Veganism as a secular spiritual practice

Reposted from NonProphet Status | Oct. 6, 2014 

It has been a few weeks since Vlad argued that all atheists should be vegan, but the conversation has continued though responses here on NonProphet Status, on NPR, and in Time. I’ve enjoyed the discussion immensely, and while I agree wholeheartedly with the ethical and moral arguments put forward, I have different reasons for why it’s important for me, from a secular perspective, to have a vegan or vegetarian diet. Primarily, I see vegetarianism or veganism as a form of spiritual practice—an essential part of my humanism that connects me not just to other living beings, but also to the broader world around me.

I’ve been nonreligious for about 10 years, and I’ve been very happy in that time. There have been moments, though, where nonreligious life seems particularly isolated—there is no god or community to rely on, and independence, in my case, started to resemble self-centeredness.

To find answers, fulfillment and meaning, I had to look internally. I realized that the space in my life believers filled with God, I was filling with what I happened to care about at that moment. Christian philosopher Paul Tillich described faith and religion as dealing with matters of “ultimate concern,” and for a while, at least, that ultimate concern was myself.

I felt like I was missing a connection to something greater and outside of me. As I was having these realizations, I was reading “Acts of Faith” by Eboo Patel, founder of the Interfaith Youth Core and guru to all of us interfaith activists. In describing a meal he, as a Muslim, was sharing with a Hindu woman, Patel explored his date’s reasons for being a vegetarian. For her, what she ate was a question of faith, and faith is about deepening one’s spirituality. I realized that in order for me to more meaningfully hold my secular faith in humanity, and in the world around me, I should practice that in a daily tangible way. I needed that spiritual connection to something outside of myself.

This was the moment where I decided to stop eating meat. I knew if, every day, I made the decision not to eat meat, not only would I be connected to something external to my own being, but I would also be humbled. Recognizing my place as only one of many living things deeply connected me to this planet. More than that, it connected me to a cause and greater good only possible if I go beyond self-reliance.

As Sunday Assemblies and Humanist Communities gain traction in the secular community, our social needs for community are being met. But I’ve found that our inner, private lives can often be left unfulfilled. We have few daily activities that let us reflect on our values, connect to what we care about, and cultivate ourselves into the people we want to be. Here, we can look to religious and nonreligious traditions for inspiration.

While I recognize this is not right for everyone, a vegan diet is the only way for me to live out my humanist values. Compassion and humility have now become daily reminders that embody my concern for all living creatures.

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