In the last issue, I discussed human exceptionalism, the idea that human beings hold a unique status in the natural world. Now I’ll move on to a related point.
In the West, human exceptionalism is especially championed by adherents to the Judeo- Christian tradition. Most theists in the United States identify themselves as Christians, and exceptionalism has a firm hold here, at the expense of millions of slaughtered animals. One can only imagine how much betterand closer to the “peaceable kingdom” of the Biblethis country would be if Christians stopped killing animals. Unfortunately, “Christian nation” has become synonymous with “carnivore nation.”
Most Hare Krsna devotees find the rule against meat-eating extremely easy to follow. Even many people who leave Krsna consciousness stay vegetarians. Our children, too, usually abstain from meat even when they stray from our other practices. For almost every devotee, giving up meat is not at all difficult.
Which is why it’s so hard for us to understand why Christians can’t seem to do it. One reason is that they don’t see anything wrong with eating meat. Devotees respond to that position with incredulity. How can anyone think it’s okay to needlessly kill animals, often in unmentionably cruel ways? On the meat-eater’s behalf, the bloody execution goes on unseen in “packing houses.” The scene is so ghastly that slaughterhouse workers have the highest turnover rate of any occupation.
The “we need the protein” argument is also invalid. Human beings don’t need meat to survive. No one in the Hare Krsna movement is malnourished. I’ve been a vegetarian for more than thirty years, and I’m doing just fine.
Meat-eating is usually inherited. People born and bred in carnivorous families tend to stay meat-eaters. They don’t think about it; they just like meat. And depending on which meateating culture they’re born into, they like particular kinds of meat. The Oriental custom of eating dogs appalls most Western meat-eaters. A popular anecdote tells of a Western woman picking out a cute puppy in an Oriental bazaar, thinking it will be her pet, only to have it returned to her skinned, gutted, wrapped, and ready to cook. When a famous American football player recently pleaded guilty to involvement in illegal dog-fighting, his mistreatment of dogs outraged millions of American meat-eaters, who somehow ignored the fact that at least the dogs had a fighting chance, unlike animals in the slaughterhouse.
It’s important to understand that nonviolence toward animals in no way detracts from taking care of human beings, the focus of the Christian ideal. In fact, the meat industry harms human beings, and not just morally and spiritually. Christians want to feed the world’s hungry, but land dedicated to raising animals for slaughter could be used much more efficiently for food crops. And overgrazing by slaughterhouse-bound animals is destroying millions of valuable acres. Vegetarianism is clearly a good way to serve humanity.
A quick Internet search reveals many arguments in favor of vegetarianism, from a variety of perspectives. As devotees of Krsna, our main motivation is simple: We eat only food offered to Krsna, and He likes vegetarian food. The long list of benefits from a vegetarian diet is just one of many examples of the good things that come, even in this world, from devotion to Krsna. Why shouldn’t devotion to Jesus Christ bring similar benefits?