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Hunting and Eating Animals—Another View

…all phenomena are divided into that which eats and that which is eaten. – Abdu’l-Baha, Foundations of World Unity, p. 52.


“Do Baha’is agree on everything?” Someone asked me the other day.


No, they don’t. After all, Baha’is come from all cultures and civilizations, from every race and tribal group, from all social classes, from every nation on Earth. Baha’is think independently, and because the Baha’i Faith has no clergy, dogma or orthodoxy, are free to think as they see fit.


So while Baha’is definitely agree on the core principles of their Faith, we can also differ substantially in our views and opinions about many things. Because the Baha’i Faith is not a cult, where the members’ thoughts and viewpoints are tightly controlled and manipulated, Baha’is have the freedom to hold their own ideas, and the Baha’i teachings openly expect and encourage that diversity of opinion. The Baha’i writings say clearly that people:


…must take counsel together in such wise that no occasion for ill-feeling or discord may arise. This can be attained when every member expresseth with absolute freedom his own opinion and setteth forth his argument. Should anyone oppose, he must on no account feel hurt for not until matters are fully discussed can the right way be revealed. The shining spark of truth cometh forth only after the clash of differing opinions. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 87.


So no, individual Baha’is don’t always agree with each other, which is normal and natural. Here’s one example: hunting and eating animals. To illustrate that healthy difference in points of view, today we’ll publish two essays here at—one from Mark Heinz, a Baha’i who hunts, kills and eats wild game; and this essay from me, which explains why I personally oppose the practice. We thought that the truth might emerge with this friendly clash of differing opinions.


I used to hunt as a young boy, but gave it up at 12 years old, three years before I first encountered the Baha’i Faith. I gave it up for a few reasons: my family moved from rural Washington State, where game was plentiful and abundant, to urban Arizona, where the only game was an occasional rattlesnake. Also, my family’s economic status improved a little, and I no longer had to shoot a pheasant or a duck for dinner so my little brothers and sisters could eat. But mostly, I gave up hunting because I had a beautiful seven-point buck in my rifle sights and couldn’t pull the trigger.


Anyone who grew up hunting knows that moment, because it’s become a rite of passage—going on your first deer hunt with Dad. My father, an excellent tracker and hunter, decided to take me along when I had grown up enough to handle a deer rifle. I had hunted smaller targets, mostly birds, since I was seven or eight, so I knew enough to graduate to bigger game. The venison from the deer I planned to shoot would feed our family of seven for much of the winter, so this was no sport hunting—it had real full-stomach or empty-stomach consequences.


On the third day of our hunt my father and I, after several miserably cold hours on the trail of a deer with huge hoofprints, finally saw him. From my perch behind a tree I drew a bead on him, and at that moment he raised his head and looked my way. From the excitement and anticipation of my first big kill, I immediately experienced an emotion I hadn’t felt before: I was awestruck. That buck, with his majestic antlers and his intelligent eyes and his tawny thick coat, seemed suddenly the epitome of grace and beauty to me. I wanted to squeeze the trigger, and would have—but I literally couldn’t. He was so intensely alive that taking his life, even to feed my family, seemed to violate some deep law of the universe. I handed the rifle to my father, and surprisingly, he didn’t want to shoot that buck, either. We let him go.


I realized I had reached a seminal point in my life. I knew, from that moment on, that I didn’t want to intentionally harm any living being. I haven’t since then. Am I a vegan? No—I still eat fish or turkey, although less and less these days, as my wife and I try to gradually shift to a plant-based diet. Meanwhile, I try to guide my dietary decisions by these two quotes from the Baha’i writings:


Truly, the killing of animals and the eating of their meat is somewhat contrary to pity and compassion, and if one can content oneself with cereals, fruit, oil and nuts, such as pistachios, almonds and so on, it would undoubtedly be better and more pleasing. – from a tablet of Abdu’l-Baha to an individual Baha’i.


I have read thy letter, wherein thou didst express astonishment at some of the laws of God, such as that concerning the hunting of innocent animals, creatures who are guilty of no wrong.


Be thou not surprised at this. Reflect upon the inner realities of the universe, the secret wisdoms involved, the enigmas, the inter-relationships, the rules that govern all. For every part of the universe is connected with every other part by ties that are very powerful and admit of no imbalance, nor any slackening whatever. In the physical realm of creation, all things are eaters and eaten: the plant drinketh in the mineral, the animal doth crop and swallow down the plant, man doth feed upon the animal, and the mineral devoureth the body of man. Physical bodies are transferred past one barrier after another, from one life to another, and all things are subject to transformation and change, save only the essence of existence itself — since it is constant and immutable, and upon it is founded the life of every species and kind, of every contingent reality throughout the whole of creation.


Whensoever thou dost examine, through a microscope, the water man drinketh, the air he doth breathe, thou wilt see that with every breath of air, man taketh in an abundance of animal life, and with every draught of water, he also swalloweth down a great variety of animals. How could it ever be possible to put a stop to this process? For all creatures are eaters and eaten, and the very fabric of life is reared upon this fact. Were it not so, the ties that interlace all created things within the universe would be unravelled. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 157.


I recognize that the lives and the livelihood of many millions of people depend on the hunting or domestication of animals and their use for food and clothing, so I’m not condemning it in any way. In fact, I think that’s what the great Faiths always do—leave these kinds of decisions up to the individual and the individual conscience.

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