This is a question I suspect few have asked, given the rarity of both groups of people, but it’s a question worth asking.
After all, I know many people (myself included) who came to their vegetarianism/veganism through honest critical thinking. Because they sat down, looked at the evidence, and decided that mindless conformity was not the answer. This is something the atheist/secularist/humanist community is no stranger too, and yet there seems to be a failing here.
Let’s not forget, many of the justifications for oppression have been almost entirely religious. It was, after all, God’s decree that women were inferior to men, blacks to whites, homosexuals to heterosexuals, et cetera.
So what about non-human animals? Well, according to even many of the more reasonable of the religious, non-human animals are God’s creation too. But, just like women and Africans and Native Americans, they were made, by design, to be inferior. After all, they don’t have souls right? And it’s not like they have the capacity to suffer in any meaningful sense. So by God’s will, let’s carve them up how we see fit.
Of course, anyone who is mildly familiar with evolution, animal behavior, or anyone who’s ever owned a pet is well aware that the claims often made by the religious regarding non-human animals are almost always false. I mean, it’s hard to claim that human beings are the only species with a moral intuition when altruism has been exhibited numerous times in the non-human animal kingdom, or that non-human animals are incapable of complex emotions like love, empathy, sadness, anger, et cetera.
So, why haven’t more Atheists and Humanists embraced vegetarianism/veganism? Why have we been blind to this particular portion of religious dogma?
I suspect part of it has to do with the fact that the big-name leaders within the movement haven’t called enough attention to it.
Take for example, this interview between Richard Dawkins and Peter Singer. In the interview, Richard Dawkins is surprisingly honest, going far enough to compare himself to Thomas Jefferson. Just like Jefferson knew that slavery was abhorrent, and yet still owned slaves, so too does Dawkins know there’s little in the way for any valid justification for a westerner like him to continue to eat meat. And yet, Dawkins isn’t a vegetarian (or at least, he wasn’t in 2009, and I have yet to hear anything different).
While I enjoy it so much more when people are at least honest with themselves as to why they continue to eat meat (as oppose to making up nonsense in defense), it doesn’t help anybody when you don’t act on it. I understand that for many people, such a dietary shift can be a daunting prospect. But if you are genuinely interested in maximizing the well-being of conscious creatures, eating meat is a large step in the wrong direction. And for someone like Professor Dawkins to come out and say “I’m a vegetarian”, well, that would do a lot for the cause.
So, to my fellow Secularists/Atheists/Humanists, I hope that we can continue to challenge religious dogmatism and promote a more compassionate world, even if that means embracing daunting lifestyle choices.