St. Peter and the lobsters

St. Peter and the lobsters

The Irish Elk reprints what I consider to be perhaps the best letter to the editor I’ve ever seen published anywhere: Fr. George Rutler’s letter in the August 2003 issue of Crisis in which he responds to some inanity from a group calling itself the Catholic Vegetarian Society. I’ve blogged it before, but it’s so good, why not bring it up again?

I was delighted to read the Manichaean ramblings of Danel Paden, director of the Catholic Vegetarian Society (“Letters,” June 2003). It confirmed my theory that fanaticism in Western society alternates between nudism and vegetarianism, both of which contradict the order of grace.

As an optimist, I happily trust that Paden confines his extreme commitments to vegetarianism.

Taste is one thing; it is another thing to condemn meat eating as “evil” and permissible only “in rare and unfortunate circumstances.” Paden disagrees with no less an authority than God, Who forbids us to call any edible unworthy (Mark 7: 18-19), and Who enjoins St Peter to eat pork chops and lobster in one of my favorite revelations (Acts 10: 9-16). Does the Catholic Vegetarian Society think that our Lord was wrong to have served up fish to the 5,000, or should He have refrained from eating the Passover Lamb? When He rose from the dead and appeared in the Upper Room, He did not ask for a bowl of Cheerios, nor did He whip up a meatless omelette on the shore of Galilee.

Man was made to eat flesh (Genesis 1: 26-31; 9: 1-6), with the exception of human flesh. I stand on record against cannibalism, whether it be inflicted upon the Mbuti Pygmies by the Congolese Army or on larger people by a maniac in Milwaukee. But I am also grateful that the benevolent father in the parable did not welcome his prodigal son home with a bowl of radishes.

Vegetarians assume an unedifying posture of detachment from the sufferings of vegetables that are mashed, stewed, diced, and shredded. In expensive restaurants, cherries are publicly burned in brandy to the applause of diners. It is not uncommon for people to submerge olives in iced gin and twist the peels of lemons. Be indignant, vegetarian, but not so selectively indignant that the bleat of the lamb and the plaintive moo of the cow drown out the whine of our brother the bean and the quiet sigh of the cauliflower.

Vegetables have reactive impulses. Were we to confine our diet to creatures that lacked sense and do not even respond to light, we could only eat liturgists and liberal Democrats.

The Rev. George W. Rutler
New York City

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  • To call this priceless is a gross understatement, the last sentence alone being worthy of a Pulitzer.

  • Problem is, Rutler is wrong.

    Man was not made to eat flesh.

    Genesis 1:26-31 does not say man was made to eat flesh–in fact, it says the opposite.

    God also said: “See, I give you every seed-bearing plant all over the earth and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit on it to be your food; and to all the animals of the land, all the birds of the air, and all the living creatures that crawl on the ground, I give all the green plants for food.” And so it happened.

    That could not be more plain. All living beings were created vegetarian; man was specifically given seed bearing plants and seed-bearing fruit. How could it be otherwise, as there was no death in Eden?

    It is only after the flood (Genesis 9) that God gives man permission to eat flesh, “only flesh with its lifeblood still in it you shall not eat.”

    In Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 restrictions are placed upon which meats may be eaten. When Daniel and his companions were taken captive to Babylon, they refused the rich meat and wine of the king’s table and asked to be served only water and vegetables, “after ten days they looked healthier and better fed than any of the young men who ate from the royal table.”

    And in Acts 15, the apostles said to the Gentiles that it was their decision and that of the Holy Spirit that they should, among other things, abstain “from blood [and], from meats of strangled animals.”

    There will be no death in the kingdom of heaven, and man shall then return to the Edenic diet.

    Vegetarianism is not unknown in Catholic tradition; it is the norm of the Trappists, who cite the Rule of St. Benedict.

    Vegetarianism can be seen as a sign of penance, choosing to abstain from something that one has freedom to use; it can also be seen as a sign of man’s original state and of eternal destiny (celibacy is observed by folks like Rutler in keeping with the latter, is it not?). Catholics also place a value on reason, so why not do the same here? On that basis vegetarianism can be advocated today for health reasons (it is better), for reasons of compassion for all living things, and for reasons of global well-being (you can feed more people on a vegetarian diet). And if these are not reasons enough, rent and watch Fast Food Nation.

  • No offense meant, but your defense of vegetarianism isn’t quite as entertaining as Fr. Rutler’s attack of it.  You prefer Miller Lite over Bass, too; right?

    Now, do you mind passing the A-1?

  • Bill –

    You can advocate it all you want, and it’s certainly a worthy PENANCE, but any assertion that eating meat is “evil” is gravely screwed up.  For every reason you can give why NOT to eat meat, I can still trump you with God telling Peter to “kill, eat”. 

    Any questions?