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There are many good reasons for being vegetarians, but I think that the Bible (both in the gospels and in the epistles) is fairly clear about religion NOT being a good one. You have Jesus saying that it is not what goes into one's mouth that makes them good or bad, and you have writings from Paul about people arguing over whether they eat meat or drink wine. Also, there is the story about the sheet coming down from heaven with various forms of "unclean meat" in it for Peter to eat. What all of this is saying is pretty strong. It is saying that a religious slant on dietary issues tends to destroy good relations between people, because it is so easy to become self-righteous about what we do or do not eat.

Any theory that Jesus himself was a vegetarian seems to be strongly overshadowed by his clear understanding that vegetarianism is a non-issue. Even if he WAS a vegetarian, it would not be significant. I think there is no doubt that meat eating was practiced throughout the Old Testament. So if vegetarianism was to be any part of Jesus' new message, he would have had to be quite specific about it, and, of course, he has not been. What he is quoted as having said seems to lean more in the other direction, as stated at the start of this article.

Certainly when you get the vision of the difference between religion and the kingdom of heaven, you see just how foreign to that whole teaching it is to start preaching vegetarianism. Health issues are promoted by religious around the world, and Jesus and other New Testament writers tended to see this as a bad thing.

I am not saying that vegetarianism is wrong, any more than it is wrong to refrain from taking heroin. Things going into your body may not destroy your soul, but they still can destroy your health. So do look after your health. There are legitimate health arguments with regard to certain things that we eat or don't eat. In particular, if there is a lot of FAT on the meat that you eat, it is going to greatly increase your cholesterol, and your risk of heart disease. So do what you can to alter your diet in order to be HEALTHY, as long as you don't get RELIGIOUS about it.

It doesn't take much to pick up the difference between seeing diet as a health issue and seeing it as a religious issue. Religious vegetarians almost always have a closed mind about any good that can come from eating meat (e.g. the wonderful source of iron in red meat), and no matter where you start from, they end up with the same conclusion, i.e. that if you just stop eating meat, your problems will be solved.

There are two other reasons for being vegetarians which are closer to the spirit of what Jesus taught. One is concern about cruelty to animals.

It may sound a bit strange, but I personally don't see that killing animals is necessarily cruelty to animals. You can have animals as pets and still be cruel to them; and you can raise animals for food and still be sensitive to their needs. The reason I am saying this is because I don't think that life in itself is the highest good. Someone has said "Not life, but a GOOD life, is to be chiefly valued." (Socrates?)

We are told that God gives and God takes away. Unfortunately, when God "takes away" (i.e. when someone dies) many people get angry with him and say that he is unloving. But they forget that he was the one who gave us life to begin with. My own personal feeling is that God has given much that same power to us humans, i.e. that we can give life to animals by breeding them, and by providing food, shelter, etc. for them, but that we can also take that life away when it is needed for food. Whether we are caring for the animals or killing them for food (as a way to care for humans) I think that we should be humane in how we do it. This is consistent with the message of love in the gospels.

I don't, however, think that "preaching the gospel to every creature" is talking about us preaching to animals, as some have said. I think the word "creature" in this context is limited to human beings... those creatures which can comprehend the gospel. (After all, what would you say to an ant about Christ dying for their sins, or about living by faith?)

Finally, there is the matter of wise use of the earth's resources. I believe that this is the best reason of all for being a vegetarian, and it is a reason which did not exist in Christ's day, which would explain why he did not make specific mention of it. The amount of land that it takes to provide meat for a thousand people is many times more than the land that is necessary to provide replacements for meat (e.g. soya beans) for the same number of people. If the whole world were to become vegetarians, we would find ourselves with thousands (if not millions) of square miles of farmland to spare, so that there would be crops enough to feed the whole world a few times over.

In summary, there are four main reasons why people are vegetarians. The worst reason is because of religious teachings (which is why I get a bit nervous the moment someone tries to quote scriptures to support vegetarianism). Any of the other reasons for being a vegetarian can turn sour if one becomes religious about it. The second reason is because of health concerns. Then there are concerns about cruelty to animals. And finally there are concerns about wise use of the world's resources. I hope that we can all appreciate the significance of each of these approaches to vegetarianism.
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