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The Right Stuff? Ethics and Religion

This section gives a short explanation about what each religion teaches about eating animals as food. For further information, see links with each religion


There are five founding beliefs or precepts in Buddhism. The first ones is not killing or causing harm to other living beings. Therefore many Buddhists follow a vegetarian (or vegan) diet. However, many don’t. Like  most religions, there is often a difference between Buddhist principles (rules and beliefs) and Buddhist practice  – what people actually do in their lives! Eg Tibetan Buddhists are often meat eaters, partly because growing plant foods is difficult in the country’s harsh climate – and partly because of tradition. In some countries, Buddhist monks are given alms (food) by householders and are supposed to take what is given, so are permitted to eat meat in food given to them. Buddhists in India are more likely to be vegetarian. 


Most Christian churches do not teach vegetarianism and many Christians believe that humans are appointed by God as 'stewards' of the earth. However, many early Christians are believed to have been vegetarian.  Today, the Seventh Day Adventist Church teaches vegetarianism as a general rule and there are also many other Christians who go vegetarian for such reasons as feeding the world, the environment and factory farming - or who just believe we should protect animals and the earth from harm, not exploit them. 


Many Hindus are vegetarian due to their belief in non-violence (ahimsa). The Hindu religion also believes that the soul inside the body of an animal is similar to that of a soul in a human body - another reason for not eating animals. 


Jains also believe in ahimsa (non-violence), but it is followed much more strictly than in the Hindu religion. Jains are strict vegetarians and some choose a vegan diet to reduce animal cruelty even further. www.ivu.org/religion/articles/foodgods.html#jai


 While many Jews continue to eat meat, Jewish ritual slaughter rules were introduced originally to reduce the suffering of animals being killed for meat. However, many Jews now opt for a completely or partially vegetarian diet because they are against factory farming and cruelty in general. www.ivu.org/jvs/


Rastafari is a religion based in Jamaica. Its followers believe in the teachings of Hailie Sellasie I, the last Emperor of Ethiopia, whom they worship as an incarnation of Jah, or God. Many Rastarians follow an I-tal diet, a type of vegan diet. Others may abstain from eating pork or certain foodstuffs but are not strictly vegetarian. http://www.ivu.org/people/music/marley.html


Claimed to be the oldest religion, it began some 3,500 years ago in what is now Iran. Although descended from old Indian and Iranian beliefs, modern Zoroastrian emphasise personal religion and choices. God is seen as the good Creator of all things physical and spiritual and has no responsibility for evil.  Evil comes from the Destructive Spirit (Angra Mainyu) whose nature is destructive and violent. The world is the battleground for good and evil. 
Zoroastrians believe in life beyond death, and judgement, which consigns a person to heaven or hell. The are no dietary restrictions but vegetarianism is seen as part of the 


Sikhs are free to choose whether to adopt a vegetarian diet or meat eating diet. Sikhism is a liberal, tolerant faith that acknowledges personal liberty and free will. This faith offers spiritual, ethical and moral guidance to a fulfilling way of life rather than a list of strict rules. However, many Sikhs do opt

Other religions:

Religions such as JudaismChristianity and Islam do not promote vegetarianism, but do not discount it as a way of life. In fact, groups such as The Catholic (Christian) Vegetarian Society believe that vegetarianism compliments their religion. There are also significant numbers of  Jewish vegetarians.
Can you follow your religion and be vegetarian?
Vegetarianism does not get in the way of religious beliefs; in fact it is possible to eat Halal and Kosher while maintaining a vegetarian lifestyle. Some Jews and Muslims are vegetarian to prevent religious slaughter which they believe to be cruel because the animals are conscious throughout.
Ethics without religion:
Some people do not follow a religion, but nonetheless try to live in an ethical way, eg Humanists or other atheists. They may be against eating meat because they believe that it is wrong to take a life. Many people find it hard to justify an animal’s death simply for taste; because humans do not need meat to live they regard killing animals as cruel and unnecessary.
Q: Which religion strictly follows a vegetarian diet?
A: Jainism
Q: What is ahimsa?
A: It is the belief in non-violence
Q: Why are many Buddhists vegetarian?
A: Due to the founding principle of Buddhism that one shall not take a life
Q: Is it mandatory for Sikhs to follow a vegetarian lifestyle?
A: No, but they are welcome to if they so choose.
Q: Why might a Muslim or Jew choose to be vegetarian?
A: Because they disagree with religious slaughter, in which the animal is unstunned and conscious throughout