Start with God.

‘And [Peter] saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth: wherein were all manner of four-footed beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat.’ (Acts 10: 11–13.)

The Bible is a meat-eater’s manifesto. Before the Fall, Adam and Eve were vegetarian. They fed on grains, nuts and fruits. Then Eve ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil—or at least that’s the way Adam explained it to God. They were cast forth from the Garden, plunging mankind into original sin from which redemption can come only through the grace of Christ, whose flesh is eaten periodically in the form of the Eucharist. Hardly were Adam and Eve out of Eden before God was offering ‘respect’ to the flesh sacrifice of Abel the keeper of sheep and withholding ‘respect’ from Cain the tiller of the ground. Next thing we know, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, slew him and we were on our way.footnote1

Ringing in Man’s ears was the Almighty’s edict, as reported in Genesis 1:26–28: ‘Let us make Man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominio. . .over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. . .Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth and subdue it.’ Thus did the biblical God launch humans on the exploitation of the rest of the natural world, theirs for the using.footnote2

Dominion over ‘Un-Christian’ nature was at the heart of it, as C.S. Lewis spelled out frankly enough: ‘Atheists naturally regard. . .the taming of an animal by man as a purely arbitrary interference of one species with another. The “real” or “natural” animal is to them the wild one, and the tame animal is an artificial or unnatural thing. But a Christian must not think so. Man was appointed by God to have dominion over the beasts, and. . .the tame animal is therefore, in the deepest sense, the only “natural” animal—the only one we see occupying the place it was made to occupy.’footnote3

Such arrogance towards non-human creatures was similarly displayed towards women and human slaves. Not long after His commands in Genesis about animals we find God—in the row immediately following the Fall—telling Eve that ‘in sorrow shall thou bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.’ So far as human slaves were concerned, once again the slave-owners were able to point to Genesis 9, 25–7 and God’s curse on Canaan, and the children of Ham: ‘A servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.’ The early Christians never rejected slavery.footnote4

Throughout the sixteenth century, intelligent people were having doubts about the distinctiveness of humans or their superior station in the Great Chain of Being. Montaigne wrote that there were no important differences between humans and other animals. The latter, he said, displayed powers of logic, discrimination, judgement, cunning and even religiosity.footnote5 Such sentiments were powerfully abetted by the growing distaste among intellectuals like Erasmus, Sir Thomas More and Montaigne for hunting, a pursuit whose refinements had transfixed the upper classes for five centuries. ‘And thus with their butchering and eating of beasts,’ Erasmus wrote in In Praise of Folly, at the start of the sixteenth century, ‘they [the genteel hunters] accomplish nothing at all unless it be to degenerate into beasts themselves. . .’ Montaigne concluded, ‘It is apparent that it is not by a true judgment, but by foolish pride and stubbornness, that we set ourselves before the other animals and sequester ourselves from their condition and society.’footnote6