06 January 2004

Tom Regan on Why Christians Should Be Vegans

I take the opening account of creation in Genesis seriously, but not, I hasten to add, literally. I take it seriously because I believe this is the point from which our spiritual understanding of God's plans in and hopes for creation must begin, and against which our well-considered judgments about the value of creation finally must be tested. It is therefore predictable that I find it significant that God is said to judge each part of creation "good" before humans came upon the scene and that humans were created by God (or came upon the scene) on the same day as the nonhuman animals to whom I have been referring—those whose limbs are severed, whose sensory organs are brutally removed, and whose brains are ground up for purposes of scientific research, for example. I read in this representation of the order of creation a prescient recognition of the vital kinship humans share with these other animals, a kinship I have elsewhere endeavored to explicate in terms of our shared biographical presence in the world, a view which, quite apart from anything the Bible teaches, is supported by both common sense and our best science.

But I find in the opening saga of creation an even deeper, more profound message regarding God's plans in and hopes for creation. For I find in this account the unmistakable message that God did not create nonhuman animals for our use—not in science, not for the purpose of vanity products, not for our entertainment, not for our sport or recreation, not even for our bodily sustenance. On the contrary, the nonhuman animals currently exploited in these ways were created to be just what they are: independently good expressions of the divine love that, in ways that are likely always to remain to some degree mysterious to us, was expressed in God's creative activity.

The issue of bodily sustenance is perhaps the most noteworthy of the practices I have mentioned since, while humans from "the beginning" were in need of food, there were no rodeos or circuses, no leghold traps or dynamite harpoons in the original creation. Had it been part of God's hopes in and plans for creation to have humans use nonhuman animals as food, it would have been open to God to let this be known. And yet what we find in the opening saga of creation is just the opposite. The "meat" we are given by God is not the flesh of animals, it is "all plants that bear seed everywhere on the earth, and every tree bearing fruit which yields seed: they shall be yours for food" (Gen. 1:29 [NEB]).

The message could not be any clearer. In the most perfect state of creation humans are vegans (that is, not only is the flesh of animals excluded from the menu God provides for us, even animal products—milk and cheese, for example—are excluded). And so I believe that, if we look to the biblical account of "the beginning" as more than merely one among many considerations, but instead as an absolutely essential source of spiritual insight into God's hopes in and plans for creation, then, like it or not, we are obliged to find there a menu of divinely approved bodily sustenance that differs quite markedly from the steaks and chops, the roasts and stews most Christians are accustomed to devouring.

(Tom Regan, "Christians Are What Christians Eat," chap. 8 in his The Thee Generation: Reflections on the Coming Revolution [Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1991], 143-57, at 149-50 [italics in original] [essay first published in 1990])