Fr. Rutler responds to Bill Cork’s vegetarian objections

Fr. Rutler responds to Bill Cork’s vegetarian objections

Bill Cork offered some objections (in both the comments on my blog and in a post on his blog) against Fr. George Rutler’s 2003 letter to the editor regarding the assertions of a Catholic Vegetarian Society on eating meat.

So today I’ve received an email from Father Rutler responding to Bill’s objections, offering his customary erudition and wit.

Someone asked that I reply to a recent comment on your blog that questioned the logic of my letter on vegetarianism. Let me say that I am not a meat fanatic, and in fact I often have meatless dinners. One should never cite Genesis to promote strict vegetarianism, as it was written by meat-eaters inspired by God who created all the animals as a menu for Adam and Eve. Their “dominion” over every beast gave them authority to choose how they wanted to serve them up, it seems to me.

I had a great aunt who was a vegetarian and her body started to make funny sounds and then she died. We hardly mention her, although we pray that our merciful Lord has welcomed her to the eternal Supper of the Lamb where there is no alternative menu.

It is silly to suppose that the creation of seed-bearing plants and fruit trees means that we should not eat meat. It only means that we should eat vegetables and fruits just as the provision of animals means we should eat them, as we are biologically designed to do. To think that incisor teeth for biting meat evolved only as an indulgence to beefeaters later on, would be like saying that legs evolved as a consequence of wanderlust.

Vegetarianism is not like celibacy. Vegetarians disdain meat; celibates do not disdain marriage. I am a celibate, but would not exist if Adam and Eve had not married, albeit without the benefit of a clergyman. Their only dietary restriction was against a certain fruit; experts think it was a pomegranate. I suspect they did not eat the first animals because there would not have been second animals, but once animals got going, there you had dinner.

We need not wait for Exodus to find carnivorous action permitted. Abel ate meat and Cain seems to have been a vegan. The Lord had respect unto Abel’s roasted lamb and rejected Cain’s vegetables and so Cain waxed exceeding wroth and slew Abel. The first murderer was a vegetarian. Vegetarians tend to be more violent toward meat eaters than the other way around, probably because of a lack of protein. Also in Genesis, Jacob made his father a lamb stew from what was evidently an old family recipe. It probably went back to Eden.

The citation of Deuteronomy only supports meat eating. The prohibition of blood and strangled animals renders licit bloodless meat slaughtered some other way. Rare is the man who can strangle a cow to death anyway. It is also unwise to cite the saga of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar became a vegetarian only when he went mad. He was driven from men and ate grass like an ox (Daniel 4:33).

As for health, meat is now being promoted for its vitamins and other sorts of stuff our bodies need, although preferred meats include hard to get elk and impalas. I had a great aunt who was a vegetarian and her body started to make funny sounds and then she died. We hardly mention her, although we pray that our merciful Lord has welcomed her to the eternal Supper of the Lamb where there is no alternative menu.

Meat eating is better for the economy, too. It gave us Chicago for starters. It also gives us waterproof rainwear and sensible shoes. In a vegetarian society we’d be clad in watermelon rinds and shod with potato skins.

Vegetarians do not address my point about vegetable abuse. The vegan sentimentalist has no tears to shed for the mashed potato. Ask the olive: How cold is it at the bottom of a martini?

The New Adam is certainly an improvement on the Old Adam. But even in resurrected glory, He had a barbecue on the shore of Galilee. One more evidence of the Divine Mercy is that Jesus never hectored the early Christians about the health benefits of spinach.

  • Bill says in his comment on the initial post:

    There will be no death in the kingdom of heaven, and man shall then return to the Edenic diet.

    But plants are alive. Plants have to die when we harvest and eat them. They have non-rational souls, as do animals.

  • “It also gives us waterproof rainwear and sensible shoes. In a vegetarian society we’d be clad in watermelon rinds and shod with potato skins.”

    In the past, Father didn’t happen to use the psuedonym “Dave Barry”, did he?

  • I would say that animals have rational souls but not intellectual souls.  The dogs I know bite vegetarians… sounds pretty rational to me.

  • True Storey:

    At a pot luck.  I’m serving vennison stew.  Vegan Lady says, in full self-righteous fettle:  Why do you eat dead animals?  I reply: ‘Cause when I eat live ones the squeal too loud!”

    Vegan Lady stamps off in a nauseated huff, people applaud.

  • Fr. Rutler’s argument proves too much. If we are to treat animals the same way we treat vegetables, then the Catechism of the Catholic Church is wrong when it says we “owe them kindness.”

    I do not think it is intrinsically wrong to eat meat. However, if we can avoid it without endangering our health, we shouldn’t eat meat from animals that have not been treated with kindness. Factory-farmed animals are tortured.

    The word “kindness,” above, is not mine, but the CCC’s. See no. 2416 ff. Fr. Rutler is in dissent.

  • “The word “kindness,” above, is not mine, but the CCC’s. See no. 2416 ff. Fr. Rutler is in dissent.”

    Because he went on and on about how tortured meat tastes better, right?

    If you will slowly reread Fr. Rutler’s words, he in no way addressed the topic of factory farming, so you have absolutely no basis in leveling such a charge.

    You may have misunderstood and so may not be culpable, but your claim is objective calumny.  Calumny, as you may know, being so familiar with the CCC, is a sin.

  • How tiresome—Fr. Rutler, however “witty” he may be, still cannot admit that his original citation of Genesis chapter 1 was wrong. God created man and all animals to eat plants. To claim otherwise is to deny the plain text of scripture.

    Franklin, if you are going to hurl about accusations of calumny, hurl one at Fr. Rutler. In his 2003 letter to Crisis, he claims that Daniel Paden “condemn[s] meat eating as ‘evil.’” What Paden calls “evil” is actually “the abuse of God’s creatures at the hands of the meat industry” since it is “truly needless.” Vegetarianism should be our response to that evil. I wouldn’t be surprised if Fr. Rutler misunderstood Paden and so isn’t culpable, but really, Fr. Rutler’s claim is objectively calumny, wouldn’t you say?

  • +J.M.J+

    >>>Vegetarianism is not like celibacy. Vegetarians disdain meat; celibates do not disdain marriage.

    Not all vegetarians distain meat.  I suspect he is only speaking of those who embrace vegetarianism because they think killing animals is unethical.  Not every vegetarian is like that, though.  Ten years ago I became a vegetarian but I never believed that meat eating was immoral.  I gave it up for good two years later.

    >>>Vegetarians do not address my point about vegetable abuse.

    As I mentioned on Bill Cork’s blog, plants don’t have a cerebral cortex – or central nervous system period.  How then could they possibly feel any pain?  Even if they happen to respond in some way to noxious stimuli (research on that is not quite conclusive) such “reactive impulses” don’t necessarily equal “pain.”

    >>>Ask the olive: How cold is it at the bottom of a martini?

    I don’t think it will answer you.

    My attitude has long been: If you want to be a vegetarian, fine; if not, fine.  No reason to attack either side.  St. Paul said:

    “One person believes that one may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables.  The one who eats must not despise the one who abstains, and the one who abstains must not pass judgment on the one who eats; for God has welcomed him…. Also whoever eats, eats for the Lord, since he gives thanks to God; while whoever abstains, abstains for the Lord and gives thanks to God. None of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself. For if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.” (Romans 14:2-3, 6-8)

    In Jesu et Maria,

  • While I was on internship, I had a roommate from India. As a Hindu, she did not eat meat for religious reasons. Out of respect, I chose not to eat meat while in the dorm.
    My son-in-law orginally cut meat from his diet as a matter of health. He maintains a vegetarian (not vegan) diet out of personal conscience.As a result, my daughter maintains a vegetarian household; although, when they go out, she will order a meal containing meat.
    Faith is not a “matter of eating and drinking.” Regardless of personal views, I see no reason to be disrespectful to somebody who sees things different than I.

  • Thank you for posting this Domenico. It was a joy to read. Intellegent apologetics with wit and humor is not found often enough.

  • It’s not that the blogosphere lacks a sense of humor, but that the members of the blogosphere do not all share the same sense of humor.

  • +J.M.J+

    Not sure if that “lack of a sense of humor” remark was directed at me.  All I know is, Fr. Rutler said that no one had addressed his point about “vegetable abuse” so I decided to address it.  Does that make me a humorless prig?

    I tend to think I have a perfectly fine sense of humor.  In fact, my remark “I don’t think (the olive) will answer you” was an attempt at dry wit.  Yet I still don’t see how Fr. Rutler’s rhetorical flourishes about suffering vegetables add much to the vegetarianism debate, even if they are meant in “jest.”

    Most vegetarians are well aware that plants don’t suffer because they lack the neurological capacity to experience pain, so such rhetoric just strikes them as absurd.

    In Jesu et Maria,

  • But harm is still being caused, and life is still being destroyed. Traditional Thomist theology argued that plants have souls (as do all living and even inanimate material objects, including rocks); since vegetable souls are destroyed when the plant dies, that’s a pretty decent amount of harm being done.

    Buddhists, OTOH, founded a temple not too long ago to appease the spirits of deleted computer files.

    Like all creatures with bodies in this fallen world, we live by the destruction of other creations of God. Adam and Eve eating plants would have been living by death just as much as Adam and Eve harvesting animals. But that’s the way God made the world, and made us. It’s not wrong. And we don’t know much about that Garden, but we do know that Jesus bade us today to “Kill and eat”.

    There’s nothing wrong with vegetarianism (if you’re willing to hunt down the extra nutrients); but no Catholic vegetarian can say that eating meat is wrong, or that eating plants (or rocks) is somehow more moral and less destructive.

  • Father Rutler is brilliant. He’s absolutely right, of course, that those who argue that eating animal flesh is morally problematic are guilty of Manicheism. Periodic or permanent abstinence from meat as a way of mortifying the flesh or as a spiritual discipline of a religious order are another matter altogether, but these are not the arguments for vegitarianism that Father Rutler was answering. It would be equally Manichean to argue that sex is always morally problematic, and that’s not the rationale for priestly abstinence.

    The CCC passages about animal mistreatment are irrelevant, as are any arguments relating to animal brain structure and the ability of animals to feel pain, because animals can be killed painlessly. From the Catholic perspective there’s no moral difference between eating a painlessly killed pig and a carrot. Buddhists would disagree, which is why they’re Buddhists rather than Catholics.

  • +J.M.J+

    >>>But harm is still being caused,

    Yet Fr. Rutler isn’t talking about some existential “harm” caused by the taking of life. He’s alleging (jokingly?) that vegetables experience actual *pain and suffering* – that’s what he says! He’s also accusing vegetarians of callously not caring about the way they supposely torture plants in the course of preparing a meal.

    Vegetarians would simply counter-argue that plants feel no pain.  So while his quips about whining beans and sighing cauliflower might get a laugh from the omnivorous choir, they are ultimately not convincing arguments against vegetarianism (which I thought was the whole point of his letter to Crisis).

    >>>and life is still being destroyed.

    True.  I suppose fruitarians are a little more consistent on that point than vegetarians, since they refuse even to kill the plants.  Yet the fact remains that life feeds on life.  One way or another we must kill something in order to live.  Even if we could somehow avoid killing anything in order to eat, our immune systems would still kill any microbes that invade our bodies.  So we’d still be “killing in order to live” – just in a different way!  We simply can’t get around it.

    I agree that there is nothing innately immoral about killing and eating animals; even when I was a vegetarian I didn’t believe that (I was never into “animal rights”).  I’m mostly playing “devil’s advocate” here, since I have some perspective on the other side.  Yet I don’t find many pro-vegetarian arguments too convincing; unless one adopts it as a penitential practice there is no particular spiritual virtue in vegetarianism, IMHO.

    In Jesu et Maria,

  • Regarding the vegetable people, I got the following from God today at Mass:

    Acts 11:1 – 18 ©
    The apostles and the brothers in Judaea heard that the pagans too had accepted the word of God, and when Peter came up to Jerusalem the Jews criticised him and said, ‘So you have been visiting the uncircumcised and eating with them, have you?’ Peter in reply gave them the details point by point: ‘One day, when I was in the town of Jaffa,’ he began ‘I fell into a trance as I was praying and had a vision of something like a big sheet being let down from heaven by its four corners. This sheet reached the ground quite close to me. I watched it intently and saw all sorts of animals and wild beasts – everything possible that could walk, crawl or fly. Then I heard a voice that said to me, “Now, Peter; kill and eat!” But I answered: Certainly not, Lord; nothing profane or unclean has ever crossed my lips. And a second time the voice spoke from heaven, “What God has made clean, you have no right to call profane”. This was repeated three times, before the whole of it was drawn up to heaven again.

  • Fr. Rutler you are the best! Vegetarianism was the norm for so long because few could afford meat, and it is still that way in much of the world. But to hold vegetarianism as a biblical norm, so much for that whole “Passover thing” in Judaism which I believe Jesus celebrated on more than a few occasions.
    Tell Bill to let go of the fundamentalism!

  • I don’t find Fr. Rutler’s observations amusing or very factual, either.  Genesis very plainly states that before the Fall there was no death in Eden. The first death was that of the animal whose skin was used to cover Adam and Eve after they sinned.  If man had been given permission to eat animals in Eden there would have been no need to re-grant that permission after the Fall when his harmonious relationship with all creatures was broken.

    To compare plants to the highly developed nervous systems of animals is ludicrous and bad science.  Fr. Rutler’s model of human “incisors” is also silly.  They are much more suited to cracking nuts and hard plant foods if anything.  Furthermore, ever seen the huge incisors of a Panda?  And what does a Panda eat?  Plant foods.

    Humans are indeed omniverous but we’ve seen the results all too well of the high flesh diet in Western society, and now it’s affecting our kids who have high blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes at earlier and earlier ages.

    Many Jews believe that in the Messianic Kingdom man will be vegetarian again.  Many Catholic and Orthodox religious orders are vegetarian day in and day out.

    As for the passage quoted from Acts, it seems to me it is speaking far more clearly about the acceptance of the Gentiles than any dietary issues.

    For those folks who have adopted a vegetarian lifestyle in protest of the unhealthy, environmentally destructive and cruel system of agribusiness more power to them.  They may be doing God’s work more than the rest of us and they don’t need to answer to anyone for it.

  • Oh, and about the Passover thing, from His Holiness Pope Benedict:

    “In the meantime the discovery of the Qumran writings has led us to a possible and convincing solution that, while not accepted by all, possesses a great degree of probability.  We are now able to say that John’s account of the passion is historically precise.  Christ really did shed his blood on the eve of the Passover at the hour of the slaughter of the lambs.  However he celebrated Passover with his disciples according to the Qumran calendar, therefore at least one day earlier – he celebrated it without lamb, as according to the traditions of the Qumran community, which did not recognise Herod’s temple and was waiting for a new temple.  Christ therefore celebrated Passover without the lamb: no, – not without the lamb: in place of the lamb he gifted his body and blood. Thus He anticipated the death with his words: “No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down on my own”.  At the very moment He gives his body and blood to the disciples, He really is bringing his words to be.  He himself offers His life.  Only in this way does the ancient Passover obtain true meaning”.

  • Christine: At the risk of losing my sense of humor let me point out the obvious point that Christ did not have a Passover lamb at the Last Supper because He is the Lamb to be eaten.

    That you don’t see the humor is all to clear. Have a burger and a laugh and stop taking yourself so seriously.

  • Sorry Dom, I don’t find the issues funny.  The Christian churches in general and the Catholic church in particular have a very sorry record on the humane treatment of animals.

    Just this past holy week some parts of Spain, once again, “celebrated” with bullfights.  Guess they never heard of Pius V’s condemnation of what he called a pagan and unchristian “sport.”

    As for the burger, no thanks.  I want to keep my healthy cholesterol level.

    And I see no one has disputed my comments on Genesis.  Show me where any animal there died to feed Adam and Eve and I’ll retract.

  • Since I’m not a Protestant Biblical literalist I don’t really care that it doesn’t say Adam and Eve didn’t eat any animals. As Fr. Rutler says, they were given dominion over every animal with “cattle” being singled out. That means they had permission to use them as they would.

    Since the folks of Moses time, which was about when Genesis was written down according to traditional scholarship, were not vegetarians, it wouldn’t occur to them to specify. Note it also doesn’t say that Adam and Eve had sex until after the Fall. I suppose that means we should all be celibate too.

    As Fr. Rutler also pointed out, it was Abel’s offering of meat, not Cain’s offering of fruits or grain that God accepted.

    Oh and I regularly eat red meat and have a very healthy cholesterol level. You should try it.

    Christine, if you want to be a vegetarian, that’s fine. Fr. Rutler’s point, I think, is that dogmatic vegetarians who tell everyone else that it is wrong for Christians to eat meet are themselves off base. And that’s the last I have to say about this.