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Christianity and veganism

Updated: Mar 26

Veganism is a strict subset of vegetarianism, a term introduced in 1944. Unlike broader vegetarian practices, veganism excludes all animal products, not just food.


In recent years, veganism has surged in popularity. This is evident in several areas: restaurant menus now commonly mark vegan options with a "V," pro-vegan initiatives are increasingly prevalent at universities, and the topic has become a staple in public debates. Alongside these developments, the vocal advocacy of vegans has significantly increased.



What is veganism?

[A] Veganism is a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, [B] promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of animals, humans and the environment. [C] In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.

The Vegan Society, Definition of Veganism, square brackets added.


The definition above and its three parts (A, B and C) will form the scaffolding for our discussion on veganism going forward.


Veganism as such


Based on the definition provided by the Vegan Society, it's evident that there is no inherent conflict in the first part of the definition [A] that would preclude Christians, including those who consume meat, from aligning with vegan principles. Consider this: Christianity advocates for a stance against exploitation and cruelty towards animals, a principle that is grounded in the biblical command given to humanity to steward over animals and the natural world.


Regarding the second segment of the definition [B], promoting alternatives to animal products that benefit humans, animals, and the environment does not present any contentious points.


Furthermore [C], the decision to avoid animal-derived products is ultimately a matter of personal choice. Given that not all animal products are obtained through cruel practices (considering that some animals are traditionally raised for food and cultivation), and it's possible to support animal-free alternatives while still consuming animal products, there's no logical requirement within the first two parts of the definition that mandates complete abstinence from animal products.


Therefore, the debate seems unnecessary.


Worldviews


Challenges arise when veganism is exclusively aligned with non-Christian worldviews. First, let's examine veganism through a non-Christian lens and thereafter we'll argue that veganism finds its most substantial, objective grounding within the Christian worldview.


Non-Christian foundations for vegan principles


A non-Christian worldview may be characterized by its rejection of the distinction between Creator and creation. Adherents of this worldview do not acknowledge the sovereign decree of God in creation, leading them to regard themselves, to some extent, as the ultimate authority on truth and morality.


For those holding a non-Christian perspective, certain aspects of experience are perceived as independent of God's creative will. Consequently, they posit the existence of a third entity—be it a "power," "context," or "principle"—that encompasses both God and humanity. This stance aims to challenge or outright deny the validity of divine revelation and the existence of God.


Once you deny the Creator-creature distinction, you deny God's place as the all-encompassing authority that controls whatever comes to pass, that can authoritatively reveal truths to us about how He created the world and what His moral requirements are of us. The only alternative is for you to start legislating what is right or wrong and true or false for yourself. If this sounds like a good thing to you, allow me to burst your bubble.


The result of self-legislating individuals is radical subjectivism: "What's true for you is not true for me", "What's moral for you is immoral for me". We increasingly see this in our Western societies today. For our subject matter, this implies that there are no universal human rights or animal rights. All we have is blind, pitiless, indifference (to paraphrase Richard Dawkins). There is no objective standard (i.e. God's law) and there is no ultimate justice for criminals (as the Creator-creature distinction is denied).


It's therefore quite surprising that most vegans find themselves on this side of the fence in embracing some kind of non-Christian worldview (mostly atheism) [2]. Since the non-Christian view cannot offer an objective standard for why animal life should be valued, and for why the environment is worth preserving, their position amounts to nothing more than an arbitrary preference with no objective force. If someone were to come along and advocate for the complete annihilation of all animals, there's no objective standard by which this idea can be condemned.


Note: Some non-Christian worldviews are admittedly more complex than described above, but the principle will always remain the same even though there might be some more mental gymnastics involved in the rebellion against their Creator.


Christian foundations for vegan principles


In the Christian worldview, all life is precious as all life is created and sustained by God. Everything reveals God to us, and everything finds its final purpose in God's decree when He created.


For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

Romans 11:36, ESV


But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you, or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you, and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind.

Job 12:7-10, ESV


Given that we are not the ultimate owners of creation, and that we merely look after what God has given us, we have no right to misuse creation in a way that contradicts God's revealed will.

The Christian view of God, creation (which includes the animals) and man, provides a foundation for the principles that undergird the first, second, and possibly even the third part of the supplied definition of veganism.


In terms of part A of our vegan definition, the Bible supplies clear commands that we’re supposed to look after animals, even animals we intend to slaughter for food.


Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast, but the mercy of the wicked is cruel.

Proverbs 12:10, ESV


Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds.

Proverbs 27:23, ESV

To act in a way that is cruel toward animals is anti-Christian, and it fails to appreciate that the animals ultimately belong to God.


For part B, promoting animal-free alternatives to benefit humans, the environment and animals is also a just cause. Sustainable farming and the production of goods that keep the environment clean and promote healthy lifestyles ultimately honour the fact that there is objective value in creation that is worth preserving and that we ought to preserve. This again takes us back to the creation doctrine and God’s command to us at our creation. There are no purposeless facts in creation. God created everything and sustains everything, therefore everything has objective value and is worth preserving. No animal that swims, walks or flies exists because of some principle of chance - every single one of them owes its existence to God's creative decree.


The Christian might note that products/farming methods don’t necessarily need to be animal-free to be beneficial for humans, the environment and animals. There is nothing immoral about milking a cow.

Lastly, for part C, God’s revealed will does not prohibit the consumption of animal products.


Therefore, the worldview that provides for the objective value of animal life and the environment, is also the worldview that does not place restrictions on the consumption of animal products. Although the consumption and cultivation of the products must be accomplished in a manner that values and respects God's creation.

The Gospel for non-Christian vegans


Earlier we asked why so many vegans find themselves on the non-Christian side of the discussion. Even though our non-Chritian vegan friends are in an active rebellion against their Creator, they are still made in His image, and they are living in His created world. Their rebellion against their Creator is restrained by God's common grace that shines on their lives, and as a result, they are able to recognise the value that exists inherent in every life (even animal life), and they seek to protect it.


However, when they attempt to offer a justification for why life (even their own life) should be regarded as precious, their principle of rebellion shines through as they grasp at straws to make an argument for a truth they inherently know (life is valuable) because Christianity is true, but cannot justify because they are suppressing the truth in unrighteousness (Rom 1:18ff).


What the non-Christian vegan therefore needs is the Gospel. Life is precious, but because of our sins, we're staring eternal death in the eye as God's justice demands that our sins be accounted for. However, Jesus, the Son of God laid his life down on the cross and took the wrath of the Father aimed at our sins on Himself. He died, and three days later rose from the dead - dealing a death blow to death itself. If we place our faith (trust) in Jesus Christ and look to His work on the cross as our only hope, we too will inherit eternal life as we partake in Christ's victory over death.


If you value life, you must value Jesus. If you place your trust in any other principle or person other than Jesus, the end result is death no matter how much you tried to preserve life. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. Go to Him.



References


[1] Time. 2021. A Brief History of Veganism | Time. [ONLINE] Available at: https://time.com/3958070/history-of-veganism/. [Accessed 09 November 2021].


[2] Rogers, O. and Rogers, O., 2021. Atheism And Veganism - Faunalytics. [online] Faunalytics. Available at: https://faunalytics.org/atheism-and-veganism/ [Accessed 8 December 2021].


4 comments

4 Comments

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Guest
Nov 02, 2023

I agree with you that the only hope for moral veganism is if God exists. I am a Christian who also believes in moral vegetarianism (not veganism), and I thank you for addressing this topic in an irenic and reasoned manner, which is a refreshing contrast against the depressing silence or mockery so widespread in the Church today.


However, you merely assert that 'God’s revealed will does not prohibit the consumption of animal products' and that Christianity 'is also the worldview that does not place restrictions on the consumption of animal products'. Surely it does place restrictions. For example, it is restricted to consume animal products if they are 'produced by being cruel to animals' as you yourself seem to…


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Arne Verster
Arne Verster
Nov 06, 2023
Replying to

Thank you for the insightful comment!

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Scott Davis
Scott Davis
Feb 04, 2023

If you think there is nothing immoral about milking a cow, you don’t know the dairy industry.


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Arne Verster
Arne Verster
Feb 05, 2023
Replying to

That’s fine. I found this article: https://lambs.peta.org/feature/every-christian-know-beef-milk/ The point is this, there can only be a moral and immoral way of milking a cow if Christianity is true. If Christianity is not true, it’s all Chance and personal preference. “Animal rights” and “animal dignity” can only be a thing if Christianity is true, yet the very same Christianity allows the slaughter for animals for meat.

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