11 Mar 2015

Veganism and Religion: What's the Connection?



I'm not a religious person and never have been. I don't identify with any particular religion. I'm open to the possibility of the existence of a higher being, but it's not something I think about too often. From what I've seen and read, many vegans follow a similar philosophy, or reject the existence of a God or deity entirely. So why are vegans so commonly aligned with religious groups?

Many people like to compare veganism to religion, alluding to some strong connection between the two concepts. Some extremists refer to veganism as a kind of religious cult. These ideas probably arise from the similarities between veganism and religion, of which there are quite a few.

"Many people like to compare veganism to religion, alluding to some strong connection between the two concepts."

I'm going to answer a few questions on the subject, based entirely around my own opinion.

Is veganism like a religion? If so, is that good or bad? Are there enough similarities between the two movements to form a strong connection? What exactly are the similarities and differences?

First, we should look at why people compare veganism to religion. In almost all cases, I'm certain their motives are negative. They generally see religious folk as annoying, preachy and arrogant. So, when they compare us to these people, they must see us in the same way. This is likely because of ignorance, misinterpretation of the vegan message, or too much experience with the select few genuinely preachy, annoying vegans.

They compare us to religious folk because they want to insult us. This is usually a result of guilt - vegans "force" people to think about the source of what's on their plate (something they really don't want to do) and so they take to insulting us in an attempt to make themselves feel better.

Despite this, there are some positive facets of religion that are also found within the vegan movement. One example is the the collective bond between members. Many vegans feel an almost automatic connection with each other and are able to form strong relationships based around their common moral beliefs. We have websites, social groups and forums dedicated entirely to the vegan movement in which members can support each other. Many religious groups do the same.

Religion is also largely built on a strong foundation of morals and ethics. Religious groups tend to follow a strict set of rules revolving around what they believe is right and good, just as vegans do. Although the moral beliefs of religious groups and vegans are very different, both groups are equally as passionate about upholding these beliefs.

"Since religious groups and vegans are so passionate about their beliefs, they're both renowned for encouraging others to join their movement."

Since religious groups and vegans are so passionate about their beliefs, they're both renowned for encouraging others to join their movement. When religious groups encourage others to join them, this is often seen as 'preaching' or 'agenda-pushing'. Since religion is so personal and subjective, and since there are so many branches of it, it's understandable that religious 'preaching' isn't taken lightly. Veganism, on the other hand, is based largely around facts rather than opinions or subjective beliefs. Vegans can agree that our collective goal is to make the world a better place for animals; while religious groups hold hugely different beliefs and goals.

When religious groups seek out new members, they may have malicious intentions (such as with some extremist groups). Vegans, on the other hand, always have positive intentions when encouraging new people to join the movement. After all, as more people join, more animals (and the environment) will benefit.

Religion isn't always about compassion, while veganism always is

While veganism has its roots in spreading messages of good health and compassion; some religious groups have a much less positive reputation. Some groups - such as the Westboro Baptist Church - are known for spreading aggressive, hateful messages. This is where one of the main differences between religion and veganism lies. Vegans always have positive intentions, while religious-folk occasionally do not.

The main difference between veganism and religion is that veganism is rooted in scientific fact. There's no doubt that animals must die for humans to eat meat. There's no doubt that cows must be impregnated and male calves are often sold or killed for humans to drink milk. There's no doubt that factory farmed male chicks will be killed soon after birth, or that farmed animals almost always live in horrific conditions. Religion, as mentioned earlier, is instead based entirely around subjective belief and personal experience. We can't be certain that God exists, but we can be as certain as humanly possible that animals suffer, and that meat-eating is connected to animal suffering.

"While religion can be positive and beneficial for many people, and while many vegans are indeed religious, the two subjects are not directly related in any way."

All of this considered, we can conclude that veganism does have some trivial similarities to religion, but the differences greatly outweigh them. When non-vegans compare veganism to religion, they're almost always doing so out of guilt, ignorance, anger, or all three. The connection doesn't actually exist. While religion can be positive and beneficial for many people, and while many vegans are indeed religious, the two subjects are not directly related in any way; except, for some, on a personal level.