Atheism And Veganism
There are numerous studies examining the demographics of the animal rights/vegan/vegetarian movement throughout the world. However, religiosity – especially the lack of it – is less-studied than other characteristics, like race, income, gender, and political ideology. The animal rights movement has had a complicated relationship with religion for centuries, continuing to this day. In the modern era, it is predominantly secular, but the movement has not done much to advertise this fact nor has it made strong efforts to court atheist and agnostic members. The author of this paper hopes to give a brief overview of the history of religion and animal rights, and how the current movement can best embrace its secularity.
The modern animal rights movement in the West began in earnest in the 18th century, with the Enlightenment. In this era, many educated westerners viewed violence towards animals as evidence of savagery or spiritual impurity. Later in the 19th century, vegetarianism came to be associated with the temperance movement, which sought to achieve spiritual health through avoidance of certain worldly goods like alcohol, tobacco, and meat. Mainstream science of the time was opposed by many animal rights advocates due to its reliance on vivisection and rejection of spiritual values. Around the turn of the 20th century, vegetarian diets were prescribed for optimal health by some health activists, such as John Harvey Kellogg and Reverend Sylvester Graham. These men often combined nutritional science with religious or spiritual values to argue for their dietary prescriptions. Certain scientific procedures and advancements, such as vaccination and vivisection, were still met with skepticism by this wave of the movement. In 1940, the Vegan Society was founded in the UK, and explicitly linked themselves with science and logic-based reasoning. Later thinkers like Peter Singer and Tom Regan made fully-secular arguments for veganism. In the current era, the movement is made up mostly of non-religious people, but it rarely chooses to highlight this aspect.
The author of this paper uses a recent survey of vegans from the US to examine the animal rights movement in the country. 287 respondents were counted, all of whom were vegans living in the United States. The majority of respondents were white and heterosexual, and the majority of those that reported their gender identified as female. 72% of male and female respondents identified themselves as being atheist or agnostic, in addition to 83% of non-binary respondents and 73% of respondents that did not identify their gender. 88% of atheist respondents claimed their primary motivation for adopting a vegan diet was concern for animals, compared to 76% of agnostics, 79% of Christians, 68% of Jews, and 70% of those from other religions. Politically, atheists were more likely than other respondents to be socialists or anarchists. Atheists and agnostics were not more likely to be involved in other theaters of social activism, but were less likely to agree with the idea that non-humans need to come before humans. According to the author, this signifies a more compassionate and intersectional outlook. The non-human animal rights movement is often accused of minimizing or dismissing human suffering, and intersectionality fights that perception.
The author notes that atheists and agnostics are often overlooked, despite being such a major part of the animal rights movement. One theory put forward is the desire to avoid further stigmatization in American society by openly associating with the nonreligious community. Atheists and agnostics are commonly perceived as immoral or amoral, and the animal rights movement might be wary of alienating religious adherents to their cause. The author also acknowledges that the atheist community as a whole is generally unwelcoming to the vegan and animal rights community, which signifies a lack of successful outreach. The nonreligious, despite their negative stigma, represent a significant untapped demographic by the animal rights movement, and their strong representation within the movement suggests that it is possible to win them over. The author recommends that the animal rights movement do more to welcome and accommodate the nonreligious in the future. However, the challenge is to do so without alienating the religious community, which makes up a much larger section of American society.