Re: “Proof God is a meat-eater,” Have Your Say, June 19.
Somsak Pola interprets the story of Cain and Abel (in which God accepts Abel’s offering of lambs but rejects Cain’s offering of vegetables – Genesis 4:3-5) to mean that the deity favours meat-eating.
This story is usually interpreted in terms of the ancient struggle between nomadic herdsmen and settled farmers in the Middle East. It has nothing to do with eating or shunning meat. Since the earliest Hebrews were nomads, in their texts the deity naturally comes down in their favour.
In the Bible, the deity has a chequered record when it comes to the issue of eating meat. Originally he permits mankind to eat vegetables, but says nothing about meat. He does the same for the animals, giving them “every green plant for food”. (Genesis 1:29-30.) This makes us wonder why lions eat antelopes, foxes eat chickens and cats eat mice. The answer is probably that they have never read the Bible.
After the Flood, Noah sacrifices animals to God, and the deity is so pleased by the sweet smell of burning flesh that he permits man to eat meat. (Genesis 8:20-21; 9: 3.) This episode contains two unsettling revelations that will upset the pious: Here God is so anthropomorphic that he can be bribed, and he likes the smell of burning flesh.
This latter flaw surfaces later, when he lays down sacrificial rules. Exodus 29 ordains the regular sacrifice of animals. The priests roast the flesh, but oddly enough, God does not eat it. He just likes the smell. (Leviticus 1.)
Who does eat the flesh, then? The priests do. (Leviticus 6: 24+.) This custom ensures a well-fed priesthood. Since many of the laws in the Old Testament seem to have been written by priests, this should not surprise us.
Fast-forward to the New Testament. Jesus is presented as the Son of God. If God were a vegetarian, you’d expect his son to prescribe vegetarianism. But Jesus does no such thing. As a practising Jew, he partakes of the paschal lamb every Passover. And in Acts 10: 9-16, the apostle Peter receives a divine command not only to kill and eat an assortment of animals, but to eat even those that had earlier been proscribed as unclean.
The upshot is that in the West Asian religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – the deity permits meat eating. In the East Asian religions, notably Hinduism and Buddhism, the record is mixed.
Hinduism has a strong vegetarian wing, although there is also the custom of sacrificing goats to Kali. Theravada Buddhism has a tradition that monks should eat anything they’re given, and that the Buddha prohibited them from eating meat if they knew the animal had been killed specifically for them. Mahayana Buddhist monks are vegetarians.
Of all the religions, so far as I know, Jainism is the most merciful to other life forms. It prohibits killing even vermin and insects. The Jains wear masks so that they can’t accidentally even breathe in airborne bacteria.
Jainism is little known outside India, but among the world’s religions, when it comes to humaneness to other creatures, it takes first prize. If there were ever a religion designed for vegetarians, Jainism is the one.
Ye Olde Theologian