Most religions have some kind of special relationship with certain animals: many have special diets; the Old Testament, for example, lists a series of dietary rules that various religions still follow.
But most Christians today, when thinking about their diet, weigh more economic and health issues than theological ones.
As is often the case when looking to scripture for answers, interpretations of what the Bible says about whether or not humans should eat other animals vary widely.
David Grumett, Professor of Christian Ethics at the University of Edinburgh, confirms that there is no single view in Christian theology when it comes to eating animals.
But he recommends that if meat is eaten, it should be done from an ethical perspective: «The animal must be well raised. There must be knowledge of how they have been treated because they are gifts from God. And when they are sacrificed, it must be with the least pain and suffering possible,» adds Grumett.
What does the Bible say?
But other religious have a more radical point of view. For example, Professor Corinne Painter of Washtenaw Community College believes that Christians have a responsibility to abstain from meat and believes that they necessarily follow a vegetarian diet.
«Christians have a moral duty to eat food that is not the result of undue suffering, unfair treatment, or induced premature death of sentient beings; they must be clearly interested in avoiding suffering and in protecting their lives , which God declared to be valuable,» he told the BBC.
Despite this good interpretation of the scriptures, some Christians eat meat.
A spokesman for the Church of England explained that there are three different positions on whether meat should be included on the menu or not. There are people who refrain from eating meat for ethical reasons, while others do so because they believe it is a message from the Bible.
But it’s safe to believe, they explain, that the majority view is that «there are no theological objections to eating meat, considering that God gave man dominion over the rest of what he created.»
«In the Bible eating meat is assumed to be normal and good,» the spokesman said.
Medieval Vegetarian Monks
But conflicting interpretations aside, there is a long history of Christians abstaining from meat.
In the medieval era, there was a complicated system of feasting and fasting, in which meat could be eaten only on certain days.
Monks avoided her as they were believed to carry impure thoughts, which was a real challenge when leading a monastic life. However, they did eat fish.
Professor Grumett sees a connection to the present of those past traditions: «Monks can be seen as the predecessors of modern vegetarians in the sense that they have a much stricter discipline in terms of the diet they chose as part of their the life they want to lead.»
And there are examples of Christian vegetarians in more recent times.
The now secular Vegetarian Society, which was a pioneer in this area, was originally created within the Christian Church of the Bible in the mid-19th century.
The movement did not reach out to other congregations.
In Professor Grumett’s opinion, the tendency did not have a greater acceptance in the Christian Church due to the eccentricities of the founder of the movement, Reverend Cowherd.
«Cowherd based the belief on some strange interpretations of the Bible. For example, he expected that animal sacrifices in the Old Testament were actually animal skins with fruits and vegetables inside,» he explains.
Of the general British population, about 2% follow a vegetarian diet.
Although there are no official statistics on vegetarian or vegan Christians, they are represented by reputable societies and voices.
The UK Vegetarian Christian Association believes, according to its manifesto, «to promote a way of life that represents good Christian service and is consistent with the belief in God who created, affirmed and will redeem all creatures.»
For the Reverend Andrew Linzey, who is a theologian at the Center for Animal Ethics at Oxford University, the Bible’s message in this regard is clear: «People always remember that we have been given dominion over animals, which says the chapter 1 of Genesis, but they forget that two verses later we are given a vegetarian diet»
Professor Linzey refers to the verse in Genesis 1:29, which says that God gave man «every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food.»
«The important thing is that the original diet given by the Creator is vegetarian. Even though we live in a fallen and alienated world, we should at least try to get closer to God by becoming vegetarian.»
«God gives life to animals, their value and dignity. Where we see meat, we should see a creature with feelings that God loves,» the reverend maintains.
But Professor Grumett believes it’s possible to be a Christian and eat meat, but it’s important to be responsible for where your meat comes from in moderation.
«Being a vegetarian is not a requirement of Christianity, but it is the way some groups of Christians have been called to live their Christian lives.»
The Church of England recognizes that this is a debate that will continue over time, regardless of whether Christians abstain from eating meat for theological or ethical reasons, or decide to stick with the majority and continue to eat it.