Monday, June 15, 2009

Fasting and the environment

Most religions have fasting disciplines. Christians have traditionally fasted on Wednesdays and Fridays, abstaining from meat and other animal products.

Now there have been proposals for new secular fasts, on Mondays or Thursdays -- for more information and links see here: Notes from underground: Meat-free Monday?

But perhaps there is a need for a revival of the fasting disciplines of the various faith communities.

It would be good if people could explain briefly what their fasting disciplines are in comments below.

For Orthodox Christians it is abstention from meat and animal produce (eggs, cheese, butter etc) on Wednesdays and Fridays, in Advent and Lent, and from today until 29 June, and the first fortnight of August.


Rory Short said...

Quakers do not have a fasting discipline as such. The reason, as I would see it, being that we see that life needs to be lived as an integrated whole. Early Quakers were no doubt having to grapple with a widespread misconception that for example as long as you were religiously observant on a Sunday it really did not matter that much what you did the rest of the week. As a consequence they had a strong reaction against accepting particular observances as they saw this approach as a way of avoiding personal acceptance of the full responsibility for all of one's life.

As I see it they did not see that particular observances could actually also serve a useful purpose if they were seen as training exercises to better prepare you for the rest of your life, your life as the spiritual being that you are.

Particlar observances do not absolve us from striving to live spiritually whole lives. Properly viewed they need to be seen only as exercises conducted to strengthen our ability to lead such lives.

Meat eating on the presently ever increasing scale that is happening is helping to totally destroy our environment and for that reason alone people should desist from it. If religious traditions revive their fasting traditions in order to also have this beneficial spin off that would be a very good thing.

There are of course other good spiritual reasons for not eating higher life forms like animals.

Alistair Clacherty said...

Any encouragement for reducing environmental impact is a good thing, whether it is faith-based or secular. However, we need to be clear why we are doing it, otherwise it becomes more-or-less mindless observance. From the environmental perspective, should we avoid all forms of meat? Or just those that belch methane while they are still alive? Or only those that are raised in 'meat factories' in cruel (I nearly said 'inhumane')conditions? What about the free-range goats, chickens and cows in rural areas? What about fish on the green list?

If one or two days a week is a good thing, is seven days better?

It would be interesting to read comments on questions like these.

Sir Just said...

The Buddha recommended that one should refrain from harming all living beings, and in accordance many of the Buddhist traditions today adhere to a vegetarian diet. But the Buddha never said that one may not or should not eat meat.

All his teachings are based on moderation, and self-control, and consideration for others (all living beings) as well as the balance within society.

Obviously back then there was not so much of a problem (back then being just under 2600 years ago) and hence much today needs to be adjusted or interpreted based on the intention, more than actual specific prescription or recommendation.

There is no doubt that from a health perspective alone it makes massive sense to not eat meat. The entire human body was not designed to rip flesh, thus we do not have claws or a suitable teeth structure. But what we do have are teeth suited for grinding and munching. Thus adapted to seeds, nuts, fruits, roots, all matters vegetable.

Our digestive tract is also much much too long to cope with the digestion of 'gluey' or stodgy food like meat, but also many baked foods. It takes too long for them to move through the digestive system, and so in many (most) instances the food begins to rot before it is again expelled. That also applies to most of the super refined foods that predominantly sell these days.

So if health alone would do it, then that would be great. Surely everybody is concerned about their own personal well-being? Yeah right. That is why so many people smoke, drink, do drugs, do not exercise, and hence we as a society are progressively getting fatter and fatter, and unhealthier and unhealthier.

So then what is the problem? Greed! And the sense that we have to satisfy our each and every craving and desire, and that it is our Human Right (or God given right) or whatever, to do what we want, when we want, how much we want, because ... because we can.

And in the process of that there is money to be made, plenty beautiful money.

In Buddhism there is a general awareness to refrain from harming, or causing harm to be done. Thus being a butcher or a hunter is considered an unwholesome livelihood. And all Buddhists are encouraged to try and observe vegetarianism, especially on the full and new moon days. But it is going to take a lot more than just spiritual advocacy to get people to stop eating meat.

Probably either a REALLY severe health threat, or meat simply becoming so expensive (which could of course be done artificially if they really wanted to) in order to simply not make it viable to buy meat. But the whole issue is so complex, and humans being as resistant to change as they are, even if it means long-term survival, indicates that it will possibly take a few generations for wisdom to prevail.

I guess it is the same age old aspect as in so many other instances when dealing with humans and their doings and not-doings. If we do nothing we know more or less for sure what the outcome will be, but if we try, and even if it is only a little bit, it may make a difference in the long run.

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