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Religion and Veganism

A comprehensive look at the history of world religions and vegan values.

The idea of veganism is often associated with modern trends in animal rights activism, environmentalism, and healthy living. However, the roots of this lifestyle choice can be traced back to religious traditions that have long advocated for abstaining from the consumption of animal products. In this article, we will explore the history and philosophy of veganism, with a particular focus on its religious origins and development.

Religion has played a significant role in shaping the concept of veganism, as many religious traditions have advocated for a plant-based diet as a means of spiritual purification, ethical conduct, and a way of life rooted in compassion.

Early Christians
Seventh-Day Adventist
Hindu and Buddhism

Early Christianity

While there is limited information available about the specific dietary practices of early Christian groups, some scholars have suggested that certain groups may have followed a vegan or vegetarian diet. Known groups that abstained from eating animal products include the Ebionites, Manichaeans, and Montanists. Some also suggest Nazarenes are included as well.

Scholars have limited knowledge on early Christian groups since most of their history have been erased due to other religious groups destroying their history. These groups have been targeted for their beliefs and persecuted. As you'll read later on about the Cathars, later religions like the Roman Catholic Church, have persecuted these groups to the point of the death of these people who followed these beliefs. So information is limited due to history and the people being erased, these groups had to worship and practice in privacy with their beliefs being hidden or obscured in writings.

Ebionites: The Ebionites were a Jewish-Christian sect that believed in the importance of Jewish law, including its dietary restrictions. They are known to have followed a vegetarian or vegan diet, which excluded all animal products, including meat, dairy, and eggs.

Manichaeans: The Manichaeans were a religious sect that emerged in the 3rd century AD, spread throughout the Roman Empire and into the East. They believed in the duality of good and evil, and taught that the material world was inherently corrupt. They followed a strict vegetarian or vegan diet in an act of purification of the corruption, which excluded all animal products. It was prohibited to slaughter or eat animals. Today, Manichaeanism is still practiced in small groups around the world, including in China, where it is known as Monijiao or Mingjiao, but practiced privately to avoid persecution.

Montanists: The Montanists were an early Christian sect that emerged in the 2nd century AD. They believed in the imminent return of Christ and the importance of living a pure and holy life. Some scholars have suggested that they may have followed a vegetarian or vegan diet as a means of upholding these principles.

The Cathars

Catharism was a Gnostic Christian movement that emerged in the 11th century in the Languedoc region of southern France. They were known for their belief in a kind of dualism, which held that there were two opposing principles in the universe: a good, spiritual principle associated with God, and an evil, material principle associated with Satan.

The Cathars rejected many of the teachings and practices of the Roman Catholic Church, including the sacraments, the veneration of saints and relics, and the idea of a hierarchical church structure. Instead, they emphasized the importance of personal spiritual experience and the pursuit of a simple, ascetic lifestyle. Cathars were strict vegetarians, and some sects even avoided using leather and wool. This commitment to a plant-based diet was seen as a means of achieving spiritual purity.

They also held the belief that the soul is eternal and that it can be reincarnated multiple times, potentially moving closer to spiritual perfection with each life. Reincarnation was seen as a means of working towards this spiritual liberation, as each life offered the opportunity to learn and grow, and to purify the soul of its attachments to the material world. The Cathar view of reincarnation differed from the traditional Hindu and Buddhist views in that they did not believe in a fixed cycle of rebirths, with each reincarnation determined by one's actions in the previous life. Rather, they believed in a more fluid and individualized process, where the soul could potentially progress or regress from one life to the next based on its own spiritual development.

Their beliefs and practices brought them into conflict with the Roman Catholic Church, which saw them as heretics and a threat to its authority. In the 13th century, the Church launched a crusade against the Cathars, known as the Albigensian Crusade, which was aimed at eradicating their movement.

The Albigensian Crusade was a brutal and bloody campaign that lasted for over two decades, and it resulted in the deaths of Cathars as well as many innocent civilians. Estimates of the total number of deaths vary, but it is believed that anywhere from 100,000 to 1,000,000 people may have been killed during the campaign.

Today, the Cathars are remembered as a persecuted and misunderstood religious group, who stood up for their beliefs and paid a heavy price for their convictions. While their movement may have been suppressed, their ideas about the importance of personal spiritual experience and the rejection of materialism continue to resonate with many people today.

Seventh-Day Adventist

The Seventh-day Adventist Church, officially established in 1863, encourages a vegetarian or vegan diet as a means of promoting health and preventing disease. Seventh-day Adventists are known for their emphasis on healthy living, and many of them follow a plant-based diet as part of their faith. Studies have shown that Adventists who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet have lower rates of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, which is attributed to the health benefits of a plant-based diet.

Some of the Blue Zones, which are regions of the world with the highest concentration of centenarians (people who live to 100 years or older), include areas where Seventh-day Adventists live. For example, Loma Linda, California, USA, is one of the Blue Zones, and it is home to a large population of Seventh-day Adventists. The Adventist lifestyle, which emphasizes a plant-based diet, regular physical activity, stress management, and social support, has been found to contribute to the health and longevity of Adventists living in Loma Linda.

Hindu and Buddhism

In addition to Christian traditions, veganism has also been influenced by Hinduism and Buddhism, two of the world's oldest religions. Both of these traditions emphasize the importance of nonviolence and compassion towards all living beings, and this commitment to ethical conduct has led many followers to adopt a vegetarian or vegan diet.

In Hinduism, the concept of ahimsa, or nonviolence, is a central tenet of the faith. This principle is rooted in the belief that all living beings are interconnected and that harming one being harms all beings. As a result, many Hindus adopt a vegetarian or vegan diet as a means of upholding the principle of ahimsa and avoiding harm to other living beings.

Buddhism also places a strong emphasis on nonviolence and compassion towards all living beings. The first pre cept in Buddhism is to abstain from taking the lives of sentient beings, which has led many followers to adopt a vegetarian or vegan diet. In addition to this, the concept of interdependence in Buddhism also emphasizes the interconnectedness of all living beings and the impact of one's actions on the environment and other living beings.

Veganism in Hinduism and Buddhism is not just about avoiding harm to animals, but also about ethical conduct and spiritual development. Many followers see the practice of vegetarianism or veganism as a means of purifying the body and mind, as well as cultivating compassion and nonviolence.

Islam and Muslims

Muslims follow a dietary code known as halal, which specifies what is permissible to eat and what is not. While halal meat is a significant part of the Muslim diet, there is growing interest among some Muslims in adopting a plant-based or vegan lifestyle.

Halal is an Arabic term that means "permissible" or "allowed" in accordance with Islamic law, or Shariah. In the context of food, halal refers to foods that are prepared and consumed according to Islamic dietary guidelines. These guidelines prohibit the consumption of pork, alcohol, and any other foods or ingredients that are considered haram (forbidden) in Islam. This also stipulates that food handled by someone who is not halal is also not halal.

Some Muslims who choose to follow a vegan diet do so for ethical reasons, such as reducing animal cruelty, promoting environmental sustainability, and improving their health. Many Islamic teachings emphasize the importance of caring for the environment and treating animals with kindness and compassion, which aligns with the principles of veganism.


Other religious groups that promote vegetarianism or veganism include the Jains, who believe in nonviolence towards all living beings, and some sects of Taoism, which encourage a plant-based diet as a means of promoting health and spiritual development.

In Conclusion

The modern vegan movement emerged in the 1940s and 1950s, and it was primarily driven by concerns about animal welfare and the environmental impact of animal agriculture. Veganism became a popular lifestyle choice in the 1960s and 1970s, as it became associated with the counterculture and the emerging environmental movement. Today, millions of people worldwide consider call themselves vegan.

As veganism has become more popular, it has also faced criticism and backlash from those who oppose it. Some argue that veganism is too extreme and that it is unrealistic to expect everyone to adopt a vegan lifestyle. Others believe that animal products are an important part of human nutrition and that veganism is an unnatural and unhealthy diet. Despite these criticisms, the vegan movement continues to grow, and many people around the world are embracing a plant-based lifestyle for ethical, environmental, and health reasons. As such, it is important to continue exploring the history and philosophy of veganism, as well as its impact on the world today.

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