Henry Salt Archive

Henry Salt (1853-1939) was the author of the Life of Henry David Thoreau, Animals Rights and A Plea for Vegetarianism which inspired Gandhi for follow a vegetarian diet.

A Foolish Fancy reply

The Vegetarian Messenger, 1933

[In reponse to Salt's original letter, there were three replies which have been reprinted on Christian Vegetarianism.]

Sir,—I am much obliged by your kindness in printing my letter. I will be as brief as possible in replying to your three later correspondents; but there are several misunderstandings which I should like to remove.

(1). My complaint, as plainly stated, was not that individual vegetarians should hold what views they like about Christ’s diet, but that they should commit a society to speculations which to rationalists seem absurd. Having sound arguments on our side, why should we be saddled with a foolish one? Mr. Herbert Owen speaks of Weston-super-Mare having been “courageous enough” to publish the leaflet in question. Courageous! The suggestion that Christ was a vegetarian was spoken of, in your issue of last January, as “an extremely valuable means of propaganda”; and in your current number Mr. H. J. Adams actually avows that he could condone “a sophistical interpretation of certain texts,” if some persons were thereby led to the humane diet. The courage is all on the other side, or sorely needed there!

(2). Mr. Dakin is wholly mistaken in thinking that I confused the New Testament in general with the gospels of Christ. I referred to Christ’s teaching itself, as lacking in sympathy with the nonhumans. Mr. Gandhi has remarked very truly that, “One fails to notice Buddha’s love for all fellow-beings in the life of Jesus”; and an English minister, the Rev. Francis Wood, has said much the same in his book, Suffering and Wrong, published by Mr. Ernest Bell in 1916. The texts quoted by Mr. Dakin are entirely irrelevant. The one about the sparrow refers to the omniscience of God—not to any tender care of birds—and as the Rev. F. Wood remarks, the very terms in which the lesson of faith was urged, “Are ye not of much more value than they?” was not likely to change the old idea about human and extra-human.

(3). Mr. Herbert Owen cites the practice of the early Fathers as evidence that vegetarianism “did not conflict with the teachings and practices of Jesus.” Let us be honest in this matter. Either we believe the gospels, or we do not believe them. If we believe them, as most persons do, there is the most explicit testimony that Christ was by no means a vegetarian. If we disbelieve them (as I do) the fact that in the whole body of teaching attributed to him, there is not a word, not a trace, of what l call the humane sense of kinship with animals, which, as it grows, debars men from eating them, seems equally fatal to the vegetarian theory. As for writing of our Fathers, so valued by Mr. Owen, his own predecessor in your columns points out that “Every student of biblical history knows that these documents are historically worthless.” I may leave your two correspondents to settle that point between them!

(4). After fifty years practising and advocating vegetarianism, I am not likely to be prejudiced against the recognition of a great example. But I repeat: this attempt to pretend that Christ was a vegetarian—an attempt in which the wish is so evidently father to the thought—is doing a wrong to our Cause. It is nonsense, and nothing better; and if the societies accept it they will do so at the cost of their own intellectual honesty.

Yours, etc.

Henry S. Salt
21, Cleveland Road, Brighton