PETA Gets Religion

To argue this position, PETA has mailed thousands of letters to clergy, demonstrated at religious conventions, taken full-page advertisements in newspapers, and plastered billboards with pictures of Jesus wearing an orange slice for a halo.

Given the growing popularity of vegetarianism, PETA’s position has special appeal to idealistic teens who mistake fervor for proof. Wise parents will discuss this issue with their children before rather than after a food crisis erupts at the family dinner table.

The mystical strain of Western vegetarianism appeals to “nostalgia for Paradise.” By not slaughtering animals for food, we will in effect recreate Eden or bring about a messianic Peaceable Kingdom. But human abstinence can’t persuade lions to lie down with lambs any more than it can redesign the biochemistry of our species into something more fashionably “spiritual.”

But nothing in the Bible supports PETA’s notion of a vegetarian Jesus, as even a glance at the Scriptures readily shows. This isn’t a matter of theology but of history because the consumption of animal food had always been part of the culture into which Jesus of Nazareth was born and lived.

The first formal act of worship recorded in the first book of the Bible is an animal sacrificed by Abel the shepherd, who traditionally prefigures Christ. His offering pleases God, unlike the crops grudgingly given by his brother Cain the farmer (Gn 4:1-16). Killing animals with a proper intention can win Divine favor.

After the Great Flood, God’s covenant with Noah — another figure who foreshadows Christ — includes permission to eat meat. “Every creature that is alive shall be yours to eat. . . ” (Gn 9:3). The later covenant with Abraham, the Exodus, and the Israelites’ acceptance of the Law are sealed with animal sacrifices. Henceforth, the Chosen People follow distinctive dietary rules for meat and dairy products, sacrifice animals, and eat the Paschal lamb on Passover, their greatest religious holiday.

Animal-raising was still an important part of Palestine’s economy in New Testament times, but most people were too poor to eat much meat. It’s simply unthinkable that Jesus, called the Lamb of God (Jn 1:29), refused to partake of the annual Paschal lamb or banned that key dish from the Last Supper. To do so would’ve cut him off from the community of Israel and scorned the Law he had come to fulfill.

To decline meat at banquets or festive occasions such as the Wedding at Cana would’ve been rude and drawn criticism. But the enemies of Jesus only complain that he eats and drinks too well (Lk 7:33-34), unlike abstinent John the Baptist. Christ’s hunger is referred to several times (e.g., Mt 4:2), yet the only time he himself is specifically described as eating is his post-Resurrection meal of fish and honey (Lk 24:41-43).

Meat is featured at celebrations in Christ’s parables including the Prodigal Son’s “fattened calf” (Lk 15:23) and the Wedding Feast’s “calves and fattened cattle” (Mt 22:4). Among his recorded miracles are two multiplications of loaves and fishes and miraculous catches of fish (Lk 5:6, Jn 21:4-11).

Far from condemning the consumption of “anything with a face,” Jesus declares that no food can defile the one who eats it (Mt 15:10-20, Mk 7:14-23). When his Sermon on the Mount enlarges the scope of the Fifth Commandment to encompass hateful words and thoughts, Jesus is clearly condemning violence against men, not animals (Mt 5:21-26).

No Divine mandate against eating meat was known to the Apostles or the Early Church, but there was a debate about maintaining Jewish dietary restrictions. After Peter is told in a vision that he is free to kill any species of animal for food (Acts 10:9-16, 11:1-16), the Apostles decide that the Mosaic Law no longer applies. Christians are to abstain from blood and the meat of strangled animals, but meat is not otherwise forbidden.

The point later at issue in Paul’s teaching on idol-offerings (Rom 14, 1 Co 8) is the connection with pagan worship, not the animal character of the food. Paul asks that meat previously offered to pagan gods be avoided if it would cause scandal or scrupulosity (1 Cor 8:9-13).

Although Christians may decide to avoid meat for reasons of health, thrift, taste, discipline, or penance, vegetarianism was not demanded by Christ or his Apostles. PETA’s attempt to present Jesus as a vegetarian is sheer fantasy. It should be definitively rejected by anyone who believes that the Bible gives faithful testimony to the life and teaching of Jesus Christ.

Sandra Miesel


Sandra Miesel is a medievalist and author. She has written hundreds of articles for the Catholic press, chiefly on history, art, and hagiography, and has spoken at religious and academic conferences, appeared on EWTN, and given numerous radio interviews. She is co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax: Exposing the Errors in The Da Vinci Code with Carl E. Olson and The Pied Piper of Atheism: Philip Pullman and Children's Fantasy with Catholic journalist and canon lawyer Pete Vere. She holds master's degrees in biochemistry and medieval history from the University of Illinois.

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