Whatever faith or philosophy you follow, a vegetarian diet is a perfect fit!
Why is the spiritual aspect of vegetarianism important?
Healthy people need to combine the various things they think and do into a complete whole. Since some sort of spiritual or philosophical orientation is an important part of life for the vast majority of Americans, and often becomes more so as we get older, many people interested in following a vegetarian diet will want to see how it fits in with the rest of their life. Often people find the spiritual reasons for becoming vegetarian very motivating, and find that their decision to become a vegetarian is more sustainable when they fully understand these reasons.
How important to spiritual practice is following a vegetarian diet?
Vegetarian diets form an important part of the spiritual practice of many people in many religions. However, it should be kept in perspective. It is a part of spiritual life, which includes many other parts as well, such as prayer, proper behavior towards other people, and charity.
Can you give me some examples of vegetarian religious leaders and groups in history?
“We now have the scientific evidence that vegetarianism is good for the body. The greatest spiritual teachers have always known that it is good for the soul.”
Rev. Alvin Van Pelt Hart, Episcopalian priest
Many famous biblical figures, including Adam, Eve, and Daniel, were vegetarians. The Roman Catholic Church has four vegetarian orders. The Franciscan, Trappist, Benedictine, and Carthusian orders all espouse a vegetarian diet. The founder of Methodism, John Wesley, was a vegetarian, as was the founder of the Salvation Army, General Bramwell Booth. Ellen G. White, a founder of the Seventh-day Adventist Church was a devoted vegetarian. The famous theologian Albert Schweitzer was a vegetarian, too. Martin Luther King’s wife, Coretta Scott King, was a vegan, as is his son Dexter Scott King.
“Veganism has given me a higher level of awareness and spirituality.”
—Dexter Scott King, son of Martin Luther King
The first chief rabbi of Israel, Abraham Kook, was a vegetarian. So was chief rabbi Shlomo Goren. The chief rabbi of Haifa is also a vegetarian, as are other important rabbis.
Examples in Eastern religions include the famous Hindu leader, Mahatma Gandhi, and the founder of Buddhism, Gautama Buddha. In the Muslim world, many people in a sect known as the Sufis also follow a vegetarian diet.
Have there been great thinkers and philosophers who taught the vegetarian way?
Some of the biggest names in philosophy have spoken out against using animals for food. While these philosophers were all people of deep faith, often their support of vegetarianism was advocated in a secular context as well as a religious one.
The concerns of the great philosophers who supported the vegetarian way were mostly centered on the harsh treatment of animals raised for food, and how such treatment would affect mankind. For instance, the German philosopher Immanuel Kant warned that hardening our hearts towards animals would affect our dealings with other humans. Voltaire, a well-known French philosopher, took issue with some people of his day who had no regard for animals at all, saying, “How pitiful and what poverty of mind, to have said that animals are machines deprived of understanding and feeling.” Another French philosopher, Rousseau, thought that eating meat was not part of the natural human diet.
The famous Roman philosopher, Seneca, and the great Greek philosophers Plato, Socrates, and Pythagoras are all thought to have been vegetarians. In fact, until the Renaissance, vegetarians were known as Pythagoreans
These men were all concerned with the cruelty to animals that comes with using them for food.
“Nature has endowed man with a noble and excellent principle of compassion, which extends itself also to dumb animals—whence this compassion has some resemblance to a prince towards his subjects. And it is certain that the noblest of souls are the most extensively compassionate.”
— Francis Bacon, developer of the scientific method
For more information on the spiritual and philosophical aspects of a vegetarian diet, see our FAQs on Food, Faith and Philosophy
The following organizations provide specific vegetarian support within a spiritual context.
www.all-creatures.org – Christian Vegetarian Association, dedicated to cruelty-free living through a vegetarian – vegan lifestyle according to Judeo-Christian ethics.
www.jewishveg.com – Jewish Vegetarians of North America – Jewish values in action, for health and for compassion.