MOST of us are totally disconnected from the process of food production. When taking a bite of pepperoni pizza, we don’t think about the fact that we are eating pig. When grabbing a burger, it seldom crosses our minds that we are about to bite into a piece of cow.
As Christians, if someone confronts us with these uncomfortable facts, we justify our behavior by noting that God gave human beings “dominion” over animals in the Genesis creation stories.
But those same stories also insist that God gives us plants to eat, not animals. God creates animals “because it is not good man should be alone.” Look it up. Furthermore, both Isaiah and Paul insist that all of creation will be redeemed such that both human and nonhuman animals will live together in a peaceable kingdom of nonviolent companionship.
Sadly, that time seems a long ways off. Most of the meat we eat comes from huge corporations via monstrous factory farms, in which more than 100 million chickens are slaughtered each week in the U.S. alone.
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The lives of these chickens — like those of most animals in factory farms — are miserable, short and often terribly painful. They spend their pitiful lives in almost complete darkness and in only about one-half of a square foot of living space.
To ensure that they reach full size and move to slaughter quickly, chickens are now genetically altered so that they feel constant hunger and eat as much as they can as quickly as possible. The all-consuming goal of factory farms is to maximize protein-unit output per square foot of space.
The Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church teaches that: 1. It is seriously wrong to cause animals to suffer and die without great need; 2. We owe animals kindness. Those who buy chickens and other animals from factory farms cooperate with a cruel evil and make a mockery of our duty to show animals kindness.
Furthermore, virtually no one needs to eat factory-farmed meat — especially given that we can get more than enough protein from eating relatively cheap lentils, peas, beans and nuts. Eating meat is also one of the major causes of cancer and heart disease; it is hardly surprising that cultures that rarely eat meat have higher life expectancy than those that eat meat regularly.
We also know that the methane produced by the excrement and other bodily emissions of the 50 billion factory-farmed animals killed each year does more to affect climate change than all the emissions of cars and planes combined.
The easiest and most productive thing one could do to lower one’s carbon footprint — a solemn duty for Christians committed to protect God’s creation — is simply to stop eating meat from factory farms.
Interestingly, from the very first Council at Jerusalem, concern about ethical meat-eating has been central for Christianity. The Middle Ages produced St. Francis, perhaps the greatest animal-lover of all time.
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, just before he became Pope Benedict XVI, described the issue of factory farming as “very serious” and claimed that “degrading of living creatures to a commodity” directly contradicts the Bible’s understanding of animals. Given that his predecessor spoke out about factory farming, might Pope Francis also speak out about it? Given both his namesake and his willingness to try new things, we shouldn’t be surprised if he does.
But we need not wait to make good on our obligations to treat animals with kindness and resist the horrifically cruel practice of factory farming. Christians already have a long tradition of refusing to eat meat on holy days.
If full-blown vegetarianism is too intimidating, perhaps we should return to the ancient practice of refusing to eat meat on Fridays and during the holy season of Lent. It would be an important first step toward meeting our serious moral obligations to nonhuman animals.
Professor Charles C. Camosy of Fordham University published “For Love of Animals: Christian Ethics, Consistent Action” on the feast of St. Francis, Oct. 4. He can be reached @nohiddenmagenta and firstname.lastname@example.org