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When You Hear “Veganism Is Just A Religion”

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I find that one of the most common objections to veganism from non-vegans is the classic line – “but isn’t veganism just another religion?” I’m sure we’ve all experienced this at some point in our conversations with non-vegans, and it’s an easy one to rebut. You simply explain how veganism is based on moral principles that recognise the fundamental right of sentient beings not to be used as property; it is no more a religion than being opposed to rape or child molestation is. It’s a matter of basic morality – not faith. Most of the time, the non-vegan will not have an answer to that. You’ve guided them to the realisation that, just as they hold solid moral principles with forms of exploitation they do recognise, veganism represents a set of moral principles that they haven’t recognised so far in their lives – but which are very much there. You’ve successfully rebutted their idea that veganism is a religion of some sort, by connecting the dots of exploitation, and showing them that animals, as sentient beings, have the same right not to be treated as resources as the victims of oppression that the non-vegan does recognise. If they want to call veganism a religion at this stage, they would have to call any moral position concerning the exploitation of humans a religion as well. Thankfully, most don’t, and at this point are on the same page as you – at least so much in not calling veganism a religion any more.

There are, however, some people who really won’t give this argument up, and – despite your rational rebuttal – remain steadfast in their nonsense. If this happens, there’s another argument that I find useful to throw in the mix – and it really stumps them. It involves the work of philosopher and private property theorist, John Locke (1632-1704), which Professor Gary Francione discusses in his book – Introduction To Animal Rights. Locke’s theory on private property is enshrined in our common law to this day, and dictates our interactions with both animal and non-animal property. Locke believed that we had a natural right to own private property based on the labour that one exerted into a thing. The interesting thing is that, Locke’s theory of private property – which is what keeps animals relegated to the class of things today – is informed entirely by religious belief.

He maintained that humans owned everything in common – as per gods will. But due to his interpretation of Genesis 1:26, he believed that gods grant of “dominion” over animals meant that it was cool with god for us to exploit animals. This was where it became tricky for Locke, though, because even though everything was owned in common, that didn’t help us progress profitably as a society. He maintained that if humans were going to make use of natural resources – including the animals to which we had “dominion” over – we needed to be able to take things out of the common and appropriate them for our use. This is where he devised his system of labour. For example, someone could go out into the woods – where everything was owned in common – and pick some apples and berries. By exerting labour over the apples and berries, that person had taken those things out of the common, and appropriated them for their use. In doing so, the human – via exerting labour – had made those apples and berries their property.

This heralded the beginning of the system of private property that we use today. It gave the one who exerted the labour complete control and use of whatever they had taken out of the common. Locke believed that god had given humans exclusive control over animals, and that through the exertion of our labour we could take animals out of the common – where animals were already lesser than humans, as per his interpretation of Genesis – and appropriate them to pieces of private property to use, sell, and engage in just about any other legal interaction between property owners you can think of. This was how it had to be if we were to make any sort of profitable use of the animal population. Locke believe this was gods will.

And so the claim that veganism is a religion is really quite ironic when you consider that the entire foundation of non-veganism – the system of private property that keeps animals treated as nothing more than things in the first place – is founded entirely on religious belief. Non-veganism represents the blind acceptance of someones interpretation of a religious text; veganism is about recognising and elevating the victims of that oppression to rightful personhood and full membership in the moral community.

If the non-vegan is religious themselves, the same argument will apply to them. It is the interpretation of the religion that is wrong. Whatever their religion, it can and should be interpreted in a peaceful way. There will be aspects of their religion that they ignore that involve the oppression of others – women and homosexuals, for example. They have made a conscious decision to ignore those parts of a religious text that constitute unjust violence or discrimination to others, based on their own principles of morality. It’s just a case of showing them that they are required to do that in the animal context too.

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  • KP

    Well, this is so cute! And flattery will get you everywhere. Early Enlightenment thinkers eh?

    Well, according to the gospel of St. Francione this is the holy word.


    “It is taken for granted by most economists and political philosophers that John Locke was in some sense a precursor of the labor theories of value of the nineteenth century British Classical School and of Karl Marx, yet there is a wide divergence of opinion on how Locke’s work anticipated and influenced the work of later political economists.”

    Vaughn, Karen I. “John Locke and the Labor Theory of Value.” Journal of Libertarian Studies 2, No.4 (1978): 311-326. [accessed 8/11/16]

    Do you honestly think no scholarship has occurred since the late 17th early 18th CE in regards to a wide open field like the concept of private property, labour etc? If so Ben, you are nothing but an arrant, irresponsible fool.

    St. Francione has presented his interpretation of Locke, to assume as your article does that it is true and correct when Locke has been dissected, analysed and as Vaughn states, there are many different analyses of what Locke ever brought to the table and to what extent. I personally think Locke is quite flawed, a product of his time. and always have. Your assertion that somehow any labour theory of value is directly based upon Locke and tainted in the extreme is just idiotic and academically dangerous, to the point of being deliberately misleading and irresponsible. Uneducated people without the grounding may fall for this kind of macabre academic pretension (mere parroting that of another) but it’s not at all academically sound. Locke is close to irrelevance full stop.

    Claiming that only one academic in 400 years has a correct opinion on Locke is just absurd. The fact that the only academic that will ever be quoted is St. Gary Francione further entrenches a quasi-religious, dim view of this and other articles.

    I feel Ben you are incredibly out of step. Homosexuals? The last time I remember the gay liberation movement (as opposed to the “homophile” Mattachine Society and Daughters of Bilitis), well that was Stonewall 1969 on.

    How relevant are you? This website, your information? My husband is bi, I’m gay, it’s 2016 and I’m not sure if you have heard of this – but these days we have this non-exclusionist term and acronym LGBTIQ, and community! I don’t think I have ever thought of myself as a “homosexual”, indeed the only time one usually reads that term in the everyday vernacular is from conservative, disapproving religious people…

    How can one be on the same page as someone who only pays lip-service to modern thinking? Do you also consider black women and men as “male and/or female members of H.sapiens, Negroid-type”?

    Talk about alienating people. This article further underlies the sect-like, insular refusal to engage with “the other”.


    Truly astounded.

    • AlpineJim

      Quite a rant over small beans there, KP. But hey, academia in the humanities perpetuates itself by overanalyzing trivia and making mountains out of molehills, so I understand.

      I do agree with your conclusion that bringing John Locke into the argument isn’t the best approach
      to arguing that non-veganism is based far more on religion than veganism. Veganism is quite secular in its roots, quote mining from holy books by religious vegans notwithstanding.

      Indeed, modern society’s moral views, unfortunately, still seem to be based more in religion than in the modern thought of professional ethicists in areas where the two diverge (especially in the US). Nowhere is this truer than in the question of whom it is okay to eat or exploit, and under what circumstances.
      Most people’s, including some of the most adamant atheists’, views on the ethics of eating come directly from religious traditions, whether they realize it or not.

      Vegans, much more than any other group, have stepped far back from religious, supernatural, and metaphysical views on the matter to assess it objectively and empirically in accordance with our best science to date, and with appropriate empathy. I believe this, along with comparing veganism to the refusal to rape or murder, is the best argument against those who erroneously and ignorantly claim that “veganism is a religion.”

      • KP

        “Quite a rant over small beans there, KP. But hey, academia in the
        humanities perpetuates itself, at least in part, by overanalyzing trivia
        and making mountains out of molehills, so I understand.”


        1. It should disturb you that those of us in the humanities know how you think and can attempt to manipulate and control you. Often with success. The worst culprits are those with legal degrees (the majority of politicians).

        2. Gary Francione is firmly in the humanities and professionally is a legal scholar.

        Lastly, I particularly understand now why Corey Wrenn was ejected from your midst.

        I refer to your complete dismissal of the use of a non-exclusive sterile term like “homosexuals”.
        This is not “small beans”.

        There are countries in this world where people are locked up and tortured for their sexuality.

        Hard-fought battles to eradicate discrimination worldwide are casually tossed aside.
        WE are lesbians, gay (male or female), bisexuals, transgendered, intersex or identify as queer.

        What is a homosexual? Typically, a man. I think you would be hard-pressed to find even a single man in most countries who would even self-identify as a “male homosexual” rather than “gay” (or the linguistic equivalent) – and that is just scratching the surface. Where are the lesbians, the bisexuals, the women who identify as being gay women, transgendered people, intersex and those whose sexuality is non-heterosexual but self-define as queer?

        I see no concordance with even Francione’s attempts to link human interactions with a holistic worldview – that all citizens of the world are equal.

        We are unequal. Dismissed as “homosexuals”.

        You are only talking to yourselves. Not women, not the LGBTIQ community, not anyone really. Not even to other vegans. Maybe to the “vegansexual”. (Really? This is a thing? Okaaay…sounds sectsy to me!)

        Francione’s complete and utter inability to connect with a reality not his own (white, privileged and removed) is exposed brutally.

        To ignore the reality of torture, beating and death based upon human sexuality by the perpetuation of the dismissive term “homosexual” puts a much darker spin on Francione’s agenda.

        Time not to mince words – he doesn’t give a crap about anything but animals. The rest is mere window dressing, cynical academic posturing and career brownie points.

        • AlpineJim

          Let me clear up a few things.

          First, I’m not an abstraction, or an undereducated person, or a Trump voter, and certainly don’t fit into an abstract category of people who are easy to understand, manipulate or control. If anything, I’d be more likely to understand, manipulate and control your average humanities academic rather than the other way around. And of the best manipulators in the humanities, I’d likely have a stalemate.

          Second, although I agree with the vast majority of what Francione has written (and therefore was part of his fan club along with Corey Wrenn more than a few years ago and went with the flow at the time instead of being openly critical), I am not in his fan club anymore. In fact, at best, I am ignored by Francione and the present fan club; at worst, I am hated by Francione and the present fan club. I got booted from the club for agreeing with Wrenn that Francione had a diplomacy problem. I also see him as spending far too much time and effort in Donald Trump-like ego battles on Facebook with other vegans instead of educating non-vegans, especially given that, as Francione never tires of saying, it’s a zero sum game in how we spend our time.

          Third, I was primarily (almost solely) dismissing your rant about using Locke in the argument that veganism is not a religion. To me, your complaint about the use of the word homosexual was incidental, and at least somewhat valid; I would not have commented at all if that’s all you wrote. FWIW, I strongly agree with you that homophobia (or should we say LGBTIQphobia?) and violence and discrimination against LGBTIQ is a very serious problem. I’m all for strong laws protecting the civil liberties of LGBTIQ. I don’t think, however, that people using the word homosexual are necessarily dismissive of LGBTIQ concerns. They might only need some diplomatic education on how that word is perceived in the LGBTIQ community.

          • KP

            Nah, Ben is a 35 yo moderately successful alt/electronica muso acc. to W’pedia who grew up in Melbourne and based in Iceland and I truly doubt has not been exposed to the sexually bent!

            Stonger together I say! (blatant plug for Clinton)

          • KP

            Eh, I just realised this site and articles are nothing but an agit-prop frontsite for Francione. As long as the main message “Ethical veganism – we recommend you read Francione on this” over and over occurs, that’s all that matters. Pure unadulterated agit-prop. Unsub.

      • KP

        Iain McGhee

  • Alan

    Hahah, I like it, using the concept of private property to defend your weird new-age religion of veganism! lol. Funny how every single vegetable-head following your religion I’ve ever met or talked to has been, shall we say, a bit left of center lol. Grow up and have a burger ffs

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