[Update July 6, 2021: This is Carl Skriver’s lecture at the 1982 World Vegetarian Congress in Ulm, Germany; he died in 1983. Translation is by Michael Skriver, his son. Skriver is the author of “The Forgotten Beginnings of Creation and Christianity.” A reader kindly pointed out that this article, which I had originally put on my web site in 2005, had inadvertently been dropped, and I am now adding it back in.]
Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends:
I had the honor to speak to you last time in Ronneby, Sweden, in 1973; and in 1965 in Swanwick in England. I’m very glad to meet you now again in Germany. In my long life, dear vegetarian friends have died, while others have been born or converted to vegetarianism. I still miss many faces from the “old guard”: Mr. Rudd, Mr. Mankar, Dr. Robinson, Dr. Røgler, and others. I greet both the old and the new friends and all fellow vegetarian workers.
To my new friends I will now introduce myself. For more than twelve years, I was a member of the Executive Council of the International Vegetarian Union, and became afterwards one of the vice-presidents. I am also a life member of the British Vegan Society. I have been a vegetarian since 1920, and a vegan since 1948 — so I have been a vegan for 34 years and am still alive! For many years I was a clergyman of the Evangelical Church of Sleswick-Holstein.
But now to the subject matter at hand: the origin, fate, and aim of vegetarianism.
The Loneliness of Vegetarians
A vegetarian is a stranger on earth, a foreigner in a bloody nonvegetarian world whose law is the law of the jungle.
I know that you will not like this angry truth. I am sorry, but I have more than enough experience to verify it. Of course, it’s very pleasant to spend your holidays at this beautiful conference at Ulm, and to live with such a wonderful group of vegetarians. It’s a great good fortune to see so many people of good will; to see people who feel, think, live, confess, and defend the vegetarian way of life, the Pythagorean way of life.
But we must be sober enough to realize that very often in life vegetarians are quite alone in their world; at best they may share their vegetarian values with their family. For the last 25 years I have shared my vegetarian life only with my family, and have served as a pastor in my parish. The parishioners are farmers and cattlemen who have been quite content with their pastor; but they can’t understand how an otherwise reasonable man would want to be a vegetarian. They can’t imagine getting rid of their cattle, except by slaughtering and eating them, with the help of the rest of mankind. I must tell you that I haven’t converted a single farmer, or Christian minister, to vegetarianism. It was hopeless to convert them, to save them, or to change them. That isn’t to say that I never converted anyone to vegetarianism, or that I never helped fasten a vegetarian down to their vegetarian beliefs. But farmers and ministers were a barren soil.
I have had other bad experiences in my long vegetarian life. In the past 60 years, the world population has increased tremendously, so that by the end of the century there will be more than six billion humans on the planet. Most of them are not vegetarians, unless you count the starving and impoverished as “vegetarians.”
Now consider: has the vegetarian movement in this time increased in the same proportion? Have we carried our message to the media, to doctors, and to the churches? Has our message been any louder than it was 60 years ago? No, it certainly hasn’t. Perhaps the world has been tolerant of us, but it hasn’t changed its mind or its eating habits.
In The Best of Reader’s Digest, February 1982, it is stated: “About 500,000 vegetarians are living today in the Federal Republic of Germany.” To begin with, this number is probably exaggerated. But even if it is accurate, not even 1% of this number are in the German Union of Vegetarians! And that means that not even 5000 people in West Germany have enough of a sense of responsibility to help support vegetarianism. Moreover, West Germany has 60 million inhabitants. This means that for every 120 Germans there is only one single vegetarian! And that’s not even to consider what kind of vegetarians these people are. I don’t believe that the situation in the other Western countries is going to be substantially different.
So what does reality look like for the animals? Consumption of animal products — meat and milk products — is rising continually among the “civilized” countries of the world, as it has for the past 200 years. These “civilized” countries will soon consume over 100 kilograms of animal products per person. As a consequence, we have had to deal with many medical problems; we have had to deal with diseases such as heart disease and heart attacks. Even medical science is beginning to warn us against these excesses. But its advice, at best, amounts to no more than this: eat a little less meat, but don’t become a vegetarian!
Since the foundation of the International Vegetarian Union in 1908, not one slaughterhouse has been demolished in the entire world. Nor have we done any better with vivisection and laboratory experiments! What have we done for the world, except to enjoy our noble food and our lessened food expenses? Have we organized Easter marches against slaughterhouses and vivisection in the middle of our hypocritical Christian world?
I accuse myself as well as others. In my life I have been more of a writer than an activist. Humans are not idealists by nature. Rather, they are lazy, egotistical, and exploiters and plunderers of nature. Nature is often evil as well, forcing men and all living beings to struggle for existence. If humans only follow the principles of nature without ethical control, the consequences are that we will have meat eating and a population explosion.
The Religious and Ethical Hope of Vegetarians
But humans, fortunately, can transcend nature. They are the offspring of the divine, of God; they have a memory and a longing for a better world than that of a crass struggle for existence. Humans long for nonviolence, forgiveness, and peace.
So what is the true aim of our vegetarianism? Not just to be a bit healthier than others; but rather to have more justice, peace, and security for all humans and all animals. Our aim is a world without rifles and arms and butcher’s knives, without general carnivorism. Moral values are necessary for life, and are especially necessary for society. They are as essential as eating and drinking. “Man shall not live by bread alone,” or even by bread with salad, but also by obedience in harmony with God’s will.
Vegetarianism in and of itself is not a sufficient philosophy of life. Peace is not a part of vegetarianism, but vegetarianism is a part of peace, a part of ahimsa and nonviolence. Scientific persons sometimes say that we are damaging vegetarianism if we mix up arguments about vegetarianism with religious or ethical questions. On the contrary, we are damaging vegetarianism if we only worry about calories and digestion. If we have only a narrow scientific point of view to the exclusion of ethical problems, people who are seriously concerned about these problems will turn away from us with contempt.
And what good does vegetarianism do us, if tomorrow a nuclear war breaks out and destroys us all? We vegetarians must also struggle against needless death, for life everywhere, and for the abolition of arms. Aristotle called man a “zoon politikon,” a political animal. Therefore we must not only grow our salad and cabbage but also work for a reasonable peace and justice on earth. This is what Tolstoy and Shaw did before us, and we should follow their example.
On the other hand, man is not only a mortal creature in this material world, but also an eternal part of the spiritual world beyond. No one can deny that the founders of religions, and the great poets and philosophers of antiquity and the eastern world like Mahavira, Buddha, Krishna, Hesiod, Pythagoras, Jesus the Nazoraean, have all been at the forefront of the struggle for worldwide vegetarianism on ethical principles — for the sake of animals and humans. In ancient times, the religions marched at the head of progress.
In one of the oldest messages of mankind, the book of Genesis, it is revealed that in the beginning God created a vegetarian world. The first creation in the now-lost Paradise, and even the beginning after the “Fall” (Genesis 1-3), was entirely vegetarian. And in the beginning Christianity was vegetarian as well! How could it have been otherwise, if Jesus Christ should be considered the Savior and Redeemer of all creation, if he had forgotten the animal world, if he had not demanded the conversion and return of creation to the original vegetarian beginning! He would say to our sinning meat-eaters: “Get thee behind me, thou art an offense unto me, for thou savorest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men!” (Matthew 16: 23)
Here is the actual teaching of Jesus the Nazoraean (Matthew 23: 25-27):
“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess.” (Better translated: “but within they are full of robbery (of life) and debauchery or gluttony.”)
“Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter (that is to say: your food), that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, for you are like unto white sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward (beauty covering cruelty!), but are within full of dead (animals’) bones, and of all uncleanness.”
Jesus frankly says: You flesh-eating men are like walking, traveling tombs! He could not have interpreted his own message about carnivorism any better. But as John says: “He came unto his own, and his own received him not.” (John 1: 11). Jesus warned his own followers of himself: “Blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.” (Matthew 11: 6) More exactly translated: “Blessed is he, for whom I am not scandalous, not shocking!” If the churches understood the true teachings of their Master, they would be shocked.
During the first three centuries Christians refused military service and were living vegetarians. Jerome, the great learned man in the 4th century, lived and taught the true Christian tradition: “Jesus Christ has lead back (or restored) the end to the beginning, so that now we are no longer allowed to eat meat.” And Origen, the famous Egyptian father of the church, stated: “We Christians no longer guide the sword against a nation, and we no longer learn the art of war; because by Jesus, who is our leader, we have become sons of peace!”
How much has Christendom failed true Christianity, to the harm of both humans and animals! Buddhism and Christianity once abolished the sacrifices of animals, and thus their culture and life became vegetarian. But the later great folk-religions of both confessions have continued sacrificing animals in pagan slaughterhouses. Thus it has been in the nations of India, China, and Japan, and in all of Europe and America. That’s what I call the betrayal of the animals by the churches and by the great religions. So much about the fate of vegetarianism in our earthly world.
Will We Survive?
And what is our fate — the fate of vegetarians?
You would have to be very uninformed not to be able to sense the despair and anxiety of our time. Many people fear the end of the world, the Last Day, the fulfillment of the revelations of many prophets such as St. John, Nostradamus, and others. Doomsday is announced by many ancient and modern prophets. Fortunately, they have often miscalculated.
But this time we do not only hear the voices of doubtful clairvoyants, but also serious scientists. Astronomers are investigating the lining-up of the planets. Geologists are announcing the possibility of various imminent disasters with devastating results for continents, islands, and living beings. And in 1986 we must fear another meeting of the earth with Halley’s comet.
But even if you disregard all these speculations, no reasonable person can deny the great danger of a Third World War and a nuclear holocaust. This is the situation in which we are all living — all of us, including even we vegetarians who are now attending the 26th World Vegetarian Congress with its wonderful motto: “For a human world at peace.” We are always living at the risk of our lives, in danger of death and catastrophe. Therefore we should not be careless and flippant because nothing has happened thus far.
What should we do then, in these last decades of the 20th century, at the end of the second millennium? It’s not going to be enough to put our heads into the sand like ostriches. Of course, I hope never to live to see the convulsions which some geologists are predicting, or to experience first hand the Third World War. But that is a personal escape and not a solution to these problems.
What should be done? The first thing is the old-fashioned deed of penitence. Jesus began his gospel with the admonition: “Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” But that is a translation which has been worn out by the church’s use of it. In the original Greek it means: “Change your mind! Renew your thoughts and deeds! Return from error to truth, from the evil to the good! Deliver yourselves from evil!”
All the prophets of Doomsday describe vividly the wrath and anger and revenge of God towards this wicked world. Their God acts like the devil — with thunder, fire, water, and earthquake. But at this point Christianity must repent; it must correct even its present “Christian” belief and religion. The unknown Jesus the Nazoraean taught quite another doctrine about God than we are told about in school or church. In the Bible, in the first letter of John, Chapter 1, verse 5, we read:
“This then is the message (the decisive message) which we have heard of him, of Jesus, and declare unto you, that GOD is LIGHT, and in him is no darkness at all!”
That’s a totally new message! That means: wars, atomic/ bacterial/chemical weapons, industrial plundering and poisoning of the soil, water, and air, and also earthquakes, thunderstorms, typhoons, floods, and so on — all these dark things have nothing to do with God, who is only light, life, and love. These evil things have other causes. They are caused by violent wrongdoers on earth, or by evil beings or demons. Even the cruel forms of disease and death are not inventions of God. “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death” (I Corinthians 15: 26). Is God his own enemy? Jesus said: “The world cannot hate you; but me it hateth, because I testify that the works thereof are evil” (John 7: 7).
It is not the good God of love, but men and other beings who have been the destroyers of this world, down to this very day. They are digging their own graves. Jesus said: All of you will be offended because of me, for nobody will change their thoughts and turn away from their ways of thinking, neither Christians nor anti-Christians! You all are offending God by your wrong and evil ideas! “But blessed is he, whoever shall not be scandalized by me!” (Matthew 11: 6)
Martin Luther was convinced in the 16th century that during his life the final days would break out. But he resolved: if tomorrow is the end of the world, I will still today plant an apple tree and pay my debts! That’s a wonderful attitude, worthy of our imitation.
Above all: even in an infernal catastrophe, if we are suffering an individual or a common death, our souls will overcome and our eternal life will continue. We shall survive; and if we were better than this world, we shall meet again in better regions. In considering the end of this world, however, we shall never give up our protection, conservation, creation, and maintenance of peace; and we shall make good our mistakes and omissions.
We vegetarians are not just dreamers; we are sober realists. We are not near-sighted materialists, but radical and consistent idealists. In short, we are realistic utopians. We are representatives, servants, and advocates of all good ideas in the spiritual world — light, love, and peace. We vegetarians are charged with the task of recalling and reconstructing the origin of all religions. That origin is peace and vegetarianism.
Till the end of our earthly life and the end of time, we will work for a better world. We will engage in passive resistance against all evil. We will participate in the movement for peace, disarmament, political and social justice, and for the protection of nature. We will participate in the movement for reverence and renovation of life, for the abolition of slaughterhouses and vivisection. We will work for the abolition of alcohol, smoking, and drugs. We will work for the abolition of hunting and trapping, for beauty without cruelty.
In short, we will work for a vegetarian world. We are not talking about vegetarianism for a minority, but vegetarianism for all mankind. We are not talking about a vegetarianism which tolerates the slaughterhouse; we must cleanse the temple of the vegetarian movement, and cleanse the temple of our bodies as well. It is our task to point out the forgotten sins of mankind and of Christianity.
Tolstoy said: “As long as there are slaughterhouses, there will also be battlefields.”
And George Sand, the famous French woman author of the 19th century whose real name was Aurore Dupin, wrote these words:
“It will be a great step forward in the development of our race, if we become fruit-eaters and meat-eating disappears from the earth. Everything will be possible on earth, from the moment when we abolish bloody meat meals and war.”
We intend to carry out a food revolution the abolition of meat eating just as we once abolished cannibalism. Our aim is in agreement with God’s original will and plan for creation: the return to UNIVERSAL VEGETARIANISM! That is an act of penitence, not an act of unrealistic fantasy.
Dear friends, you are mistaken if you think you have just been listening to a sermon. No; this is a fair account of our dangerous and tragic situation in 1982. Thank you!