Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Genesis 1: Vegetarians and the Bible


What do Adam and Eve do in the garden before the fall? Genesis is relatively silent on the topic--at least from the Bible, we don't know much about what makes for a hot night out in prelapsarian Eden.

But wouldn't it have been nice of God to give the first couple recreational activities to keep them busy after the creation? You know ... something like "On the eighth day, God created a sweet bocce court and a small crowd of old Italian men to play with Adam and Eve." And "On the ninth day, God created an indoor ski resort like the kind they have in Tokyo, except with no chair lift lines ... ever." And "On the tenth day, God created a Playstation 3 and an Eden-friendly version of Grand Theft Auto where no cars are stolen, no whores are abused, and no drug dealers are killed."

God would see everything that he had made, and indeed, it would be awesome.

But if we don't know what there is to do in Eden, at least we know what there is to eat. And the menu, my fellow carnivores, is meat-free. That's right, Eden before the fall is a big old Moosewood Restaurant, full of delicious vegetarian options, and Adam and Eve may spend much of their time whipping up delicious plates of eggplant parmesan and nicoise salad.

Here's God to explain: "See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food" (1:29).

This command is for humans, but it turns out that the rule extends to the animal kingdom as well; God continues, "And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food" (1:30). That's right! In Eden, lions and tigers and bears eat legumes and turnips and beets. Oh my!

Said differently, the Genesis authors conceive of prelapsarian Eden as a violence-free zone. Even lions and lambs live in harmony, and never will a panther tear apart a gazelle. Nor, then, will humans kill or eat animals. Interestingly, this peace does not seem to be broken even by the fall--after all, Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit, not the forbidden Kobe beef burger.

It does change, however, after Noah and his family emerge from the ark eight chapters later. After God lets the flood waters subside, and after He shows Noah the rainbow, He also increases humanity's menu options: "The fear and dread of you shall rest on every animal of the earth, and on every bird of the air, on everything that creeps on the ground, and on all the fish of the sea; into your hands shall they be delivered. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and just as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything" (9:2-3).

Perhaps I'm just a little crunchy, but this seems a decidedly more depressing fall than the first one. No longer can people and chickens and bunnies and cougars sit down and share a nice plate of babaganoush--predation has been introduced to the kingdom, and things will never be the same. Because in Genesis 9, God opens the slaughterhouse.

But if God allows humans to eat meat in Genesis 9, he certainly does not command it. So perhaps vegetarianism represents a good-faith effort to recover a little bit of Eden--or a slice of paradise.

3 comments:

  1. Joshua, that photo distinctly reminds me of an 8th-grade research paper on John Calvin. There was a fantastic carictature I found in which satirists of the day composed his facial likeness out of animals (frog legs, I think). It would pair nicely with your vegetable man...

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  2. question: does God prefer angus beef or a veggie burger?

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