By Marv Wheale
Is religious veganism a truth-informed disposition?
Vegans of theological persuasion feel that the speciesism of their faith traditions can be uprooted by educating nonvegan members about veganism and by appealing to spiritual teachings on compassion and mercy. A common assertion of these vegans is that religious institutions have corrupted the scriptures on which those organizations were originally based. The founding sacred testaments are said to be undefiled, divinely inspired, and hold potential for veganizing.
A thorough look into these ancient literary works however muddies the affirmation. They reveal that god created a social ladder of being. God, the supreme being at the top delegates authority to men (especially the prophets) to be the main spokespersons for divinity. Unequal male ranks of power run the world and are to provide for women. Women’s assigned gender roles tend to be nurturing, childcare, eldercare and meal preparation. Animals are placed at the bottom of the grand design serving human purposes.
The overall hierarchy is both gracious and punitive. Kindness, mercy, gentleness, patience, and sacrificial love are commanded by god in the pyramid structure. If the commandments are breached then punishment is to be enacted unless there is repentance. If so, forgiveness and reconciliation are bestowed.
Humans are appointed as stewards and caretakers of animals, a paternalistic relationship that places animals as dependent and vulnerable rather than equal to humans. Eating animals and their byproducts is deemed moral though they are not to be mistreated while alive. Abstaining from animal flesh is prescribed sometimes but is considered an act of spiritual purification not a deed of animal justice.
In fact, the ethics of care ideology in the words of god is an altruistic and violent message, including its benevolent sexism and classism. Class divisions, slavery, gender role designations, monarchies (divine right of kings) feudalism and other stratifications are all sanctioned; albeit self-sacrificing virtue and reprieve are demanded from all unequal sides.
The centrality of care and compassion diverts attention away from the injustice of inequitable power structures the very cause of the cruel behavior in the first place. Inequality is intrinsically unjust and leads to various types of humiliation and harm.
Furthermore, the god of scriptures wants to be worshipped and praised. No matter how empathic and forgiving this entity claims to be, the expectation of veneration is egotistical and petty. This god is vindictive when people reject god’s authority, love and morality; this seems a lot like men who control and commit violence against women when they are disobedient, followed by acts of affection. The analogy makes sense given that men wrote down the pronouncements of god.
Believing in an omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent god who wants to be adored and loved also infantilizes us. It holds us back from pursuing mature collective equality among ourselves and towards other animals.
To fully critique the hierarchies of god/s we have to question the very existence of the supernatural. There is no scientific proof of nonmaterial life. Religious belief is based on a “felt presence” beyond material observation. Faith in an intangible being is irrational.
The construction of god was a divergent process different groups of men developed over time. Their quest was to transcend bodily limitations, suffering and death. Eternal salvation was determined to happen through communion with the wonders of nature, with the creator, savior and lord of all, to reach a oneness of consciousness – building immortal castles in the sky.
One can not separate the invention of god from its contextual times – male-dominant cultures and institutions. God was conceived by them as the cornerstone of other hierarchies, among them, human-animal supremacy. It would be denying reality to give a historical account of nonhuman animal subservience without admitting the role of supposed divine revelation in scrolls and books.*
To associate veganism with faith teachings is to discredit veganism as something compatible with patriarchal mythology. This trivializes veganism as belonging to magical beliefs like ghosts, angels, fairies, santa claus, easter bunny…
Veganism is a political movement for animal and human-animal liberation. It is based on scientific methodology, reason and empathy, contradicting the illusions of religion.**
Spiritual vegans have to grapple with faith identities that don’t strive to abolish structural inequality in this world.
*I have intentionally avoided quoting scriptures as it would lend itself to an overly selective reading of these voluminous documents in such a short review. I have chosen to summarize the literature as a whole instead. If readers think this is unfair or insufficiently nuanced I invite them to study the testaments themselves to see if social stratification, love and violence commingle in the framed nature of god.
**Social scientists and other scientists who assert that the god of scriptures is real are betraying the observable evidence they are trained to study, thereby exhibiting an anti-science position.