Should Those Who Worship God Be Vegetarians?
“VEGETARIANISM: GROWING WAY OF LIFE, ESPECIALLY AMONG THE YOUNG.” So read a page-wide headline in the New York Times, March 21, 1975. The article went on to tell that nowadays vegetarians “have some powerful supporters on their side, including Dr. Jean Mayer, the Harvard nutritionist.” The Times also noted that some vegetarians “are members of religious groups such as the Seventh Day Adventists and Hare Krishna, whose members refrain from eating meat.”
This raises some interesting questions. Should those who worship God be vegetarians? If so, what kind of vegetarians should they be? That there are many categories of vegetarians was particularly noticeable last August at a World Vegetarian Congress held in Orono, Maine. Among those present were “fruitarians . . . who eat only fruit; ovo-lacto vegetarians, who eat eggs, milk and cheese in addition to vegetarian fare; vegans . . . who use no food or clothing from the animal kingdom; natural hygienists, who do not use salt, sugar, refined flour, condiments, and do not believe in combining fruits and vegetables in meals; the Jain vegetarians from India, who do not use any food that grows below ground, such as potatoes and carrots,” and also others. (New York Times, August 22, 1975) The report went on to say that “occasionally the vegetarians here will argue among themselves, usually good naturedly, over which is the ‘true way.’”
While there are thus seen to be many variations, by and large, as Dr. Jean Mayer notes, vegetarianism is an idea “that has three things going for it all at once—economics, health and compassion.” The doctor might have added that with some it is also a matter of religion.
The Economic Factor
The argument on the basis of economics cannot be lightly dismissed and is two-pronged. First, it costs less for a person to live on a vegetable diet than on a diet including meat, and, of course, the more that meat plays a role in one’s diet, the greater the difference in cost. This may be considered a strong argument in favor of a vegetarian diet, since we eat to live and do not live to eat. But the fact remains that it is not always convenient to live by such a diet. For example, people living in the Arctics would have to emigrate to more temperate zones if they wanted to become vegetarians. Besides, there is the matter of the pleasure derived from eating.
Second, there is the greater economic reason relating to the production of food itself. Thus we are told that in the course of a year an acre (.4 hectare) of land can produce about 200 pounds (91 kilos) of meat, but ten times as much grain and a hundred times as much in the way of potatoes. But this is all part of a system, and while, if all people became vegetarians, there would be plenty of food for all, how much good can true worshipers, who comprise but a very small fraction of the world’s population, accomplish by not eating meat? As long as the world is run by selfish men under the power and influence of Satan the Devil, its god, there is no likelihood of any equitable distribution of food.—1 Cor. 4:4.
The Health Factor
Many have become vegetarians because of the health factor. Dr. Mayer, in an article appearing in the New York Daily News, May 14, 1975, said that he had a tremendous response to a previous article on the growth of vegetarianism, and he further assured his readers that a “vegetarian diet is nutritional.” It is a fact recognized by the medical profession in general that the average Argentinean, American and Canadian in particular eats too much meat. But whether everyone would be better off by not eating any meat at all is debatable. And there is also the matter of how practical it would be in view of the eating habits of the population at large. Dr. Mayer went on to show how people have lost weight by becoming vegetarians, for, while they may be eating more carbohydrates, they eat far less fat, which has twice the calories of carbohydrates.
However, a strictly vegetarian diet often is deficient in vitamin B12, which is “essential to prevent the type of pernicious anemia that eventually causes degeneration of parts of the brain and spinal cord.” And “a vegetarian diet also may be deficient in vitamin D . . . It also may lack iron because the best and most readily available supply comes from meat, particularly liver, shellfish and other animal foods.” Concludes vegetarian Mayer, “in general, the more restricted any diet, the more likely it is to be unbalanced and deficient in one or another nutrient. This rule applies to vegetarian diets as well as to bizarre, weight-loss diets.”
The Compassionate and Religious Factors
With not a few vegetarians the strongest argument in favor of their way of life is the one based on compassion for animals. Such vegetarians produce and distribute auto stickers reading, “Love Animals—Don’t Eat Them,” and buttons, “Be Kind to Animals—Don’t Eat Them.” To support their position, vegetarians point not only to such men as Buddha, Plato, Socrates, Pythagoras, Ovid, Voltaire, Shaw and Schweitzer, but even to such men of military fame as Field Marshal Montgomery and Air Chief Marshal Lord Dowding (RAF, “Battle of Britain”).
The matter of compassion no doubt is the most serious objection to eating meat, but is it truly sound? Or is it being too sentimental? Above all, does this position find support in God’s Word, the Bible?
It seems that here is another instance where the inspired wisdom found at Jeremiah 10:23 and Jer 8:9 applies: “To earthling man his way does not belong. It does not belong to man who is walking even to direct his step.” “The wise ones [of this world] . . . have rejected the very word of Jehovah, and what wisdom do they have?” God’s Word gives us a balanced understanding of the subject, for it contains divine wisdom. So, turning to this source, what do we learn?
First of all, it shows that human life is sacred and that whoever deliberately takes the life of another person must forfeit his own life. At the very time that God, for the first time, gave this law to mankind, as represented by Noah and his family of flood survivors, God authorized meat to be eaten. (Gen. 9:3-5) In other words, in the same breath, as it were, that he strictly forbade the taking of human life and pronounced the penalty therefor of capital punishment, God authorized the killing of animals for food.
This distinction between man and animals we find throughout the Scriptures. In fact, from earliest times animals were offered as sacrifices with God’s approval. (Gen. 4:2-5; 8:20, 21) Much slaughtering of animals was involved in the many kinds of sacrifices required under the law of Moses. And did not God require that the Israelites eat meat, lamb or kid, at least once each year at the Passover celebration, not to say anything of their frequent eating of meat when making communion sacrifices? In particular were the priests meat eaters, as they partook of each one’s communion sacrifice. To carry this a step farther, God himself is represented as sharing symbolically in eating flesh in that the portion that was burned on the altar was represented as being his share.—Ex. 12:3-9; 34:25; Lev. 7:11-15.
In keeping with the foregoing is the example of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. There is no question about his love and compassion for humankind. (Phil. 2:5-8) He revealed God’s will for us and at the same time served as our model. (1 Pet. 2:21) Did he object to the eating of meat? No, for as a faithful Jew he ate meat at least on every Passover. More than that, he had no scruples against catching and eating fish, for on two occasions he caused his disciples to catch a large netful of fish. Also, on two, if not more, occasions he caused a few fish to multiply miraculously so as to feed thousands of men, women and children.—Mark 8:18-20; Luke 5:4-6; John 21:6-11.
The question of eating meat came up among the early Christians, but not out of compassion for animals. As Jews they had been forbidden to eat certain kinds of meat and it became necessary to show them that they were no longer under the law of Moses in these matters. (Acts 15:19, 20) And there was also the problem of eating meat offered to idols. That worshipers of God were not to be judged on the basis of whether they ate meat or not the apostle Paul makes clear: “One man has faith to eat everything, but the man who is weak eats vegetables. Let the one eating not look down on the one not eating, and let the one not eating not judge the one eating.” Let it be noted that the foregoing Scriptural counsel and examples effectively refute the position of those who, on religious grounds, would object to the eating of meat.—Rom. 14:2, 3.
From the foregoing it is clear that the slaying of animals to serve human need is not against the will of God. His Word, however, does encourage showing consideration for animals. (Prov. 12:10) But it does not require us to “love” animals to the extent of putting them on the same level as humans. Why, while Adam and Eve were still in the garden of Eden, God apparently caused animals to be slain to provide coverings for them. (Gen. 3:21-23) In particular does it seem to show a lack of balance for persons to crusade energetically against the killing of animals for food while having no objection to blood-spilling wars that cause untold misery, hardship, suffering and death to millions of men, women and children, by means of guns, torpedos and bombs.
To the question, ‘Should worshipers of God be vegetarians?’ the answer must be that it is an individual, personal matter. If a person is convinced of the value of it from the standpoint of cost, economics or health, and finds it practical, he may adopt a vegetarian regimen. But he cannot find ethical support for his restricted diet in God’s Word. If he becomes involved in that aspect of vegetarianism, he is losing sight of God’s way of viewing things.
What is important today is not whether one eats meat or not. Rather, it is whether one is worshiping the true God Jehovah with spirit and truth, in the way that He sets out in his Word, the Holy Bible. Jesus Christ illustrated that way for us. He ministered to the needs of people, humans, both materially and spiritually, but especially spiritually, for, as he said, “Man must live, not on bread alone, but on every utterance coming forth through Jehovah’s mouth.” His is the example all true worshipers of God will want to follow.—Matt. 4:4; John 4:24.