lisaveg4498A couple of years ago, Becca and I had a college friend over for dinner. Hadn't seen him for years. An engineer and a gentleman. We had a great time catching up, and inevitably he asked about my work.

He listened thoughtfully as I filled him in on the nonreligious parenting book I'd just released, nodding his head, occasionally making a supportive sound or saying "Wow, that's really great stuff you're doing." But I could tell there was something left unsaid.

Right in the middle of the Long Minnesota Goodbye (Step 2, I think -- standing in the living room with coat in hand, talking), he came out with it.

"I think what you're doing is awesome. I'm so impressed. I'm a Christian myself. Doesn't make sense, I can't support it, there's no logic behind it, it's completely unreasonable, but there it is."

I knew by his tone and tempo that he was uneasy divulging this, figuring I'd think less of him, or worse, try to talk him out of it. To discourage this, he'd headed straight into L.M.G. Step 3 (slip one arm into jacket, keep talking) just in case he'd have to bolt.

I assured him it was completely cool, to each his own, etc. But my inner jag-off was thinking, "No, it's not OK. Different belief, fine. But you don't get to just sidestep the question of whether your worldview makes any sense. Beliefs have consequences. You don't get to hear my evidence and then say, 'I just don't wanna!' "

And that's when I heard it -- another person in my head, clearing his throat and staring accusingly at my inner jag-off with a wry smile. The jag fell silent and wet himself, ever so slightly.

The accuser was my inner vegehumilitarian.

Ever get into a discussion of religious beliefs, only to have the other person sort of glaze over and look away? Nod, grant you every point, then just...shrug and smile? Nothing drove me nutsier during my brief secular-evangelical phase than this shrugging disengagement. I mean, what's the friggin' point in having Kevlar arguments if the other person refuses to shoot??

Then came the day I felt myself doing exactly the same shrug.

For me, the topic is vegetarianism. I should be a vegetarian. When my dad died, my doctor told my mom that a genetic vascular defect in Dad's head most likely caused the aneurysm, and that we kids could easily have it as well, and that to keep our blood pressure under control and for several other reasons it would be a good idea for us to consider vegetarianism.

When Mom shared this with me, I glazed over, shrugged, and took another bite of my wiener.

Years later I came across the moral dimension, most vividly in the documentary short Meet Your Meat. I was and remain horrified at such depictions of animal cruelty in our food production system. I had to glaze over and shrug especially hard to finish my tangerine beef.

I told myself for years that we need the protein, or that there's not enough variety or interest or texture in vegetarian cuisine, despite massive evidence to the contrary. Let that phrase echo a bit: Massive evidence to the contrary...ary...ary...ary.

Please don't think I'm being glib. I'm exposing myself as indefensibly inconsistent and hypocritical. I'm much worse than people who don't know why they shouldn't eat meat because I KNOW WHY. Have I examined and refuted these arguments like the good rationalist I am? No, because there is no refutation. I don't go vegetarian for one vague and pathetic "reason."

I don't wanna.

I don't even know what that's supposed to mean. Why don't I want to? Dunno. It doesn't get patheticker than that.

So whenever my inner jag-off tries to kick-start a smug, self-righteous response to someone who's sinking into glazed disengagement in the face of the three hundred excellent arguments against religious belief, I have only to call forth my inner vegehumilitarian. This does NOT mean I disengage from challenging toxic religious ideas. I obviously don't. It simply means I start from a position of empathy for the believer -- a much more effective starting point if we're ever to make headway.

And I hope for similar mercy from all the vegetarians shaking their detoxified heads at me. Don't stop trying to get through my glaze, but please -- have mercy.
A dose of humility for carnivorous atheists

Excellent reasons to be an atheist
Excellent reasons to be a vegetarian
Famous atheists
Famous vegetarians
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Comment by Фелч Гроган on May 27, 2009 at 12:24pm
Sydni, Meat - the way it should be.
Comment by Dale McGowan on May 27, 2009 at 11:57am
Oh I agree entirely. I've begun doing those exact things. But the reason I'm a hypocrite has to do mainly with personal family health history and my glazed inattention to it. Animal politics is there as well, but secondary for me.
Comment by Фелч Гроган on May 27, 2009 at 11:43am
Dale, I was just wanting to point out you can eat meat and not feel guilty. Its not too hard. Probably even easier than losing the guilt about going to titty bars. Just eat less and eat higher quality.
Comment by Фелч Гроган on May 27, 2009 at 11:36am
Dale, as always, articulate and insightful; hopefully something will rub off on the film reviewers and single-link-no-description posters that fill the front page up. But, I think you are being somewhat myopic singling out carnivores. It is similar to human rights activists becoming focussed on Palestinians to the exclusion of all else, or greenies on whales. On a subconscious level it is perhaps understandable. The desire to do the right thing needs to focus on something finite, because the big picture is just too overwhelming. You can't see an elephant through a microscope.

I am an unrepentent carnivore. I neither feel the need to apologise, nor mend my ways. I eat meat without the slightest pang of guilt. As do chimpanzees who share so much of our DNA. But factory farming and production methods can't be condoned in any way, I'm 110% in agreement there. They fill pretty much anyone who becomes aware of them with revulsion and disgust. So why are they permitted to exist ? The answer is much simpler than most would want to believe - it's a habit that's as old as whoring or our love affair with intoxicants. Avoiding consequences. That's what's the root of pretty much all of the wholesale corruption that our species accepts as "normal".

To re-word what I've said in an older thread elsewhere. Take a look at the people we call "leaders". The one thing they have in common , be they theist, secular, corporate and especially intelligence/security/military, is the obsessiveness with which they hide from the consequences of their actions. Deep down they know what they are, yet to see them in all their raw and brutal glory would crush their psyches. So they hide and erect armies whose sole duty is to prevent the outside world from presenting their consequences to them. I don't believe either Cheney or Rumsfeld would have the stomach to do the hands on work in the black sites they use in foreign countries which they swear are critical to their "war on terror". Nor do I believe that corporate executives could stomach life in the massive call centres they erect to cut costs on genuine face to face customer service. Nor bankers if they had to personally participate in foreclosing on debt crippled families and throwing them out on the street. These things can only exist if the consequences are buried from sight and the instigators shielded from repercussion. In this respect the Talibans, the Emperor Bokassas and Saddam Husseins of this world are more fundamentally honest than any of our leaders here in the west - they don't shy away from their actions, they revel in them.

The problem with meat is the same - every effort imaginable is undertaken to disguise the fact the processed meat on your plate is pretty much the same as that on the critters at the petting zoo you take your kids to. Never let the consumer think about it. You want ethical humane treatment of animals by the meat industry ? The quickest way to fix it is to make carnivores be involved up to their elbows in it. If you can't slaughter and dress a carcass, fine, you stay a vegetarian. The rest of us who don't would pretty much eliminate intensive farming and production methods as they exist today, because confronted with the consequences, we would do it a much better way.

It is safe to say that the more highly processed a meat product is, the more inhumanity was involved in making it. That means your fast food industry. You want to attack the cause - that's where you start. Not with Wagyu - I doubt any of those cows are unhappy. Good quality meat never comes from a badly treated animal (apart from foi gras perhaps).

Imagine a world where we couldn't hide from consequences ? Pretty scary.
Comment by Dale McGowan on May 27, 2009 at 11:28am
All good and thoughtful points, felch. As for "singling out carnivores," this piece is intended to demonstrate a hypocrisy of mine, not to comprehensively address this or any other issue.
Comment by Daniel W on May 26, 2009 at 10:29pm
Very nicely written, humble and honest. Also, nice neologication.

As a vegetarian, I can assure you that we are not all detoxified. Some of us regard nacho chips and french fries as vegetables, and chocoholicism is rampant.
Comment by Scott M on May 26, 2009 at 8:58pm
Well-spoken sir, and entertainingly too.

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