Doesn't God give humans permission to eat meat in Genesis 9?

St. Jerome wrote: "As to the argument that in God's second blessing (Gen. 9:3), permission was given to eat flesh--a permission not given in the first blessing (Gen. 1:29)--let him know that just as permission to put away a wife was, according to the words of the Savior, not given from the beginning, but was granted to the human race by Moses because of the hardness of our hearts (Mt. 19), so also in like manner the eating of flesh was unknown until the Flood ..."

It is a sign of our poorly developed theological understanding that anyone uses Genesis 9 to justify the violence and cruelty inherent in today's factory farms and slaughterhouses. In Genesis 9, God makes a covenant "between [God] and [humans], and every kind of living creature." It is important to recall that by the time of the flood, God had come to realize that human hearts are "set on evil from childhood" (Genesis 8), and it is in the context of evil that God allows both eating animals and slavery in Genesis 9 (it is interesting to read the congressional debate between 1820-1865, in which one finds U.S. senators and representatives utilizing Genesis 9 to justify slavery as a part of God's plan). There are a host of stipulations about how to treat slaves and how to treat animals, but both are allowed, perhaps because by allowing them, God can then make them less vile by creating laws to temper human cruelty.

In the instance of eating animals, God recognizes that people will eat animals (violence has already taken over the Earth) but admonishes that "you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is its blood." This means little to us now, as most meat-eaters simply pick up a cellophane-wrapped hunk of meat from their grocer's freezer. But in context, this is a revolutionary passage in defense of animal welfare. At the time when Genesis was written, people would routinely hack bits off of animals (e.g., a donkey's leg or a camel's hump) and then pack the wound in salt, keeping the animals alive in complete and utter misery. God recognizes that humans are going to kill and eat animals, just as God realizes that humans are going to hold slaves, neither of which are actions consistent with God's ideal plan as presented in the Garden of Eden and the vision of Isaiah 11. Although God recognizes that people will eat meat, God requires that meat-eaters kill animals before eating them and sets up a variety of laws regarding the consumption of animals. For more on this topic, please read the question, "If God doesn't ordain meat-eating, why are there so many laws about what meat is and isn't clean, and why doesn't Jesus condemn meat-eating outright?"

A complete reading of Genesis 9, with God's covenant with all flesh, both humans and animals, as well as the begrudging line, "Fear and dread of you will be in all the animals …" paints a very clear picture of a God who is horrified by human violence and exploitation. It is hardly humanity's finest hour when we find animals living in fear and dread of us. Who of us has not seen a dog or a cat who has been abused and cowers in fear of any human contact? Is this what we aspire to with cows, pigs, chickens, and other animals? Of course not.

On today's farms, animals are treated like machines, never granted the Sabbath rest required by God or any of the consideration that is their due as God's creatures. Within days of birth, for example, cows have their horns torn from their heads and chickens have their beaks seared off with a hot blade. Male cows and pigs are castrated without painkillers. All of these animals spend their brief lives in crowded and ammonia-filled conditions, many of them so cramped that they can't even turn around or spread a wing. Many do not get a breath of fresh air until they are prodded and crammed onto trucks for a nightmarish ride to the slaughterhouse, often through weather extremes and always without food or water. The animals are then hung upside down and their throats are sliced open, often while they're fully conscious.

The only legitimate Christian response to such mockery of God's beautiful creatures is to adopt a vegetarian diet.

The Nazarenes of  Mount Carmel
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