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EXCERPTS FROM FATHER JOHN DEAR'S BOOK: Christianity & Vegetarianism; Pursuing The Non-violence of Jesus
My name is John Dear, and I am a Catholic priest, a peace activist, a writer and a vegetarian. I've traveled the world promoting peace and non-violence and served as the executive director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the largest and oldest interfaith peace organization in the US. I'd like to reflect with you about Christianity and vegetarianism.
When I look at the world today, I see a culture addicted to violence.(And to TV which is also loaded with violence and destructive propaganda) As I write, there are more than 30 wars being waged. There nare more than 1 billion people suffering from malnurishment and its effects. There are more than 2 billion people without access to clean water, bareley surviving in dire poverty. According to the United Nations, about 60,000 people, mostly women and children, die every single day from starvation and starvation related -diseases. Right here in the US. we see executions, rampant homelessness, and injustices of all kinds, including racism and sexism. And in the U.S. alone, we kill more than 9 billion land animals each year by cutting their throats, sometimes while they're still conscious. We also kill more than 15 billion sea animals, generally by suffocation, bodily decompression, or crushing, every single year.
I agree with Mahatma Gandhi, Dorthy Day of the Catholic Worker movement, and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that the only way out of this culture of violence is through the ancient wisdom of non-violence. I remember what Dr. King said the night before he was assassinated: "The choice before us is no longer violence or non-violence; it's non-violence or non-existence," That's where we stand today, on the brink of a new culture of non-violence or the brink of nonexistence.
(Dr. King and his entire family were and still are vegetarian; In 1993, Coretta King and their family attornys, in an unprecedented 6 hours at the Justice Dept, presented Presendent Clinten and the US Attorney General Janet Reno documents that the CIA assassinated Dr. King and not James Earal Ray and demanded that Ray be exonorated retroactivly and that justice has not been done because the culprits are still on the loose)
Nonviolence begins with the insights that all life is sacred, that all human beings are children of the God of peace (Some evangelical extremests believe in a militaristic God of war) and that as God's children, we are under certain obligations. Of course, we should never hurt or kill another human being, wage war, build nuclear weapons, or sit idly by while millions of human beings starve to death each year. Nonvolennce invites us, also to reevaluate the way we treat animals in our society. While we resist violence, injustice, and war and while we practice nonviolence, seek peace, and struggle for justice for the poor, we are also invited to breal down the species barrier, extending our belief in Christian compassion to the animal kingdom by, among other things, adopting a vegetarian diet.
(Most of the canonized saints of the Eastern and Western Churches and all the monasteries and priories down through the ages have and for the most part still do practice a vegetarian diet)
As I look at the world and reflect on this urgent question of violence and non-violence, I turn as a Christian, to Jesus. Gandhi said that Jesus was the greatest practioner of nonviolence known in history. If we know anything about Jesus, it is that he (And all the early Christians in Jerusalem etc) rejected and resisted violence and practiced nonviolence. ....
Since 1982, I have been attempting to take seriously Jesus' call for nonviolence. I have organized demonstrations, been arrested for acts of civil disobedience, and taken every opportunity to speak out, in books and articles and retreats, from college auditoriums and inner city streets on pulpits across the country, about Christian nonviolence. I've also traveled into the war zones of the Middle East, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Haiti, Northern Ireland and Iraq to learn about and speak out against the injustices that we (The US military industrial complex) inflict on so many people..........
I was inspired by Gandhi to profess a vow of nonviolence, as he did, (As Gandhi led a popular national movement to free India from British colonialism) so that I could take this spiritual commitment seriously for the rest of my life. And in 1982, I became a vegetarian, I feel that Gandhi and his example have helped me to be a better follower of Jesus, to walk the way of nonviolence, and toward greater wholeness as a human being.
Fr. John Dear continued: VEGETARIANISM AS A WAY TO HELP END WORLD HUNGER
At about the time I was studying Gandhi, I read a powerful book by Frances Moore Lappe' called DIET FOR A SMALL PLANET. Lappe' argued that we could help end world hunger by redistributing our wealth and resources to the poorer people of the world, cutting back on our militarism, and becoming vegetarianism. She pointed out that more and more basic grains around the world, instead of going to local communities of malnourished people, are grown and given to animals who are used for their milk and eggs and latter slaughterred or who are raised only to be slaughtered for meat. In both instances, the amimal are consumed by the people of the developed "First" World and their few rich emissaries in the developing world, rather than by the starving masses.
Ten years ago, China was a net grain exporter, and it seemed certain that it would continue to export grain. But instead, as a direct result of increasing consumotion of animal products, primarily pigs, China is now one of the world's top grain importers. The practical effect on people is only beginning to be felt in China. According to groups like the World watch Institute, all developing countries that rely on animal agriculture will experience similar consequences and the resulting increase in starvation and misery as well.
It is profoundly disheartening to remember that during the famine in Ethiopia in the mid-1980's and during the famine in Somalia in the early 1990's those countries continued to export grains to Europe to feed its cows, pigs, and chickens so that First World people could eat meat. Likewise, while people suffer and die in Central and South America, the countries there ship their grains to the U.S. to feed our cows, pigs, and chickens so that we can satisfy our desire for animal flesh, milk, and eggs.
Francis Moore Lappe' argues that we should all work to eliminate hunger and protect the environment and that one important step we can each take is to become a vegetarian. To me, working to abolish hunger, war and violence is a basic moral and ethical duty for everyone. Furthermore, for me as a Christian, it is a basic religious and spiritual obligation-a commandment, required by God. Francis Moore Lappe' helped me to make the connection between justice, solidarity, and the life of nonviolence, and I quickly became a vegetarian. I hope that others will, too, and that we can all take another step toward a more nonviolent, more just world.
THE BIBLICAL VISION OF COMPASSION & NONVIOLENCE
There are other great reasons for becomming a vegetarian, and I'd like to review a few of them, including the witness of the scriptures, a basic reverence and compassion toward God's creatures, responsible stewardship of the Earth, and respect for one's own health.
In God's initial and ideal world, represented in the book of Genesis by the Garden of Eden, there was no suffering, no exploitation, and no violence at all. People and animals were vegetarians, as we read in the first chapter of Genesis: "God said, 'See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the Earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food" (1:29). Immediately after creating this beautiful, nonviolent, non-exploitative world, God describes it as "very good." This is the only time in the narrative that God calls creation "very good" instead of merely "good"- and this immediately follows God's command with regard to vegetarianism.
But after the Fall, people waged war, held oneanother as slaves, ate meat, and committed every atrocity imaginable. After the flood, when the world's vegetation was destroyed, we are told, God allowed humans to eat meat. Scholors argue that within the context of the story, this was only a temporary permission, based on human violence and sinfulness: God gives us free will and allows us the freedom to reject God and God's way of nonviolence, but God tried to help us to become less violent by commanding people to observe God's laws. n the Mosaic legal system, then, there are more than 150 laws regarding meat-eating, but the vision of Eden is still the ideal and the goal. Indeed, Leviticus strictly prohibits the eating of anything with fat or blood, and many argue that the law of Moses actually forbids the eating of flesh entirely because it's impossible to get blood totally out of meat.
The best example of a vegetarian in the Bible is Daniel, the non-violent resiiter who refuses to defile himself by eating the kink's meat. He and three friends actually become much healthier than everyone else through their vegetartian diet. They also became 10 times smarter, and "God rewards them with knowledge and skll in all learning and wisdom." Throughout the marvelous stories that follow, we hear of someone who remains faithful to God, refuses to worship the emperor's false gods and unjust ways, and practices a steadfast nonviolence. And this marvelous story begins with divne approval of vegetarianism.
The book of the prophet Isaiah proclaims the vision of the peaceable kingdom, that new realm of God where everyone will beat their swords into plowshares, refuse to study war, enjoy their own wine and fig tree, and never fear again. Several passages condemn meat eating and foresee a day when people and animals will adopt a vegetarian diet, when "the wolf shall dwell with the lamb and the leopard shall lie down with the kid....They do no violence, no harm, on all my holy mountain" (Is. 11:6-9) Of course, God's covenant is always with all flesh." animal and human, and in the conclusion to Isaiah, God speaks of those who kill animals in the same way as those who murder people and heralds the dawn of a new day of peace.
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"In a violent, dark time, John Dear offers himself as an examplar of Christian life. Humbly and fittngly, by implication, he does so. And he offers a compelling argument that others can do likewise. Let all who read grow thoughtful, pondering the change of heart John urges. The suffering universe of humans and other creatures trembles and awaits." Fr. Daniel Berrgan, S.J. another great anti-war PEACE activist.
TO BE CONTINUED SOON IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD & MONASTERY NEAR YOU
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