I am vegan.
Such a statement might immediately arouse suspicions: “Why would a person not eat fast food, hamburgers, chicken nuggets, steak, fish? Isn’t such food what a large part of the American economy is based on? How can a person who doesn’t eat meat get enough protein? Won’t your health suffer?”
Veganism, in addition, means more than vegetarianism: veganism means to refrain from eating any animal product: milk, ice cream, yogurt, cream, eggs: in today’s society, it is very difficult to avoid foods without some sort of trace of milk or eggs. The dairy industry is such an important facet of our society: why rebel against it?
So why go to all the trouble? Am I a tree-hugger? An extreme environmentalist? One of those fire-breathing Hollywood liberals? I am probably a left-wing activist as well, right? I probably march in protests against speciesism.
Rather, I am vegan not for ideological, political, environmental, social, economic, philosophical, liberal, or left wing, reasons.
I am vegan for religious reasons.
And no, I am not a Buddhist, or Hindu, or Jain, or Taoist. I am a Christian, meaning that I follow the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, who said:
“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation.”
This is what the Gospel of Mark reports Jesus as having commanded his followers to do. The Greek word, “ktisis,” literally means “creature” or “creation.” How does one preach to all creatures, to the whole creation?
In my studies of Christian missionary movements, missionaries follow Matthew’s view of the Great Commission: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations.” This version of the Great Commission implies that missionaries will spread the Good News to other humans.
But there is a way to bring the Good News of life, love, and peace to the whole creation: By example: The example of preserving the sanctity of life. If I respect life in all its forms, and refuse to abuse it, and use it only as a means of survival, which all forms of life do; if I refuse to waste anything organic, and I am doing this because of the love of Christ, the love of the Word, through whom all things came to be–then I am by example preaching to the whole creation, or spreading a message of love to the whole creation.
Veganism is my way of being a missionary of the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.
Doubtless some Christian theologians would find some of my views questionable, but then, I don’t believe theologians typically consider the sanctity of life as a whole—their focus is on human life. I, a human, live in time, so I am constrained by the limitations of time–so yes, if tested I would act in defense of my own family and community as many others have; that begs the question of whether taking life, any life, is right. I don’t think we humans really understand what the essence of life really is; we are still in the state of preservation of species, like any animal. But if we were someday to advance to a higher level of the understanding of the essence of life, what would our world be like then?
The closest statement I have found among Christian scholars to these sentiments comes from Pope Francis’s Encyclical Letter on Humans and God’s Creation, Laudatum Si, On Care for Our Common Home. I find what he says compelling: “The universe unfolds in God, who fills it completely. Hence, there is a mystical meaning to be found in a leaf, in a mountain trail, in a dewdrop, in a poor person’s face. The ideal is not only to pass from the exterior to the interior to discover the action of God in the soul, but also to discover God in all things.”
To embrace veganism is to return to a simple pattern of life via a simple sense of time. Veganism is about accepting an overwhelming secret to the universe that humans need to find a way to empathize with, and to find peace in.
Veganism is about the following sentiment: if humans are advanced over other creatures, they need to act like it; civilization should actually mean something besides the exercise of human power. Civilization should have something to do with taking the lead among all creatures to preserve and protect life. As Pope Francis writes: “It is enough to recognize that our body itself establishes us in a direct relationship with the environment and with other living beings. The acceptance of our bodies as God’s gift is vital for welcoming and accepting the entire world as a gift from the Father and our common home, whereas thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation.”
Humans can hardly refrain from exercising power against other humans, much less against other forms of life on Earth. Humans exercise power over the weakest of humans, especially children and the unborn, and against the weakest of God’s Creation: insects, rodents, birds, fish, mammals. Jesus told his disciples that God watches over the most unprotected, the most apparently negligible of all creatures, such as sparrows. These little insignificant creatures are everywhere—so ubiquitous as to go almost unnoticed. Yet God, as Matthew records Jesus saying, attends even to sparrows, and feeds them: “Are you not much better than they?” he asks.
In God’s eyes, who is the better: humans or sparrows? I am not prepared to say. To the Father, the least might be best, the winner might be the loser. Until I know for sure, I will reserve judgment, and live as a vegan, doing my best to follow the Great Commission, and protecting the sanctity of all life.