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Spirituality, environment and veganism – and my own ‘journey’.

July 19, 2016

I was born in the 1950s and, therefore , every day at school,  we had Christian assembly. This meant I was steeped in Christian theology from the age of  five. Unlike most of my peers, I seemed to love it all. I would walk home from school singing hymns to myself. I rather loved the Mystery that was God. I also, being a somewhat introverted, shy and lonely little girl who found it hard to make friends, loved the thought of God being by my side, a companion who loved me, but who I couldn’t see. I never doubted He was there.

My family were not religious. We did not go to church. In fact my father was an atheist, and very scathing about Christians. When I started to go to church, at the age of  twenty, he said to me ” Why do you want to do that? They’re all a bunch of hypocrites”. And I replied that he didn’t even know most of these people, so how could he say such a thing?

My churchgoing period lasted for about twenty one years. During the last decade of this time, I became a keen environmentalist and suffered many a frustration attempting to enthuse my fellow church members about being good stewards of God’s creation – that is, caretakers of the planet, people who acted for its good, believers that God had made it all and, therefore, to wreck it must rank as a kind of sacrilege. Somehow they seemed not to embrace the ideas with much enthusiasm. I could not get agreement to even having recycling facilities on the church premises. All these excuses came out, such as the inconvenience, the flies a compost bin would attract, the difficulty of getting the collected items to any recycling centre and so on. Nobody seemed to think any of it worth the effort. I couldn’t find even 3 people who, with me, would undertake this responsibility. As for creating a wildlife space in the churchyard – forget it!

This was the beginning of disillusion for me. I was with people who said they loved God and they couldn’t be bothered to care enough for His creation, to live and think Green. Not if it caused them any inconvenience. Not if it meant ‘work’.

There followed, for me, a period of deep distress and loss of faith. I could not fit the God I thought I knew into the narrow mould that my Christian fellows seemed to desire that He be squashed into. They made Him so small and ordinary that I couldn’t recognise Him. Critical thinking began to enter my mind. No longer could I simply believe and do. Now, I questioned, and the questions led to the conclusion that, if the Church was a reflection of what God is, then God was a creation of that organisation and did not actually exist except in the minds of those who believed He did. The God of the Church was not the  grand, mysterious Being for whom all things were possible and for whom no metaphorical mountain was too enormous to shift. That God didn’t exist. I had spent many years believing in a kind of fanciful delusion.

What followed was grief. I suffered a huge loss with the going of God from my life. Anger was in there – before I decided I was talking to the ether and not to God, I railed at Him. I was, for the  first time in my life, disrespectful of God. I called Him names  and threw my rage at Him. Then I walked away from church and belief, and threw all my energies into a cause that was real – the environment. My church became the environmental movement. It was where my heart was – and still, very firmly, is.

Then, one day, about 8 years ago, I read The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins and a very strange thing occurred. Whilst laughing at what he wrote, I nevertheless became ‘switched on’ again to Christian theology. Not as a belief system, but as a topic of intellectual stimulus. Suddenly I found I wanted to be with people who would wrestle with the questions with me.

Soon after this realisation, like the answer to a prayer I had not uttered,  the local Baptist church began advertising for their Alpha Course. I rang up and told them ” I do not believe in God nowadays. If I come on your course I will be challenging everything. Would I be welcome?” Their answer was an encouraging and enthusiastic ‘yes’. So I joined, and met some very nice people, who, like me, had many questions but who, unlike me, were mostly not predisposed to pull everything apart.

The fact that I knew my Bible well ( I have read it through twice in my life) and had a very firm grasp of Christian teachings ( because of my earlier commitment to them and church attendance for years)  meant that my challenges to what was being taught were very well reasoned. To their credit the leaders were unfazed by this,  respectful to me and always kind. They behaved, in fact, like perfect Christians. They impressed me. They remain, to this day, my friends.

When the course was over I began looking for something similar to join, as I had discovered a thorough liking for wrestling with theology – a subject that Richard Dawkins called a ‘non-subject’. Are we discussing mysteries, or merely talking about imaginary beings, like unicorns and the Minotaur?  Are we trying to fathom the Mind of God or are we just tossing meaningless ideas about and chasing our own shadows? Why should such things interest anyone?  Are they not simply a waste of breath and thought energy, using up time that could be spent helping the world become a less awful and painful place for so many?

But the ideas intrigue me. I cannot deny it.

I found there was something called The Progressive Christian Network which was intent on making Christianity more accessible to thoughtful people. This was a Christianity that did not ask you to believe impossible, fantastic things that insulted your intellect. I was interested in this, and found that a local church had links to a small group that met once a month to discuss such matters. For about 2 years I was able to attend some sessions, thanks to two people who took me with them in their car- until the group folded when the leaders moved. The discussions were always lively and thought provoking. Everyone at the meetings, except me, belonged to a church where they regularly worshipped, but our views were all so similar.  I discovered that these people, whilst still believing in God, found much that was in their churches and Christian teachings unsatisfying to their intellects and their instincts about God.

Around this time, I then discovered, via a link on an atheist site I was reading,  a Unitarian community in North London that was led by an atheist minister and whose teachings appeared so much in accord with all of my cherished beliefs that I made the effort to travel there one Sunday morning. I became so enamoured of  and inspired by the teachings and encouragements to be found there, that I stayed a member for 3 years, managing to travel in on most Sundays, even though the journey there took nearly 2 hours, door to door, and, of course, swallowed up most of my Sunday, especially when engineering works on the train lines meant delays. Love for the place and the people drew me there. I always left with feelings of elation in my heart. Hopeful, joyful feelings. I guess it was like the effect of some sort of hippy drug!!

One of the teachings at New Unity, as this Unitarian community was called, was universal compassion. At the time of my joining there was an affirmation said at every service which had these sentiments in it:

” Love is the spirit of this community”.  “This is our great purpose – to seek wholeness for all beings, to strive for justice and equality and join our hands in unity and peace”

“Wholeness for all beings”. What could this mean? It became a meditation for me during 2012 and led, by the end of that year, to my decision to go vegan. Meeting vegans on Facebook at just this time was really almost miraculous! Their passion most certainly helped me to grasp the nettle.

Going vegan ended my close association with Unitarians -and this community -by the beginning of 2015. I discovered, you see,  just as I had with Christians and the environment, that what is taught is not what is taken into hearts. What is taught seems, somehow,  not meant to be taken seriously by anyone. Nobody really meant ‘wholeness for all beings’ – that was just a phrase that sounded good. Oh no, nobody really intended anyone to think about this so hard they actually thought it hinted that being vegan was the best and most compassionate lifestyle of all. Oh no, Unitarianism is about acceptance and inclusion of all. Nobody is permitted to be passionate about anything and ‘force’ their beliefs on others in the community, who may, with its blessing, believe what they wish – even, apparently, that harming animals through eating them is okay.

So I left. I still have on line contact, but I no longer attend or financially support that community. I had seriously thought that many others would follow me into going vegan – how naive can you be, right? I actually believed I had found a spiritual community that fully practised what it preached. How stupid of me! I did find acceptance of me being vegan, that is true. I didn’t encounter hostility – also true. I was even allowed to organise a vegan buffet lunch there. But I didn’t get what I wanted, which was intentional  steering of the congregation towards being vegan, which is what I had hoped for, from somewhere so keen on preaching social justice and compassion. I had wanted the enthusiastic embracing of  this vegan lifestyle which is so compassionate, so all-encompassing,  so radically inclusive of all earth’s beings.  It fit so perfectly all that was taught in Unitarian philosophy. I had wanted the ‘proof of the pudding’ and I did not get it.  More disillusion for me – and a deep sadness.

The Unitarian principle of recognising our connectedness to all living beings and the earth itself, is similar to the Christian teachings on stewardship, just phrased differently. Neither spiritual group seem, to me, to take this to its limits, which is what should be happening if adherents are serious about their commitment. It’s like the leaders are afraid to offend their congregations – afraid of losing members, by being too challenging, too demanding of effort, too insistent on striving to achieve the goals.

Laissez- faire isn’t much good when ethics, morals and justice are at stake. To be kind to people isn’t always to just let them stay in their comfort zones -their spiritual growth, and the improvement of the world, for them and all their descendants, are vastly important considerations.

Is it kind to let people go on believing that they are not really harming the earth or being cruel to animals by eating products procured through violence to sentient beings and at  so high a cost to the natural world?  Is it kind to vegans for Christians and Unitarians to simply say  ‘ live and let live, everyone has the right to choose the way they live, peace Sister, namaste, Brother’.

People who eat animals are, every day, offending and upsetting vegans.  Why is this acceptable? Especially for Christians, who have, we are to suppose, a higher purpose in life than to merely serve their own appetites and personal ambitions?

I have no time for such cowardice and weakness. I look at Jesus – who I have followed, according to my heart. all of my life, and know that he, whoever he was, did not flinch from doing the right thing, saying the challenging thing, standing up for what is right and good and just. Even if he didn’t exist and is just a composite figure, he stands out as an example for radical living. He stands for the 99% who are marginalised by the elite and powerful, he stands for all the defenceless ones whose voices are not heard, whose lives are not valued by the systems that control this world – all, both human and non-human.

Chrisitanity, for me, has as its central themes, the ideas of justice for all, mercy on those who need it,  kindness to all who suffer, forgiveness of those who wrong us – for the peace of the world -and, above all, love. Love for every part of the world that was created by a God of Love.  If, believing all of this, Christians aren’t green, aren’t vegan, then I conclude that they are not living their faith in any way that could be pleasing to the God they claim to love and serve. Like my father before me, perhaps I must conclude that too many of them are hypocrites. How sad.

This world would be a vastly different place if those who followed spiritual leaders actually lived what they say they believe. We might even have world peace by now, and I am certain we would have universal acceptance that all violence to living beings is wrong.

Love is the only thing we have that is powerful enough to bring about change, but we must be careful about what we belove. We must love the earth and all its beings, we must love justice, equality and peace. We must love goodness. Until human beings manage this,  our world will continue to be violent, chaotic and full of unnecessary suffering. Loving power, loving money, loving anything that simply furthers our own aims, regardless of impact on others, is nothing but worship of Self. Human history shows us well that this kind of self-seeking love has nothing of Good in it.

” When a man’s love of finery clouds his moral judgement, that is vanity. When he lets a demanding palate make his moral choices, that is gluttony. When he ascribes  the divine will to his own whims, that is pride, and when he gets angry at being reminded of animal suffering that his own daily choices might help avoid, that is moral cowardice”. (Matthew Scully).

 

 

 

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2 Comments
  1. Carol,
    Thank you so much for sharing with us your life as Christian and now a vegan. I particularly love your description of love. There will not be true love or peace in this world until we use them as actions and extend them to all living beings on this earth. Veganism is now.
    Thank you.

  2. darrenferneyhough1 permalink

    Wow! What an amazing and powerful story, thank you so much for sharing 👍

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