Spirituality and veganism may co-exist but cannot be conflated
This article is not a criticism of those who are religious/spiritual and vegan. This article will not assume that a vegan who is motivated by spiritualism is ‘less vegan’ than one who is motivated by secularism. What I aim to show with this article is that veganism and spiritualism cannot be conflated and by doing so we would devalue rational vegan philosophy. Before I begin, I believe it is important to state that I am not religious or spiritual and therefore arrive at this discussion with a secular outlook.
The elimination of certain animal products is a characteristic of many world religions and spiritual philosophies. From the non-consumption of pig flesh in Judaism and Islam, to the rejection of most animal flesh in some Buddhist sects, we see that belief systems historically have a tendency to forbid certain animal products. Spiritual philosophies often follow the same rules. From the age of pre-Socratic philosophers, such as Pythagoras, there has been a concern with humanity’s spiritual relationship with non-human animals. In recent years, spiritualist movements have embraced veganism. For example, I often hear fellow vegans talking about animal souls and spiritual interconnectedness. It can only be a good thing that more people are becoming vegan, whether it is due to their spirituality or not. The problem arises when vegan activism conflates spiritual beliefs and veganism.
One of the biggest problems I face when discussing veganism with non-vegans is the assumption that to be vegan is to embrace ‘hippy’ culture. They often believe that the rejection of all animal use is firmly in the domain of Eastern spiritual philosophy and therefore does not apply to them. I have to admit that I believed this stereotype before discovering secular vegan philosophy. I would openly claim that veganism is irrational because it is spiritual, and therefore I would never be vegan. As vegan activists, we must ask why is this the stereotype of a vegan? I believe the blame falls on two parties. Firstly, it falls upon the non-vegans themselves. When I claimed that veganism was equal to spiritualism, I was bypassing any real rational analysis. It doesn’t take much coherent thought to realise that the use of animals is morally wrong. It doesn’t even require one to read animal rights philosophy or to witness the horrors of animal use. Despite this, very many non-vegans I have spoken to have made the same assumptions as myself. This means that the second party whom blame falls upon has to be vegan activists.
Many vegan activists whom I know and respect, fall into the trap of equating veganism and spirituality. In their activism they may talk about god/s, the animal soul or other spiritual notions. This is not an inherently bad thing. If we were addressing a primarily spiritual audience, the inclusion of spiritual claims may help the vegan case. However, in reality our audience is composed of very many different belief systems and a rapidly growing presence of atheism. Due to this, the conflation of spiritualism and veganism acts as a great barrier. If the majority of our audience reject what we say because it contradicts their belief system, we must change our approach. Every non-vegan, has the same belief that we must oppose- that it is morally acceptable to use a non-human animal. A religious person may justify this with their holy book and an atheist may justify this with their societal values, however the core belief is the same. Due to this we must embrace an approach that can deal with this issue, no matter the justification.
This approach has to be secular. Secular abolitionist vegan moral philosophy does not require one to reject any other beliefs, other than that animals are ours to use. The audience will not react against secular justice in the way they would against spiritual. A spiritual argument can quickly descend into religious debate, which is an area of debate that would be best to avoid. On the other hand, a secular argument should always remain grounded in rational discussion, and through this veganism will win every single time. If secular rational thought was at the centre of our vegan activism, the ‘hippy’ vegan stereotype would dissolve. I believe this would break down a huge barrier within vegan activism, and therefore allow us to more efficiently advocate against animal use.
To conclude, if spirituality and veganism exist in a symbiotic relationship, this can only be a good thing. If a spiritual or religious person feels motivated by their spiritual beliefs to become vegan, we should embrace them. However, as activists we must observe our audience, their preconceptions and belief systems. Our vegan advocacy has got to be applicable to every non-vegan and not just those who share our spiritual beliefs. Activism is a performance in which we must react to the changing dynamics of our audience in order to achieve fundamental justice. By embracing secular abolitionist veganism, we can convert one non-vegan at a time, whether they are Muslim or Buddhist, atheist or Jew.