By pattrice jones
Written on Christmas Day in 2002, this essay has been widely published and reprinted.
As the Christians gather to celebrate the birth of the founder of their religion, I find myself asking a question that I wish Christians would ask themselves: Who would Jesus kill?
Lately many Christians have been using the simple question, “What would Jesus do?” to help them make ethical judgments that are consistent with their religious beliefs. This holiday season, as Americans discuss the prospect of war over dinner tables groaning with factory farmed meat, the most apt variant of “What would Jesus do?” is: Who would Jesus kill?
Most Christians envision Jesus as the “Prince of Peace” and remember his injunctions to turn the other cheek and refrain from casting the first stone. Even those who imagine Jesus as an avenging warrior do not conceive of him smiting the innocent or torturing the helpless.
Yet, this holiday season, Christians across the USA are sitting down to dinners centered upon the carcasses of tortured and innocent animals. The top topic of conversation: Whether and when to attack Iraq.
Before I go further, let me make it clear that I don’t think the United States ought to make policy decisions on the basis of the Christian faith. I believe in the separation of church and state and I devoutly wish that we had that here in the USA. The fact remains that I have the leisure to write this essay today specifically because a Christian holy day is recognized as a national holiday. George W. Bush and his cabinet regularly invoke religious imagery, speaking of a “crusade” against “evil,” while the the members of the Senate and the House get together to sing “God Bless America,” rather than the secular national anthem.
Therefore it is reasonable to ask ourselves and them: Who would Jesus kill?
Would Jesus kill Iraqi children so that the friends of Dick Cheney can gain control of Iraqi oil reserves? Would Jesus kill Iraqi mothers so that armament companies can profit from perpetual warfare? Would Jesus kill Iraqi wildlife in order to replace one undemocratic regime (Saddam Hussein) with another (military occupation)? Would Jesus kill any Iraqis at all, since there is no evidence that Iraq is a threat to us or anyone else?
Jesus is sometimes imagined as a judge. I wonder whether judge Jesus would approve of the USA casting the first stone against alleged Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, when the USA has more weapons of mass destruction than any other country, the USA has pulled out of international treaties limiting weapons of mass destruction, and the USA has announced an official policy of preemptive first use of weapons of mass destruction?
I wonder how Jesus would judge the honesty of the Bush regime’s efforts to trick the public into supporting an attack on Iraq? Jesus would know that Israel and Turkey (not Iraq) are the most flagrant violators of UN directives. Jesus would know that an attack on Iraq would make terrorist attacks on the United States more (not less) likely. Jesus would know about all of the hospitals and homes and houses of worship leveled by US ‘precision’ bombing over the years and know that such attacks are part of a deliberate (not accidental) military strategy intended to demoralize the population.
Jesus would know that anything the government of Iraq has done — invading other countries, oppressing its own people, deploying weapons of mass destruction — the government of the USA has done more often and to worse effect. Jesus would know that the only just resolution of the conflict between George W. Bush and Saddam Hussein would be a peaceful compact rather than a violent conquest. Jesus would know that violence only begets more violence.
People of every faith see themselves and their religions as embracing peace and love. Most Americans think of themselves as peaceful people. How is it that people who imagine themselves to be peaceful are so easily persuaded to embrace war?
Every Sunday afternoon, I participate in a small peace vigil in a nearby town. Right across the street from where we stand are three fast food restaurants serving a distressing array of unhealthy and unethical foods. Staring across at those restaurants last week I began to wonder if the American diet might help to explain the ease with which Americans are persuaded to embrace violent solutions to problems.
Meat eating is an unnecessarily violent solution to a problem. As every healthy vegetarian demonstrates, it’s just not necessary to eat meat. Meat eating is killing for pleasure rather than killing for self defense. When we encourage our children to eat meat, giving them the wings of dead birds as after-school snacks, we teach them to place their own pleasure over the right to life of another being. When we allow egg factories and dairies to brutalize animals while polluting the environment, we teach our children to have reckless disregard for the environment and for the feelings of others. They grow up to be the kind of people who would rather spill blood for oil than give up their SUVs.
Would Jesus kill the little chickens? Six weeks old they are when the people come to take them to the slaughterhouse. They’ve never seen the sun, never breathed fresh air, never met their mothers or jumped in a mud puddle. Would Jesus kill the little children? Over 800 million people, most under the age of five, live with hunger and malnutrition. Yet precious food is wasted as animal feed, at a rate of about ten pounds of grain or soy for every pound of meat produced. Every two seconds, another child dies of a hunger-related illness. The average meat-eating American consumes enough plant, water, and energy resources to feed 20 people a healthy vegetarian diet.
Who would Jesus kill? The answer, of course, is: No one. This holiday season, I hope that his followers will choose peace in their daily lives and in the policies of their governments.