by Matthew Priebe author of Animals, Ethics & Christianity
When we look at the Bible today or observe Christians in action, it is easy to think that their religion is at best indifferent to animal suffering and at worst promotes it. But what if that is due to human misuse of Scripture, using any pretext to dominate the helpless? We should always look first to the Bible to see what it actually says, rather than going by those Christians who supposedly represent it. To that end, I will examine a few areas involving animals and see what we can discover from the Bible. Since the eating of animals is such a major issue, I examine that point alone in a second article.
There are a few quick points to get us started. At no point anywhere is sport hunting or fishing ever allowed for the faithful. The only hunters specifically mentioned are evil men who defy God’s ways, Nimrod and Esau. (Genesis 10 and 25) Hunting and fishing are only ever allowed for food. The wearing of skins for protective clothing is allowed in the Bible, but never as a luxury fashion item of our wasteful consumerism. One other fact of Scripture is that God reserves ownership of all life to Himself. (Psalm 50:10-12) Humans cannot own what belongs to God, eliminating the justification of human and animal slavery from the Bible.
There are many places in Scripture where provisions are made to eliminate or reduce animal suffering. I list many of those in my book Animals, Ethics & Christianity, and will only highlight a couple here. “A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast: but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.” (Proverbs 12:10) This is as clear a passage on the treatment of animals as we could ask for. I find the fourth commandment given at Mount Sinai to be especially interesting. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it. (Exodus 20:8-11) Here we find the Creator of everything claiming a special day as a holy memorial of the bond with His faithful followers. As part of that, rest from work is a sign of the true worshiper. But note that those who have no voice are also given rest: servants, foreign visitors and domestic animals.
One of the most remarkable theological discoveries of the Bible is the definition of humans and animals. When we examine the original Hebrew, we find that humans and animals are given the exact same word to describe them both as living souls. “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” (Genesis 2:7) The Hebrew word for soul here is nephesh. So what about animals? In Genesis 7:15, the animals enter Noah’s ark. “And they went in unto Noah into the ark, two and two of all flesh, wherein is the breath of life.” So animals also have the breath of life. Does that mean they are living souls? “And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature [nephesh] that hath life…Let the earth bring forth the living creature [nephesh] after his kind.” (Genesis 1:20, 24) “And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air: and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature [nephesh], that was the name thereof.” (Genesis 2:19) Throughout the Old Testament the word nephesh is used interchangeably for both humans and animals. We find the same in the New Testament, such as when the plagues are falling at the end of time. “And the second angel poured out his vial upon the sea; and it became as the blood of a dead man: and every living soul died in the sea.” (Revelation 16:3) Just as a living man has the breath of life and therefore is a living soul, so do living animals have the breath of life and therefore are living souls. Scripture defines animals as souls identical to us and any attempts to degrade animals as “soulless” are unbiblical. This is an astonishing recognition of animal and human kinship that is unparalleled in any other world religion.
This does not mean that Scripture gives equal value to animals and people. It always treats humans as made in the image of God and therefore His prize creation. But that does not mean that animals have no value. Rather than dragging down human worth to the level of animals (as atheism does), the Biblical teaching raises animal worth near, but not equal, to humans.
And this brings us to the difficult issue of animal sacrifice. Every animal lover cringes when we read the endless ritual killing that is condoned in the Bible. But why was it done? Sin causes death, always. (Romans 6:23) As soon as Adam sinned he was doomed to die, but Christ stepped in and offered His own life to save all Earth. (John 3:16-17) There was a need to show humans how horrible sin is, how it always leads to death. God instituted sacrifice as soon as Adam and Eve were expelled from Eden. Nothing shocked their senses like knowing that every time they sinned against God’s way, they had to kill a helpless animal. As long as humans retained the sanctity of all life, then sacrifice was a real deterrent from carelessly sinning and repenting later. When the children of Israel were established as a nation, sacrifice was structured around the temple worship. Everything meant something specific, all pointing to the perfect and final sacrifice of Christ Himself.
As long as Israel was faithful, sacrifice was a powerful link to God, even though the sacrifices themselves were only symbols of the future. But all too soon, the people became hardened to death and began to treat sacrifice as a ritual without meaning. Soon the priests were profiting financially and corruption replaced piety. The later prophets condemned the entire sacrificial system, not because the original system was evil, but because it had become a meaningless form. (1 Samuel 15:22, Hosea 6:6, Isaiah 1:11) After Christ was murdered as the ultimate and only complete sacrifice for all, He made it clear that all animal sacrifices were finished forever. (Hebrews 9 and 10)
One last point on Biblical sacrifices. The manner of sacrifice specified to Israel was the most humane method of slaughter known at the time. When we compare it to animal (and human) sacrifices that were occurring in other religions of the time, we find far less cruelty and viciousness in the Jewish system.
So in the Bible we find a strong level of animal protection unmatched anywhere else in the ancient world. With developing understandings of civil and animal rights, we look at these issues differently today. But rather than being the enemy of animal lovers, the Bible and true Christianity are in fact our greatest allies in raising the status of animals and thereby eliminating human destruction and cruelty. May that day come very soon for all the animals and ourselves.
Matthew Priebe is a naturalist who travels with his wife Delise as they study and photograph animals in the wild. They also speak in churches and schools on animal protection and design in nature issues. His book Animals, Ethics & Christianity can be ordered from their website at www.ask-the-animals.com.
As a professor at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Michaela Lucas opens students’ minds to the ethics of veganism. As a vegan athlete, she’s artistry and strength in motion.
What brought you to the vegan lifestyle?
I became a vegetarian first at the age of 14 in 1989. This was influenced by my love of animals and solidified by my love of Morrissey and The Smiths. I lived on 72 acres and had nursed sick barn kittens to health on a few occasions. We also had two retired harness race horses. I named them Elvis and Priscilla. I fed them every day, hauling their hay first thing in the morning. In 1989 even being vegetarian was challenging. It took several years for me to arrive at committing to veganism. A friend was editing an article on animal agriculture and he called me because he was very upset. He told me what he had learned about why being vegetarian was not enough. He told me about the intense suffering in the dairy and egg industries and I knew I had to stop consuming these products of suffering.
Do you live in an area that is vegan friendly? Do you have any struggles being vegan where you live?
Being vegan in Vancouver Canada is pretty easy these days. We have amazing places to eat like Meet on Main and the loving hut food truck. We have a lot of shopping choices as well. Vegan cupcakes and donuts are not hard to find.
You are a professor. What subject do you teach and in what ways do you educate your students about veganism?
I am a philosopher specialized in ethics. All my ethics courses include veganism as a topic. Sometimes I teach a food ethics class specifically. I’m excited to be doing that again next term. A number of my students have gone on to change their treatment of non-humans. One of my former students, Wilson Wong, came into my class a carnist and is now a central figure in Direct Action Everywhere. He contacted me to tell me that I was part of his transition to veganism and activism. It was a very proud moment for me. I feel very fortunate to have a job that allows me to be an active voice for non-humans.
How do your students respond to your lessons that include vegan philosophy?
I warn them from the first class to weed out people who will not benefit from the information at the current time. I used to find a lot more hostility. In the past 10 years I have noticed a dramatic shift. Students are now quite accepting of the facts. Students are thinking more these days of the impact of their behaviour on others. Students now seem to accept the arguments for veganism and see themselves as failing morally when they do not practice ethical veganism.
What are some of your favorite hobbies, activities?
I enjoy pole fitness and spending time with my beautiful vegan son. I love to go dancing with my friends.
Pole dance competitions are gaining popularity. You have competed in the pole dance competition, please explain all the work that goes into performing. Will you continue competing?
This year I competed in the provincials (placing 2nd) and nationals (placing 4th). There is a lot of work involved – training like crazy! Dance costumes are very expensive – that’s one thing I learned. I’m not sure I will compete again. It takes over the entire summer and I might want to relax this year. I also found that I enjoyed pole less when I was so focused on competing.
How can people get in touch with you if they have more questions?
I keep my social media pretty private because I don’t want my students to find me! I am Michaela Lucas on Facebook and people are welcome to follow me.
Our friend and creator of Viva La Vegan, Leigh-Chantelle compiled interviews with top vegan athletes and 2 Team Green ambassadors, Ramona Cadogan and Raul Ramirez are featured!
Sherrie found that the vegan lifestyle is helping improve her health!
What brought you to the vegan lifestyle?
I never really liked meat growing up, but it was served and the family rule included cleaning my plate. I went meatless multiple times over the years, but went back to an omni way of eating. I gave up meat again a few years ago but did not become vegan until 2014.
How has a vegan diet improve your health.
My triglycerides and LDL cholesterol dropped dramatically. Triglycerides as a vegetarian were at 123 in March 2014 and dropped to 78 by April 2015. My LDL was always at a decent level, but it dropped to 46, bringing my total cholesterol to 164. My energy level increased somewhat, which is a big deal since Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome tend to sap energy. I lean toward the anemic side, and my iron levels increased without daily supplementation. While tweaking my diet, I’ve discovered and almost eliminated migraine triggers. I used to lose days of productivity due to migraines and pain flares. The few I get now are mild by comparison and only slow me down somewhat. As long as I don’t overdo it, I’m get closer to the pre-Fibro Sherrie every day.
Is your family vegan? How have they received your switch to a vegan diet?
The family is omni, but they are okay with my switch. I told them that change is on them and have to ask them to leave my vegan leftovers alone. My food disappears with a quickness. All side dishes, condiments, and sauces on hand are always vegan. They add whatever they want as entrees. It works. Even when they grab take out for me, they search for vegan alternatives for me.
What are some of your favorite foods?
I’m a Southerner, so sweet potatoes, greens, beans, cucumbers, home-grown tomatoes, and cornbread are musts. Gardein Fishless Fillets and Scaloppini, tofu, Field Roast, and Sophie’s Kitchen products are standard omni-pleasers. Chickpea Tuna is a regular lunch entree and TexMex night is a family favorite. Plant Fusion and Vegan Protein and Greens with fruit and added greens are my go-to’s for quick breakfasts and snacks on the run.
What advice do you have for others trying a plant based diet to help health conditions?
Start by adding more plants and whole grains at lunch and dinner equally. I like the Forks Over Knives approach of taking one meal at a time. I wish I’d taken that route myself because it would have been easier to stick with a plant-based path when I first flirted with it over 25 years ago. Check out vegan recipe blogs and pick up cookbooks written by the bloggers you like. Save the rich and decadent meals for special occasions or weekend because so many of those dishes are time-consuming. And don’t fret if you slip. It’s not about perfection, but progress.
Make sure you consult with your doctors about your dietary changes because you may need to change medications based on your progress.
Where can people find you on social media?
LinkedIn – Sheryl (Sherrie) Thompson
Twitter – WAHMinSC
Tumblr – WAHMinSC
Instagram – WAHMinSC
Nicole Vick is a Health Program Analyst for Los Angeles
1. What brought you to the vegan lifestyle?
When I first started working in the South LA area for the health department back in 2006 or 2007, I had a wonderful supervisor. Her name was Martina Travis. Martina was good friends with another staff person in the office, Dee Warren. Both Dee and Martina were very vibrant African American women in their 60s. They were runners and they were vegetarians! I was very intrigued by their lifestyle. Dee is a Seventh Day Adventist, so eating a plant based diet was not foreign to her.
Anyway, I remember having already eliminated beef, pork, and turkey from my diet at some point. The only thing I held on to was chicken. One day I decided I would let chicken go, and I had a headache for an entire week. I think it must have been withdrawal from the hormones. About 5 or 6 years later I REALLY started to think about what a chicken egg is and why I was still eating cheese if I wasn’t drinking cow’s milk. That’s where the vegan lifestyle came into play. It’s been a couple of years now that I’ve stopped eating eggs and cheese. So far so good!
2. What is your job? Do you promote a vegan diet at work?
I am a health program analyst for a local health department. I spend a lot of my time working in South Los Angeles and West Los Angeles. If anyone is familiar with the two areas, they know that there are huge differences in the health status of both populations. One of my jobs is to look at the intersections between wealth, class, oppression and other factors on health outcomes and figure out ways to improve the health of the residents of South LA through policy and systems change. We often focus too much on individual behavior and not enough on how the physical and social environment shapes individual behavior. My job is to re-orient the work around those issues to get to the root cause of disease in low income communities.
The vegan lifestyle is not quite popular at work. LOL! I think the people I work with have come to respect my choices regarding food and when situations come up (potlucks, etc.) they try to accommodate me. I definitely try to introduce vegan food to my coworkers, but I often find I just have to show them how easy it is by example and hope they pick up on what I’m doing. There are a few coworkers that will gladly accompany me to get vegan Ethiopian food or vegan Indian food (my boss actually likes Sage Vegan Bistro and has taken us there a couple of times), but it hasn’t caught on in a big way at work.
An example happened just the other day. Part of the work of a public health professional is to participate in emergency preparedness exercises. I had to go with my colleagues to practice for a measles outbreak. Lunch was provided for us and I heard “pizza”. Now, I should have known to bring my own lunch, but for some reason I thought they would have Subway or something that I could modify. I kindly went up to the person in charge of food and asked her if they could order spaghetti with marinara. She said okay. Lunch comes and there are a million pizzas and no spaghetti. Turns out all they had was salad, which isn’t a bad thing. But, the dressing that came with it was … RANCH! Can’t eat that! So I basically ate a small portion of dry salad and about 5 clementines and an apple. I had a terrible headache until I got home to eat.
I also have a few job outside of my “day” job. I teach online at University of Phoenix and Ashford University. I also am an adjunct professor at Occidental College.
3. A vegan diet is sometimes considered a diet for the rich, do you agree? Is there a way to increase access to healthy, plants based foods?
A vegan diet can be considered a diet for the rich, but it doesn’t have to be. I just went to Food for Less and spent a hundred dollars on a whole lot of food. However, I can go to another grocery store that sells all the fancy vegan products (ice cream, tempeh bacon, vegan cheese, etc) and spend a hundred dollars and only have a bag or two of food. It really depends on how you shop. Sometimes I am the one bag 100 dollar person because I want the “chicken” strips or the vegan ground crumbles.
One of the problems with a vegan diet is access to food, especially in low income areas. The Food for Less I mentioned earlier is down the street from my home. Plenty of fresh fruits and veggies and even tofu, but not much else. The more specialized stuff is not so easy to get in some parts of the city. I often have to cross over into another city to get it and I have to go to more than one grocery store. The same is true with restaurants. There are a couple of vegan/vegetarian friendly restaurants in my community but I often have to leave my immediate area to get the type of food I want.
I think Farmer’s Markets are a good way to increase access to fresh fruits and veggies. Sometimes we have to think of other things besides the big chain stores because they don’t always have everything and the sad reality is that many of them have left the community over the years. In South Los Angeles we lost 2 Ralphs grocery stores this year. We have to think about what that does to people’s food choices and their access to fresh food. I think many people assume everyone can just jump in their car and head over to the other store down the street. For some people that is not their reality. In my community I saw a grocery store become a Ross Dress for Less. On the Westside I saw a Ross Dress for less become a grocery store. I thought that was very telling of the priorities, not of the people that live here, but of decision makers. We have a lot of work to do.
4. What strategies do you recommend for promoting a vegan diet to the majority of the population.
I think it’s important to remind people that there are already meals that they eat that are considered vegan AND that many meals can be easily “veganized” with no problem at all. I also think if there was a way to bring down the price point on some of the more popular “transition” foods more people would be willing to try them. In my opinion, it’s really about taste. My partner is not vegan but eats every vegan meal I cook because it tastes good. That’s really all he cares about and I would guess that’s what most people care about. I think we start there and then start to educate about the impact of eating meat on the environment and the health benefits of a vegan diet.
I think restaurants like Veggie Grill, Native Foods, and LYFE Kitchen really do a good job of having tasty introductory meals that attract people that would not normally try vegan food. Companies like Gardein, Beyond Meat, Daiya and others also help by selling foods that are tasty and appealing to all taste buds.
5. Tell us about health equity and how it applies to the vegan lifestyle.
If more people adopted a vegan lifestyle, some of the health inequities that we see in populations would disappear. Health equity is a public health concept that is focused on making it possible for everyone to have access to the resources available to live a healthy lifestyle. It’s about re-allocating resources so that the people with the greatest need get the greatest amount of resources. It’s a return to the social justice frame of public health many years ago.
Think of it this way: 3 kids go to a baseball game. They are in the nosebleed seats. The youngest child is very short and cannot even see over the top of the seat. The middle child is average height and can see just a bit past the seat. The tallest child can see EVERYTHING. There are 3 crates available that can be used to stand on. Do we practice equality and give EVERYONE one crate? If we do that, the shortest child still can’t see very well. The middle child has a great view and the tallest child can see into next week! Or, do we focus on equity and give the child with the MOST need (the shortest one) the most crates? This is the key difference between equality and equity that is very important in public health.
If we concentrate our efforts on improving the physical and social environments in the communities with the most need, they will then have the same opportunities to live healthy lives like those that do not need the help. This includes access to foods.
6. Are you on social media? How to contact you?
Yes, you can find me on Facebook, on Instagram @cyclegirl78, on LinkedIN, and my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
How is it like living in the southern part of the United States? Are people supportive of your lifestyle? Were you forced to overcome any societal pressure in order to stay vegan?
Being vegan is easy. Just do it. The planet will thank you, as well as the animals, and your body.