Exploring the Relationship Between Veganism and Religion

Posted by:Lindsay S. Nixon Category: Holiday

Back in July, a Herbie emailed me asking if I knew of any Bible quotes that supported veganism or a plant-based diet. I didn't know of verses off-hand, but thanks to a quick Google search, I found this website: Vegetarianism and the Bible.

Afterward, I started thinking about religion and veganism, and how I have friends of many different faiths and beliefs, many of which are vegan or vegetarian because of their faith, or they find the two go hand in hand. For example, when a friend of mine became Buddhist, he adopted a vegan diet, explaining he felt he had to be a vegan to be consistent with his beliefs. Similarly, another friend of mine was born and raised vegetarian because she is a Seventh Day Adventist.

I wondered if others, particularly others of different faiths and beliefs, found this same connection. I decided to ask the Herbies on Facebook
for their thoughts. I explained I was interested in writing a blog post that explored religion/spirituality and its relationship (if any) to their vegan lifestyle and/or plant-based dietary choices. I welcomed anyone to email me with their thoughts and opinions. Dozens of emails poured in, and I'm sharing their thoughts with you today.

Please note that I'm not advocating any one religion or even religion at all. I'm only sharing what some people in our community feel and believe,  since this topic doesn't seem to be discussed elsewhere on the internet. This is also a question I get fairly often and I'm hoping this post can help answer some of those questions in greater detail.

I come from a family that is very religiously diverse (nearly every family member has a different faith or no faith at all) and our practice is to "love and respect" each other, even when we differ. I take that with me always.

Now, let's explore!

"Religion didn't play into the decision for me to move to a plant-based diet, but it did confirm to me the feeling that our bodies are made to perform perfectly without meat. (Biblically speaking, we were vegetarians until after the flood.)" — M. B.

"I'm a Seventh Day Adventist Christian, and the church as a whole promotes a plant-based vegetarian diet as the ideal based on it being with the original diet (check the book of Genesis). For more information, SDADA Facts."  — M.P.  

"I'm a Hindu — born and raised as one — but that's not why I changed to a plant-based lifestyle. My dad ate meat all his life. My mom has never eaten it once and I have family members at all ends of this spectrum. I'm the only one who has given up dairy products. We've always abstained from eating meat on certain days of the week, at religious ceremonies (weddings, births, religious holidays, etc.) but my religion didn't have anything to do with my giving up meat, or dairy, or oil (unless you call my health my religion)." — P.C.

"I feel that God blessed me with this body and I'm sure he wants me to take care of it. My diet and exercise routine helps me do that." —  A.M.

"I'm not a follower of any religion, but eating animals and thoughts of them facing death or cruelty is harmful to my spirit and my conscience. No leader or dogma directed me to feel that way, though." — H.K.

"My mom is a fundamentalist Christian, but she's a vegetarian now. Some Christians like to use the God-gave-us-dominion-over-animals argument (a.k.a., "eat meat the way God intended" argument). There is a great book called Dominion by Matthew Sculley that addresses this — he's a vegan and a Christian. It's interesting. To me, veganism is a spiritual belief and it's part of my spiritual practice of non-harming. If people are offended by it, I try to be open, non-defensive and polite." — M. B.

"Although I've been Buddhist for years and was attracted to vegetarian/vegan diets for health reasons, it wasn't until my wife and I started to study Chan Buddhism that she switched dramatically, and very quickly, to a vegan diet.  After a couple of months of my wife eating a vegan diet, I realized that her views on suffering were right, especially when I learned that dairy cows are the source of veal. Chan contemplation allowed me to see that it really isn't that hard to create a new set of habits that create less suffering... For me, it was a combination of understanding the environmental damage done by commercial animal agriculture, the suffering inflicted on the animals, the incredible health benefits of a plant based diet, and deep examination of the ethics of killing specifically for food in places where abundant plant based foods are available." - C.E.

"I never ascribed to any one religion before I became vegan. I suppose I was just agnostic. But veganism has become my religion...my set of ethics, beliefs, my service to my community (all the things religion IS)." — K.E.

"Although I don't follow veganism for religious reasons, the concept of veganism is more or less a religious concept to me. It's what I follow because it adheres to my ethical principles." — B.G.

"I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormon)... There is one specific revelation that addresses how the Lord would have his people eat: The Word of Wisdom, which is where the basis for a plant-based diet is found. I have found much deeper truths in this scripture as I have learned more about the food industry and food in general. We haven't been plant-based very long, but it's been amazing to see things come to pass in fulfillment of this scripture." — K. L.

"In summary, animal eating continues on both the old and new testament BUT it's not true that God made animals as a food source. I've hear many people say "God made animals for us to eat". My belief as a Christian is that God made us plant-based (his perfect will) and charged us to be guardians and stewards over the animal kingdom. But once sin entered and animals were being sacrificed as an atonement for sin, the meat eating shortly followed (His permissive will)." — S. S.

"The primary reason my wife and I remained vegan (after trying it for health reasons) was because of our ethical and religious beliefs. My wife and I are Mahayana Buddhists and Unitarian Universalists. One of the teachings of the Buddhist precepts is 'Do Not Kill.' The Buddha himself was not vegetarian and neither was his sangha, group of followers, but many Mahayana Buddhists today are vegetarian in observance of this precept. It has also been translated as 'Do no harm' or 'I undertake the training to do no harm'." — A. L.

"I didn't adopt veganism as a spirtual practice, but it has become that way as I've grown in my yoga practice and have become a teacher. I gravitate towards Jivamukti, and they are all about compassion/non violence (ahimsa) and the founders are vegans." — K.P.

"In the Old Testament, God gives man (Gen.1: 26-28) "dominion" over animals and tells man to "rule" the animals, but doesn't say eat them. He tells man what to eat next (Gen 1:29-30) "Look, I have given you every seed-bearing plant on the surface of the entire earth, and every tree whose fruit contains seed. This food will be for you, for all the wildlife of the earth, for every bird of the sky, and for every creature that crawls on the earth — everything having the breath of life in it. I have given every green plant for food." In my study, I learned many times over, what God calls meat we call plants, and what we call meat, God called "flesh". Once the flood happened and Noah and his family came upon dry land, God gave them permission to eat flesh (see Gen. 9) but only because all vegetation had died from the flood. At this time, the life expectancy went from 700 to 120. Proof that flesh will make us sick.  So in looking at how God intended for us to eat, it is clear animal products were not involved. Only when sin became so rampant and God was going to destroy the world, did we have to eat flesh. We are no longer in Noah's situation....plant food abounds!" — B. H.

"Buddhism itself doesn't condemn eating animal products, such as the Theravada tradition, where monks accept whatever is offered to them in their alms bowl, even if it's meat. Tibetan Buddhism advocates a vegetarian lifestyle. Personally for me, I didn't feel comfortable eating other living things anymore... I went vegetarian for spiritual reasons and feel I'm getting a bonus in that I truly believe eating plant-based is the healthiest way to live. Buddhist beliefs and my health go hand in hand for this one." — H. W.

"I'm a Christian, and according to the New Testament of the Bible, diet has no moral implications — we are free to eat as we please and it is not a sin to eat animals. However, when studying the Bible, you see many instances of a plant-based diet as a HEALTHY way to eat and that ties into the NT commandment to, 'glorify God with your body.' From the aforementioned 'original diet' in the Garden of Eden before any death, all animals were herbivores, even those that now are carnivores. From there you see instances of plant-only diets or fasts, such as Ezekiel (hence, Ezekiel bread), who ate nothing but his bread for 390 days. And Daniel, who, along with his companions, chose to eat vegetables and water instead of the king's "choice food and wine," and the king noted their appearance was better than those who ate of his choice food. So while my faith doesn't give me moral issues with what I choose to eat, it reinforces the healthy choices. They are not completely separate, as my faith in some way influences much of my life." — D.S.

"I have always been an atheist, but veganism has become as close to a religion as I will ever get. It is a strong ethical foundation from which I make all of my decisions." — L. B.

"I am Unitarian Universalist, and the denomination decided a couple of years ago to make ethical eating a social justice study issue. We agree to uphold seven principles, the seventh of which is 'respect for the interdependent web of life.' It's often interpreted as respect for the environment, but some, including myself, take it further to mean that everything is connected and that my behavior is not in a vacuum. I might have the 'right' to eat badly as many Americans insist, but my choices do affect others when it comes to the environmental cost of a meat and dairy heavy diet, as well as health care costs that get borne by everyone." — J. F.

"Buddhist and vegan. But, it seems to me, whether one becomes plant-based for ethical reasons, health-supporting reasons, environmental reasons, religious reasons — one intention, inevitably and inadvertently supports the other. In other words, whatever the motivation, good comes of it!" — S. R.

"I did not go plant-based for any reason other than health; HOWEVER, when I did, I was confronted by several in my church who felt I was putting myself in spiritual danger. I was told I would open myself up to spiritual attack and that I would be 'too weak to battle,' and that I was entering a false religion based in New Age. I am part of a very popular Christian, evangelical church. I was very shocked at the reactions I got. On the flip side, I have gotten a real understanding of how God intended for us to eat when He created us. I feel closer to Him in many ways." — H. B.

"I was raised in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormon) but haven't practiced in over 11 years. However, if Mormons followed the Word of Wisdom to the letter, they would be very close to Vegan. See Doctrine & Covenants 89."

"Coming from a Pagan perspective, which has no central doctrine but has adopted a number of different phrases to describe the practice (in a very general and/or a Wiccan-based way), I've personally taken on "An' it harm none, do as ye will", the very common Wiccan Rede, as a reason to take on a vegetarian diet. It wasn't the initial reason why I became vegetarian, but was adopted later on." — S. F. 

"I was raised as an observant Jew keeping kosher laws. Those laws require humane ritual slaughter of kosher animals only (i.e. cows, chickens, turkey, certain fish) - most animals are not considered kosher. In fact, if an animal is mistreated before slaughter it is technically not considered kosher. I became vegetarian in 2008 when a kosher slaughtering house in Iowa was abusing its immigrant workers and animals. I was devastated. By definition kosher meant humane to me. I am sure other kosher slaughtering houses strictly follow all the kosher laws including the ethical treatment of both employees and animals but I felt burned. I became vegetarian and then vegan two years later, for my health. As time has passed I have definitely felt more spiritual and closer to the real roots of Judaism, before the flood, as others have mentioned in their posts. I invite our friends to our home for Jewish holidays and serve entirely vegan meals. They have all remarked to me how light and clean they feel after eating at my home. To me that is a form of spirituality." - C.

Daniel 1:11-16 was also quoted several times over to me, plus Gen 1:29-30 and Gen 1: 26-28.

Lastly, I welcome continued discussion in the comment section, but please remember — love and respect :)

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