The Bible and Flesh-Eating

By Bertram McCrie
Herald of the Golden Age, October 1905

There are many worthy Christians in the world today who regard the Bible as a sort of divinely appointed city of refuge, to which they may flee at sundry inconvenient seasons. However much they may ignore the Bible in ordinary affairs, they promptly fall back upon it when pursued by some avenger of distorted truth or murdered reason, and, entrenched behind its sixty-six ramparts, prepare to launch upon the pursuer’s head a fusillade of texts.

No serious objection to this procedure would be raised by those who are striving only to know and do God’s will, were it not that by such usage the Bible is inevitably dragged down to the level of a mere dictionary of quotations, and forced to sanction acts and habits for which reason, justice and common-sense can find neither authority nor necessity.

When a man can find nothing save custom and convention to justify his action, and thereupon seeks to support his position by quoting sentences from a collection of writings which he tries to put beyond criticism by calling “God’s Word,” it is likely his only concern is to avoid using the reason God has given him, and to excuse himself from the trouble of making any changes in his manners or morals. With such a one the question is not—”Am I doing right or wrong in this?” but—”Where shall I find something to justify me going on as I have been doing?” and he who hunts for vindication of that sort has generally no difficulty in finding it—to his own satisfaction.

The readiness with which many a Christian repairs to his city of refuge is very marked in his attitude towards the great subject of Food Reform. Like a mighty flood the purifying waters of this Movement are sweeping over the land, bidding fair to drown out the refugee if he will not learn to travel on and with them; yet still he hops from pinnacle to pinnacle, finding ever some more attenuated text or passage to hurl at the advancing waves, with an energy worthy of a much better cause than the defence of carnivorism.

Science unhesitatingly affirms man’s strictly frugivorous nature and constitution; History asserts his food to have been the fruits of the earth, and testifies to the efficiency and preponderance of his non flesh-eating ancestors and contemporaries; Ethics point to the immorality of depriving sentient beings of life without the slightest necessity therefore; Art is not found in the shambles; Hygiene dwells far from the putrefaction of undestroyed corpses; Economics, whether political or domestic, have nothing to say in favour of pastoralism and butchers’ meat; Humanity denounces the pitiless cruelty and degradation of all that is implied in butchery; and strange and terrible would it be if Religion championed a practice which all these former principles united in condemning.

The biblical apologist for flesh-eating should take heed lest such action discredit not only himself but his authority, in the eyes of those who look upon Religion as the harmony of life.

It is only when we follow such a defender of carnality into his citadel that we find how great is his determination to vindicate his habits, how small his aspiration to enter into the spirit of all truth. The Bible does not expressly prohibit flesh-eating, and in many places it apparently sanctions and encourages that practice. “Therefore,” says the bibliolater, “God and the Bible are with me!” and he sits down to his burnt beef with a good conscience. But he does not stop to reflect that there are many other reprehensible practices which the Bible does not denounce or even mention at all, yet which every sane individual knows to be morally indefensible.

The Bible does not forbid slavery; indeed during the anti-slavery struggle in America many “divines” found texts on which to base sermons supporting the slave trade.

It does not forbid War; and so the clergy were ready to eulogise the South African war, and can formally bless armies, guns and battleships.

It does not forbid Vivisection; which accordingly finds advocates among Church dignitaries, and no opposition from the Church generally.

It does not forbid intemperance, gambling, opium-smoking, prostitution, bull-fighting, sweated industries, and many other social diseases of the day. Yet every person possessed of a head to think and a heart to feel knows that these things are inexcusable and wicked.

The point is, that although the Bible may seem to be silent about some of the evils which were practically non-existent when it was written (and this should be noted with regard to the growth of the flesh traffic), and may appear to condone quite as frequently as condemn other barbarities, this is only the result of a superficial and illogical reading and apprehension of its message.

Its plan and purpose is not to enumerate a list of specific sins which have been, are being, or may come to be committed, and then pronounce judgment upon them, but to lay down certain principles and truths whose actual adoption would make all such sins impossible.

The most hardened literalist will hardly controvert this, and be left to explain many passages wherein God appears to actually commend iniquity. So, then, although the Bible does not directly inveigh against the use of flesh food by mankind generally, it is scarcely wise to infer from this that flesh-eating is a good and God-ordained custom.

In considering what the Bible really teaches regarding such a practice as Carnivorism, it is not necessary to spend much time over the Old Testament writings. They are admittedly a prologue to the story of the Gospels, and of themselves do not furnish an absolutely satisfactory system of ethics; but one or two points may be noted in passing.

If read in the orthodox manner, they present us with the history of a people who are journeying from the darkness of materiality into the light of liberty and righteousness. It is the evolution of a nation who are at first in sore bondage to the senses, requiring elaborate ceremonial rites, and a sacrificial system which might fairly strike the casual reader as being brutal in the extreme. Gradually as centuries of struggle and experience pass over them they come to learn that God has no actual pleasure in burnt offerings and animal sacrifices; that the only sacrifice He delights in is the sacrifice of the lower animal nature to the higher self; that the choicest offering to lay on His altar is a cleansed and humble heart.

Surely, among the most elementary of the sensual lusts to be uprooted in this journey towards a spiritual Canaan, the lust for flesh and blood ought to find prominent place. The victims of this sacrificial system are numbered by hundreds of millions yearly; its priesthood are degraded below the level of the beasts they slaughter; and the people to whom they minister are branded with animality and blood-thirstiness as the result of their unlawful appetites.

Carnivorism and Christianity

Not incongruous in the semi-barbaric days of the Old Testament, Carnivorism is, to-day, after nineteen centuries of the gospel of Christ, an astonishing and hideous anomaly. Passing over the obviously higher tone in the message of such an advocate of humanitarianism as Isaiah, and many of the later prophets, and the indication this gives us of the rousing of public conscience and the growth of national morality, we may come at once to the New Testament and the life and teaching it enshrines.

Whatever may be the differences of opinion concerning the nature of Christ, there is no doubt that He represents for most of us the type of perfected humanity, and gives to our world a standard of life and thought that it is not likely to find insufficient or to outgrow. And so the crucial question presents itself as to what Christ would have us do in this matter of feeding on our slaughtered fellow creatures.

Can it be imagined for one moment that He, the personification of love, pity, and purity, could stand with uplifted pole-axe before the frantic ox, or wield the knife upon the dazed lamb? The thought is monstrous; but is it any less dreadful to think of Him as doing these deeds by proxy, and being one for whom axe and knife dripped gore?

Remembering that flesh food is absolutely unnecessary to support life, and that we have historical evidence of the existence in Christ’s time of communities of men who were pledged not to pollute their lips with flesh and blood, it is nothing short of blasphemy to instance Christ as upholding butchery and carnivorism, and thus sanction impurity and cruelty.

It will be said that He ate fish, but supposing that He did, there is a great gulf fixed between the eating of net-caught fish and the bloody massacre of delicately organised and sentient animals; it is not fish-eating but flesh-eating that we protest against.

It may also be suggested that He ate the paschal lamb, but John’s Gospel makes it clear that the supper with the disciples took place on the evening of the day before the Passover, the day of unleavened bread. In this connection it may be pointed out that as Christ himself was the realization of all the symbolical feasts of the Passover there would be no necessity for his perpetuating a rite of which He was the completion and fulfilment. No atom of evidence exists to show that the flesh of slaughtered animal ever passed His stainless lips, and His every word and action was in active opposition to the spirit of savage sensuality which makes flesh-eating possible.

Few even of the official exponents of sacred history are aware that the early church historians, Eusebius, Clement of Alexandria, Hegesippus, and Augustine clearly record that Matthew, James the Apostle, and James the brother of Jesus, were strict abstainers from flesh-food; and that there is also ground for believing that Thomas was of the same persuasion. To these may be added on his own confession, the Apostle Peter; while the account we have of John the Baptist does not suggest that he was one for whom the butcher plied his ghastly trade. We are fairly entitled to ask if the Master actually came behind his own disciples in the living of a pure and merciful life.*

It is at this stage that the carnivorous Bible-reader falls back upon his ally—Paul. Perhaps owing to its greater elasticity the doctrine of Paul has more attraction for some Christians than the teaching of Christ, but an impartial consideration of the writings attributed to him will show that Paul the Pharisee often writes under the signature of Paul the servant of Christ. A man who could at one time say,-“Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no meat while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend,” and at another,—”Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, that eat, asking no questions for conscience sake,” must evidently be accepted as a spiritual guide with some discrimination. The desire to be all things to all men in order to save some, is heroic, but if it leads a man into himself committing the very sins from which he wishes to save others it is plainly enthusiasm run to seed.

However valuable Paul’s writings may be as a basis for theological disquisitions, we must give first place to the precepts and example of Christ in questions concerning the conduct of life. Christ’s teaching and influence are wholly against the practice of carnivorism, Paul apparently tries to defend it,—under which flag shall we take our stand?

The day seems yet far distant when the professed followers of Christ will realize that in such sayings as —”Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy,” and—”Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me,” is comprehended a love and compassion so vast as to preclude their limitation to the merely human kingdom. Not till the scales of pride and selfishness have fallen from our eyes will we discern the full significance of that injunction,—”Thou shalt not kill.”

The Teaching of the Fathers

It is reasonable to suppose that the men who lived nearest to the time of Christ would have the clearest conception of what the Christian’s attitude to such a matter as flesh-eating ought to be. Living as it were in the immediate afterglow of His presence, ere yet the mists of sectarianism and prejudice had risen round His figure, they would have almost first hand knowledge upon many of the questions which later historians could only answer by tradition and speculation. And so when we turn to the writings of the early Christian fathers of the first four centuries, it is refreshing—for the non-carnivorous reader— to find how strongly the finest minds of that time denounced the barbarous custom of desecrating the Temple of the Holy Spirit with decaying; flesh.

Tertullian, Basil, Clemens Alexandrinus, John Chrysostom, Jerome, Origen, Marcion and Callistratus, with the sects of the Encratites, Ebionites, Nazarenes, Thcrapeutae and Essenes, representing various schools of thought, all held up abstinence from flesh-food as essential to and characteristic of the true follower of Christ. Space can only be found for two quotations, but these are representative of the whole body of testimony. John Chrysostom drew this picture of men who were fitting themselves for the Christian ministry:-

” No streams of blood are among them ; no butchering and cutting up of flesh ; no dainty cookery ; no heaviness of head. Nor are there horrible smells of flesh-meats among them, or disagreeable fumes from the kitchen. No tumult or disturbance and wearisome clamours, but bread and water,. …If, however, they may desire to feast more sumptuously, the sumptuousness consists in fruits, and their pleasure in these is greater than at royal tables.” (Homily 79, on Matthew 22, 1 to 14.)

From which it would appear that Chrysostom would be regarded as a disturber of the peace of Israel to-day, if he were an Archbishop, or the Principal of a theological college. Hear also that famous theologian of the second century, Tertullian, in his indictment of the Christian flesh eater of his day, and ours :-

“It is in the cooking pots that your love is inflamed—it is in the kitchen that your faith grows fervid—it is in the flesh dishes that all your hope lies hid . . . Who is held in so much esteem with you as the frequent giver of dinners, as the sumptuous entertainer. . . . Consistently do you men of flesh reject the things of the Spirit? But if your prophets are complacent toward such persons, they are not my prophets.” (De Jejuniis : Adversus Psychios, ch. 17)

Evidently there were blind leaders of the blind within the church then as now; so-called spiritual guides indifferent to the fact that no man whose hands are stained with blood, and who is not self-controlled and compassionate, can enter within the vail.

Were it not sadly significant of spiritual atrophy it would be amusing to note the desperate shifts made by the biblicist to sanction as by divine authority the mingled murder, degradation and sensuality of flesheating. Beginning with Noah and ending with Paul, he ransacks the Bible for instances of approved carnivorism. God “blesses” Noah and delivers every moving thing into his hand to be meat for him, in a passage which does not suggest a very cheerful state of things generally; but shows, indeed, the fear, cruelty and vindictiveness which fitly accompany carnivorism.

The Israelites clamour for flesh food and quails are given them ; but while the flesh was yet between their teeth, ere it was yet chewed, the wrath of God was kindled against them and He smote them with a very great plague,—an even quicker judgment than results to-day from eating tuberculous pork or vaccinated veal.

Gideon offers a young kid to his mysterious visitants, but instead of being eaten it is consumed with fire; which was very much the best thing that could have happened to it, and an excellent lesson for Gideon.

And so on, until the New Testament, where great capital is made out of the fish eating therein mentioned, the defendant being rather disconcerted when told to stick to fish eating if he chooses, but to discriminate between a fish and an ox.

Christ’s having ridden upon an ass, and the incident of the Gadarean swine, are instanced as showing the Christian’s authority over the animal kingdom, which none would controvert if that authority were used only as Christ used it.

Peter’s dream upon the house-top is often, by a curious irony, brought forward as supporting carnivorism, in which case one can only reflect that animal food is not conducive to acumen, and that the flesh abstaining Peter might well exclaim,—”Save me from my friends.” For the narrative makes it very plain that Peter refused the seemingly angelic invitation to eat the quadrupeds, reptiles and birds offered him, because he had never eaten anything defiled or impure.

With many such sophisms does the flesh-eating Christian seek to justify a loathsome and un-Christlike custom, opposed to all genuine humanity, justice and reason, and viewed with disgust by the more enlightened worshippers of God everywhere. With the hammer of bigotry and the nail of selfishness, he fastens a text of scripture to the blood spattered walls of the slaughter house and goes on his way rejoicing.

An Appeal to Reason

Surely a dispassionate reading of the Bible will show that the food of man ” unfallen” was free from the taint of slaughter, that the food of man “regenerate” will certainly not include flesh and blood, and that we are meant to fit ourselves here and now for the latter state by all means open to us. This is why we, who know how easily and happily life may be lived without the products of the shambles, come forward and invite our brothers and sisters to take this elementary but most necessary step towards the attainment of individual and collective regeneration, and the bringing in of God’s Kingdom upon Earth.

In conclusion it may be pointed out that we only turn to the Bible to demonstrate the validity of our arguments because of the action of those who quote the Bible as being in opposition to the principles of Humane Dietetics. The Bible is not in opposition to any Movement that makes for purity, pity, love, humanity,- in a word, for Christlikeness; and it is for the practical manifestation of these qualities in daily life that we are pleading.

Is the Bible reader to be the last to quit this veritable lust of the flesh and live as befits a brother of Christ and a son of God? Does the same Bible and the same Christ serve for Archbishop and slaughterman, for lady-communicant and the “gut-girl” of the slaughter house ?

Let the professing Christian go and see his delegates at their horrid work before he answers these questions. Why should he shrink from entering a slaughter house more than from visiting a grain mill or fruit farm, if he can lean upon the written word of God for his much needed support ?

The practice of flesh-eating does not stand or fall by what is said about it in any book, whatever its authorship, antiquity or weight. Profound moral and spiritual truth neither gains nor loses by what may be written about it, and appeals primarily to the soul of man.

The light that lighteth every man who cometh into the world is the supreme and final judge of truth; and at the bar of Reason, to be tried by the soul in the presence of her two witnesses, the Intellect and the Intuition, we can safely leave the carnivorous habit.

For as the Ages roll on, the civilisation of to-day becoming the barbarism of to-morrow, customs, conventions and immoralities appearing for a little and then vanishing away, it seems ever more immutably fixed that good actions bring happiness and bad actions bring misery, while truth, love, and disinterested good deeds are the only eternal verities of life.

And since misery, wrong, hatred and crime are all indelibly associated with butchery and carnivorism, so these foul practices are doomed to utter extinction; while those for whom such evils festered must meet a just retribution.

Lord of all Life! in whom man and animal alike live and move and have their being, grant unto us, we beseech Thee, with the overcoming of fleshly lusts, the gradual dawning of a clearer vision—

” That in these masques and shadows we may see Thy sacred way,
And by those hid ascents climb to that day
Which breaks from Thee, Who art in all things, though invisibly.”

*Matthew, the Apostle, lived on seeds, and hard-shelled fruits, and other vegetables, without touching flesh.” – Clement of Alexandria – (Paedagogus, ii I)
Eusebus (Ecclesiast. Hist. Ii II III), quotes Hegesippus as stating of James, the first head of the Christian Community, that “he never ate animal food.”
Augustine (Ad Faustum, xxii, III), repeats this assertion, and also states that “James, the brother of the Lord, lived upon seeds and vegetables, never tasting flesh or wine.” – Facobus frator Domini, seiminibus et oleribus usus est, non carne nec vino.

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