“In the end, she went quickly with very little discomfort, and surrounded by her loved ones.” Thus spoke Sir Paul McCartney, four days after the death of his wife, Linda, as rumors swirled that Mrs. McCartney, suffering from breast cancer, had ended her own life in an assisted suicide at age 56. The rumors were fueled by the McCartney family’s misleading reporting of her death. The family’s publicist, Geoff Baker, had initially stated that she died while on vacation in Santa Barbara, California, but news media in Tucson, Arizona, where the McCartneys owned a ranch, reported that she had died there. Two days after Sir Paul’s comments, Linda’s physician (who did not attend her death) confirmed that she had died in Tucson, claiming that her death was due to natural causes as a result of breast cancer. Whether from lack of evidence or a rare fit of decency, the media then dropped the assisted suicide story. But on the Internet and among Beatles fans, the rumors persist.

Unless her family decides to talk, we’ll probably never know the full circumstances of Linda McCartney’s death. But the rumors themselves—even if they’re not true—are interesting. For many years, Mrs. McCartney had devoted her energies to the “causes of vegetarianism and animal welfare,” or as we say here in the provinces, animal rights. Sir Paul, in fact, proclaimed that “The tribute she would have liked best would be for people to go vegetarian, which, with the vast variety of foods available these days, is much easier than many people think. She got into the food business for one reason only, to save animals from the cruel treatment our society and traditions force upon them.” Linda was. Sir Paul stated, “the kindest woman I have ever met; the most innocent. All animals to her were like Disney characters and worthy of love and respect.”

Is it possible that a woman who held such respect for the lives of animals—including Mickey and Dumbo—would hold so little for her own? Possible, yes, and even probable, because the animal rights movement is based on a perversion of both nature and human nature, a perversion which elevates the relative worth of animal life and consequently denigrates human life. Consider the radical implications of Linda McCartney’s desire to “save animals from the cruel treatment our society and traditions force up on them.” Clearly, fulfilling that desire requires remaking society and destroying those traditions. For the animal rights movement to succeed, the chief tradition that must be destroyed is Christianity, for its unequivocal support of man’s stewardship over animals and its recognition of a hierarchy in nature present a stumbling block and a moral challenge to those who compare chicken farms to Auschwitz.

Why, then, did one of the most radical branches of the animal rights movement. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (which Linda McCartney had long supported, both morally and financially), recently institute a Christian branch, complete with a website (www.iesus-online.com)? Is it possible that animal rightists are finally recognizing that Christianity presents a moral foundation for the proper and humane treatment of animals? A quick visit to the Jesus Online website will dispel any such illusions. As the site loads, a Renaissance painting of Christ appears in the middle of the screen, above the words, “Jesus was a Vegetarian.” The best way to undermine a tradition is from within, and the strategic planners at PETA are loaded for bear. Web surfers, looking for Christian websites, type “Jesus” into a search engine, and up pops the PETA site. (On one popular search engine, Yahoo!, Jesus Online was among the top ten sites listed for “Jesus.” Perhaps because of this, the site has proved very popular, logging over 20,000 hits in a mere two months).

The opening page of the website asks, “Did you know that . . .

—Jesus was a vegetarian. The Gospels were edited in the 4th century, but Jesus’ vegetarianism can be discerned through extra- Biblical accounts and sound reason.

—The last supper was vegetarian. If Jesus had not been a vegetarian. there would be accounts of Jesus eating lamb at Passover.

—The multiplication miracle did not include fish. The fish in the story are symbolic of Christians, the multiplication a sign of the burgeoning church.

—Jesus calls for mercy and compassion

—which are the opposite of torturing, killing, and eating God’s creatures. In the U.S., more than eight billion animals are killed every year for food. The vast majority of these animals are raised on “factory farms.” Every one of those animals has a capacity for pain and suffering, just as our own cats, dogs, and other companion animals, and in fact, just as we do.


At other points in the site, various claims are made: “in Genesis 1:28, God calls for human stewardship of animals, immediately afterward commanding a vegetarian diet”; “there is convincing evidence that Jesus was an Essene,” a sect of Judaism to which John the Baptist may have belonged and which avoided meat; “the Church, following Jesus’ lead, was vegetarian for its first three centuries.” The evidence for these claims is, however, sorely lacking.

I called Bruce Friedrich, the Vegetarian Campaign Coordinator for PETA and a Roman Catholic. Friedrich, who has been with PETA for two years, says he “converted to vegetarianism” (an interesting choice of words) 12 years ago while a student at Grinnell College. A cradle Catholic, he claims that his faith (and the writings of the Reverend Andrew Linzey, an Anglican theologian and author of Christianity and the Rights of Animals and Animal Theology) led him to vegetarianism. Friedrich says that PETA created the Jesus Online website for both religious and animal rights purposes, although the site is aimed only at converting Christians (and Jews) to vegetarianism, not vegetarians to Christianity.

Since the Jesus Online site claims that God commanded a vegetarian diet in Genesis 1, I asked Friedrich how he explains the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4:

Now Abel became a shepherd and kept flocks, while Cain tilled the soil. Time passed and Cain brought some of the produce of the soil as an offering for the Lord, while Abel for his part brought the first-born of his flock and some of their fat as well. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering. But he did not look with favor on Cain and his offering, and Cain was very angry and downcast.

And, of course, Cain went on to kill his brother. (When I asked my wife how one might reconcile PETA’s claim that Jesus was a vegetarian with Genesis 4, she replied, “Well, God isn’t a vegetarian, but you know kids.”) Friedrich’s response, however, was somewhat less satisfying than my wife’s, and it established the pattern for our discussion. Genesis 4 is a “parable,” you see, and the real point is that Cain is his brother’s keeper. We can’t take specific references to animal sacrifice, or to God’s approval of such sacrifice, literally because there are other passages (which Friedrich is willing to take literally) in which God, through His prophets, states that He never asked for sacrifice. Likewise, Christ’s command to Peter (in Matthew 17:27) to “cast a hook [and] take the first fish that rises” is a “parable,” as is the story of Christ casting the demons into a herd of swine, “and at that the whole herd charged down the cliff into the lake and perished in the water” (Matthew 8:28-32).

Granting Friedrich’s misuse of the word “parable” (a technical term which refers to short stories used to illustrate a deeper spiritiial point), are there any references to Christ approving of animal sacrifice or the eating of animals that aren’t parables? Friedrich claimed that there are none, not even Matthew 5:23- 24:

if you are bringing your offering to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, go and be reconciled with your brother first, and then come back and present your offering.

Nope, another parable, even though Christ did not have to tell his disciples to continue with the offering after the reconciliation.

Friedrich argued that “most non-fundamentalist biblical scholars do not believe that the loaves and fishes miracle took place,” nor that any of the events after the Resurrection (such as Luke 24:42- 43: “And they offered him a piece of grilled fish, which he took and ate before their eyes”) actually occurred. But Friedrich and his “non-fundamentalist biblical scholars” share this with their fundamentalist counterparts: a willingness to distort the Scriptures in order to make them fit their own preconceptions and agendas. Friedrich’s explaining away of every biblical scene involving meat reminds me of the Maranatha Fellowship Christians-good teetotaling fundamentalists—who argue that there are dozens of Greek words for wine, and that the one used in the story of Christ’s miracle at the wedding in Cana (John 2:1-12) refers to non-alcoholic grape juice! (“Everyone serves good grape juice first and the worse grape juice when the guests are well juiced; but you have kept the best grape juice till now.”)

Not surprisingly, Friedrich’s understanding of Christianity is not very different from conventional liberal theology (he cites Rudolf Bultmann as a typical example of a “non-fundamentalist biblical scholar”). When I asked him how proof that Christ was not a vegetarian would affect his faith, he argued that man has “evolved” since Christ’s time: “Jesus doesn’t condemn slavery or go as far in inclusivity for women and children as he might have.” But Christ’s message, says Friedrich, is “one of compassion,” and so even if Christ were not a vegetarian. Christians today—evolved as we are—should be (just as Christians in 1860 should have been Abolitionists, and should have campaigned for women’s suffrage in the early decades of this century).

Friedrich’s emphasis on “compassion” points to an important difference between, say, the Catholic abstention from meat on Fridays (or even the Seventh Day Adventist abstention from meat altogether) and animal rights vegetarianism. Catholics abstain from meat as an act of sacrifice, the giving up of a positive good, for their own spiritual discipline, not because it is immoral to eat meat. Orthodox Christians spend up to a third of the year in fasting and abstinence, but as Orthodox Bishop Kallistos Ware writes in The Orthodox Way:

We do not fast because there is anything in itself unclean about the act of eating and drinking. Food and drink are on the contrary God’s gift, from which we are to partake with enjoyment and gratitude. We fast, not because we despise the divine gift, but so as to make ourselves aware that it is indeed a gift—so as to purify our eating and drinking, and to make them, no longer a concession to greed, but a sacrament and means of communion with the Giver.

But “Christian vegetarianism,” with the welfare of animals as its motivation, is nothing more than “Social Gospel” Christianity applied to a new “victim” group.

I expected Friedrich to answer my final question—”As a Catholic, how do you reconcile the Eucharist with vegetarianism?”—by dismissing Christ’s words in John 6:53-55 (“In all truth I tell you, if you do not eat of the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. . . . For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink”) as another “parable.” Instead, he defended transubstantiation, the Catholic doctrine that the bread and wine become Christ’s body and blood, and argued that “it’s not a violation of the spirit or principle of vegetarianism.” But if “Christian vegetarianism” is not based on the avoidance of flesh, then what is its basis? Ultimately, according to Friedrich, “the issue has to do with consent and acting within a being’s interest.” Christ, in instituting the Eucharist, consented to the eating of his flesh. Animals, however, cannot offer such consent.

Which brings us back to Tucson, to the McCartney’s ranch. If the taking of animals’ lives is wrong simply because consent can never be given, what about the taking of a human life when consent is given? Could an animal rights activist like Linda McCartney go to Dr. Kevorkian with a clear conscience? Could an animal rights activist like Sir Paul morally stand by and watch his wife end her life? Could Dr. Kevorkian be an animal rights activist in good standing? The answer to all three questions, it would seem, is yes. By elevating animals above their natural position, humans denigrate their own lives, and Christianity is destroyed in the process.