I was preaching on 1 Corinthians 8 on Sunday – about meat sacrificed to idols. Not really a live issue for me or the good people of Hove, but I took the line that thinking about others is a live issue – especially those who are vulnerable. I dealt with it along the lines of how we deal with disagreements – whether we try to score points and win the argument, or deal in love with each other to build each other up and build up the body of Christ. (“Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” – v.1).
However, maybe I was avoiding an obvious, more direct challenge of the text: meat.
I love eating meat. But for some time I have been troubled by how I see the ethics of it. Bacon, more than anything else, keeps me omnivorous, as the hot fat sears my conscience.
There are two main issues that bother me.
One is that a sentient being was killed so that I could eat it. Whether meat or fish, an animal was killed. It may have been killed humanely (although that’s difficult with a fish), but it may not. I don’t really know. We try to buy good meat – free range, organic and local where possible, but we put a lot of trust in a big system – trusting that the farmer cared for his/her animals. We don’t visit the farms or the abattoirs to see for ourselves. Sometimes when the children say grace, they don’t just thank God, they thank the chicken too. It’s a bit off-putting, but maybe without that awareness of the death of the animal, it’s irresponsible to eat it. But however kind the farmer and however humane the method of slaughter, to kill something seems essentially violent. I’m not sure I really want to take part in that violence.
The other thing that bothers me is the thought that eating meat on anything but an occasional basis is unsustainable. I could bore you with the figures, but the basic point is that farming meat is a very inefficient use of land. When my brother and sister are starving, should I (or people acting on my behalf) be feeding grain and soybeans, etc to animals so that I can then eat the animal? If seven billion people are going to have enough to eat, that ‘enough’ will not be able to include much, if any, meat – there simply isn’t enough agricultural land.
So on both those counts, my meaty diet is causing poverty and hunger for my weaker brothers and sisters somewhere in the world. Am I eating meat that’s been sacrificed to the idol of my own pleasure? Am I engaging in a combination of violence, exploitation, greed and stealing the bread from the mouths of the poor? That’s not quite St Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians, but is it that far removed from it? Maybe I should stop eating meat and cut back on dairy produce while I’m at it.
On the pro-meat side of the argument, though, there are farmers who rely on me eating their animals. Also, I have an omnivorous digestive tract. Also, according to Luke 24.42-43, Jesus ate fish. Also, catering for vegetarians is a rotten nuisance. Also, I love eating meat. All this talk of eating has made me peckish, and I think there’s some ham in the fridge which would go nicely with a little chutney in a sandwich . . .