The Catholic argument for vegetarianism
At ABC Religion & Ethics, an argument for being a vegetarian from a Catholic point of view ... Should Christians eat meat? by Charles Camosy, Assistant Professor of Christian Ethics at Fordham University. The whole article is worth reading, but here's just a bit of it ...
[...] The overwhelming majority of meat that most of us eat - whether in a fast-food sandwich, on a plate at a four-star restaurant, or even in the stock of your homemade soup - comes from factory-farmed nonhuman animals. How should Christians think about factory farms? I argue that factory farms are morally reprehensible institutions, particularly from a Christian perspective. If we care about justice, we Christians should not only refuse to support factory farms with our money, we should work to undermine the values and social structures that make it possible for them to function and flourish in the first place.
From the perspective of the Bible, our Christian tradition and current Church teaching, nonhuman animals are cared for and valued by God independent of the interests of human beings. But it is precisely because most of us do not see nonhuman animals as objectively valuable - and have an important interest in seeing them as mere objects and products to satisfy our desires - that they are a vulnerable population which has been pushed to the margins of our culture and society. Those of us who follow the example of Jesus Christ, therefore, should give them special moral consideration and attention.
Christians should also be concerned about how the logic of violence and consumerism dominate the reasoning of factory farms. The attempt to maximize protein units per square foot is driven by both the customer's desire to buy meat at the cheapest possible price and the shareholder's desire to make a profit. This in turn drives factory farms to engage in practices that cause nonhuman animals horrific pain and suffering. Indeed, it has driven these farms even to push the boundaries of the species itself through artificial reproduction, breeding and genetic manipulation. These practices didn't exist when small farms produced most of our meat, but the social structure of the market (especially when pushed by new cost-cutting technologies) forced the change.
Given that our culture is dominated by the social structure of the market, the only way for a meat producer to stay in business is to drive down costs by factory farming. And let's not forget the Catechism's teaching on nonhuman animals:
* "[D]ominion over inanimate and other living beings granted by the Creator is not absolute; it is limited by concern for the quality of life of his neighbour, including generations to come; it requires a religious respect for the integrity of creation. Animals are God's creatures. He surrounds them with his providential care. By their mere existence they bless him and give him glory. Thus men owe them kindness. We should recall the gentleness with which saints like St. Francis of Assisi or St. Philip Neri treated animals. God entrusted animals to the stewardship of those whom he created in his own image. Hence it is legitimate to use animals for food and clothing. They may be domesticated to help man in his work and leisure ... It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly." *
The treatment nonhuman animals receive in factory farms is about as far away from kindness as one could possibly imagine. To the extent that they care about the welfare of nonhuman animals, it is merely because it helps them get more protein units per square metre. These farms will treat their animals in the cruellest ways imaginable - and even risk dumping them by the millions (while still alive) into scalding hot water - if it will drive up profit margins.
Catholic teaching permits eating animals, but it also says that we may cause them to suffer or die only if we need to. Factory farms cause many billions of animals to suffer and die, that much is certain. The question then becomes, "Do we need to eat meat?" If you think carefully about why our culture eats meat, it is clear that we have two main reasons: it is cheap and easy, and it gives us pleasure. Neither reason comes close to the level of need ....
Related: here's an Intelligence Squared debate moderated by John Donvan of ABC News on the subject of whether or not to eat meat. You can read more about the debate here ....