I try to read books related to veganism and animal rights every few months to keep my motivations fresh in my mind. The human brain is particularly adept at forgetting, and I never want to forget the reasons why I went vegan. As you all know, I’ve read Eating Animals twice. I’ve also read Living the Farm Sanctuary Life, The Gentle Barn, The Sexual Politics of Meat, and Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows. The next book on my list is Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy by Matthew Scully.
I thought this book would be an interesting read since Matthew Scully, who was a senior speech writer to George W. Bush, is a self-identified pro-life, Catholic vegan. In the game of stereotypes, one of those is unlike the others. Vegans and vegetarians are portrayed in the media as free-spirited, tree-hugging, 100% bleeding heart liberals. Scully’s is a perspective on animal rights that I have not yet explored.
I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not a particularly devout person. I don’t subscribe to any brand of organized religion. So in the opening pages when Scully says things like, “Whatever measure of happiness their Creator intended them for, it is not something to be taken likely by us, not to be withdrawn from them wantonly or capriciously” or “… the reason I know to care for them [animals] is that they are my fellow creatures, sharing with you and me the breath of life, each in their own way being His unmistakable mark,” I found it difficult to relate to the material. I think we should treat animals with respect because, in the great expanse of the universe, life is so unbelievably rare – not because they were created by God.
I know I’m in the minority. 83% of Americans identify as Christians, and the entirety of Western culture has been molded by Christian thought. When my dad, a staunch atheist, first heard that I was vegan, he told me that he believed “humans have dominion over animals.” It struck me as odd at the time that a man who found little to like about organized religion would pick a Biblical passage to support the use of animals, but sometimes Christian thought and common cultural ideals are one in the same.
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
It is laughable the amount of times that I’ve had Genesis quoted to me as justification for eating animals. The word dominion seemingly gives us so much power. I find it hard to believe that a God would find us worthy wielders of it. Christian vegans have argued that the word “dominion” should be interpreted as “sovereignty,” i.e. that humans should be treating animals like a just ruler would treat his subjects. Would a king be looked upon favorable if he tortured and ate the people in his realm? Probably not. But as I am not a scholar in Biblical Hebrew or Aramaic, I can’t offer an educated opinion on this exact turn of phrase.
However, I can point to the fact that both people and animals are noted as being vegetarian in Genesis:
Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.
God did not condone eating flesh until after the Flood. “Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything…” with the stipulation “But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it.” Those who subscribe to Christian vegetarianism (it’s a thing! it has its own Wikipedia page!) believe that God permitted animal consumption temporarily, as all plant life had been destroyed in the deluge. They argue that this passage is not intended to serve as a free pass to kill for eating, but as a temporary invitation to become a carnivore while the planet recovers. After all, it’s technically impossible to eat flesh that is completely drained of blood.
Some Christians believe that in the future, both human and nonhuman animals will make a triumphant return to veganism. This idea is supported by Isaiah 111:6-9: “… The cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lions shall eat straw like the ox… They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD.” In this respect, I hope that they are right.
I enjoy reading nearly all pro-vegan arguments, but it feels like futile exercise for me to select Biblical passages that support vegetarianism and run with them in the wild. I’m hoping Scully’s book will give me a more educated background on the topic. Mostly, I’m excited to have religious arguments for abstaining from meat handy in my back pocket. That way the next time someone begins to tell me, “You know, the Bible says that God gave man dominion over animals…,” I’ll be ready.
Before sign off, here is a quick shot of tonight’s dinner. We had apricot BBQ baked tofu and southwestern corn pudding from The Veganomicon. It goes without saying that it was awesome. Is there such thing as a “meh” recipe from The Veganomicon? If so, I have yet to find it.
Enjoy the rest of your evening, lovelies.