And Who Is to Blame?
Within the (relatively small) circle of vegan authors, writers, and activists who grew up in a deeply committed Judeo-Christian community, there has existed a common thread that has connected the men and women from this group. The more I have studied this subculture, the more I have become aware of this binding commonality that we have shared in our past lives (I include myself in this category, as I was raised in a Southern Baptist culture). Norm Phelps, author of several works on the intersection of veganism and the world religions, details the aforementioned thread rather powerfully in the following selection from his book “The Dominion of Love: Animal Rights According to the Bible”:
“I grew up in a devout Southern Baptist family. Food was an important part of our church fellowship. On Sunday afternoons we would gather in the church social hall, or under the ancient oak trees in the church yard, to enjoy the feast that the ladies of the church had spread before us. Before the first plate was passed, we would bow our heads and fold our hands as the pastor offered thanks to God for the food that we were about to eat. The obscenity of thanking God for the suffering and death that were on our plates never occurred to any of us. We had all been corrupted, as had our church, by absolute power”.
Very much in the same vein as Phelps, I myself grew up deeply invested in the orthodoxy and the values of the culture I inhabited (as would be expected of most individuals, who adopt the habits and traditions of their immediate communities). Looking back on my upbringing, it was initially incredibly tempting to blame my religious heritage for giving credence to the idea that man may well do as he pleased with the “lower creatures”; that he may choose to destroy, instead of nurture and heal. And for a time, I harbored bitterness and resentment towards my upbringing, in this regard. I was under the false impression that it was religion, as an institution, that was fueling the fire of merciless cruelty towards our fellow sentient beings. After all, it is one thing for an individual to claim that it is simply his or her prerogative to consume the flesh or secretions of a fellow earthling. It is another matter entirely for that individual to claim that he or she has some sort of divine and eternal permission to act in a way that causes enormous and unnecessary suffering to creatures that can and do feel tremendous pain. The latter claim caused my blood to boil much hotter than the former, for whatever reason.
It’s rather tempting to lay the blame at the feet of the religious institutions in whose shadow many of us grew up in. They’re omnipresent, vocal, and deeply interwoven into the fabric of our cultures. And yet, to place the blame on this faith traditions is misguided. Dr. Will Tuttle, in his best-selling book “The World Peace Diet”, gently reminds readers that however eager we might be to cast blame on a particular culture, organization, or religious tradition, to do so would be to fire prematurely, so to speak. Speaking from an anthropological perspective, Dr. Tuttle reminds us that the herding culture emerged several thousand years ago, allowing this new paradigm of domination and subjugation to be created and built into almost all cultures and tribes alike, as well as the faith traditions of our ancestors. When we hear a believer speak of her desire and “right” to consume flesh, or we listen to a man of faith claim his divine “right” to use a living being however he wishes, we must not expend our energies on the minutiae of their faith, or wear ourselves out in attempting to understand the technicalities or verses where they believe the “right” lies within. In remembering that the overarching paradigm of domination and oppression extends far beyond the fairly recent advent of major world religions and faiths, we allow ourselves to have more compassion on those who feel extremely confident that their faith allows them to act in a manner that we consider deeply unethical and cruel. In keeping this perspective in mind, we give ourselves opportunities to practice thoughtfulness and consideration towards all people, regardless of their religious histories.