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  • Writer's pictureChapman Chen

The Biblical Vision of Compassion for and Nonviolence to Animals. By Fr. John Dear. Ed. Dr. Chapman Chen


1. Who's Fr. John Dear?


Fr. John Dear (born August 13, 1959) is an American vegetarian Catholic priest, animal rights advocate, peace activist, lecturer, and author of 35 books on peace and nonviolence. He has spoken on peace around the world, organized hundreds of demonstrations against war, injustice and nuclear weapons and been arrested 85 times in acts of nonviolent civil disobedience against war, injustice, poverty, nuclear weapons and environmental destruction. Dear has been nominated several times for the Nobel Peace Prize, including in January 2008 by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. He has served as the director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, and currently serves as the founder and director of the Beatitudes Center for the Nonviolent Jesus. Below please find an excerpt from Fr. John Dear's booklet Christianity and Vegetarianism: Pursuing the Nonviolence of Jesus published by PETA Foundation in 2004.


2. Eden was Vegan


In God’s initial and ideal world, represented in the book of Genesis by the Garden of Eden, there was no suffering, no exploitation, and no violence at all. People and animals were vegetarians, as we read in the first chapter of Genesis: “God said ‘See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food.’”(1:29) Immediately after creating this beautiful, nonviolent, non-exploitative world, God, describes it as “very good.” This is the only time in the narrative that God calls creation “very good” instead of merely “good”—and this immediately follows God’s command with regard to vegetarianism.


3. Eden Veganism has still been the Goal even after the Deluge


But after the Fall, people waged war, held one another as slaves, ate meat, and committed every atrocity imaginable. After the flood, when the world’s vegetation was destroyed, we are told, God allowed humans to eat meat. Scholars argue that within the  context of the story, this was only a temporary permission, based  on human violence and sinfulness: God gives us free will and allows us the freedom to reject God and God’s way of nonviolence, but God tried to help us to become less violent by commanding people to observe God’s laws. In the Mosaic legal system, then, there are more than 150 laws regarding meat-eating, but the vision of Eden is still the ideal and the goal. Indeed, Leviticus strictly prohibits the eating of anything with fat or blood, and many argue that the law of Moses actually forbids the eating of flesh entirely, because it’s impossible to get blood totally out of meat.


4. Daniel's Vegan Bodybuilding


The best example of a vegetarian in the Bible is Daniel, the nonviolent resister who refuses to defile himself by eating the king’s meat. He and three friends actually become much healthier than everyone else through their vegetarian diet. They also become 10 times smarter, and “God rewards them with knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom.” Throughout the marvelous stories that follow, we hear of someone who remains faithful to God, refuses to worship the emperor’s false gods and unjust ways, and practices a steadfast nonviolence. And this marvelous story begins with divine approval of vegetarianism.


5. Isaiah's Vegan Vision


The book of the prophet Isaiah proclaims the vision of the peaceable kingdom, that new realm of God where everyone will beat their swords into plowshares, refuse to study war, enjoy their own vine and fig tree, and never fear again. Several passages condemn meat-eating and foresee a day when people and animals will adopt a vegetarian diet, when “the wolf shall dwell with the lamb and the leopard shall lie down with the kid ... They do no

violence, no harm, on all my holy mountain.”(Is.11:6-9) Of course, God’s covenant is

always with “all flesh,” animal and human, and in the conclusion to Isaiah, God speaks of those who kill animals in the same way as those who murder people and heralds the dawn of a new day of peace.


6. Jesus Returns us to the Vegan Eden


According to the prophet Hosea, God says, “I will make a covenant on

behalf of Israel with the wild beasts, the birds of the air, and the things that creep on the earth, and I will break every bow and sword and weapon of war and sweep them off the earth, so that all living creatures may lie down without living in fear.”All these beautiful visions of the prophets  reach their fulfillment, according to Christianity, in the life of Jesus. Jesus is “the new Adam,” who returns us to the totally nonviolent Garden of Eden.

He is “the Prince of Peace,” who ushers in God’s vision of nonviolence, mercy, and justice. Jesus spent his life healing the broken, liberating the oppressed, calling for justice, practicing nonviolence, and confronting the structures of oppression by turning over the tablesof injustice. By the time he was 33, the ruling authorities had had enough, and they executed him.


7. Jesus Sides with the Oppressed Animals


As I consider what it means to be a Christian today, reflecting on the radical, nonviolent life of Jesus, I believe that today Jesus sides with the starving, the homeless, the refugees, and the children of the world, who continue to be crushed by first-world greed and warmaking. If Jesus lived in our culture of violence, he would do everything he could to confront the structures of death and call for a new culture of peace and life. He would want us to change every aspect of our lives, to seek complete physical, spiritual, motional,

and ethical wholeness, to become people of nonviolence, children of the God of peace.


Anglican priest, theologian, and Oxford professor the Rev. Dr. Andrew Linzey suggests that following Christ means casting our lot with the most oppressed. In his book Animal Theology, he says that today, no beings are more oppressed than the animals who are treated so badly by the meat industry. I conclude that, as Christians, we must side with the poor and oppressed peoples of the world and with animals.


8. Jesus Reveres Animals


In fact, the Gospels are full of favorable references to animals and reveal that Jesus had a great reverence for animals and nature. As Lewis Regenstein points out in his book Replenish the Earth: A History of Organized Religions’ Treatment of Animals and Nature, Jesus calls his followers “sheep.” He compares his concern for Jerusalem with a hen’s caring for her brood. He likens himself to animals, such as a lamb and a dove, because of their innocence and meekness. “Behold the birds of the air,” Jesus says. “They do not sow, they do not reap, nor do they gather into barns, yet your heavenly God feeds them”(Mt. 6:26). “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies?” Jesus later asks. “And yet not one of them is forgotten by God.”(Lk. 12:6)


Indeed, in John’s Gospel, Jesus describes himself as a “Good Shepherd” and notes that a good shepherd lays down his life for his flock of sheep. Dare we conclude that Jesus supports the ultimate act of compassion and love, to die nonviolently, even to protect animals?


Jesus embodied nonviolence and compassion. The rest of us are called to follow in his gentle footsteps. Yet few have approached him. I think of St. Francis of Assisi, who walked among the poor, preached peace, and, in particular, loved and celebrated all of

creation, including animals. “Not to hurt our humble brethren, the animals,” he said, “is our first duty to them, but to stop there is not enough. We have a higher mission: to be of service to them whenever they require it. If you have people who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity,” he said, “you will have people who will deal likewise with other people.”


9. Be Christlike and Serve Animals


Rev. Dr. Linzey suggests, like St. Francis, that human beings should act not as the master species, but as the servant species.  Christ came as a humble servant and called us to love and serve one another and not to harm anyone. Linzey suggests that the Gospel call to service includes selfless service and justice not only to the poor and oppressed, but to all creation, including animals. In this, we become more Christlike.


10. Early Christian Advocates of Vegetarianism


Many early Christians advocated vegetarianism, including Tertullian, the great advocate of nonviolence; St. John Chrysostom, the patriarch of Constantinople; and St. Jerome, a doctor of the church and an early translator of the Bible. The theologian Clement of Alexandria urged Christians to become vegetarians, saying, “It is far better to be happy than to have your bodies act as graveyards for animals.”


It is clear that for the first three centuries after Christ, a Christian could not kill or participate in war. Christians were nonviolent. Some scholars argue that most early Christians were also vegetarians and that meat-eating was not officially allowed until

the fourth century, when the church embraced Constantine and the Roman Empire. Then, just as Christians rejected Jesus’ nonviolence and devised the heresy of the so-called “just war theory,” they deliberately approved meat-eating. (Editor's note: It's praiseworthy, righteous and morally courageous for Father John Dear to criticise the Catholic Church for colluding with the Roman Empire to approve meat-eating in spite of Jesus' principle of nonviolence.)



11. Conclusion: The 1st Step towards Peace is to Go Vegan


As we look back on very recent history, we see an astonishing array of positive social changes. Many good and thoughtful people of the 19th century did not recognize the basic human rights of women, children, Native Americans, or African-Americans. Human slavery flourished until the end of the 1800s in the United States. Women were given the right to vote less than 100 years ago. The very first child abuse case was prosecuted in this country, also, less than 100 years ago. In each case, the Bible was used to bless and defend injustice. But, thank God, we have taken steps toward justice. Yet, unfortunately, we continue to use the scriptures to defend violence and justify war, executions, animal abuse, and nuclear weapons as if God, wanted us to be violent and kill. I am convinced that God is a God of peace and nonviolence and that Jesus wants us to be people of peace and nonviolence.


We have come a long way in the last century, but we still have a long way to go. We need to abolish hunger, poverty, war, nuclear weapons, animal abuse, the death penalty, racism, sexism, and every other form of violence. I think that centuries from now, people of faith and conscience will look back at our times in shock and amazement that we ate meat, permitted people to starve, treated one another so unjustly, waged war, built huge nuclear arsenals, and remained hell-bent on destroying the planet. If we are to survive, as Dr. King said, we need to become people of nonviolence. One simple first step is to adopt a vegetarian diet.


“Nothing will benefit human health and increase [our] chances for survival,” Albert Einstein concluded, “as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.”





John’s autobiography, A Persistent Peace, (with a foreword by Martin Sheen), can be ordered at See also: John’s pamphlet Christianity and Vegetarianism can be read online at or free copies of the pamphlet or a free CD of John reading the pamphlet can be ordered by sending an email to You can listen to or download John reading the pamphlet at See also:

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