an extract from Food for a Future by Jon-Wynne Tyson, 1975
Few thinking people today would deny that the failure of the church to perpetuate a living faith has been due largely to its abandonment of Christianity for Churchianity, and many young people in particular would see the main charge against orthodox religious teaching as being that theology, dogma and ritual have suplanted and obscured the simple moral and spiritual directives of Jesus Christ.
This is very relevant to our theme. The churches' most blatant misrepresentation of Jesus's directives has been in the sphere of violence. As Henry Salt wrote in his powerful book Seventy Years Among Savages:
Religion has never befriended the cause of humaneness. Its monstrous doctrine of eternal punishment and the torture of the damned underlies much of the barbarity with which man has treated man; and the deep division imagined by the Church between the human being, with his immortal soul, and with the soulless 'beasts', has been responsible for an incalculable sum of cruelty.
However, this is not the place to argue the matter in depth; but even the Bible (and one says 'even' for the simple reason that by selecting one's texts from that source one can find approval for practically every good or bad thing under the sun) starts off with God assuring mankind that He has 'given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat' (Genesis i, 29). And later, with even more emphasis : 'But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat' (Genesis ix, 4).
In that direct translation of early Aramaic texts, The Essene Gospel of Peace, Jesus himself minced no words: 'And the flesh of slain beasts in his body will become his own tomb. For I tell you truly, he who kills, kills himself, and whoso eats the flesh of slain beasts, eats the body of death.'
In his book The Gospel of the Holy Twelve, the late G J.Ousley offers a translation of the original Gospel which members of the Essene community preserved from the general corruption. Here is a version of Jesus's teachings that has not been tampered with by the 'correctors' appointed by the ecclesiastical authorities of Nicea. These 'editors' cut out with minute care the teachings they were disinclined to emphasize or follow, in particular everything that might serve as an argument against flesh-eating, such as the account of Jesus's interference on several occasions to save animals from ill treatment, and even that interesting and important teaching - ever prominent in eastern scriptures - of the essential unity of all life.
The community in which Joseph and Mary lived did not slaughter a lamb to celebrate the Feast of the Passover. Joseph and Mary, his parents, went up to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover, and observed the feast after the manner of their brethren, who abstained from bloodshed and the eating of flesh and from strong drink.'
The Essene text indicates that from childhood Jesus was loving and protective towards animals and birds. 'And to all he spake, saying: "Keep yourselves from blood and things strangled, and from dead bodies of birds and beasts, and from all deeds of cruelty and from all that is gotten of wrong. Think ye that the blood of beasts and of birds will wash away sin?"' The food of John the Baptist was the fruit of the locust tree and wild honey, and the disciples were forbidden to eat flesh food: 'Eat that which is set before you, but of that which is gotten by taking life, touch not, for it is not lawful to you. And into whatsoever city ye enter and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you without taking of life ... And in the same house remain, eating and drinking such things as they give without shedding of blood ... Be ye therefore considerate, be tender, be pitiful, be kind; not to your kind alone, but to every creature which is within your care; for ye are to them as gods, to whom they look in their needs.'
It is interesting that the story of the miracle of the loaves and fishes is lacking in this translation. Instead there is a tale of the miracle of the bread and the fruit, and a pitcher of water. 'And Jesus set the bread and the fruit before them and also the water. And they did eat and drink and were filled. And they marvelled; for each had enough to spare, and there were four thousand.' And when Judas brings a lamb to be slain for the Passover, Jesus reproves him: 'Not by shedding innocent blood, but by living a righteous life shall ye find the peace of God . . . Blessed are they who keep this law; for God is manifested in all creatures. All creatures live in God, and God is hid in them... They in every nation who defile not themselves with cruelty, who do righteousness, love mercy, and revere all the works of God, who give succour to all that are weak and oppressed the same are the Israel of God.'
Jesus was accused of speaking against the law when he quoted Jeremiah's words against blood offerings and sacrifices, and he answered his critics: 'Against Moses indeed I do not speak, nor against the law, which he permitted for the hardness of your hearts,' continuing:
For the fruit of the trees and the seeds and of the herbs alone do I partake, and these are changed by the spirit into my flesh and blood. Of these alone and their like shall ye eat who believe in me and are my disciples; for of these, in the spirit, come life and health and healing unto man ...
If these excerpts are accepted as proof of nothing more, they at least confirm that the Bible was originally a much more comprehensive document than we have today. It would appear there were no discrepancies between the teachings of Jesus and the philosophy of humane vegetarianism, and it is unreasonable to expect there to be, for Jesus is known to have been a Nazarene a pre-Christian sect of Syrian Jews similar to the Essenes whose obedience to the Laws of Moses took particular account of the commandment 'Thou shalt not kill.'
Their inner orders abstained from both flesh-meats and alcohol. But it is always skating on uncertain ice to resort to lifting passages out of their context. What must influence any responsible student concerned with the specifically Christian attitude to cruelty is not what paragraphs may be quoted from the Bible, nor what the interpretations of churchmen may be, but the whole spirit and tenor of Jesus's life so far as we are able to judge it from the texts that have come down to us. Whatever his personal failings and inconsistencies may have been, Jesus Christ was clearly a man who preached non-violence. The extent to which he was able to give attention to the matter of man's violence to other species is not known to us, and it may well be that he found quite enough to do in his short life to convince human beings of the basics of better conduct between themselves. 2000 years later, with the spade work of theory having long been completed, it is easier for us to broaden our concern, which is presumably precisely what Jesus and other great teachers have always expected their 'flocks' to do. Because few of them produced a specific Animals' Charter, we have no right to assume that the lower orders of creation would have been excluded from their compassion. How much more strange had that been the case! 'I say unto you, any cruelty or suffering you may wish to inflict upon animals, this you may do.' It somehow sounds unlikely.