[The following is inspired by a Facebook thread dominated by denialists, fundamentalists, purists, and single-issue consumerists and isolationists.]
Many are missing a key point in the rush to absolve themselves and this weak movement of any flaws or imperfections, and to insist that veganism is not a religion, but is in fact its antithesis. Comforting, but wrong on many counts.
There are many criteria that constitute a full and viable definition of religion, and while veganism does not have them all, it meets too many criteria to an uncomfortable degree. Veganism, properly understood, is science, ethics, and anti-oppression politics. But this movement is chock full of fundamentalists and True Believers who think the Second Coming and World Salvation is going to happen in our lifetime, or even in 6 years according to one person! And that the spread of veganism somehow translates into revolutionary social change, if any attention is given at all to oppressive social structures.
It is like a religion in its cultism (Francione and his now dying flock of disciples); in its purism and holier-than-thou pontification that promotes a feeling of superiority to those you judge as impure and not as “enlightened” as you, and that have a deep need for simple answers to complex problems that vegans alone are NEVER going to solve as thinkers or activist! It is like a religion in the mass denialism of what SCIENTISTS are saying and warning, can’t have a little truth about the full extent of global crisis dent that smile and positive faith. It is like a religion in the daily announcements “we are winning!” when we are in are in fact losing badly (with accelerating climate change, overpopulation, species extinction, predatory capitalism, and the massive spike in meat consumption due to the modernization of the two largest countries in the world, China and India).
It is like a religion in its tiny bubble world. It is like a religion in brash preaching methods, where vegangelicals say:”Brother have you found Vegan? Do you have Vegan in your heart?” “Let me show you the way! – as if veganism is not the first but also the last word on knowledge, ethics, personal and social transformation.
It is like a religion in its isolation from society and other social movements, in its sectarianism, it is infighting, in its factionalism where split leads to sub-split. It is like a religion in that any vegan or otherwise who dares challenge the Masters, Gurus, and Groupthink are castigated, ostracized, demonized, called “pessimists” and “dangerous” and stoned with righteous wrath. It is like a religion in the recitation of “facts” with no basis in reality (“every vegan saves 1,000 animals in their lifetime,” etc, when government surplus makes up the difference and the rising Tsunami tide of carnivorism negates the impact).
I used to always deny this charge too, and I took deep offense, and insisted, no, veganism is secular; it is ethics, science, and politics. But increasingly I have seen the rise of cultism, purism, fundamentalism, Manichaeism, and Southern Baptist revival meetings take place daily on the Fakebook news feed. Not everyone needs the crutch of faith and is unable to examine criticism or other perspectives, or — imagine! — listen to the dire warnings of world scientists and social theorists. But enough live in a theological paradigm and narrative to justify rejecting the claim that veganism is not a religion. It is flat wrong to deny the alarming authoritarian, cultish, fundamentalist, fascist purism, Manichean, True Believer Syndrome rife in the global vegan movement. There is a pronounced tendency toward an inability to tolerate criticism and dissent, if only to make veganism a real, living, vital political and ecological force in this world, rather than an insular, marginalized, elitist, non-thinking, ahistorical and apolitical form of mass delusion.
And vegan compassion? Please, toward nonhuman animals, yes, but toward their fellow bipeds, they are as rude, petulant, mean-spirited, and outright vile and ugly as any other group of people. For clearly veganism does not change the basic personality structure, nor other facets of one’s life. I can cite you dozens of pages of petty, hateful, lies and false accusations I have received from “compassionate” fellow vegans in this “loving community,” and pacifists are the most aggressive and violent of them all. Vegans have no monopoly on any virtue whatsoever, and self-righteousness in fact makes them worse and more annoying and alienating people than before being their born again experience and conversion process.
As a vegan for 18 years and activist for 30, it pains me to say this,but I care not whether this is popular, I don’t need the backslaps and faux Fakebook “friendships,” and I have come to this conclusion through long, painful, careful analysis and experience: While CRUCIAL to a viable social and ecological future, veganism is riddled with philosophical flaws and tactical errors and needs to be completely rethought and rebuilt from bottom up, with all the orthodox “truths” and unquestioned assumptions discarded to reconstruct this molecular movement on a more solid basis that acknowledges our marginality, our impotence to effect significant change, the justified contempt spat on us by leftist and progressive movement, the failure of vegan “education,” and the joke of vegan outreach (to white privileged community only).
If you are purist, lifestyle-oriented, consumerist, apolitical, single-issue, uninvolved in other social issues and struggles, unwavering in your “faith” that “we will win,” don’t read scientific and ecological reports; don’t study the social and ecological crisis unfolding throughout the world; only read vegan literature, feel yourself morally superior to non-vegans (there are MANY criteria of being a good person and ethical citizen other than food choices); and if you are offended or alienated by what I am saying, by any sort of constructive criticism and provocative challenge to your belief system and self-identity; and especially if you respond to me with insults, anger, and hatred, you are, my friend, a vegangelical, through and through, and there is no virtue in that whatsoever. Get thee to a nunnery.
Despite the clams of lifestyle vegans, veganism IS hard, it is NOT easy — that is, if you are operating with a rich, manifold, and political concept of deep veganism rather than the facile, purist, lifestyle, single issue, color-by-numbers approach. No, on the whole, it is not hard to find and cook vegan food for many people, especially privileged whites or middle and upper classes of any type. But it IS hard to transcend the reduction of veganism to lifestyle issues, one-dimensional perspectives, groupthink, and comforting delusions, in favor of challenging study of a wide array of disciplines and issues, and a politics of resistance that seeks radical social transformation at the institutional level, rather than a lifestyle level with occasional and perfunctory efforts at “education.”
Veganism is hard, because of the intense challenge to break out of the prisonhouse of marginalization. It is a formidable task to address the larger issues of power, domination, and deep crisis; and to become part of a vital global alliance politics and resistance movement that alone has any chance to stop our rapid descent into oblivion, as we take countless species with us and inflict untold damage to the planetary ecosystems that are already preparing their furies for us.