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Hunting and Eating Animals—Another View

David Langness | Oct 23, 2015

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

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David Langness | Oct 23, 2015

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

…all phenomena are divided into that which eats and that which is eaten. – Abdu’l-Baha, Foundations of World Unity, p. 52.

“Do Baha’is agree on everything?” Someone asked me the other day.

No, they don’t. After all, Baha’is come from all cultures and civilizations, from every race and tribal group, from all social classes, from every nation on Earth. Baha’is think independently, and because the Baha’i Faith has no clergy, dogma or orthodoxy, are free to think as they see fit.

So while Baha’is definitely agree on the core principles of their Faith, we can also differ substantially in our views and opinions about many things. Because the Baha’i Faith is not a cult, where the members’ thoughts and viewpoints are tightly controlled and manipulated, Baha’is have the freedom to hold their own ideas, and the Baha’i teachings openly expect and encourage that diversity of opinion. The Baha’i writings say clearly that people:

…must take counsel together in such wise that no occasion for ill-feeling or discord may arise. This can be attained when every member expresseth with absolute freedom his own opinion and setteth forth his argument. Should anyone oppose, he must on no account feel hurt for not until matters are fully discussed can the right way be revealed. The shining spark of truth cometh forth only after the clash of differing opinions. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 87.

So no, individual Baha’is don’t always agree with each other, which is normal and natural. Here’s one example: hunting and eating animals. To illustrate that healthy difference in points of view, today we’ll publish two essays here at BahaiTeachings.org—one from Mark Heinz, a Baha’i who hunts, kills and eats wild game; and this essay from me, which explains why I personally oppose the practice. We thought that the truth might emerge with this friendly clash of differing opinions.

Father-son-huntingI used to hunt as a young boy, but gave it up at 12 years old, three years before I first encountered the Baha’i Faith. I gave it up for a few reasons: my family moved from rural Washington State, where game was plentiful and abundant, to urban Arizona, where the only game was an occasional rattlesnake. Also, my family’s economic status improved a little, and I no longer had to shoot a pheasant or a duck for dinner so my little brothers and sisters could eat. But mostly, I gave up hunting because I had a beautiful seven-point buck in my rifle sights and couldn’t pull the trigger.

Anyone who grew up hunting knows that moment, because it’s become a rite of passage—going on your first deer hunt with Dad. My father, an excellent tracker and hunter, decided to take me along when I had grown up enough to handle a deer rifle. I had hunted smaller targets, mostly birds, since I was seven or eight, so I knew enough to graduate to bigger game. The venison from the deer I planned to shoot would feed our family of seven for much of the winter, so this was no sport hunting—it had real full-stomach or empty-stomach consequences.

On the third day of our hunt my father and I, after several miserably cold hours on the trail of a deer with huge hoofprints, finally saw him. From my perch behind a tree I drew a bead on him, and at that moment he raised his head and looked my way. From the excitement and anticipation of my first big kill, I immediately experienced an emotion I hadn’t felt before: I was awestruck. That buck, with his majestic antlers and his intelligent eyes and his tawny thick coat, seemed suddenly the epitome of grace and beauty to me. I wanted to squeeze the trigger, and would have—but I literally couldn’t. He was so intensely alive that taking his life, even to feed my family, seemed to violate some deep law of the universe. I handed the rifle to my father, and surprisingly, he didn’t want to shoot that buck, either. We let him go.

I realized I had reached a seminal point in my life. I knew, from that moment on, that I didn’t want to intentionally harm any living being. I haven’t since then. Am I a vegan? No—I still eat fish or turkey, although less and less these days, as my wife and I try to gradually shift to a plant-based diet. Meanwhile, I try to guide my dietary decisions by these two quotes from the Baha’i writings:

Truly, the killing of animals and the eating of their meat is somewhat contrary to pity and compassion, and if one can content oneself with cereals, fruit, oil and nuts, such as pistachios, almonds and so on, it would undoubtedly be better and more pleasing. – from a tablet of Abdu’l-Baha to an individual Baha’i.

I have read thy letter, wherein thou didst express astonishment at some of the laws of God, such as that concerning the hunting of innocent animals, creatures who are guilty of no wrong.

Be thou not surprised at this. Reflect upon the inner realities of the universe, the secret wisdoms involved, the enigmas, the inter-relationships, the rules that govern all. For every part of the universe is connected with every other part by ties that are very powerful and admit of no imbalance, nor any slackening whatever. In the physical realm of creation, all things are eaters and eaten: the plant drinketh in the mineral, the animal doth crop and swallow down the plant, man doth feed upon the animal, and the mineral devoureth the body of man. Physical bodies are transferred past one barrier after another, from one life to another, and all things are subject to transformation and change, save only the essence of existence itself — since it is constant and immutable, and upon it is founded the life of every species and kind, of every contingent reality throughout the whole of creation.

Whensoever thou dost examine, through a microscope, the water man drinketh, the air he doth breathe, thou wilt see that with every breath of air, man taketh in an abundance of animal life, and with every draught of water, he also swalloweth down a great variety of animals. How could it ever be possible to put a stop to this process? For all creatures are eaters and eaten, and the very fabric of life is reared upon this fact. Were it not so, the ties that interlace all created things within the universe would be unravelled. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 157.

I recognize that the lives and the livelihood of many millions of people depend on the hunting or domestication of animals and their use for food and clothing, so I’m not condemning it in any way. In fact, I think that’s what the great Faiths always do—leave these kinds of decisions up to the individual and the individual conscience.

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Comments

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  • Lynn Eury Capps
    Sep 16, 2018
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    As justice St rain has pointed out there are some things that are not law right now for pragmatic reasons, i.e. smoking cigarettes, yet we get the idea of what God would prefer us to do in the tablet of purity. When the eating of meat is not necessary it is preferable that we do not. Many people choose to draw their lines here on this particular issue while others use law as their line. Man is not in need of meat. Man is most assuredly not in need of Twinkies either, or other unhealthy foods, but we would be ...better off if we didn't eat them. So for now, yes we have a choice. I am glad I can be content to subsist on food that doesn't require killing a being that wants to live. Being content without chocolate is another thing. Lol
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  • Rosslyn and Steven Osborne
    Mar 28, 2018
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    Perhaps as one devoted to animal protection and being well past the need for consuming meat and have erased the misconceptions that most 'think' vegan or vegetarians can and do lack in their diet of what 'Abdul-Baha suggests. I don't force my point of view except where heinous cruelty happens, then I come out to protest. As for this article it is well written and I appreciate it and too all these wonderful commenters below. Thank you. I totally understand the necessities for hunting for a sustenance, so long as it is done in the spirit of thankfulness, respect, sharing ...and with no wastage. I see this is practiced by you all.
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  • Melanie Price
    Oct 28, 2016
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    I think 'sport' is when two or more equal opponents, with a similar ability, equipment, training and equal playing field come together to play for a win. I would not race against on olympic runner, because I would surely lose and there is no 'sport' in it. I would not play a game of scrabble with a pre-schooler, because I would win and there is no 'sport' in it. I cannot see how shooting an animal with a gun is a 'sport' and the only 'win' for the animal is if it happens to escape.
  • Oct 25, 2015
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    One last little comment... I've enjoyed reading this thread and the comments on the other post. I see many of my hunter friends on this thread are from Alaska, I have heard it is a beautiful state and I hope to visit it some day. I see that we have much more in common than we have differences (a love for animals, wildlife,nature, this Faith) and I would be more than happy to meet any one of you. Thank you for a respectful and kind conversation.
  • Oct 24, 2015
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    Thanks for a great article, I really enjoyed it and I enjoyed the discussion which followed. I just want to add one point to consider that I don't see represented here. I understand that you're saying the decision to eat meat is a personal choice, but the animal has no choice, and a decision ceases to be a personal choice when someone else is hurt by it. We can't forget that. I do acknowledge that there are places where diversity of food is scarce, and meat may indeed be necessary for survival in those instances, but many of us do ...not eat meat for necessity but for taste, tradition, and habit. One can enjoy being in nature and experience the beauty of time in the woods without causing harm to another creature. Having said all that, I want to thank everybody for all of their opinions, I like to read and understand how other people think and feel, and I enjoyed the respectful discussion. I just wanted to encourage people to also think of the animals interests and desire to live, which doesn't seem to be represented here yet.
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    • Oct 25, 2015
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      I assume you are a Baha'i :)
      If so, you might want to look at jumping stations, I believe it is covered in Selection from the Writings of Abdul'baha'. (sp) Pretty interesting read. I had an experience one time hunting where I tried to understand the station of the animal I was hunting (deer). My mind wandered many places for a couple of hours. To make a very long journey short I shoot a deer at about 6 feet. The article on jumping stations (i.e. mineral to plant, plant to animal, animal to human) was realized in ...my mind in a very real and viceral way. I had almost stopped hunting by this time. After experiencing this I have no problem hunting and utilizing the animals I kill. I try and do it with honor and painless as possible for the animals I harvest. When I say I become one with the animals I harvest, after you read this you might understand what I mean. first time I have responded to these articles. Nice experience :)
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  • Oct 24, 2015
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    Well said David. As an avid hunter who keeps his freezers full of moose, caribou and salmon...and who believes in the value of the culture of sharing (I share these resources with elders and those within my circle, that are too poor to get it for themselves), I have a hard time giving up on hunting.
    That being said, I also have no urge to coerce others who do not hunt, into becoming hunters. Like you said, it is an individual choice.
    Interestingly, I did empathise with your pivitol moment, when you discovered that you could not shoot ...the deer. When I take a kid hunting, I praise and respect his decision...whether that decision is not to shoot, or to shoot. Either way, he/she's made their own decision...they've acted on their conciouse. One chooses not to shoot a beautiful living creature, the other chooses to harvest this gift from God, with thoughts of feeding his/her family. Either way, their choice is noble and I be sure to praise them for it. Either way is a powerful and meaningful "rite of passage".
    It sounds like your father was a good man, and that he too supported your own right of passage choice. We need more poeple like that walking among us. :)
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  • Oct 24, 2015
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    Enjoyed the honesty of this article. Shooting to feed a family is not the same as for sport. |Brought to mind the famous sniper defender of Stalingrade ...shooting wolves with father as child....and I have recently read..."American Sniper" NOT AT ALL MY USUAL READ...curiosity and publicity at airport bookshop....this brave man also was a young hunter in cowboy tradition. I cried when I learnt how he died. Poem "A Runnable Stag"....is coming to mind...must check. Hunting just for sport....sorry no. Shortly there will be nothing left for us to "THAVMASO''.....Greek sp.! but more than WONDER/ADMIRE.
  • Oct 24, 2015
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    As a lifelong Baha'i, a hunter/Gatherer I appreciate this well researcher and written article. This is the first year that I have not put a large animal in our freezer and we are missing it. Where I live (Tanana Alaska) this could be very serious, fortunetly both my wife and I have good jobs and can afford to purchase meat and have it flown out from Fairbanks. This meat, which most people in our country eat is raised with hormones and antibiotics, neither of which we would prefer to eat. With all the research on the effects of meat on ...the body as we grow older, we have cut down on the amount of meat we eat, but our lifestyle requires calories and substance that we are unable to get in the bush. For me, hunting provides another satisfaction that is harder to justify to those who do not live or understand this kind of lifestyle. Being in the woods, hunting moose, caribou, goat, sheep recharges my spiritual battery. Just ask my wife of 34 years. The pressures of living in our society, the news, politics, work all take a toll that builds up until headaches and illnesses develope. A week in the woods pursuing these majestic animals, which nurish our bodies for the year brings back a balance into this hectic life we live these days. I personall hunt with a bow as this seems to honor the animal more, hunting him on his level, learning his habits, behaviors. I used to hunt with a rifle but this became just killing. If the only goal was getting meat then the rifle should be the answer, but I experienced less and less satisfaction the older I got. A surprising benefit of hunting and killing with the bow was the meat tasted much better than game killed with a rifle. My wife, who although she understands my emotional needs, does not hunt and would be happy to buy meat from the store, shares my view on the taste of a bow killed animal vs a rifle.
    I don't expect to convince those who oppose hunting, nor am I trying too. The Baha'i Faith embraces diverse cultures, ideas, concepts that as a whole, enrich the tapastry we call our culture. When we try and force others to our way of thinking, the whole is less from this loss of diversity. I would no more want everyone to embrace my lifestyle than I would want to embrace a lifestyle that consists of study circles and meetings. The beauty of this religion, at least as I read and understand the writings, embraces the entire experiece of human culture. Those behaviors that harm the soul are forbiden and clearly addressed in the writings.
    When we try and force an egocentric view, that we may hold dearly, on others, especially when this behavior is not forbidden in the writings, we are tearing appart the very thing that makes this religion different. We become part of the clamor that surrounds us all.
    As I understand the Baha'i Faith, both views have valitady and are acceptable. "Reality is dependent upon the observer". The Baha'i Faith needs both views to survive in a very real and meaningful way. The downfall of this religion will come when we try and force others to conform to our view of reality. When we use the writings to support our own personal view of reality, especially when the view being attacked is not forbidden in the writings, we are doing the same thing that is taking place in all the other religions around us. We become noise, egocentric views being forced upon others, the insistant self.
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    • Oct 24, 2015
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      Hi Michael. Wish i lived a bit closer to you. Would love to hunt and split a moose with you. :)
      Your comment bring to mind something I've been hearing alot about lately...mostly from the non-hunting people. The division between sport hunting and subsistence hunting.
      I'd just like to point out that they are not mutually exclusive. Fish and Game uses "sport hunting" in much of the US, as a way of keeping game populations healty. Too often, in areas where there is abundant game, but few hunters, sickness, starvation, and disease devestate ...the wildlife, and the wildlife changes the ecosystem in such a manner that there is less biodiversity.
      It does not matter whether these people "enjoy" the hunt, consider it "sport", or hate the hunt, but do so because they absulutuely must have the meat. All that matters is that the right number of animals is harvested to keep both the population and their habitat healthy.
      I personally, like you, find hunting to reinvigerate my soul. Yes, there is just a bit of adrenalin rush in the stock and kill...this is a natural biochemical reaction, which I suspect evolved out of necessity for remaining steady during dangerous or difficult curcumstances. But the kill is such a small part of the hunt...it is a brief few minutes within a 5 to 10 day immersion in the wilderness. The entire rest of the joureny is comprised of soul stiring beauty, physical challenges, situations that force you to apply skill and knowledge, and an opportunity to bond on a level that is impossible elsewhere...It always brings me closer to my Creator...and those moments of prayer and meditation while sitting alone, with the predawn glow on the horizon, frost on the ground, and nothing for miles around but you, your thoughts, and God's creatures, are something I've never been able to experience elsewhere.
      My family needs the meat. Yes, we probably could afford to go to the store and buy meat, but I care for my family such that I want only the healthiest, cleanest, and most nutritious food possible for them. The animlas I harves, clean, and carefor myself, are just that...the healthiest possible option. It's a lot of work, sometimes back breaking labor, but I enjoy making this sacrifice.
      With all of this in mind, the hunting liscense I purchase each year, is called a "sport" license. I guess my point is, let's not be judgemental about sport vs. subsistance. Both are needed. Just because you enjoy the experience does not mean you are killing just for fun...enjoying it just means that you are getting more out of it than those that dont.
      What is not needed is Wanton Waste. This is where I draw distinctions between hunting and killing. Wanton waste is where someone shoots and animal and leaves the animal only partially consumed, or not consumed at all...often with just the antlers, claws, or gal bladder removed. This is not sport, it is not subsistance, it is a crime against God's creation as well as state and federal law.
      Because of these stentiments, I applaud you for how beautifully you areticulated your own experiences, and for the light you shed on the devisive nature of forcing our oppinions on others. There's room for all, sport, subsistance, hunters, non-hunters...all are welcome at my table. :)
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  • Oct 24, 2015
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    Thank you David for your excellent and balanced essay on "Hunting and Eating Animals". I've never been a hunter -- so to say-- but I have been a fisher. A distinction between hunting and fishing to my mind is miminal at best. Another tactic is trapping which is big were I live in "south-central" Saskatchewan. Another perspective I reflected on while reading your points is the manner in which Indigenous people who hunt, trap and fish to supplement their food/diet. There is a care, respect and regard for the beings that are trapped, etc, and eaten. Perhaps at some point ...later an article can be provided giving an Indigenous perspective -- as an individual choice (not all Indigenous people hunt, trap, etc).
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