Meat-Free Monday: Why Not Eat Vegan? 

There are a few reasons beyond just the obvious one: it’s a big adjustment to your life and can be quite inconvenient and difficult if you don’t live a bigger city.

And some people have been burned by self-righteous vegans who treated them like garbage and turned them off to the possibilities altogether.  

Now, I’ve experienced great support from family, friends, and co-workers as I’ve gone fully plant-based. They’ve been encouraging and accommodating, and it warms my heart.

But why do so many people go for   crash diets or even gastric surgery without ever trying a plant based diet? Surely that adjustment is far more inconvenient than going vegan. 

I think an answer may come from moral foundations theory.

Most of us approach vegetarianism and/or veganism from the moral foundation of  care. We see the videos of animal abuse inherent in factory farming,  and we want to change,  to prevent that suffering,  even if just for the few animals per year who suffer and die for our consumption.

Sometimes it’s a fairness issue. I have no problems with my grandparents’ past cattle farming, just like I had no problem with them using leaded gasoline in their cars.

I had no problem with my ancient ancestors’ hunting and herding. 

But this isn’t 1940, or 1423, or 3000 BCE.  We don’t need to do that to live,  and our methods for raising and killing animals have grown far crueler and more wasteful since then,  due to industrialized agriculture and maximized profits.

We don’t have to do that any more, so I don’t.

But a lot of people don’t solely operate from care and fairness. A lot of people also care about the moral foundations of authority,  in-group loyalty, and sanctity. 

So how might these moral foundations make a person more resistant to going plant based? 

Authority (tradition) 

We are taught throughout school that cow’s milk “does a body good,” that we have to drink plenty or our bikes won’t grow strong. 

We are taught to eat meat,  too, though somewhat less directly. 

Also,  vegetarianism and especially veganism are strange,  and strangeness and eccentricity are actively devalued by the authority mindset.  

Why?  Because going against the grain small matters prepares you to go against the grain in large matters. 

In group loyalty

Meat is the American way, at least according to the beef industry’s ads. BBQ’s are patriotic, and refusing the celebratory meat is tantamount to disloyalty. This sounds silly,  but don’t most of our patriotic holidays involve a barbecue?

Sanctity

Somehow,  despite being purer in the senses of cruelty, bacterial contamination, and  actual contents, many vegan protein sources sound strange, fake, or otherwise suspect.  

In American culture, plant based proteins are ritually, or at least metaphorically, unclean. I’ve seen this reaction, but I can’t explain it. 

So there you go: a few reasons people might openly object to veganism or vegetarianism. 

Just because something doesn’t make sense to me,  doesn’t mean it doesn’t make sense from the other person’s perspective. 

Life isn’t always logical, but it always has a logic of its own

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Nobody Is Pure: Aligning My Actions with My Ethics

How do you live completely harm-free in a world as complex and interconnected as ours?

You don’t.

Even if you focus on present, ongoing harm and ignore past historical harms – a completely arbitrary decision – you still can’t find or fix everything.

We pay taxes to a government that does a host of bad things (anyone reading this, regardless of political leanings, can probably agree to that). Christians have instructions from the Master Himself to do so (“Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” – Mark 12:17). We all have a gun literally pointed at our heads to make us pay.

We can’t even know the origins of all the things we put on or into our bodies or our vehicles.

What do we do? Well, we can vote, if we can find someone worth voting for. We can sign petitions and write letters to our representatives in state, local, and national government. We can protest and make our voices known.

And we can educate ourselves on the issues.

But is that enough? My taxes are still paying for drone strikes against civilians, and indefinite detention without trial (both happening on the CIA’s word, with nominal executive oversight and no due process), and so are yours, if you live in the U.S.

“As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:” (Romans 3:10 KJV)

But that doesn’t mean we can’t push back. It doesn’t mean we can’t find one little corner of our lives and push back against the cruelty, violence, and exploitation that have been baked into our governmental and economic systems, and the deception that hides them.

It just means that nobody, vegan, vegetarian, meat-eater, tax-dodge, pacifist, or soldier, can ever fully claim the moral high ground.

I know I surely can’t.

And I know that when I try to, I can end up hurting people I never intended to.

A wise long-term vegan told me that you can only go where your consciousness leads you. And that we should not be “holier than thou” with people whose consciousness (and consciences) aren’t leading them the same direction ours are.

And experience leads me to understand that nobody can care about everything at once. A single human being just doesn’t have the energy.

So, I’ll say this. Try some vegan dishes – some are very yummy – and see if you’d like to add them to your weekly meal rotation.
But beyond that, whatever your conscience is leading you to care about, care deeply, and act wisely.

And if I ever start acting holier-than-thou, let me know.

Theory Thursday: Moral Foundations

I’ve been reading and thinking about moral foundation theory, and it’s really been eye-opening. It helps to explain and understand the reasons people hold different political and social positions and beliefs.

I’ll be writing more about this in the weeks to come, but I thought I’d start with an overview.

The five primary moral foundations are

  1. Care (vs. Harm)
  2. Fairness/Reciprocity
  3. Authority
  4. In-Group Loyalty
  5. Purity

Typically, Liberals and Progressives focus on the first two. Conservatives favor all five, typically putting that last three (Authority, In-Group Loyalty, and Purity) above the first two (Care/Harm and Fairness/Reciprocity).

There’s a sixth one, Liberty, that is gaining traction. Libertarians value that above all others, though everyone values it to some degree.

Caring about Care/Harm and Fairness is obvious – we don’t want people to be hurt. We don’t want people to be cheated. And every side of the political fence cares about these two.

But why care about the other three? Order tends to decay unless effort is put into maintaining it. Just like houses and engines and our bodies. In times of chaos, everybody gets hurt. Thus, it makes sense to put some effort into maintaining order. Thus, Authority, In-Group Loyalty, and Purity.

Why do progressives reject these, then?

Because Authority is power. Not only does it corrupt, but it is sought by the most corrupt. Accepting authority with little or no questioning means signing your name to all its abuses. Voting to re-elect George W. Bush in 2004 meant giving your sanction to Guantanamo Bay, the Iraq War, and the Patriot Act. Voting to re-elect Barack Obama in 2012 meant giving your tacit approval to his ongoing an unaccountable uses of drone strikes on civilians in countries we weren’t even at war with, like Pakistan.

Because In-Group Loyalty inherently leads to the marginalization (or worse) of those who do not fit into the group, and the destruction of those who threaten the group. I suffered through enough bullying in K12 to never trust a clique, team, or identity fully, and what I went through was nothing compared to what some of my LGBT+ friends experienced. Nothing at all. This sort of mindset leads to people cheering and dancing in the street when a terrorist leader is killed. This sort of mindset leads to people covering for their fellow cops when an unarmed 12 year old is killed. This mindset is at the heart of racism and homophobia.

Because Purity usually means men controlling women’s lives and sexuality, blaming them for our lusts and our bad actions. Jesus said “if your eye offends you, pluck it out,” not “if your eye offends you, tell whoever you’re leering at to wear thicker clothes.” Purity drives male domination of women across the world.

There are benefits to the moral foundations of Authority, In-Group Loyalty, and Purity, but progressives look at the harm that has been done in their name to ethnic minorities, to women, to gender and sexual minorities, and the harm that is still being done, and figure we’d all be better off sticking to Care and Fairness.

But the question comes about: how do we then create a stable society, especially during a crisis?

It’s no wonder that progressive movements tend to have their greatest gains not during times of crisis, but during times of stability. This is especially true during times when the prosperity is not shared anywhere close to equally between groups: the Gilded Age, the Post WW2-Boom, the last thirty years. During times of crisis (WW2, immediately post-9/11/01) people take a more conservative (or even hardline) turn. This ebb and flow may be a natural part of society’s life cycle, but it’s important to keep an eye on it, to prevent it from giving rise to a violent mass movement (like the Nazis, Al Queda, or the Islamic State).

To learn more about Moral Foundation Theory:

Moral Foundations website

Moral Foundations on Wikipedia

Moral Foundations and Political Backgrounds Quizzes

Here is Johnathan Haidt’s TED talk about Moral Foundations in Politics.

 

 

 

The Log in Our Eye (Divorce and Gay Marriage, Part 2)

Photo by Tangopaso and Musaromana, Creative Commons

Photo by Tangopaso and Musaromana, Creative Commons

Depending on which study you look at, divorce rates among Evangelicals or Born-Again Christians are either equal to the national average or well below it. But they’re never under 25%. So one marriage out of four, at least, ends in divorce.

Whether this is better than the national average or not, it’s still very high. Much higher than you’d think, given Jesus’s strong words against divorce.

Why is this so? I don’t know, but I have a few observations.  I’ll work through them in more detail in subsequent posts, but today I’ll simply give an overview.

Idolatry of Family – we Evangelicals see the family as paramount. We ignore the Apostle Paul’s words about celibacy (1 Cor 7:8-9), and we push everyone to get married early.

The pressure is so subtle, we don’t even realize it’s there, but we’re soaking in it every day of our lives. We get married before we’re ready, and it sets too many of us on the path to divorce.

Purity Culture – alongside the pressure to marry young is the overwhelming pressure (at least on girls) to stay “pure” for marriage.

The ugly flip side of this is that girls who have sex before they are married (and something like 80% do), are often shamed, treated like damaged goods. Elizabeth Smart’s story is a chilling example of this. The emotional scars this shaming leaves can affect marriage for years down the line.

Purity Culture’s Empty Promises – If the stick wasn’t enough, purity culture has an equally damaging carrot. It’s implied, and sometimes even stated outright, that if you wait until your wedding night, everything will be awesome.

The truth is, virginity is no magic key to a perfect marriage. This should be obvious, and it’s a sign of how messed up things are that it isn’t.

Having mystically high expectations set up that reality can’t realistically meet? Not a good foundation for a marriage.

Game Face Churchianity – you’d think that at church, among your fellow believers, would be the place to share your struggles, to show vulnerability, to be true and authentic, even when it isn’t pretty.

Well, you’d think that unless you’d ever actually been to church.

Pray Away the Gay – I went to a Baptist college as an undergraduate. Several men I knew there got married right out of college, just like they were supposed to (see #1, above). Some even had kids, just like they were supposed to.

Then, down the line, they realized they were gay. Or they admitted to themselves that they were gay. Or they just couldn’t repress the fact that they were gay anymore.

Reparative therapy doesn’t work. That’s been proven to the point that the APA and AMA are both resolutely against it. Marrying a woman and hoping it will all work out certainly doesn’t work.

Dragging a woman (and even children) through that unnecessary hell is just plain inexcusable, but the greater guilt is on those who pressured the gay man to do it.

So What’s Left?

Maybe the answer isn’t found in Jesus’ words about divorce, but in his words about self-examination and self-righteousness in Matthew 7:3-5.

3 Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?

4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye?

5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

Buying the Cow (Purity, Idolatry, and Words Have Meaning)

Woman Milking a Red Cow by Karel Dujardin, c. 1650

Woman Milking a Red Cow by Karel Dujardin, c. 1650

 

Rachel Held Evans’ recent post, “Do Christians Idolize Virginity?”  got me thinking about the ways we talk about purity, chastity, and virginity, and how frankly awful some of them are. Let’s take a look:

 

“Lost my virginity”

Forget looking at sex (and abstaining from sex) in terms of a spiritual practice done for the good of our relationship to God. Forget the wisdom of delaying sexual gratification. Virginity is a thing, a commodity that can be lost.

A commodity whose loss reduces the value of the (former) virgin.

Not too long ago, this was a very real concern. A potential bride was either disqualified or at least lessened if she was not a virgin. Actually, this is still a major concern in many cultures, to the point that honor killings have happened in the U.S. over suspected premarital sex.

 

“Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?”

These days, anyone who calls a woman a cow had better have swift legs or a good, tough chin. I mean heavyweight champion good. And where’s the male equivalent? “Why buy the bull when you can get the $#!* for free?”

Seriously, though, this one is doubly offensive. It paints men as sex fiends and women as chattel, a role that first century Christians moved beyond, but which we slid back to over the course of time.

(Compare the Apostle Paul’s letters to the Greco-Roman house codes, and you’ll see how progressive he was. Today he may look old-fashioned, but he didn’t write those letters today, or to post-feminist information-age citizens of modern democracies, did he?)

Had my wife and I not waited, I would still have married her. What I wanted wasn’t just sex. What I wanted was her, by my side, as my wife, for life. This stupid, offensive livestock analogy is disproven every day as couples who did not wait get married, and stay married, and have good marriages.

The analogy really does hearken back to the days when women were property. First they belonged to their fathers, and then they were (effectively) sold to their husbands. Sometimes there was a dowry involved, sometimes a bride-price, but always a commercial transaction.

And as with livestock, a woman who wasn’t ‘brand new’ and ‘untouched’ was of lesser value, she was, to use the most offensive phrase of all …

 

“Damaged Goods.”

Dear Lord, grant me the patience to not become physically violent when I hear that phrase. Violently ill is okay, though – I’m perfectly fine puking on whoever refers to a woman as “damaged goods.” And it’s always a woman. I’ve never heard a man referred to as “damaged goods” (or a cow, for that matter).

This reduces the woman below the level of livestock, to mere merchandise. A cow is at least a living being, capable of some basic emotions like contentment, fear, and pain. “Damaged goods” is like a couch that’s been clawed by a housecat, or an X-Box with the red ring of death.

 

“Losing my virginity” is bad enough, but “Cows” and “Damaged Goods” are just plain degrading. This is no way to talk about Godly chastity. This is no way to talk about our fellow Christians. And this is definitely no way to talk about our daughters, sisters, and friends.

 

…On the Other Hand, America Isn’t Righteous Now (part 1)

I always heard it was okay to talk to yourself, that you should only really get worried when you start arguing with yourself.  Well, here goes…

Over the last three days, I’ve taken my shots at the idea that America was once a righteous nation, and that we’re now in a deep moral decline.  You can read the details here, here, and here.  And I still believe that’s true: we have the lowest violent crime rate in 40 years and the lowest abortion rate in 20 years.  Our violent crime rate’s been decreasing almost every single year for the last 20 years, even through the Great Recession.  Hatred and discrimination are fading like cancer markers after a round of chemotherapy.

That said, I would be a liar and a hypocrite if I didn’t point out the counterarguments.  Don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely no time period in American history where “righteous” even comes close to fitting.  To be “righteous,” a man or nation cannot be blemished by hatred or greed or arrogance or corruption.  Tell me there was one minute since America’s founding where these did not apply.  Righteousness requires nothing less than perfection, otherwise it’s just filthy rags.

But it is also true that twenty-first century America has some real issues and problems that twentieth-century America didn’t.  I already mentioned easy access to pornography.  This danger can’t be overstated.

Filmed pornography is a powerful social evil not only because of its corrosive effect on its viewers, but because of the sometimes awful conditions its performers work under, as Chris Hedges highlights here.  Too many (though of course not all) porn performers have suffered sexual abuse in childhood or adolescence.  Many struggle with addiction to painkillers, which often have to be taken because of the … difficult and uncomfortable … feats they are called on to perform.  Some of the shiftier, “amateur” productions even use trafficked women as “performers.”

The commoditization of sexuality has seeped into our culture, almost subconsciously.  Just as women are achieving professional equality, and even exceeding men in college enrollment, objectification takes an ugly turn.  The motive may be profit, but the effect of making films of violent, rough group sex is to put women back in their place, not as equals, but as “sluts” and “whores.”

And I don’t think it’s just visual pornography that’s damaging.  Fifty Shades of Gray may be famous, but it’s just one example of a massively profitable written erotica business, aimed mostly at women.  While it’s true that no actors were harmed in the making of this novel, that doesn’t mean it isn’t spiritually dangerous to the readers.  Sadomasochistic elements aside, can there be any benefit from turning our sexual imaginations away from intimacy and toward spectacle, performance, and anatomical dimensions?

I wandered into this genre thanks to Laurel K. Hamilton.  Her Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series began as paranormal noir, featuring a strong female character who was actually celibate.  Anita had been burned by her ex-fiance, and had decided to wait to have sex until she was really married.  That, combined with an interesting love triangle, provided an unusual and fascinating emotional backdrop for the supernatural crimes she investigated.

There were no sex scenes in the first five books.  The sixth had one relatively short scene, which was unremarkable for the noir genre.  Then, things changed.  Each book became more and more explicit, adding in elements of bondage, sadomasochism, group sex, etc. until the genre had utterly switched to erotica.  Not even paranormal romance, but erotica.

And more than a few of her long-term readers were left shaking our heads, wondering if anyone got the number of the bus that hit us.

I’m not saying this to condemn Ms. Hamilton: she can write what she wants.  Clearly, the market agrees.  Her sales numbers have not fallen off.  But I’ve read this stuff, and I know that for me, at least, it’s not healthy.  It’s not okay.  I’d wager that St. Paul would not call it  profitable or beneficial.

It’s also an example of how, as Pamela Paul wrote, “it is easier to get pornography than avoid it.”  I started reading a series with no sex scenes, no indication that there would even be explicit sex scenes, and after I’d gotten attached to the characters, things changed.

Not that I needed a book to swerve me.  After all, my Spam Folder is full of things I wouldn’t dare repeat here.  The hardest of the hardcore is just a Google Search away.  And, as the pornification of America progresses, “mainstream” movies and tv shows begin to push – not pornography itself, but a sex-as-commodity mindset that is the most damaging part of porn.

And how do we shelter our kids from this?  I have no idea.  I have a feeling our  computers will grow passwords and monitoring software before our (as yet unborn) child figures out how to turn them on.  That’s not a 100% solution, not even close.  Kids can get access at other peoples’ houses.  But I’m not sure there’s any way to prepare children for something like this.

I don’t actually have a solution.

One thing I can definitely try to do is be a part of whatever solution does exist, rather than part of the problem.  I will do my best to avoid even semi-pornographic material and to purge every vestige of sex-as-commodity thinking that has seeped into my brain.  That’s the first step.