in Numbers 11:31-32).
But in order to do justice to the whole story, one must also consider the following verse: "While the meat was yet between their teeth, before it was consumed, the anger of the Lord was kindled against the people, and the Lord struck down the people with a very great plague." (Num 11:33). In other words, God did not like people eating the flesh of quails!
St. Jerome (347-419), Church Father of Bethlehem, wrote: "The use of wine began with eating meat after the Flood. The consumption of animal meat was unknown until the Flood, but since the Flood we have had the fibres and the foul-smelling juices of animal meat stuffed into our mouths. [...] Jesus Christ, who appeared when the time was fulfilled, again linked the end with the beginning (Gen 1:29), so that we are no longer allowed to eat animal flesh."
Despite all these indications, many Christians say that the Bible permits, even requires, the eating of meat. They often refer to a passage from the Book of Acts (Acts 10,9-16):
"Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.“
Is this biblical passage really an invitation to eat meat? Only if one takes it out of context could one come to such a misinterpretation. Peter's reaction shows that meat was something unholy and unclean for him, and the old sources confirm that he did not eat meat. Peter then did not slaughter and eat any of the animals, especially as it was just a vision. Only a few paragraphs later Peter himself explains what the meaning of this vision was. At that time, messengers of a pious Roman from Caesarea were on their way to invite him, Peter, to the house of this Roman. Because of the vision, Peter accepted the invitation and explained to his host:
“You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection. I ask then why you sent for me.” (Acts 10:28-29)
Obviously, this vision was not about an invitation to eat meat, but about a symbolic representation that was supposed to show that man does not have the right to describe other people as impure or unworthy because of religious-social dogmas. If this was about eating meat, then it was at most a sign of a fundamental exception, so that one does not simply not eat meat out of a religious dogmatism. To claim that this biblical passage explicitly allows Christians to eat meat is therefore a gross misinterpretation, if not hypocrisy.
Other passages in the Bible, on the other hand, make it clear that eating without meat is not only more ethical and more pleasing to God, but also healthier than eating meat, and that it can even open people up to divine wisdom and visions:
" Then Daniel said to the steward whom the chief of the eunuchs had assigned over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, “Test your servants for ten days; let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then let our appearance and the appearance of the youths who eat the king’s food be observed by you, and deal with your servants according to what you see.” So he listened to them in this matter, and tested them for ten days. At the end of ten days it was seen that they were better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youths who ate the king’s food. So the steward took away their food and the wine they were to drink, and gave them vegetables. As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.". (Dan 1:11-17)
John the Baptist
God-conscious people of all times therefore for good reasons refused to eat the flesh of killed animals. One is doing oneself and these personalities a disservice by trying to imply that they also ate meat. But unfortunately this happened again and again, not least also with the most important harbinger of Jesus, John the Baptist: " John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey", can be read in Mt 3:4.
Here we see a classic example of a manipulated translation. Who can believe that the exalted John the Baptist, by whom even Jesus was baptized, ate locusts? The supposed "locusts" (lat. locusta) are the fruits of the locust tree (so-called "locust tree" or Courbaril). In Palestine the fruits of the locust tree, the carob, are among the most important foodstuffs, and precisely because John the Baptist also fed on them, these sweet, bean-like pulses are still called "carob" to this day! And wherever these flower-bearing trees grow, there is also wild honey. Carob and honey go much better together culinarily than locusts and honey. The Bible translators should have noticed this by now.
It is remarkable in this context that early rabbinical literature also mentions saints who fed on nothing more than carob, for example Rabbi Hanina in the Talmudic treatise Berakhot.
Glimmer of Hope
Fortunately, today there is an increasing number of believing Christians who do not limit the biblical commandment "Love your neighbor as yourself" to humans only and therefore prefer a vegetarian diet based on Christian teachings. Here are two examples that give us hope, representative of all of them.
Prof. Erich Gräßer, Ordinarius for New Testament at the University of Bonn, explained in a speech on the subject of "Church and Animal Welfare": "If once the history of our church is written, then the subject of "Church and Animal Welfare" in the 20th century will be as black a chapter as the subject of "Church and Witch Burning" once was in the Middle Ages. [...] What we are experiencing today is a terrible game of hell, cleverly devised with a calculating pen, in which we downgrade our farm animals to animal machines in mass animal husbandry. The surplus of eggs, meat and butter that Western affluent societies produce in this way is paid for with inhumane cruelty to animals. In the face of this monstrosity practiced everywhere with impunity, Albert Schweitzer's ethics of 'reverence for life' reads like a message from another star. And a church that remains silent about all this thereby declares the bankruptcy of its sermon of mercy / The ethics of reverence for life are biblical. The Bible of the Old and New Testaments is full of testimonies of God's care for all creatures. Because being good to the animals is a matter of course, the centre of the Christian faith, the dedication of Jesus' life to the sins of men, has been described with the image of the good shepherd: 'I am the good shepherd, the good shepherd leaves his life for the sheep'".
And Eugen Drewermann, probably the best known theologian/psychotherapist of the present time, explained in a lecture on the culture of peace in the religions (18 August 1991) the famous line of the "Our Father" prayer, "Give us our daily bread today", as follows:
"Remember also our older sisters and brothers, the animals. [...] Forbid man to kill animals in order to eat them. For they too are sentient beings; in them too dwells the longing for life; they are our companions on the common path to immortality.
As long as people still kill animals, they will also wage wars. As long as humans eat animals, they will torture their innocent victims to death: hundreds of thousands in the laboratories and mass breeding institutions, millions in the abattoirs of the cities, myriads in the oceans. Their blood stream must no longer serve as food, their bodies as raw materials, their lives as food for us humans.
Forbid us, Lord, the daily meat. Give us today our daily bread. Amen.
"You who have mercy on a lamb,
"You shall be the shepherd of my people Israel."
(Midrash Rabbah, Exodus II:2)
Not only many Original Christian Church Fathers of the first centuries after Jesus lived vegetarian, but also various Jewish monastic orders before and during Jesus' lifetime, such as the Essenes and the Nazarenes.
Already in the centuries before Christ, representatives of these orders and also individual Jewish prophets strongly criticized the institutionalized custom of animal sacrifices, which was closely connected with the priestly sanctioned consumption of meat. For example, the prophet Isaiah gave the following word of God to the animal sacrificing priests: “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil.“ (Isa 1,11 and 1,15-16)
According to this prophet, the sacrifice and slaughter of animals is regarded as "evil doing" and "evil doing"! Why? Because this contradicts the original law of God, as it is pronounced right at the beginning of Genesis by the Creator God himself (see the passage already quoted in Gen 1:29).
Genesis as the first book of Moses is not only the first book of the Bible, but also the first book of the Jewish Torah. And in this book it is said that the first ten biblical generations (from Adam to Noah) lived vegetarian in observance of the original divine law. Due to the Fall of Man in Paradise, however, murder and jealousy (Cain and Abel) occurred among the people, which ultimately led to the Flood as God's "punishment". It was only after this global catastrophe that people began to eat meat because of their need for survival, and even in this situation God allowed them to eat meat only with great restrictions. The fact that all people lived fleshless before the Flood and also during the Flood (on Noah's Ark) is clearly emphasized in Gen 9:3: "From now on you may eat meat, not only grain, fruit and vegetables". But in the same breath God also says that "all animals, land animals, aquatic animals and birds" from now on "must live in fear of you" (Gen 9:2), and he immediately adds a meaningful prohibition: "Meat, however, in which there is still blood, you shall not eat, for in the blood there is life" (Gen 9:4). Immediately afterwards (Gen 9:6) the Old Testament God enacts hard laws for the flesh-eating humanity: "I demand life for life, from animals and man. The one who kills a man must die by human hands, for man is created in the image of God". And originally man, created in the image of God, lived vegetarian!
As described above, even in the extreme emergency situation after the Flood, people were not allowed to eat meat without limits. God's permission was associated with considerable conditions and restrictions. For example, it is strictly forbidden to eat "flesh with blood" (Gen 9,4; Lev 17,14, etc.). But instead of simply omitting the meat altogether - especially after the emergency situation was over - Jewish teachers of the faith, based on the assumption that they were allowed to eat meat without blood, introduced complicated dietary laws (kashrut) as well as purity rules and killing rituals (shechitah) to get "kosher" meat.
To this day, these traditional rules and rituals are hardly questioned or examined for their meaningfulness. So still today the animals are slaughtered, that is, one pulls them at their bound hind legs into the height, cuts them with alive body the throat open and lets them slowly bleed to death - an extremely brutal killing method, which can make the meat anyway never 100% bloodless: Although the liquid blood is removed from the arteries by this elaborate method, it remains in the capillaries, the smallest blood vessels, in solidified form. So there is no bloodless meat! These rules should actually show that it would be better to omit the meat completely.
The renowned Jewish scholar Richard Schwartz argues: "Can a religion say that ox and donkey may not be imprisoned together (Dtn 22,10), that an ox may not be muzzled when threshing grain (Dtn 25,4) and that animals should graze freely on open fields? to enjoy the beauty of creation on the Sabbath (Rashi's commentary on Ex 23:12) - can such a religion ignore the widespread violations of tsar-ar ba-ale chayim, the commandment not to inflict pain on any living creature?» (in: Judaism and Vegetarianism)
We can draw conclusions on the subject of vegetarianism, Judaism and Jewish food laws:
Only vegetarians do not consume blood, and so every vegetarian food is naturally kosher. The consistent application of Jewish dietary laws should therefore lead to vegetarianism, for it is obvious that the most effective way to protect animals from pain is to let them live.In his remarkable treatise "On eating meat" Plutarch (45-125 A.D.) writes: "Can you really ask why Pythagoras abstained from eating meat? For my part, I wonder under what circumstances and in what state of mind a man first managed to touch blood with his mouth, lead his lips to the flesh of a carcass, and adorn his table with dead, decaying bodies, and then allowed himself to call food the parts that had just roared and screamed, moved and lived. [...] For the sake of the meat, we rob them of the sun, the light, and the life to which they are entitled from birth."