Lamb for Dinner?
Animals as Symbols in Christianity
Christianity is perhaps the most anthropocentric of all world religions: God gave dominion of the earth to humans; God came down in human form in order to redeem humanity. For much of history, Christian authorities maintained that animals did not have souls, and were outside the scope of religion. (1) However, the full picture is not so simple. Thomas Aquinas maintained that animals did have souls, just not immortal ones: “Wart-hogs, as well as men, possess souls, for they, too, in their humble and different ways, are alive […] [but] there is no implication that [such] a soul survives the death of the body.” (2) Some influential modern theologians, such as C.S. Lewis, assert that animals do share in the resurrection (though only tame ones). (3) Ancient and Medieval saints preached to animals. (4) Also, no other Abrahamic religion deals so heavily in representations of animals: the dove, the fish, the lamb, and other examples too numerous to list here.
What is the impact of this symbolism on the actual flesh-and-blood species being represented? It may be beneficial: the symbolism of animal-as-God, as in the case of the dove, may represent the elevation of this animal to divinity. Metaphor in itself is not negative; if the foundation of ethics is the idea that we treat others as we would like to be treated, then metaphor is the beginning of compassion. On the other hand, symbolic use may be harmful to the animal. It is a form of the absent referent, defined as “anything whose original meaning is undercut as it is absorbed into a different hierarchy of meaning.” (5) Certain qualities of the animal, such as the innocence of a lamb, are utilized by the symbolic representation, and the remaining qualities of the living animal are ignored or fade away. Certainly, symbolic usage evidences no concern for the animal, only for human interests, and certainly does not prevent violence being done against that animal. As scholars of religion have noted, “Worship is primarily for the benefit of the worshipper rather than any indication of adoration for the worshipped.” (6)
I will use one of the most ancient and potent animal symbols in the Judeo-Christian theology as a case study here: the lamb. (7) The lamb appears in the 23rd Psalm, in the writings of the Prophet Ezekiel, the final command of Jesus to Peter, and countless Christian exegeses. One can rightly say that, “God looks after his people in the same manner a good shepherd ought to look after his flock.” (8)
Jesus is frequently called The Lamb, due to his innocence and his sacrifice. Historically, the sacrifice of domestic animals was required at the Temple of Jerusalem on numerous occasions. Though goats and bulls were also offered, there is evidence that lambs and sheep were killed in the largest numbers. (9) During the Passover in Egypt, a lamb was killed and his/her blood smeared on the doors of Israelite homes to keep them from the scourge of God; this ritual was repeated every year in each Jewish household. Jesus’ crucifixion reportedly took place around Passover; the symbolism is quite clear.
The lamb’s purity was essential to its acceptability as sacrifice. Only unblemished lambs were acceptable to God; purity was an essential component of a sacrificial animal.
The sacrifice of Jesus has been read by some Christian interpreters as a reversal of the binding of Isaac (wherein Abraham was commanded by God to kill his son, Isaac, but God replaced the child with a ram at the last moment), which has been interpreted by modern scholars as referring to the replacement of human sacrifice with animal sacrifice. In Christian theology, animal sacrifice appears to be rendered moot by the sacrifice of Jesus. This is an important theological point that receives little attention.
The symbol of the lamb had limited impact on the ill treatment of young sheep. While it is true that lambs were no longer sacrificed as offerings, this may have more to do with the destruction of the Temple system and theological divisions between Judaism and Christianity than with any sort of compassion. Lambs continued to be eaten, and are considered a delicacy in most Christian countries.
The lamb is a symbol for both Christ and the believer, yet she is also dinner for the Christian believer. One should think it anathema to eat an animal associated with divinity. Of course, Christ is a divinity, and Christians eat him all the time at the Eucharist; the relevant difference here is probably Christ’s consent to give of his flesh and blood, and the animal’s inability to do so. The problem of lamb for dinner seems indicative of the problems of animals in Christianity: Lambs are symbols of Christ, yet they are rarely considered to be subjects of moral concern.
So…what to do about this? It’s unlikely that we will stop using animal symbols, and therefore the paradigm of abstinence that characterizes the vegetarian/vegan movement, will not be useful here. However, it may be possible to reinterpret those symbols. We have seen Christ as a lamb - can we not also see the lamb as Christ? To quote Andrey Linzey, “Christianity is not about identification with suffering, but about condemnation of it.” (10)
(1) Salisbury, The Beast Within, p. 2.
(2) As quoted in Linzey, Why Animal Suffering Matters, p. 25.
(3) Hobgood-Oster. Holy Dogs and Asses, p. 112.
(4) Grant. Early Christians and Animals, p. 25.
(5) Adams. The Sexual Politics of Meat, p. 35.
(6) Preece. Awe for the Tiger, Love for the Lamb, p. 4.
(7) On a personal note, my own awakening to vegetarianism occurred at four years old, when my mother informed me that we would be eating lamb for dinner, and I became confused and horrified, because this was the same thing we called Christ in church.
(8) Preece. Awe for the Lion, Love for the Lamb, p. 28.
(9) See Numbers 28:11, for instance, which commands that two bulls, one ram, and SEVEN lambs must be sacrificed at the beginning of each month. Elsewhere, more lambs are demanded for sacrifice than other animals.
(10) Linzey. Why Animal Suffering Matters, p. 164.
Grant, Robert. Early Christians and Animals. London: Routledge Press, 1999.
Hobgood-Oster, Laura. Holy Dogs and Asses: Animals in the Christian Tradition. Illinois: University of Illinois, 2008.
Salisbury, Joyce E. The Beast Within: Animals in the Middle Ages. London: Routledge Press, 1994.
Sorrell , Roger D. Saint Francis of Assisi and Nature. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.
Campbell, Joseph. Thou Art That: Transforming Religious Metaphor. Joseph Campbell Foundation, 2001.
Berkoff, Mark A, and Carron Meaney. The Encyclopedia of Animal Rights. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1998. Print
Preece, Rod. Awe for the Tiger, Love for the Lamb: A Chronicle of Sensibility to Animals. Vancouver: BC Press, 2002.
Philippart, David. "Glad You Asked (Why Do Catholics Eat Fish on Friday?)." U.S. Catholic 1 Mar, 2007.
Linzey, Andrew. Why Animal Suffering Matters: Philosophy, Theology, and Practical Ethics. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.
Linzey, Andrew. "The Bible and Killing for Food." The Animal Ethics Reader. Ed. . Susan Armstrong. New York: Routledge, 2003. Print.
Alexandra Nichipor is a student at MCLA
The Verge of Vegetarian Virtue
Vegetarianism is not a moral mandate. While there exists an ever expanding plurality of conceptualizations of vegetarianism, it will serve the purpose of this argument to understand vegetarianism as merely the practice of consuming nothing that requires the death of an animal to prepare. While vegetarianism may not be obligatory, it is wrong to kill an animal for food. (1) The seemingly counterintuitive tension begotten by such juxtaposition is dissolved by the possibility of consuming meat, contra vegetarianism, without violating the moral status due to animals. While the respect of this moral status is often manifested by a moratorium on the consumption of meat, such abeyance is not a necessary condition thereof.
It is morally wrong to inflict death upon another sentient being to fulfill a flittingly unnecessary desire. The conditions under which most animals are kept and killed compound this moral obligation by the actualization of excessive cruelty. Even so, not all instances of eating meat begotten under such conditions are morally unacceptable. Actually, the very act of consumption is very rarely unacceptable.
It would be fitting now to transition from the theoretical to the practical. To purchase meat is to financially support an industry that constantly violates the moral status of animals. The consumption of meat, once purchased, is not. If meat were accidentally introduced to a vegetarian dish at a restaurant, the customer would have no moral obligation to discard the food. (2)
(1) I understand that there exist cases in which this would be inaccurate. These cases are marginal and unlikely. While they exist, they are irrelevant.
(2) There would be plenty of other reasons to not consume the meat (e.g. health concerns, symbolic display of principle, etc.) but they are not morally obligatory reasons.
Jacob Wheeler is a student at MCLA
A Feminist Defense of Eating Animals
Feminists and animal rights activists have often butted heads, despite their common interest in fighting oppression and opposing violence. In some ways, feminists and animal rights activists should be natural allies. In other ways, their interests conflict. Feminist movements should align with animal rights movements because they share a common opposition to violence, domination, and the objectification of living things. However, animal rights activists should not require a certain diet from all people, as this is anti-feminist.
The tactics used by men who commit violent acts against women are strikingly similar to the tactics used by humans against animals. Objectification is used with both animals and women to rationalize the violence used against these groups. We do not eat “animals”; we eat “meat”. By changing our language, we turn a living animal into an object for consumption (1). We do the same with women. When you take away the humanity of a woman, she is an object. This objectification legitimizes violence or rape. When animals and women are seen as objects, they transform from living beings into commodities that can be bought, sold, and owned. Therefore, the objectification of both animals and women perpetuates violence.
Although feminism and animal rights activists should align with one another, as they oppose a common oppressor, it is inherently anti-feminist to require a certain diet from all people. Not only is it harder for women to abstain from animal products for biological reasons (2), it is also harder for psychological reasons. In a society where women are expected to restrict what they eat, often to the point of developing an eating disorder, it would be dangerous to put more restrictions on what women can and can’t eat, even if it is for ethical reasons. In fact, it has been shown that vegetarianism in women is associated with eating disorders such as anorexia (2). The vegetarian women in this study were shown to have a greater fear of “fatness”. It has also been shown that vegetarian adolescents and young adults are more likely to report out-of-control binge eating than nonvegetarians, and former vegetarians are more likely to report engaging in extreme weight-loss behaviors (3). And, while there are many vegans and vegetarians out there who adopt this diet purely for ethic reasons, many mainstream animal ethics groups utilize fat-shaming, body-policing tactics that may further heighten women’s anxieties about food and their bodies with catchphrases like “Lose the blubber: go vegetarian” (4), or by encouraging women to become “skinny bitches” through veganism (5).
Animal rights activists and feminists should be allies. We all want to end violence against oppressed groups. However, feminists can fight for animal justice without necessarily adopting a vegan or vegetarian diet. Our toxic diet-culture leaves women extremely vulnerable to disordered eating, and to ignore this by requiring vegetarianism/veganism is ignoring women’s needs.
1. Adams, Carol J. "The Rape of Animals, The Butchering of Women." The Sexual Politics of Meat: a Feminist-vegetarian Critical Theory. New York: Continuum, 1990. Print.
2. George, Kathryn Paxton. Animal, Vegetable, or Woman?: a Feminist Critique of Ethical Vegetarianism. Albany, NY: State University of New York, 2000. Print.
3. Kadambari, Rao, Simon Gowers, and Arthur Crisp. "Some correlates of vegetarianism in anorexia nervosa."International Journal of Eating Disorders 5.3 (1986): 539-544. PsycINFO. EBSCO. Web. 21 June 2011.
4. In Scopus. "ScienceDirect - Journal of the American Dietetic Association : Adolescent and Young Adult Vegetarianism: Better Dietary Intake and Weight Outcomes but Increased Risk of Disordered Eating Behaviors." Adolescent and Young Adult Vegetarianism: Better Dietary Intake and Weight Outcomes but Increased Risk of Disordered Eating Behaviors 109.9 (2009). ScienceDirect - Home. 26 Mar. 2009. Web. 21 June 2011.
5. PETA. Advertisement. PETA. PETA, 17 Aug. 2009. Web.
6. Freedman, Rory, and Kim Barnouin. Skinny Bitch | New York Times Bestseller. Web. 22 June 2011.
Emily Burke is a student at MCLA
Spinoza, Metaphysics, and Social Networking (1)
1) I use the term substance qualified as intangible, limitless, nonmaterial, and infinite.
2) Given the nature of substance, I must add that because substance is defined as stated above, it is essentially perfect.
3) This perfect substance can manifest itself or extend itself into physical (tangible or measurable) forms.
1) The ability to “like”, comment, post, tag, login, and share are all extensions of Facebook found in its profiles, and so they belong to the nature of Facebook.
2) No profile or faculty of Facebook exists outside of Facebook, as Facebook is both the substance which constitutes and the cause of the profiles and attributes of the profiles.
Proposition I: Facebook cannot login to itself.
- This is evident as in order to login, Facebook would have to exist as a profile independent of itself, which is absurd (as stated in Axiom 2). Therefore Facebook is in a continuous state of being logged in; it is never idle but rather is a persistently and infinitely active profile.
Proposition II: Facebook cannot be liked, comment, or posted about, nor can it do so in regards to itself.
- As stated in Axiom 1, the faculties of liking, commenting and posting are all extended attributes of Facebook to its profiles.
Proposition III: Each profile is an extension and thus a manifestation of Facebook, but does not reflect it entirely, it is a mode I
- The profiles contain the faculties that Facebook has extended to them, but they do not represent what Facebook is in its entirety.
Proposition IV: Facebook is substance.
- As stated in definition 1, substance is infinite, intangible, and nonmaterial. The profiles of Facebook can exist in an infinite number of possibilities as the profiles are subject to change. These changes exist as an infinite potential of possible profile forms.
Proof II: As stated in Proposition IV Facebook can exist in an infinite number of possible profile forms, thus it can be manifested in an infinite number of ways, making it intangible, and thus Facebook is made of substance as it was defined earlier.
Proposition V: If Facebook is substance, then Facebook is necessarily perfect.
- As evident from Definitions 1, 2, 3 in conjunction with Proposition IV.
- Corollary: I address those who disagree that Facebook is perfect because it changes. I would like to respond by saying that although Facebook does change, it does not do so out of any external influence (i.e. its profiles). Rather Facebook is motivated inherently to change in order to pursue the good, which would make it perfect, as perfection is seeking what is ideal and what is best.
Proposition VI: If an individual possesses the faculties of an email address and self-generated password, the individual can take part in the essence of Facebook.
- It is through these modes one is allowed to login (in metaphorical terms, “unlock”) to what Facebook is, how it behaves, what we can understand of it. As stated earlier, Facebook is infinite and perfect, so despite our ability to see extended attributes of it, we never conceive of what Facebook is completely.
Final Proposition: Despite our lack of full understanding of how or why Facebook is, it as an intangible substance, directly influences the material world
- This is evident as Facebook and its profiles have adjusted and changed: interpersonal communication, social and cultural language, the motion and placement of physical bodies in relation to one another, and how those bodies interact.
(1) This essay is based on Baruch Spinoza’s “The Ethics: Part I: Concerning God” in which Spinoza elaborates an ontological argument beginning with a definition of substance, and concluding with God’s existence. By changing simply a few terms, his argument can be turned from a defense of the existence of the divine, into a seemingly comedic interpretation of social networking online. This essay is meant to demonstrate how any argument and its propositions are susceptible to error, simply within their terminology. By changing only a few terms, a series of logical statements to explain the nature of God, become a way of exaggerating the qualities of an internet website.
Corey Sloane is a student at MCLA
Etymologically, agnosticism simply means “don’t-know-ism” – the privative alpha attached to one of several Greek verbs for knowing. Gnosis, which can mean wisdom or insight, also lent it’s name to a late Hellenistic religious movement emphasizing wise sayings and secret or mystical knowledge. In this literal and historical sense I am certainly a-Gnostic.
In modern usage, however, agnosticism refers to a supposed middle ground between atheism and various forms of theism. The question is how to characterize that middle ground, and whether there really is any on which to stand. One approach rejects it as empty rhetoric: as Feuerbach says, “Agnosticism is consequent atheism.” On this view the refusal to commit oneself to either the existence or nonexistence of a supreme being is at best misplaced courtesy toward believers, and at worst blatant intellectual dishonesty.
A more nuanced account distinguishes between the essentially metaphysical claims of both atheism and theism – denying and affirming respectively the existence of God – and the mainly epistemological claim of agnosticism: that given the evidence we simply can’t tell. On this view, agnosticism deftly sets aside the question of the being of God as beyond our capacity to know. Bertrand Russell uses the term in this sense.
There is a risk here, though, of intellectual laziness, as though calling yourself agnostic lets you off the hook. Claiming agnosticism in this nuanced, epistemic sense carries with it the obligation seriously to have evaluated the evidence – and few of us may be equipped to do that. On the other hand, evidence either for or against theism might actually be pretty sparse. Humanity seems to be in its infancy in terms of understanding the nature of the universe and its origins, and if so suspension of judgment might well be warranted. But if we judge on the available evidence, however inadequate, Feuerbach is correct that agnosticism will collapse into atheism, and Russell concurs.
Another problem arises when we notice that the question is not merely an intellectual curiosity. Our view of these matters may have direct implications for how we live our lives. If we claim not to know about God one way or the other, do we then make choices as though there might be a God (of a particular sort)? If so, we will be strongly tempted to buy at least a few tickets to Pascal’s lottery, which will look to an atheist like a monstrous misuse of resources, and to a theist like a cynical hedge. The agnostic might reply: I suspend judgment about both the existence of a God, and the way of life any possible God might prescribe – a sensible move, though it has the consequence that the agnostic’s way of life will be indistinguishable from that of the atheist. This is not necessarily a bad thing – there are plenty of non-theistic reasons for attempting to live morally – but once again it makes it difficult to maintain agnosticism as a distinct position.
Many people call themselves agnostics, but it seems to remain an open question whether there is such a position, distinct from atheism. I welcome further attempts to characterize it.
Mathew Silliman teaches philosophy at MCLA
From One Thing Into Another
Being the ultimate relativist, I am always looking
For relations between things and how things change
From one thing into another.
I can see this pattern in the symbol of the Tao
And in Einstein's theory of relativity.
I see it also in nature, where from birth
Until death we are forever changing
From one thing into another.
I see it in Socrates' arguments, where it seems,
He is always striving to maintain balance.
I believe that Socrates, because of his age
Had observed that, what goes up, must come down
And that things will forever change
From one thing into another.
I know also, that we only exist at the whim
Of the creator, who by the way, is no other
Than you and me, and my words are like
The “finger pointing at the moon” and
It is up to us where we choose to look
To see one thing or another.
And I/We am the observer as things change
From one thing into another.
So life goes on from birth till death
From dust to dust and stardust to stardust
Mass to energy, wave to particle and back again
The universe is forever changing
From one thing into another.
From a boy to a man, surf bum to cab driver
From a miner to a chef, a son to a father to
Student to teacher to poet and philosopher
I am what I am and what I am forever changes
From one thing into another.
Barry Sullivan is a student at MCLA