We’re all familiar with the saying, “Now I’ve heard everything.”
Well, now I have heard everything, at least when it comes to the reasons vegetarians use to condemn meat-eating.
In a commentary published on the Religion News Service website titled, “Why we sacrifice to idols every time we eat factory-farmed meat,” Charles C. Camosy, an Associate Professor at Fordham University, tries to make the case that eating meat is akin to worshipping idols, albeit modern ones that don’t’ go by the name of Jupiter or Zeus.
In his article, Camosy referenced the Council of Jerusalem, which instructed the early Christians to maintain four prohibitions of the Jewish law — one of which is refraining from eating animals that have been sacrificed to idols.
“Today, we hear this passage and simply say, ‘Well, nobody worships Jupiter anymore,’ and move on,” he wrote. “But it turns out that most of us are eating meat that has been sacrificed to idols: the twin false gods of profit and consumerism.”
He’s certainly not the first holier-than-thou columnist to decry the impact of modern society’s obsession with buying and owning “stuff.” What religious scholars have always condemned as “materialism” — we now label it as “conspicuous consumption” — is not a thing of beauty. Nor is its impact on the world’s have-nots a benign one.
But this author goes further, not just lumping meat-eating together with a host of other sins endemic in the 21st century, but arguing that anyone who’s not a vegetarian is contributing to the evils that capitalism and its progeny, consumerism, have created.
The inherent downside
To the good professor, the answer is simple: Eat plants.
“It doesn’t matter how good [animal] flesh tastes,” he wrote. “Christians have a moral duty to refuse to eat factory-farmed animals. They have been sacrificed to idols.”
That statement begs the question of whether it’s okay to eat the flesh of animals that weren’t raised on factory farm, since presumably, they don’t represent a sacrifice to the false god of profit; any small famer or producer would be happy to verify that assertion.
However, but there is a larger issue here: Every socio-economic system ever developed has its downside, including vegetarianism, by the way.
Communism, for example, was based on the most Christian of principles: Collective ownership of the means of production — exactly as the early Christian communes functioned. To each according to his ability; to each according to his need — which parallels the message of the Gospels to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, and clothe the naked.
Yet in practice, communist countries became even more totalitarian and oppressive than the monarchs or dictators who were overthrown as part of a “people’s revolution.”
Likewise, capitalism has proven to be a powerful engine of economic development, creating wealth and prosperity on a scale unprecedented in the history of the world.
But it would be beyond naïve to suggest that unfettered capitalism has no downside. Much of the wealth generated by the system of free enterprise ends up concentrated in fewer hands; we have more billionaires alive today than all the kings and pharaohs and emperors of ancient times put together, while literally billions of people struggle to secure enough food each day to stay alive.
That is not the fault of capitalism, however, but it’s by-product. Like a powerful drug that controls disease, yet creates some seriously negative side effects, our modern system of economic production has brought affluence on a scale never even imagined in past millennia, even while causing problems that cannot be ignored by anyone with a moral compass.
To so many veggie believers like our good professor, however, the solution lies in effecting change —dietary, not economic or political change.
Why? Because it’s simple, and thus attractive as an answer to the complexities of such mega-problems as resources inequities, environmental damage and global poverty.
Just say no was a naïve and ultimately ineffective “solution” to the complex problem of drug abuse and addiction.
Just eat plants is an equally ill-advised shortcut to the kinds of substantive interventions required to deal with the downside of modern capitalism.
In pharmacology, the goal is to improve a drug’s efficacy while minimizing its side effects, not to insist that a better answer is for patients to simply stop taking their medication.
With capitalism — or consumerism, whichever label you prefer — the goal is likewise to find ways to mitigate its downside, while preserving its benefits.
When it comes to anti-meat activists, the false idol being worshipped is the god of simplicity, whom true believers are convinced has the power to cure the world’s problems, if only we would sacrifice our love of meat on the altar of vegetarianism.
Dan Murphy is a food-industry journalist and commentator