Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy

In those pre-Fall days, after all, animals were off the Garden menu:

And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.  Genesis 1:28

In the very next breath man is told to keep his mitts off the critters (and vice versa) and be content with the herbs and the fruit of the trees:

And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.  Genesis 1:29

If any passage in Scripture lends credibility to the writers, it is this, for of course they were not themselves vegetarians.  The alternative vision must simply have seemed inconceivable – a world in which it actually pleased our Maker to see His creatures stalking and slaying and absorbing one another.  The Catholic “meatless Friday” … came to us … from this same idea of predation as a consequence of the Fall and corruption of the world, as does the “grace” before meals.  Indeed there was a time when Christians fasted from animal products throughout all forty days of Lent…

The next step seems obvious to me.  If sanctity is the goal, and the flesh-eating a mark of the Fall, the one is to be sought and the other to be avoided.  Why just say grace when you can show it?  …. I am betting that in the Book of Life “He had mercy on the creatures” is going to count for more than “He ate well.”

Matthew Scully, Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy , pp. 44-45.

Mr. Scully, like Mr. Webb in On God and Dogs, argues that vegetarianism is an ideal that Christians should seek.  And I think that slowly Christians are starting to listen.

Pastor Greg Boyd, senior pastor of the evangelical megachurch, Woodland Hills Church, blogged a year ago about the five reasons he became a vegetarian.

  1. God Told Me To
  2. Increasing the Capacity to Love
  3. Seeing the Sacred Beauty in All Living Things
  4. The First Fruits of the Coming Non-Violent (and thus, non-carnivorous) Creation
  5. Compassionate Dominion and the Factory Farm Industry

Of the five of these, increasing the capacity to love appealed to me the most.  It might have been coincidental but I remember that at the moment I made a decision to reduce my consumption of meat I found myself forgiving certain people that up to that point I could not completely forgive.  Greg Boyd mirrors this experience in his own life.

Almost immediately after making this pledge I began to understand why the Lord had wanted me to make it. Scripture says a little yeast leavens all the dough (1 Cor 5:6). Well, I discovered that the little yeast of my willingness to engage in violence towards animals and other creatures for self-serving reasons (e.g. appetite, convenience) was polluting my heart and to some degree compromising my capacity to love. It felt like – and still feels like – my commitment to total non-violence has had, and is yet having, a purifying effect on my heart.

Along the same lines, my commitment to purge violence completely from my life has increased my sensitivity to the ugliness of violence, both in my own heart and in the world…  I have found that my commitment to non-violence has helped me wake up to all of the violence I have in my thoughts and speech, which in turn has helped me get free from this ugly violence. And this, in turn, has deepened my capacity for love.

Five years ago I never dreamed there was a connection between eating meat, anger in the heart and my ability to love. But for me at least, there definitely was. A little yeast leavens all the dough.

4 Responses to “Vegetarianism as a Christian Ideal”

eyeman wrote a comment on June 4, 2009

Wow, these posts are starting to make me uncomfortable. We had said that we would cut down our red meat consumption after Aidan was born for health reasons, but now you are shedding a different light on things.

seonghuhn wrote a comment on June 4, 2009

eyeman, thanks your thoughtful comment. Your comments in the past about reducing red meat consumption helped me in moving in this direction.

daveswaim wrote a comment on June 4, 2009

Great post!

After my traveling to India last year, I resolved that I had to consume less. Red meat is so costly to the earth, and I can’t justify that just to feed me, when I am way overfed already. At the same time, I didn’t want to make too big a deal about my food, because vegetarianism (or any other specific diet) can easily become another form of self-centeredness. So we have cut way down on red meat consumption already, but never say a word when offered food by others.

Your post has me thinking about taking next steps. Maybe adding poultry too. That would be a bigger sacrifice, but maybe the right thing to do. I’d like to explore this more.

Thanks so much for this!

seonghuhn wrote a comment on June 4, 2009

Thanks Dave! It’s great to hear from you.

I actually remember a discussion we had soon after your sermon on environmentalism where you told me how environmentally damaging beef is. At the time I chose to ignore you because I couldn’t give up kalbi (Korean BBQ short ribs)! But obviously your discussion left an imprint. 🙂

Care to comment?