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On the Eating of Meat with Love and Spirituality

Almost two weeks ago, I posted Is "Compassionate Carnivore" and Oxymoron? on Rethos, and encountered an idea I haven’t seen for a while: that you can eat meat with "love" and "deference," and if you do so your behavior is "morally sound."

I truly believe it is morally sound. With deference, love,
and an understanding of the proportions of nutrients the body needs,
eating meat can be ethical.

I tried my best to respectfully disagree with the gentleman who wrote that, but it wasn’t easy for me. I have many people in my life who are spiritual, though very few who would call themselves religious. Some believe in a god, others don’t. All were raised within the Judeo-Christian model, yet as adults they’re now more in a Hindu-Buddhist model. And here’s what I get from the ones who used to be vegetarians or vegans (some of whom lived in ashrams, which are usually vegetarian as they use ghee):

Spiritually, I believe that if you express your gratitude and bless your food and the animals it came from, eating some meat is okay. After all, it is all karma and (similar to what the gentleman who wrote the above comment concluded) "the living must eat the dead, for the dead to live again."

It takes every ounce of self-restraint for me not to say, "Dogs are scavengers and eat the dead. You wanna do that? Go for it. But what you are doing is paying someone to breed, dominate, exploit, mutilate and slaughter someone. Is that part of your whole poetic circle-of-life scenario? Does that sound karmically correct?"

I am aware of how rude I sound, but I do happen to be surrounded by spiritual-types, and I find them more adept at rationalization than the average person. And the crux of it all is that spirituality trumps everything and in fact INFORMS morality. So if you can justify something with spirituality, morality is PRESUMED.

Do you see my problem?

Any advice for dealing with these loving, compassionate, meditating, chanting, well-meaning yoga-doers?

12 Comments Post a comment
  1. Angus #

    Human beings are incredibly good at finding excuses for their behaviour. Perhaps we should be defined not as "rational animals" but as "rationalizing animals". All cultures, including aboriginal ones, have rituals and mythologies to justify their exploitation of non-human animals. The difference is that today it's a lot more difficult to invoke necessity as an excuse, although people still try it. One increasingly common ploy is to invoke alleged ecological necessity — natural predation and the balance of nature. As Richard Treadwell, the first person you quote above, puts it in his Rethos response to you, "The living must eat the dead, for the dead to live again." Ecology, spirituality, and yummy corpse eating, all rolled into one!

    Treadwell says that animals should be "picked out from the wild". Wonderful euphemism. If six billion people follow his advice and "pick out" animals from the wild, how many wild animals are going to be left?

    Treadwell, to his credit, is particularly concerned with the ecological devastation wrought by capitalism. You might point him to a work like David Nibert's Animal Rights/Human Rights: Entanglements of Oppression and Liberation, or the work of Carol J. Adams and other ecofeminists — including Brian Luke, author of Brutal: Manhood and the Exploitation of Animals, which should be an eye-opener for men on a number of counts, including the idea that hunting can be an expression of positive spirituality.

    April 18, 2008
  2. I honestly don't even understand that karma justification. It's like saying we have no free will and everything is determined and there's no reason to make any ethical choices in life whatsoever. It's like saying you shouldn't ever try to save a life. It's utter ridiculousness.

    April 18, 2008
  3. Dan #

    Forgive me if I sound a bit harsh today (and don’t read this comment if you’re the “sensitive type”), but I just spent a week out of town at a client’s office working with a Christian co-worker who is evidently out to persuade others (including me) of “intelligent design” as an alternative belief to natural selection and my patience for religious and “spiritual” types has run out. I don’t have any advice for “the spiritual” and the religious, but I would like to rant about them.

    Without getting into the absurdity of postulating the ultimate irreducible complexity of a deity or fairy-in-the-sky to “solve” the *so-called* “irreducible complexity” of e.g. bacterial flagellum and other temporary gaps in evidence for natural selection (which is already more than sufficiently supported), I am tired of muddleheaded metaphysics from the tender-minded, including “spiritual” types who embrace Eastern metaphysical nonsense instead of Western metaphysical nonsense. Don’t get me wrong, there is much good in the *down-to-earth* philosophy of the East and West, but when people start using wildly speculative metaphysics, like Western Big-Daddy-in-the-Sky and Eastern “past-life karma” to justify violence inflicted on sentient others, and especially when they “thank” the very dead-and-gone being whose body or bodily fluids they are stuffing their superstitious faces with, the absurdity reaches a stunningly high level.

    Alas, I shouldn’t be surprised. Humans have been thinking like this for many millennia. Despite the fact that science has filled in so many gaps as to leave superstition and speculative metaphysics (including karma!!!) virtually meaningless, it looks like humans will continue to think like this as long as we exist as a species. The tendency toward superstition seems to be hard-wired in many people’s brains via natural selection.

    April 18, 2008
  4. Seriously folks, tell me how you REALLY feel.

    It's so frustrating, this karma thing. I'm a quasi-Buddhist (Buddhism minus the ritual and the prayers. Isn't that awful?), and karma can be used to justify anything. It's maddening. I could kill my dog and say it was my karma to kill her and her karma to be killed by me. When I say that to the karma people, they think I'm mocking them (I'm actually just trying to get them to see the absurdity), but I feel like I get nowhere with them. Because everything, good and bad, is karma (by definition), in my mind, when someone brings the karma card to the table it usually means they're trying to rationalize.

    It's the one moment when Eastern types look a lot like Western types when it comes to spirituality (in my experience).

    April 18, 2008
  5. Cláudio Godoy #

    Thank you Dan, you took the words of my mouth!

    April 18, 2008
  6. Meat eating and Karma?…. hand-in-hand with "hunting priests" I'd say. Their "logic", is riddled with twisting contradictions and animal use "justifications". Different messenger, same message. Religion and culture is indoctrinated in common and frequent visits to the alter of hypocrisy. Always to sanction the exploitation of another (race), (sex) or (species) – In every case "God" approves and "Karma" is good. This "tugs" at my atheistic (and misanthropic) heart strings every time……

    April 18, 2008
  7. Haha, refer 'em to The World Peace Diet.

    April 19, 2008
  8. My answer to the supposedly spiritually enlightened who say that eating meat is fine so long as you do it with love is that they are on a fundamental level misunderstanding spirituality and karma.

    My understanding of karma is that none of us can avoid it. However,not all of our actions are governed purely by the karma we accumulate from them–if that were the case all of us would flip flop between acts of great harm and then acts of great charity to try to balance our karma out. The reason to not rape a child isn't just that there would be karma involved, but also because we have empathy and can see and understand the harm done to the child in that act, because we understand it to be fundamentally wrong, because we are more informed on these issues now than people thousands of years ago (or even today for that matter) who routinely force children into marriages to older men or force children into prostitution for their own gain. Likewise since we are able to understand the harm done to the animal in our meat-eating, we should refrain from it, even if we think there's only a small amount of karma involved. There are of course other factors, like karma which may come from the harm to the planet through animal agriculture, or the type of world we leave future generations as we destroy the earth in pursuit of a good steak.

    Also, my understanding of karma is that the devout person would try to avoid as much karma as possible because as mere mortals they really aren't able to measure the karma of their own acts. For this reason they shouldn't try to total their karma like a running tally and make the occasional deposit to excuse their misdeeds. Instead they try to limit all avoidable harm, and eating meat is certainly avoidable, and then they try to do as much good as is practical. They are not the ones who know and total out their karma and since karma can come from many sources they really can't dismiss the karma that comes to them from eating meat.

    If one is to be serious about living a life of good karma, they must also consider how their overall lifestyle figures in, living an affluent life in an affluent nation while all around the world children starve and species go extinct. It's pretty easy for someone living in a nice area to buy an organic cotton work out shirt with "ahisma" printed on it and roll out their yoga mat and then chow down on the corpses of dead birds or mammals at dinner time. But even living without the constant reminders of suffering all around them, they are still affected by the karma of all of their choices.

    Finally, although karma is by far not my primary reason for being vegan, my understanding is that karma accumulates in flesh-based foods, therefore the karma acquired by eating a chicken is not the karma of a brief guilty indulgence in a favorite food, it is the karma of a chick who never knew his mother, who was debeaked, who was confined, who was born in misery and lived all his life in misery, it is the karma of his painful, terrifying, mechanized death. And even if they choose "organic" or "local" most of those factors will still be true.

    To move away from karma to a more general spiritual discussion, I would argue that as religious as most Americans seem, we have some fundamental concepts backwards. Spirituality is not the excuse we should use to keep living a comfortable and willfully ignorant life. It's not our trump card to waive away every bad habit and every moment of cruelty. To truly live with one's spirituality means to get down to the bottom of it sometimes and make major changes to how we live our lives and interact with others. It means acknowledging that as cute as that fat little Buddha statue looks, the Buddha we revere wandered the wilderness alone, faced his own death, lived as a beggar and gave up everything to find enlightenment. It means that Jesus embraced prostitutes, lepers, beggars and thieves and called them brothers and sisters and wasn't afraid of losing everything, didn't wear nice clothes, didn't eat fancy meals, wasn't afraid of helping the most helpless, and finally went willingly to a terrible death. This wasn't laughing off gluttony among rich friends inside a safe and beautiful home, true faith transforms us into something we weren't before. If we know, as surely most of us must, that the planet and the animals matter and that a higher power created them for purposes other than our greed and gluttony, then we have to let that faith lead us to the most logical conclusion that we have to change how we are living. We must do less harm, we must eliminate those harms that are easy to identify, starting with what we put on our plates, we must live as if animals matter, we must live as if our impact on the planet matters, and we must live knowing that what we choose to eat has ramification on whether or not others can eat at all.

    April 19, 2008
  9. astromuffy #

    I gave up meat, and have gained 16 pounds in the last year, and still gaining. I just can't find a balance without it. I think I'm going to incorporate free range chicken into my diet again. It's out of vanity, I'm afraid. I like being THIN. My diet used to consist solely of chicken and fruit – I was full, sated, happy, and THIN. Now I'm always hungry and tortured by my never ending need to nosh.

    I plan to start raising and killing my own chickens when I buy a house in the country. I love animals with all my heart and I want to be sure the animals I eat have happy, healthy lives.

    Some recommend that if you MUST eat meat, you should try to stick to the lower consciousness animals. With this I tend to agree.

    Chickens are really nasty, heartless creatures. I want to treat them well, then eat them.

    Good luck on your quest.

    As for advice, all I can offer is do your best to learn to accept people as they are. Even the really irritating self righteous ones. If they have nothing of benefit to bring to your life, disregard them.

    Otherwise really great people can be a tad self righteous from time to time.

    October 2, 2010
  10. hak #

    Wow astromuffy, thank you for your honesty. I am a person torn with the idea of eating meat, loving animals, and having health issues that demand high protein consumption. So, I eat meat. Why because it makes me feel better and I don't like feeling like death. My current delema is finding meat that is well treated and kindly culled. That is all I can ask for.
    As for ranking animals on what intelligence scale to eat. I do agree to go for the lesser of the intelligence, though I don't agree with your assessment of chickens as dirty animals. I happen to enjoy them and their personalities. I do believe the are sentient.. but at this point in my life I believe plants have a form of sentience. So, then… how to cause less physical and emotional pain and suffering, so that I may live, is my option, and I think this can only be done by measuring intelligence. If my body could handle it, I would eat algea 24/7. I am so jealous of people who can be vegetarians and be healthy. They get to live their morals. They are gifted with health. They don't have to be burdened with guilt and understanding of what their actions lead to, so, perhaps this is why the spiritual people are so adept at rationalizing. Because let's face it…. it is a very hard issue to have to face.

    October 13, 2010
  11. astromuffy #

    Eating free range chicken cuts way down on energy consumption, packaging and other waste. I don't feel guilty either, and I don't think that makes me less "spiritual". I never said that chickens were dirty animals, but they will tear a mouse and eat it if they can. I honestly don't get the "health" issue with respect to eating meat. You can get every protein meat contains in plants, and you can find an abundance of healthy fats in various supplements.

    I hope you find others with whom you can relate. Good luck.

    October 17, 2010
  12. Huiska #

    Hak, well done! Love your reply!!

    November 24, 2010

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