I became a vegetarian, and then a vegan, when I was in college, and I had no idea how it would change my life. It wasn’t just the food I ate or the clothes I wore; it marked the beginning of a transformation in my world view.
Although I was raised as an Easter-and-Christmas church attender, and had always considered myself “Christian” (like nearly everyone in my small town), it wasn’t until those same college years that I started discovering a faith of my own and seeking to follow Christ. I spent a lot of time reading the stories of Jesus’ life, and I was beginning to understand for the first time what the gospel actually meant.
Here’s the sum of it:
Jesus [perfect in his divinity] humbled himself and came to earth, where he lived perfectly and gave his own life, taking on the wrath that we [sinful in our humanity] deserve. The cross is the symbol of this sacrifice by the innocent for those who do not deserve it, and this is the hope by which those of us who follow Jesus build our lives.
As I learned more about and understood this truth, I couldn’t help but begin contrasting it with the modern institutions I take part in every day. My journey started with animal agriculture, but it wasn’t long before I was thinking about the workers producing my cheap garments and goods, and about the environmental impacts of our culture’s ever-increasing consumption.
At the heart of the problems with these institutions is an obsession with self:
- I enjoy eating meat.
- I don’t think I could ever give up cheese.
- I like wearing the latest fashions at low prices.
- I need the newest phone.
It’s not surprising; people have always been self-centered. But every one of our choices has an associated cost:
- The animal who lives miserably and dies miserably so that someone can enjoy a 20 minute meal.
- The people who work in dangerous conditions and survive on pitiful wages so that companies can undercut each other on price.
- The environment which cannot replenish itself at the rate we are depleting it, and the individual humans and other living beings who suffer disproportionately from environmental degradation.
When I look at each of these areas where we turn a blind eye to the hidden costs of our convenience and enjoyment, I see something contrary to the gospel. I see myself asking others to sacrifice on my behalf, of making myself more important than they are, and putting my wants above their needs. This is not the example Jesus gave when he sacrificed himself on the cross. He had every right in the universe to leave me as I was, and he gave everything, his very life, for me. I want to follow his example, and learn what it means to let the last be first. Now that I know better, I want to do better.
This isn’t a cut and dry sort of thing. There are probably many Christians who disagree with me on the ways in which we carry this forward, and I’m happy to be part of the conversation. But for me the point is, now that I’ve begun to understand the consequences of my actions, I want to change my actions to direct them toward consequences that help others rather than harm them. I choose a plant-based diet as my way of removing myself from the animal agriculture equation. I’m seeking to reduce my consumption, and when I do make purchases, to choose items that are made in ways that take care of the individuals who produce them as well as the environment. This sometimes means sacrifice on my part, and I’m okay with that. I have a good example to follow.
In the future, I’ll be sharing more about how I have been approaching this on a more practical level. My hope is not to set another bar that other Christians have to meet to be “good enough,” but to help us think about ways in which we can better reflect the gospel to the broken world around us.
So, here’s to doing better.