I’m not sure when it all began, but a recent trend has been to link months with lifestyle improvements and diseases. Thus we have had Stoptober for some years, an attempt to encourage people to stop smoking each October, and Movember, in which men have been encouraged to grow moustaches and raise money for prostate cancer research and treatment by doing so. There has also been Dry January, in which people attempt to have no alcohol following the usual excesses of the festive season. But the latter has recently been trumped at the beginning of the year by Veganuary, in which we are exhorted to give up all animal products for the month of January.
The momentum behind Veganuary has come from two unlikely ‘partners’ with very different agendas. On the one hand we have multinational food producers and outlets, such as McDonalds and KFC, with an eye for the chance, who see a great opportunity to pulp and synthesise vegetable materials and then colour and flavour them and pass them off as ‘meat’. A cheap way of flogging unwanted materials and boosting profits. On the other hand we have the environmentalist and animal rights activists who want to save animals from their exploitation by cruel humans who abuse our planet and its inhabitants.
So we have the irony of Biotech giants like Monsanto (manufacturer of hated GM foods) joining forces with Greenpeace to push Veganuary. Together they have formed a powerful alliance. The profits agenda for the multinationals is clear but less clear, is the other sinister agenda behind the Veganuary push.
The final frontier
‘Space, the Final Frontier…’ were the opening words to the long running TV series Star Trek, as some readers may recognise. The idea was that, once every part of planet earth had been explored, travel into space would finally take mankind beyond the last barrier to the exploration of stars and galaxies and planets far away in the universe. But the phrase has recently been picked up by those who see ‘speciesism’ as the final frontier in the long war against discrimination.
Speciesism is a term you may not (yet) have heard of, but it is about what is termed the privileging of the human species, the alleged evil of putting human beings in a special privileged class over and above all other species. This, it is claimed, leads to our longstanding discrimination against ‘other’ animals (and perhaps all life as we know it). Unsurprisingly Richard Dawkins is an advocate: ‘These [the arguments for the racial superiority of whites] were as unquestioned in the time of … Darwin as our speciesist assumptions of human rights, human dignity, and the sacredness of human life are unquestioned today.’
Depending on your view this war against discrimination began back in the eighteenth century with the first attempts to abolish slavery and a little later with the first pushes by women to achieve equality before the law (the first wave of feminism). These ‘isms’ dominated the early twentieth century, but discrimination by race or sex was followed by campaigns for gay rights and then an explosion of other ‘isms’, leading to legislation such as the Equality Act with its ‘protected characteristics’. Our focus here, though, is not on these issues as such, but on the momentum acquired by these movements, now picking up through campaigns such as Veganuary, to extend ‘discrimination’ to speciesism.
A coalition against God’s image bearers
The LGBTQ movement has been reshaping how we understand ourselves as human beings. The Green/Climatology movement has been pushing hard the interpretation that we are evil arrogant creatures who are destroying our planet, even that the planet would be better off without us. If we won’t commit mass suicide we must at least radically change to veganism out of compassion for our fellow creatures.
There is also the slow erosion of human dignity by the abortion movement, with its absurd idea that before birth the baby is subhuman and can be eliminated, but a few minutes later, outside the womb, it acquires a new status and is protected from such killing. The ‘Death with Dignity’ movement propagating euthanasia by some other name joins in by agreeing that we have misunderstood who we are as humans with our arrogant claims to superiority over other creatures. If dogs can be put down why not us? We are just another species, after all.
And then there is the longstanding corrosion of our status caused by Darwinian evolution. This supposedly provides scientific evidence to show we are simply another animal, descended over huge timeframes from other animals. We are not surprised to read, therefore, Richard Dawkins (again!) stating in his The God Delusion: ‘When I am dying, I should like my life to be taken out under a general anaesthetic, exactly as if it were a diseased appendix. But I shall not be allowed that privilege, because I have the ill-luck to be born a member of Homo sapiens rather than, for example, Canis familiaris.’
To put his view bluntly: we are not more valuable than dogs, so put us down as we do dogs. And chugging along in the background, though outside the focus of evangelicals, have been the animal rights campaigners with their outbursts of violence against scientists who dare to use animals in their research. They are natural allies and pushers of speciesism.
So Veganuary is not neutral. It is not simply a little fun at the beginning of the year. The Veganism movement is the obvious one pushing an agenda which is profoundly anti-Christian. But there is also this wider cluster of anti-Christian movements with their anti-biblical views of who we are as human beings. We need to be aware of this many-sided attack on our distinctiveness and status as human beings. We need to contend more than ever for the uniqueness of humans as God’s image bearers and the special value we have which places us above all other creatures on earth.
Alan Thomas is Professor and Consultant in Psychiatry. Elder at Newcastle Reformed Evangelical Church.