Dom (via Irish Elk, via a very old Saintly Salmagundi post) gives space to a rant by George Rutler against vegetarianism (responding to a letter in Crisis by Daniel Paden of the Catholic Vegetarian Society).

Vegetarianism, says Rutler, “contradict(s) the order of grace”; it is “Manichaean,” he says.

“Man was made to eat flesh (Genesis 1: 26-31; 9: 1-6), with the exception of human flesh,” he claims.

And the various posters take Rutler’s rant at face value.

But Rutler is wrong. Man was not made to eat flesh. Genesis 1:26-31 does not say man was made to eat flesh–in fact, it says the opposite.

God also said: “See, I give you every seed-bearing plant all over the earth and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit on it to be your food; and to all the animals of the land, all the birds of the air, and all the living creatures that crawl on the ground, I give all the green plants for food.” And so it happened.

That could not be more plain. All living beings were created vegetarian; man was specifically given seed bearing plants and seed-bearing fruit. How could it be otherwise, as there was no death in Eden?

It is only after the flood (Genesis 9) that God gives man permission to eat flesh, “only flesh with its lifeblood still in it you shall not eat.”

In Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 restrictions are placed upon which meats may be eaten. When Daniel and his companions were taken captive to Babylon, they refused the rich meat and wine of the king’s table and asked to be served only water and vegetables, “after ten days they looked healthier and better fed than any of the young men who ate from the royal table.”

And in Acts 15, the apostles said to the Gentiles that it was their decision and that of the Holy Spirit that they should, among other things, abstain “from blood [and], from meats of strangled animals.”

There will be no death in the kingdom of heaven, and man shall then return to the Edenic diet.

Vegetarianism is not unknown in Catholic tradition; it is the norm of the Trappists, who cite the Rule of St. Benedict.

Vegetarianism can be seen as a sign of penance, choosing to abstain from something that one has freedom to use; it can also be seen as a sign of man’s original state and of eternal destiny (celibacy is observed by folks like Rutler in keeping with the latter, is it not?). Catholics also place a value on reason, so why not do the same here? On that basis vegetarianism can be advocated today for health reasons (it is better), for reasons of compassion for all living things, and for reasons of global well-being (you can feed more people on a vegetarian diet). And if these are not reasons enough, rent and watch Fast Food Nation.

5 thoughts on “Vegetarianism

  1. It’s not just the Trappists. Almost all cloistered communities of the Benedictine and Cistercian traditions (which, of course, includes OCSO) are vegetarian, and there are some vegans out there as well. The Camaldolese in Big Sur are good cooks and superb bakers.

  2. After reading this I watched Fast Food Nation on IControl last night – wish it had been done as a documentary. I first read “Diet for a New America” many years ago and got it out today to reread again.
    It is easy to drift back into eating meat again when you were raised that way. Time to go vegan again for good!

  3. +J.M.J+

    I tried a vegetarian diet a decade ago. Didn’t work for me; I guess some diets work for some people but not for others. Today I’m pretty neutral on the subject of vegetarianism – if you want to try it then go ahead, if not, fine.

    I also read Fr. Rutler’s rant back when Fr. Sibley first posted it, and found it mildly amusing but not too impressive. The “sufferings of vegetables” bit may be a funny rhetorical flourish, but I don’t think it has much basis in fact. Plants don’t have a cerebral cortex or central nervous system, so how could they possibly feel any pain? (Even the animal kingdom is divided in this department; some lower species don’t possess a cerebral cortex and so may not feel pain at all.)

    Even if plants happen to respond in some way to noxious stimuli (research on that is not quite conclusive) such “reactive impulses” don’t necessarily equal “pain.”

    In Jesu et Maria,

  4. I find Fr. Rutler’s high-handed condescension appalling. The churches in general and the Catholic church in particular have a sorry record on the issue of animals, even with their noble teachings on the goodness of creation.

    Genesis absolutely nowhere indicates that Adam and Eve ate flesh. The first death recorded in Eden is that of the animal whose skin provided covering for Adam and Eve after they had sinned, and as Bill points out if Adam and Eve were already eating flesh why would God have granted permission again after the expulsion from Eden.

    This past Easter season some areas of Spain were once again *celebrating* Holy Week with bullfights. These folks need to go back and read the condemnation of Pius V who decreed that bullfights are : “altogether foreign to piety and charity.” He wished that “these cruel and disgraceful exhibitions of devils and not of men be abolished,” and he forbade attendance at them under penalty of excommunication.

    On another Catholic blog a poster stated that he didn’t care how uncomfortable animals raised for food were made or how they were treated.

    It’s an issue that, among others may in the long run drive me out of the Catholic church and back to the denomination in which I was raised, which has a much more humble and grateful attitude toward creation.

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