July 11, 2011

Was Jesus a Vegetarian?

Was Jesus a Vegetarian?
By Keith Akers

For many vegetarians, Jesus’ message implies compassion toward all creation. How can we justify the torture and slaughter of billions of animals each year for food? And how can we tolerate such obvious cruelty in a religion whose founder preached mercy and compassion? Yet most modern churches reject vegetarianism with hardly a thought; vegetarianism is an idea which is at best tolerated, and at worst condemned as heresy.

Was Jesus a vegetarian? This issue is too complex to be answered with just a few Bible verses. In fact, it cannot be fully answered in a short article; my book, The Lost Religion of Jesus, has a more complete answer. The New Testament takes contradictory stands on this issue, sometimes seeming to condemn and sometimes seeming to support vegetarianism. Jesus feeds bread and fish to the five thousand (Mark 6:34-44) — seeming to approve of eating fish. But Jesus also speaks of compassion toward animals (Matthew 12:10-12, Luke 12:6-7, 13:15-16) — seeming to hint at vegetarianism. The same can be said of many other views in the Bible as well; one can defend almost any point of view one wants with appropriate Bible verses. But that leaves us with the question, where does the truth lie?

I. Vegetarianism in Early Christianity

There were many vegetarians in early Christianity, both in the leadership and among ordinary Christians. Augustine, while not vegetarian himself and while vehemently arguing against the idea that Christians must be vegetarians, nevertheless states that those Christians who "abstain both from flesh and from wine" are "without number" (On the Morals of the Catholic Church 33). His "heretical" Manichean opponents were entirely vegetarian. But the Christian vegetarians to whom Augustine is referring are clearly orthodox, indicating a widespread acceptance of vegetarianism both among heretics and the orthodox.

Many leaders of the early church were vegetarian. Eusebius says that James the brother of Jesus was a vegetarian, and in fact was evidently raised as a vegetarian (Ecclesiastical History 2.23). Why would Jesus’ parents have raised James as a vegetarian, unless they were vegetarian themselves and raised Jesus as a vegetarian as well? Eusebius also states (Proof of the Gospel 3.5) that all the apostles abstained from meat and wine. Other famous early Christians who were vegetarian, based on statements made by them or about them, included Origen, Clement of Alexandria, Basil the Great, John Chrysostom, Arnobius, Tertullian, and Jerome.

II. The Controversy Over Vegetarianism

The letters of Paul give clear evidence of a controversy over vegetarianism. Paul believes that it is not necessary to be a vegetarian in order to be a Christian.

"As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not for disputes over opinions. One believes he may eat anything, while the weak man eats only vegetables," says Paul (Romans 14:1-2). Paul counsels patience between the meat-eaters and the vegetarians. But there is nothing wrong with eating meat as such — "Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience" (I Corinthians 10:25).

Paul won this battle in the early church; while many Christians were vegetarian, most churches taught that it was not necessary to be vegetarian. However, some early Christians, such as the Jewish Christians, rejected Paul; they were vegetarian and thought that vegetarianism should be required of all Christians. It is these Jewish Christians who were in conflict with Paul over the vegetarian issue.

III. Who were the Jewish Christians?

For the Jewish Christians, Jesus did not come to found a new religion; his message was about simple living and nonviolence. Jesus did not overturn the Jewish law, but preached a return to the Jewish law (as he saw it) — a law which commanded simple living and nonviolence. For the Jewish Christians, Jesus was a prophet who was loyal to the law; but upon examining the Jewish law, Jesus reached radical conclusions. The Jewish Christians therefore believed in simple living, pacifism, and vegetarianism.

We know about the Jewish Christians — and among them, the Ebionites, the chief Jewish Christian group — on the basis of early church documents. The most useful of these are the Clementine Homilies, the Recognitions of Clement (two Jewish Christian writings) and the Panarion of Epiphanius (an attack on Jewish Christianity which, however, gives insight into their beliefs).

The Jewish Christians called themselves "the poor" — the term "Ebionites" is derived from a Hebrew word which means "the poor." They traced their poverty back to the primitive Christian community described in Acts 4:32-35 — a community which shares all of their possessions in common. Thus, although no one owns any private property, because the community cares for everyone "there was not a needy person among them" — just as in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says "You cannot serve God and money" (Matthew 6:24).

The Jewish Christians were also pacifists. The Recognitions speaks at several points of opposition to war and killing (1.70-71, 2.36, 3.42), echoing the statements of other early Christians, both Jewish and gentile, who were opposed to war, as well as the Sermon on the Mount: "Blessed are the peacemakers" (Matthew 5:9), "Do not resist one who is evil" (Matthew 5:39), and "Love your enemies" (Matthew 5:44).

The Jewish Christians were vegetarians. They opposed meat-eating and the sacrifice of animals in the temple. There are frequent passages in both the Homilies and Recognitions which attack animal sacrifice; the Homilies state that God did not want animals killed at all (3.45), and condemns those who taste or eat meat at all (7.4, 7.8). This opposition to animal sacrifice and support of vegetarianism is one of the most distinctive features of Jewish Christianity — mentioned by Epiphanius as well as in the Homilies and Recognitions.

Why did the Jewish Christians make such an issue over animal sacrifice? We must remember that in ancient times the temple in Jerusalem was not like a modern synagogue or church — it was the place where the Jews brought animal sacrifices, and thus resembled a butcher shop or slaughterhouse more than a modern place of worship. The priests in the temple were able to keep much of the meat from the sacrificed animals and thus benefitted economically from this practice. For the Ebionites, this was a religious sanction to kill animals, which had no place in their religion. Jesus says (Matthew 9:13 and 12:7), "I require mercy, not sacrifice," a saying which the Homilies and Recognitions cite as well. The Ebionite gospel quoted Jesus as saying, "I have come to abolish the sacrifices, and if you cease not from sacrificing, my wrath will not cease from you" (Panarion 30.16.5).

One of the problems which the Jewish Christians had was that, since they remained Jewish and therefore loyal to the law, they had to explain the passages in the "Old Testament" (the Jewish scriptures) which seemed to justify war-making and animal sacrifice. They argued that these commands were not truly in the law given to Moses, but were added by scribes who came after Moses. So we see that Jewish Christianity involved vegetarianism, but a lot more as well. It was a truly radical viewpoint — which eventually became heretical both to orthodox Judaism and to orthodox Christianity.

IV. The Confrontation in the Temple

The Jewish Christians are alone in early Christianity in placing heavy emphasis on the rejection of animal sacrifice. Yet the historical Jesus was clearly opposed to animal sacrifice, as we can see from one of the key events in Jesus’ life — the last week of his life, leading up to his crucifixion. According to all of the gospels, Jesus went into the temple and disrupted the animal sacrifice business:

And Jesus entered the temple of God and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. He said to them, "It is written: ‘my house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers." (Matthew 21:12-13; parallels at Mark 11:15-17, Luke 19:45-46, John 2:13-17)

Who were the ones who bought and sold in the temple, and why were they selling pigeons? The animals which are being sold are sacrificial animals, and it is these dealers in animals whom Jesus is angry with. The primary practical effect of this confrontation was to disrupt the animal sacrifice business — chasing out the animals to be sacrificed, or those who were selling them to be sacrificed. "Cleansing the temple" was an act of animal liberation.

Jesus calls the temple a "den of robbers," an allusion to Jeremiah 7:11; but this passage in Jeremiah follows only after Jeremiah describes murder, adultery, and blatant idolatry (Jeremiah 7:9), and ends by denying that God ever required sacrifices, anyway (7:22). If, of course, the animal sacrifice cult was a fraud--as the Ebionites believed--then the extortion of animals from the populace on religious pretenses was indeed literal robbery and a matter considerably more serious than the figurative "robbery" involved in overcharging.

The final result was that the Romans crucified Jesus. Pilate, the Roman governor, would hardly have crucified someone just because of a Jewish theological dispute. But if someone were causing a riot or disturbance in the temple precincts, this demanded Roman action. It is much more plausible that Jesus objected to the practice of animal sacrifice itself, and that his disruption of the temple business during the volatile Passover week was the immediate and most important cause of his death. It was this act, and its interpretation as a threat to public order, that led immediately to Jesus’ crucifixion.

V. The Jewish Christian understanding of Jesus

Why should we believe that the Jewish Christians had the best understanding of Jesus? There are several reasons. First and most importantly, Jesus was a Jew. In the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), Jesus nowhere indicates that he is founding a new religion. When asked what we must do to gain salvation, he replies, "If you would enter life, keep the commandments" (Matthew 19:17). The commandments which Jesus says are the greatest are to love God and love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-40). This is exactly how Jewish Christianity saw Jesus: as building an ethic of compassion and sharing on the basis of the Jewish law. Who would have the best understanding of Jesus? Would it not be those of his own followers who, like Jesus, considered themselves Jews?

Secondly, Jesus and the primitive church were in a conflict with the temple priests. The most certain piece of historical knowledge we have about Jesus is that he was crucified, and he was undoubtedly killed after disrupting the animal sacrifice business in the temple. Jesus wants the temple destroyed; the priests in the temple want Jesus and the Jesus movement destroyed. Even after Jesus’ death, the priests keep up the struggle, hoping to either silence or kill the apostles (Acts 4-7). Why would Jesus have risked his life for something not essential to his message?

The Jewish Christians are virtually alone among early Christians in understanding why Jesus died. Jewish Christianity describes Jesus as if this attack on the temple was part of a deliberate plan. Jesus has come to abolish the temple sacrifices (Recognitions 1.54) — thus explaining perfectly both his own motivations and the motivations of those who sought to destroy him and his movement.

Vegetarianism was abandoned because of the popularity of the letters of Paul among early Christians. The early leadership of the church (James, Peter, and John) was Jewish, but they quickly got into a divisive battle with Paul (Galatians 1-2 and Romans 14). In the second century, the teachings of Paul became increasingly popular among Christians. The Jewish Christians detested Paul, considering him an apostate. But by the second century Jewish Christians were already in the minority and eventually Paul’s letters were accepted as part of the New Testament, masking the fact that in his day Paul was a highly controversial figure. Since Paul said vegetarianism was optional, the church followed his stand on this issue. Later editors of the New Testament further distorted and confused Jesus’ views on animals.

Jesus believed in simple living and nonviolence, and felt that this was part of the law of God. Jesus was undoubtedly vegetarian, since this was the original teaching of Jewish Christianity. Jesus did not bring a new theology, but rather a radical understanding of the law. For Jesus, the law commands nonviolence; we are not to shed blood, whether the blood of humans in warfare or the blood of animals in meat consumption or animal sacrifice. Jesus risked and gave his life to disrupt the wicked and bloody animal sacrifices in the temple. But the religion of Jesus has been lost from modern Christianity.

Vegetarian Christian Quotations

Vegetarian Christian Quotations

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Matthew 5:7

Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.
Romans 12:21

Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees.
Revelation 7:3

The unnatural eating of flesh-meats is as polluting as the heathen worship of devils, with its sacrifices and its unpure feasts, through participation in which a man becomes a fellow-eater with devils. Clementine Homilies (Second Century AD)

A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds. A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love. St.Basil, Bishop of Caesarea (329-379 AD)

The saints are exceedingly loving and gentle to mankind, and even to brute beasts ... Surely we ought to show them [animals] great kindness and gentleness for many reasons, but, above all, because they are of the same origin as ourselves. St.John Chrysostom (c.347-407)

If you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who deal likewise with their fellow men. St.Francis of Assisi (1181-1226)

Not to hurt our humble brethren is our first duty to them, but to stop there is not enough. We have a higher mission - to be of service to them wherever they require it. St.Francis of Assisi (1181-1226)

You, who are innocent, what have you done worthy of death! (On seeing animals being killed for food) Richard of Wyche, Bishop of Chichester (1197-1253)

And if thy heart be straight with God, then every creature shall be to thee a mirror of life and a book of holy doctrine, for there is no creature so little or so vile, but that sheweth and representeth the goodness of God. Thomas A Kempis (1379-1471)

Be careful that the love of gain draw us not into any business which may weaken our love of our Heavenly Father, or bring unnecessary trouble to any of His creatures. John Woolman (1720-1772)

I tremble for my species when I reflect that God is just. Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

I am to ask your Lordships, in the name of that God who gave to man his dominion over the lower world, to acknowledge and recognise that dominion to be a moral trust. Lord (Thomas) Erskine (1750-1823)

...the primitve Christians, by laying so much stress upon a future life in contradiction to this life, and placing the lower creatures out of the pale of sympathy, and thus had the foundation for this utter disregard of animals in the light of our fellow creatures. Anna Bronwell Jameson (1794-1860)

It is almost a definition of a gentleman to say he is one who never inflicts pain. Cardinal Newman (1801-1890)

...and we have so far improved upon the custom of Adam and Eve, that we generally furnish forth our feasts with a portion of some delicate calf or lamb, whose unspotted innocence entitles them to the happiness of becoming our sustenance. Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864)

For fidelity, devotion, love, many a two-legged animal is below the dog and the horse. Happy would it be for thousands of people if they could stand at last before the Judgement Seat and say "I have loved as truly and I have lived as decently as my dog." And yet we call them "only brutes"! Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887)

Without the perfect sympathy with the animals around them, no gentleman's education, no Christian education, could be of any possible use. John Ruskin (1819-1900)

Love animals: God has given them the rudiments of thought and joy untroubled. Do not trouble their joy, don't harrass them, don't deprive them of their happiness, don't work against God's intent. Man, do not pride yourself on superiority to animals; they are without sin, and you, with your greatness, defile the earth by your apppearance on it, and leave the traces of your foulness after you - alas, it is true of almost every one of us! Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821-1881)

Love all God's creatures, the animals, the plants. Love everything to perceive the divine mystery in all. Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821-1881)

He who does evil that good may come, pays a toll to the devil to let him into heaven. Hare and Charles (c. 1830)

Heaven is by favor; if it were by merit your dog would go in and you would stay out. Mark Twain (1835-1910)

The animal world being altogether external to the scheme of redemption, was regarded as beyond the range of duty, and the belief that we have any kind of obligation to its members has never been inculcated - has never, I believe, been even admitted - by Catholic theologians. W.E.H.Lecky (1838-1903)

Spain and southern Italy, in which Catholicism has most deeply implanted its roots, are even now, probably beyond all other countries in Europe, those in which inhumanity to animals is most wanton and unrebuked. W.E.H.Lecky (1838-1903)

...the atrocious doctrine that beast and birds were made solely for man's use and pleasure, and that he has no duties towards them. Wilfrid Scawen Blunt (1840-1922)

It is a deplorable fact that many Christians are so accustomed to a certain creed and dogma of their own that they will adhere to it even at the sacrifice of the great moral laws of love and mercy. E.D.Buckner MD, AM, PhD (1843-1907)

Man should regard lower animals as being in the same dependent condition as minors under his government ... For a man to torture an animal whose life God has put into his hands, is a disgrace to his species. E.D.Buckner MD, AM, PhD (1843-1907)

You think those dogs will not be in heaven! I tell you they will be there long before any of us. Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)

The great discovery of the nineteenth century, that we are of one blood with the lower animals, has created new ethical obligations which have not yet penetrated the public conscience. The clerical profession has been lamentably remiss in preaching this obvious duty. William Ralph Inge (1860-1954)

God gave our first parents the food He designed that the race should eat. It was contrary to His plan to have the life of any creature taken. There was to be no death in Eden. The fruit of the trees in the garden was the food man's wants required.
- Ellen White, co-founder Seventh Day Adventists (1864)

Kindness to all God's creatures is an absolute rock-bottom necessity if peace and righteousness are to prevail. Sir Wilfred Grenfell (1865-1940)

Cruelty to animals is the degrading attitude of paganism. Cardinal Hinsley (1865-1943)

The infliction of cruelty with a clear conscience is a delight to moralists. That is why they invented hell. Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)

I hated the things they believe in, the things they so innocently and charmingly pretended. I hated the sanctimonious piety that let people hurt helpless creatures. I hated the prayers and the hymns - the fountains and the red images that coloured their drab music, the fountains filled with blood, the sacrifice of the lamb. Ellen Glasgow (1874-1945)

Compared with that of Taoists and Far Eastern Buddhists, the Christian attitude toward Nature has been curiously insensitive and often downright domineering and violent. Taking their cue from an unfortunate remark in Genesis, Catholic moralists have regarded animals as mere things which men do right to regard for their own ends.... Aldous Huxley (1894-1963)

If we understand and feel that the greatest act of devotion and worship to God is not to harm any of His beings, we are loving God. Meher Baba (1894-1969)

To love God in the most practical way is to love our fellow beings. If we feel for others in the same way as we feel for our own dear ones, we love God. Meher Baba (1894-1969)

If we suffer in the sufferings of others and feel happy in the happiness of others, we are loving God. Meher Baba (1894-1969)

The diet of animals is vegetables and grains. Must the vegetables be animalized, must they be incorporated into the system of animals, before we get them? Must we obtain our vegetable diet by eating the flesh of dead creatures? God provided fruit in its natural state for our first parents. He gave to Adam charge over the garden, to dress it, and to care for it, saying, "To you it shall be for meat." One animal was not to destroy another animal for food." -Ellen White, co-founder Seventh Day Adventists (1896)

Let our ministers and canvassers step under the banners of strict temperance. Never be ashamed to say, "No thank you; I do not eat meat. I have conscientious scruples against eating the flesh of dead animals.
- Ellen White, co-founder Seventh Day Adventists, 1901

Flesh was never the best food; but its use is now doubly objectionable, since disease in animals is so rapidly increasing.
- Ellen White, co-founder Seventh Day Adventists, 1902

Animals are becoming more diseased and it will not be long until animal food will be discarded by many besides Seventh-day Adventists. Foods that are healthful and life sustaining are to be prepared, so that men and women will not need to eat meat.
- Ellen White, co-founder Seventh Day Adventists, 1902

Vegetables, fruits, and grains should compose our diet. Not an ounce of flesh meat should enter our stomachs. The eating of flesh is unnatural. We are to return to God's original purpose in the creation of man.
- Ellen White, co-founder Seventh Day Adventists, 1903

The moral evils of a flesh diet are not less marked than are the physical ills. Flesh food is injurious to health, and whatever affects the body has a corresponding effect on the mind and the soul. Think of the cruelty to animals meat-eating involves, and its effect on those who inflict and those who behold it. How it destroys the tenderness with which we should regard those creatures of God!
- Ellen White, co-founder Seventh Day Adventists, 1905

Animals are often transported long distances and subjected to great suffering in reaching a market. Taken from the green pastures and traveling for weary miles over the hot, dusty roads, or crowded into filthy cars, feverish and exhausted, often for many hours deprived of food and water, the poor creatures are driven to their death, that human beings may feast on the carcasses.
- Ellen White, co-founder Seventh Day Adventists, 1905

It is a mistake to suppose that muscular strength depends on the use of animal food. The needs of the system can be better supplied, and more vigorous health can be enjoyed, without its use. The grains, with fruits, nuts, and vegetables, contain all the nutritive properties necessary to make good blood. These elements are not so well or so fully supplied by a flesh diet. Had the use of flesh been essential to health and strength, animal food would have been included in the diet appointed man in the beginning.
- Ellen White, co-founder Seventh Day Adventists, 1905

Those who eat flesh are but eating grains and vegetables at second hand; for the animal receives from these things the nutrition that produces growth. The life that was in the grains and the vegetables passes into the eater. We receive it by eating the flesh of the animal. How much better to get it direct by eating the food that God provided for our use!
- Ellen White, co-founder Seventh Day Adventists, 1905

I write in sorrow [on vivisection]: as far as I can tell, no voice has been heard from the Church about this evil. The matter is forgotten for another year. It should not be. It is one of the most appalling blots on our plentifully blotted civilisation. Rev Geoffrey Mather (1910- )

It is man who has fallen, not the beasts: that is the message even for the irreligious, and to some extent salvation can be measured by his very treatment of them. Roy Fuller (1912- )

Let the law of kindness show no limits. Show a loving consideration for all God's creatures. General Advices (1928) (Quakers)

We shall respect that of God in all creation. We shall live in loving harmony with the earth. Humankind shall be a joyful gardener of the world given us by God, and shall use its fruits wisely and moderately. Quakers (1979)

Tofu Jesus

Tofu Jesus

Many Christians have received the Gospel as encouraging vegetarianism. Several early Christian groups, including the Nazarenes, Ebionites, Elchasaites, Ossaeans, Cathars, and the Bogomils, encouraged vegetarianism. Since then, the Trappist, Benedictine, and Carthusian orders have advocated vegetarianism, as have Seventh-day Adventists. In the 19th century, members of the Bible Christian sect established the first vegetarian groups in England and the U.S.

Vegetarian Christians have included Basil the Great, John Chrysostom, Tertullian, Origen, Clement of Alexandria, John Wesley (Methodism’s founder), Ellen G. White (a Seventh-day Adventists founder), Salvation Army co-founders William and Catherine Booth, Leo Tolstoy, and Albert Schweitzer.

What would Jesus eat?

What would Jesus eat?
Some vegetarian Christians say meat wouldn’t be on the menu


According to the Bible, when Jesus found himself surrounded by 5,000 followers eager to hear his divine message but hungry for some earthly food, he turned five little loaves and two scrawny fish into a banquet for the masses.

But some Christian scholars think if he were alive today, he might rethink the menu.

In books, on Web sites and in scholarly research, they’ve created a new acronym for Christians questioning how to live their faith. It’s WWJE: What Would Jesus Eat? It’s a spinoff of the widespread term WWJD: What Would Jesus Do?

Citing a range of Scripture passages, from a Genesis account of the diet of Eden to the apostle Paul’s admonition to treat the body as a temple, Christian vegetarians claim that if Jesus were alive today, he’d be a vegetarian.

“Jesus taught a ministry of love and compassion,” said Stephen Webb, author of “Good Eating (The Christian Practice of Everyday Life)” (Brazos Press, 2001). “It was love and compassion for all of God’s creation.”

Webb is an associate professor of religion and philosophy at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Ind., and the co-chairperson of the international Christian Vegetarian Association (www.christianveg.com).

He describes himself as an “evangelical theologian” whose vegetarian lifestyle is biblically based. He argues that the Eucharistic celebration itself may be one of the most powerful symbols of a divine diet: a vegetarian meal that harks back to the meatless Garden of Eden and looks forward to the Revelation promise of the lion and the lamb coexisting in peace.

It’s a theology, he admits, that departs from the mainstream Christian view of the animal kingdom, where a glazed ham is the Easter bounty and a baked turkey is the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving meal.

"It's rarely on the radar screen of traditional Christianity," Webb said. "It's a topic almost too hot to handle. Any minister who would preach it would risk coming off as 'holier than thou' to his congregation. It's easier to say we should not engage in adultery. People will still do it, but at least they don't do it so openly."

The leaders of the Christian Vegetarian Association come from a variety of Protestant and Catholic denominations.

There is a wave of books on the market that encourage Christians to go meatless and all launch their arguments beginning with Genesis 1:29. In that verse, God presents Adam and Eve with the menu of paradise: "I give you all plants that bear seed everywhere on earth ... they shall be yours for food."

In the Genesis story, God also creates the animals and gives Adam "dominion" over them, but Christian vegetarians would argue that God created animals as Adam's companions and helpers, not as his supper.

"I read the passages to mean that all God's creation is sacred," Webb said. "All creation is made to glorify and magnify God."

What Jesus ate 2,000 years ago is a subject of debate among Christian vegetarians. Some argue that Biblical passages describing Jesus eating and multiplying fish have been incorrectly translated through the centuries, with fish incorrectly imposed for fruit.

Webb, though, would concede that Jesus likely ate fish with his disciples, as described in Luke 24:43, but he'd argue that if Jesus found himself in a modern-day context of factory farming, environmental pollution from animal waste and rampant cancer and heart disease, he'd turn to a vegetarian diet.

"In some parts of the world, humans need to eat meat to survive," Webb said, "but not in America. We eat meat to satisfy our taste."

To abstain from meat, Webb said, is an act of Christian self-sacrifice, part of a long tradition of abstinence and fasting in the name of faith.