Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Bacon in World Religions

So, fun fact: of the major world religions, Christianity is the only one that doesn’t officially prohibit bacon.

That’s right. If someone is a devout Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, or Jew, they’re not supposed to eat bacon. Pigs of the world, rejoice!

To me, this isn’t just a bit of trivia, or a suggestion for a new kind of evangelism. I wrote my final research paper of my college career on bacon in different world religions. (Always an excellent way to end an academic career—ten pages of research wrapped in greasy pigskin.)

"For where your bacon is, there will your heart be also." (Really New Living Translation)

Anyway, here’s a quick summary of the reasons other religions don’t allow bacon. (I am not even doing justice to this here, but I figured you didn’t want to read a ten-page paper about it.)

Bacon in Judaism

  • The Mosaic Law includes pork as an unclean food

  • Important for being set apart

  • Emphasizes the fact that having specific rules even around food makes them aware of God’s lordship in everyday life

  • Only Orthodox, not Reformed

Bacon in Islam

  • Pork is forbidden in the Qur’an (unless you’re starving)

  • Pigs are seen as dirty and brazen

  • General obedience to a command of Allah

Bacon in Hinduism and Buddhism

  • Vegetarianism preached (eating animals leads to bad karma), but not practiced by all devotees

  • Ethics of harming animals—belief that god is in/through everything

  • Could lead to violence in other areas

So, basically, for the Eastern religions (Hinduism and Buddhism), bacon isn’t allowed to be eaten because it is part of a larger category (meat/animal products) that harms living things. Even though Eastern religions aren’t highly rules-centered, a lot of times they have stricter dietary laws. You can’t just go meditate when it comes to what you eat, because reincarnation and a commitment to not harming any living thing makes that unethical.

In the Western religions, except Christianity, bacon is part of a detailed (seemingly random) list of dos and don’ts dating from ancient times. Dietary laws aren’t about the ethics of eating animals. They’re about what obeying the practices will do for the hearts of the worshippers. The one God decided that these foods are not ethical, and following his righteous rules is the what it means to practice the faith. That God is seen as holy and pure, words never used to describe pigs, so it’s logical for that kind of God to forbid bacon.

Summary: Eastern religions forbid bacon because they raise the value of the pig and want to respect it. Western religions forbid bacon because they lower the value of the pig and want to obey God’s command to avoid it.

So, why can Christians eat bacon? (Check out Romans 14:20-21 and Col. 2:20-22 if you need proof that we can.)

If I were a Hindu or Buddhist, I’d probably say that Christians, while mostly ethical, don’t appreciate the value of all life. They’ll have some extra karma to work off next time around.

If I were a Jew, I’d talk about how Christianity is basically a knock-off version of Judaism. But they had to get the Gentiles to join in somehow, and Gentiles love bacon, so the dietary rules had to go, along with circumcision and other things that would seem strange to pagans.

If I were a Muslim, I’d point out that Christians (especially Protestants) don’t have a strong tradition of rituals that interrupt their daily lives. It’s easier for a Christian to think of what they do, including what they eat, as not being a spiritual issue at all.
But I’m a Christian, and while all of these answers are kinda true, I think the lack of dietary restrictions in my faith goes deeper.

When asked to think of how Christianity was different from other world religions, C. S. Lewis reportedly answered, “Why that’s easy. Grace.”

Christians can eat bacon because of grace.

That may possibly be the dumbest and most irreverent sentence I’ve ever written, because grace is so much more than that. Still, ever since the question of which foods are clean was introduced to the early church way back in the first century, the debate comes back to our freedom in Christ.

When contrasted with Judaism and Islam, freedom in Christ means that our focus isn’t on obeying a certain set of purity regulations. We are set apart by our status as people redeemed by Jesus, not by our ceremonial cleanliness.

When contrasted with Buddhism and Hinduism, freedom in Christ means that we aren’t of the same value as the creation around us…and we’re also not God. That separation means we have a responsibility to steward living things, but we shouldn’t worship them or give them a higher place than they deserve.

So there it is. Just like God’s command to Peter in Acts 10 “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean” wasn’t really about food, Christians’ permission to eat bacon is really about something much more important: freedom in Christ.


  1. I would have used Acts 10 as primary allowance for eating bacon, though I see you mentioned it later. You must have had so much fun working on this paper. :)

  2. I really enjoyed a sermon on Deuteronomy 14 which made the point the distinction of food types points to a deeper distinction that exists in Christ. At first I thought it was a clumsy way of leaping to the NT as the hypercritical log that always hits me in the face was being raised for a second blow I realised that the preacher was saying something intelligent.

    In Christ, there is purity. Outside of him is impurity. Dietary restrictions teach us something about the nature of the world, namely that there are these categories of clean and unclean. The distinction happened at the fall, it is demarcated at the cross and you move between them through Christ. Now you made me want to go and find that sermon...

    It's fascinating to me that rejecting bacon comes from both elevating and relegating, I hadn't noticed that before.

    The most important thing is, of course, that the proof of the paper is in the eating. There aren't any religions that have qualms about fried eggs are there?

    1. I also have the tendency to be critical of sermons/books. It's something I'm trying to work on. Sounds like that would be a fascinating sermon!

      Well, Hinduism and Buddhism technically discourage adherents from eating eggs, but not everyone follows that. (Confession: I don't even like bacon, so eggs would be my first breakfast choice as well.)