Jun 7, 2009

The Steak and the Cross

This originally appeared on the writer's blog An American in Taiwan as "The Steak and the Cross: Atheism and Vegetarianism are Closer Than You Think" on June 6, 2009. He posted it here because he a) believes it's pertinent, and b) is a total publicity whore. If you wish to link to it, please use this Trackback URI.

I'm not a vegetarian. I would probably starve. Just want to get that out of the way.

These days, social networks give everyone a soapbox and makes everyone a critic. I'm just as guilty as anybody. Thankfully, I don't get a lot of flak for my secular worldview, though I imagine some people see my anti-religious ranting or tweeting as offensive or unnecessary. My response to them is: it is no different from youth ministers or the very devout discussing how wonderful Jesus is or how blessed they feel or how they need to evangelize more. No difference. They just don't like it when I do it. Some people really don't like it.

A friend of mine decided, after two years of being a vegetarian, to fall off the wagon. He and his girlfriend went to a restaurant, watched the Cavs game and had fish.

Sounds fairly innocent, and it is. When he posted something about it on Facebook, he received a mixed response of cheers and questions about what took him so long. He described the feeling to me:
When you eat meat, nobody asks why. But, if you say you're a vegetarian, they immediately begin to question you: 'What are your motives? Do you feel bad for the animals? Do you not like meat? How can you not like meat?' That, or they try to corner you with inconsistencies: 'Well, I see you're wearing leather shoes, so you're obviously not vegetarian because you care about animals.' Then, when you tell people you've started eating meat again, it's like they welcome you back into society. You're one of "us" again. It's absolutely bizarre.

He wondered if I ever get that sort of thing about my worldview choice. Some of us get it more than others, I'm sure. Being in a very liberal college town, I'm surrounded by secular people. My wife is from Taiwan, where the population ratio of secular to religious is the even smaller than the inverse of what it is here. I'm definitely looking forward to that, when public policies are based on the wellbeing of the people, rather than the ideology of some religious nutjobs.

It got me to thinking, though, that atheists and vegetarians aren't really that different. Here, I'll show you:

Atheists are atheists because they believe that it's fully possible (and, many would contend, preferable) to have a great life without religion and still maintain high moral and ethical standards. In other words, you can still be good without God.

Vegetarians are vegetarians because they believe that it's fully possible (and, many would contend, preferable) to have a great diet without meat and still maintain high dietary and culinary standards. In other words, you can still eat without meat.

Now, I'm not going to say that I feel good that animals die so I can enjoy how they taste. I just don't feel bad enough that I'll stop. Can't remember which comedian said it, but I did not climb to the top of the food chain to be eating broccoli. Still, it's important to know, if you're eating meat, where it comes from and show it due respect.

Jamie Oliver did a show examining chickens, eggs and how they get from the farm to your plate. It's a very revealing look at modern chicken farming and the difference between battery and free range. Or, if you're a seafood kind of person, just watch the former Iron Chef Michiba Rokusaburo take apart an Angler fish (Monkfish, Goosefish, depending on where you are).

Delicious. I guess. I've never had it. I'd love to try it, though. That's one of the things I'm really looking forward to about living in Taiwan: best seafood around.

I'm sure at this point you're thinking, 'How is he going to tie this back into refuting a religious worldview?'

Well, atheists have looked at religion and deemed it disturbing, painful and unnecessary enough that they prefer to live without it, just as the vegetarians have done with meat. The big difference being that atheists do it because they care about human lives rather than animal lives.

Uh oh. Now I'll have PETA on my ass for putting people before animals. I'm not worried; I could probably take Ingrid. Probably.

I think people are more likely to give a vegetarian shit than an atheist because there's no clause in the social contract that says you must be tolerant of what people eat. Even at our wedding, we had three vegetarians out of 60 guests, and we devoted 1/6 of the menu to them. If you have a group of 60 people and 3 of them are avowed atheists (which is about the national average; if you throw non-religious, agnostic and Buddhist/etc in with that group, it'd be more like 12 or 13 out of 60), what are the chances that they'll be considered at all? Pretty slim, I'd say.

The steak and the cross: two sides to the same coin, it seems. Having said that, I think I'll have steak for dinner tonight. Pan seared. No wine.

If you would like to follow the anti-religious ranting or tweeting of this carnivorous writer, visit his blog and follow him on Twitter. He'll probably follow you back. He's nice like that. He may even buy you a steak.

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