Vegetarianism, organized religion and environmentalism

Today I'm pondering the connection between vegetarianism and religion. Several religions have an intricate connection between a vegetarian diet and spiritual growth. Here in South India, mid-September to mid-October is said to be the holy month of fasting where many people stop eating non-vegetarian food. It is said that sticking to a vegetarian diet helps to discipline the mind and removes waste, toxins from the body. This detoxifying process further helps the mind to become more alert and reflexes become sharper.

Traditionally a yogic diet prescribes abstinence from animal flesh including eggs and fish. Even dairy products are only taken in small quantities. Many other religions also place the same importance on vegetarianism. In Hinduism certain sects practice vegetarianism. Jainism strictly insists upon it. The Mahayana sect of Buddhists avoid meat. According to the Buddha "the eating of meat extinguishes the seed of great compassion." Strictly traditional Buddhist teaching insists upon not only vegetarianism but also veganism. Sikkism says that meat should only be consumed if the animal is slaughtered in a humane manner.

The Abrahamic religions do not promote vegetarianism although Judaism and Islam have certain restrictions. Pork is forbidden in both religions and there are methods on how to kill animals in a humane manner. Many Orthodox Christian sects do practice vegetarianism and prescribe that eating meat should be avoided at least during the period of Lent. Many Muslims also abstain from meat during the holy month of Ramadan.

The jury is out as to whether abstaining from animal product makes you more spiritual. However, as many of the world's major religions do promote some form of vegetarianism, the question remains whether being religious is also being environmentally aware? Can being religious make you an ethical consumer?

Recently the Pew forum released a survey stating that Americans know far less about religion than they claim. Whilst on the surface the connection between religion and sustainability or environmental awareness may not be so obvious, we only have to think back to the earliest forms of known worship. Ancient cultures and religions - the Celts, Druids, Greeks, Romans, Indians and Egyptians all drew inspiration from Nature. The worship of nature promoted an easy awareness and respect of the natural surroundings and vice versa. These cultures did eat meat but they also respected the balance that existed between Man and the natural environment.

Modern religion, the offspring of ancient paganism also preaches a respect of the natural environment. However many factors like industrialization, organized religion have moved our temples from trees into churches of stone. From there on, this connection was lost and a kind of environmental apathy set in. I don't buy the theory that vegetarianism makes you more spiritual although I see its merit, but I do think that religious beliefs can promote a greater sense of environmental awareness. Of course some may argue that the same can be achieved through the study of science. As a student of science myself, I believe the key to this is conundrum is balance.