Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Spiritual Veganism

In an ongoing attempt to hash out some of this blog's animating ideas, a few words on spiritual diabetes' inverse:  spiritual veganism.

Type II diabetes, recall, generally emerges as a result of overconsumption.  Veganism, on the other hand, is a dietary lifestyle predicated on restrictions, namely the prohibition of animal products whatsoever.  So, vegetarians don't eat meat; vegans likewise abstain but also forgo honey, butter, eggs, cheese, etc.  And many ideological vegans extend their abstinence to apparel (e.g., no leather) and lifestyle (so, I'm guessing, no football?).

Now, the following is not an indictment of either Type II diabetes or the vegan lifestyle.  (Vegan cookbooks nowadays demonstrate handily that "vegan" food cannot be equated with "boring.")  I do, though, think those dietetically-related issues provide great analogies for discussing American spiritual choices and world views.  Hence this blog.  The diabetic condition centers on consumption:  overconsumption and then, following diagnosis, a program of perhaps restructured consumption.  Spiritually speaking I think this appears in places like victorious political campaigns (which feast, after long work periods, on the fruit of their labor), championship sports seasons ("WE finally won..."), and, on an individual level, the willingness to interpret every material gain or possession as some sign of divine blessing and favor.

The vegan condition takes a different path.  The reward here seems to come from the results of not consuming; thin (emaciated?) body and pride in having overcome one's dietary demons.  Spiritually speaking, this brings its own pride and self-congratulatory world view.  Almost a decade ago I wrote the following:

'However, like its dietary counterpart, this appears quite heroic and wins a few, hyper-zealous converts, but really offers no solution at all.  Instead of extolling spiritual consumption, spiritual vegans—much like their dietary counterparts—refuse any “product” that bears the taint of the pedestrian, suburban, or mass culture.  Obviously a certain elitism functions here, and quite openly so.  A 2002 Washington Post columnist once referred to vegans as “the Hezbollah of the vegetarian world”, and there’s some truth to that.  Vegans really do believe that their dietary radicalism not only effectively combats the culture of death surrounding the American diet, but also that only through such extremism does one really enjoy any chance at survival.  In other words, “eat like us or die!”  

I still stand by that.  The spiritual diabetic stands, bloated and yet never quite full, looking for the next spiritual meal or snack: another prayer, new contemporary worship and praise music, gothic nostalgia, a new spiritual advice book, whatever. (Quite frankly, I wonder if this entire blogosophere-social media-Twitter-Facebook world is a shining example!)  Originally I conceived "spiritual vegans" effectively to be the emerging "nones" -- folks without any religious inclinations whatsoever.  More and more, though, I'm wondering if the vegan mentality can actually inhabit quite successfully a quite conscientiously spiritual mindset.  In other words, like the dietary vegans these spiritual counterparts limit their spiritual consumption to only a few "pure," "compassionate" sources and then condemn the rest as unhealthy.  No, spiritual vegans aren't Protestants.  The sources are instead worldviews and cultural perspectives that, to the vegans, seem unassailable...and thoroughly life-sustaining.  In fact, what's pushed my thinking towards this reconsideration has been the Catholic theological establishment.  And like the critic of vegans, who looks at an array of vegetables and non-animal recipes, I want to ask several of my colleagues:  "Is that all we really have to live on?"  On this the day after the 2012 election, obviously, the victors can point to their results. Still, should the successes of one particular diet become the consumption platform for us all?

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