The Peaceable Table

A Vegetarian Journal for Quakers and Other People of Faith

The Peaceable Table is intended for the mutual support, education, and inspiration of people of faith in the practice of love for our fellow animals and observance of a nonviolent diet

Guest Editorial: Under Her Wings: The Pollomorphic God

By Carol J. Adams



I am interested in what appears to me to be a contradiction.
It is good, natural, Biblical, theological, to anthropomorphize God.
It is (usually) not good, natural, Biblical, theological, to anthropomorphize animals, especially if it is in an attempt to ameliorate human relationships with domesticated or otherwise institutionalized animals.

I began thinking about this when, many years ago I read this sentence in philosopher Mary Midgley’s Animals and Why They Matter: “Anthropomorphism is a remarkable concept. It may be the only example of a notion invented solely for God, and then transferred unchanged to refer to animals.” (p. 125)


God as Human

How is God anthropomorphized? We refer to God in terms that we associate with humans: God is a father, a lord, a ruler. And we refer to God’s attributes in language that we associate with humans: God loves us, God gets angry with us, God is jealous. We refer to God as having the body parts of humans (God’s feet were heard as God walked in the Garden of Eden; God’s mighty hand and outstretched arm rescued the slaves at the parting of the Red Sea, God’s sensitive hand like a skilled potter's formed us from the dirt of the ground, and God’s breath lovingly blown into our nostrils gave us life. In Exodus 33, God--speaking in language Moses can understand--refers to God’s hand and God’s back and God’s face (the latter which Moses is not permitted to see). God hears us--that is, has ears.

My partner, a Presbyterian minister, did a sermon series answering questions posed by his congregation. One question was, “How do you picture God?” After describing these anthropomorphic references to God in the Hebrew Scriptures, Bruce referred to these as a “Divine anatomy lesson,” but suggested, “These references should not be taken as a realistic description of God’s being, but rather these references are examples of how we visualize God based upon how God works in the world.”


God as Bird

We could turn to Biblical examples of God not anthropomorphized, but pollo-morphized: i.e., represented as a chicken.

In the beginning, God hovered or brooded over the earth. The first image of God in the Bible is of a brooding female bird; the earth is God’s egg, or chick, upon which God is hovering, or brooding. John Wesley comments thus on Genesis 1:2, “The Spirit of God was the first Mover; He moved upon the face of the waters--He moved upon the face of the deep, as the hen gathereth her chicken under her wings, and hovers over them, to warm and cherish them, Mt 23:37 [and] as the eagle stirs up her nest, and fluttereth over her young, ('tis the same word that is here used)."

I asked activist Karen Davis to define brooding for us. She wrote: “‘Brooding’ is when a hen decides --has a mind-- to sit on a clutch of eggs, and her mood to do so is called ‘broody.’ She’s a ‘broody hen’ because she is totally focused on her eggs/embryos and, after they hatch, on keeping her chicks warm, dry and safe, by taking them periodically through the day, and at night, under her wings for the first two months or so."

Before there were humans, the Biblical writers tell us, there was the idea of the chicken, or of some fowl who behaves similarly to chickens. One thing this opening of Genesis seems to me to say, is that before chickens even existed, God had in God’s mind (there I go anthropomorphizing) the idea of the chicken, the idea of what a chicken’s maternal care looked like. Do we perhaps anthropomorphize God to avoid encountering God pollomorphized?


In Deuteronomy 32: 11-12, God is represented as an eagle mother who not only nurtures her young, but empowers them as well; there is a suggestion that she makes the nest uncomfortable so they will try their wings, but if they don't make it, she catches them: “As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings: So the Lord alone did lead him, and there was no strange god with him.” (KJV) Similarly, in Isaiah 31:5 "Like birds hovering overhead, the LORD Almighty will shield Jerusalem; he will shield it and deliver it, he will 'pass over' it and will rescue it."

The idea of God's being like a chicken makes many uncomfortable--or perhaps ought to. In Bill Watterson's comic strip Calvin and Hobbes, an anxious Calvin at the dinner table raises the prickly question to his oblivious parents: "What if we die and it turns out God is a big chicken?


What then ?!" Calvin shouts the obvious answer, perhaps, to his own question about a pollomorphized God: “Eternal consequences, that’s what!”


God and (Real) Animals
Another response is to recognize that the biblical God refers to animals praying to God. Job 38: “Who provides for the raven its prey, when its young ones cry to God, and wander about for lack of food?” Of the many things going on in this extended passage, two stand out for this issue: God answered Job out of the whirlwind, describing the incredible power and beauty of the “natural world,” and then turns toward examples from the other animals. God discusses the animals in ways that are not anthropomorphic or anthropocentric but acknowledge their own identity and needs. These animals, too, can cry to God; there is even a suggestion (Job 39) that the wild ass was once a slave, carrying burdens for humans in a city--his own Egypt--but has been liberated: “Who has let the wild ass go free? Who has loosed the bonds of the swift ass, to whom I have given the steppe for his home, and the salt land for his dwelling place?” Then again, God presents the animals as making decisions, “[the wild ass] scorns the tumult of the city; he hear not the shouts of the driver…” “Is the wild ox willing to serve you?”

In the Psalms, the other animals have the ability to praise God: "Praise the Lord . . . . beasts and all cattle, / Creeping things and flying birds!" (Psalm 148: 7, 10). (St. Francis wasn't the first to urge the birds to praise God!) In Revelation, we find animals around the throne praising God, saying "Holy, Holy, Holy. . ." (Revelation 4:8-9).


We could also consider the telos, the ultimate purpose, of animals. For centuries the Christian mainstream has held that they are here to serve human purposes. But when we try to take the porcine or the divine point of view, other possibilities open. What is the telos of any individual animal? Gary Comstock has written compellingly about how the telos of a pig is to root; a case might also be made that it is to play, to snuggle, or to eat. (Perhaps the telos of Balaam’s ass is to recognize and relate to angels?) Why do we assume the animals exist to please us rather than God and themselves?

Jesus, the Good News, and the Animals

A discussion of the remedies to the potential Christian double standard in anthropomorphism is incomplete without considering Jesus. Jesus continues the tradition of pollomorphizing we found in the Hebrew Scriptures. In Matthew 23:37, he says longingly, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem… how often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!”

But many of the stories about Jesus’s ministry acknowledge that similarity is not the basis for an ethical standard. Think for instance of the Samaritan woman’s comments at the well (John 4), such as, "How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?" and her emphasis on their differences. Jesus’s ministry is not about someone having to be like us to be the recipient of unconditional love. The fact is that if it’s truly unconditional love, the giver and the receiver don’t have to be alike.

Echoing Deut.. 10:19 and Ex. 23:9, Jesus teaches us to welcome the stranger, the alien, in our midst into fellowship. What is stranger than nonverbal beings to someone operating from standards of anthropomorphism? Jesus teaches us hospitality for all, even society's outcasts. Does this include sheltering animals as a hen would gather her chicks? In the 21st century, does this require working against factory farms and recognizing that table hospitality extends to not putting animals on the plate? Jesus teaches us nonviolence . . .to put down the sword. For the 21st century Christian does this include our knives and forks when they become weapons against the other animals?

In the end, the problem isn’t that anthropomorphism is a double standard, but that the standards of anthropomorphism are problematic, if not dangerous. Maybe it’s not a double standard, but a false standard.
Jesus was one of us, but the good news of his ministry wasn’t based on similarity. It is not our likeness to one another that matters; it is the quality of our relationships with each other.


Alike and Unlike

If we can recognize the inherent biases that occur with a belief in an anthropomorphized God and a “theo”-morphized human being, we can become more care-ful about the fate of animals. We can unmoor ourselves from having to be in the image of God (or, perhaps, seeing ourselves in a false image of God), and the limits that imposes on God and us, so that we can live, and live well, on the Earth. It reminds us of our difference from God, and more to the point, God’s difference from us.


If the fact that anthropomorphizing God helps perpetuate the legitimateness of an anthropomorphic standard, and one of the results of that standard is to support the yearly killing of ten billion land animals in the United States alone (most of them chickens), then we have to consider the implications of continuing to do it, even if, in and of itself, such anthropomorphizing in God’s case is legitimate. It’s all part of a greater relationship.

It’s interesting that when we turn to the New Interpreter’s Bible, regarding Genesis 1:26, the writers tell us “have dominion [rada]” “must be understood in terms of caregiving, even nurturing, not exploitation.”
We have been given rada! What God did at creation, what Jesus wanted to do to Jerusalem, it is now our turn to do: to relate to the world, the created order, as a hen does to her chicks.


We must take them—the animals--under our wing.


This essay is derived from "Anthropomorphism: The Christian Double Standard? A Reflection", the fourth annual Animals and the Kingdom of God Lecture, given by Carol Adams at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Mich., on March 11, 2011. Copyright 2011 by Carol J. Adams.


Photo of hen and chick by Alena. Cartoon strip by Bill Watterson, copyright by Andrews McMeel Publishing Co. Permission to reproduce sought.

Unset Gems:

". . . So far as [God's] love influences our minds, so far we . . . feel a desire to take hold of every opportunity to lessen the distresses of the afflicted and increase the happiness of creation."

--John Woolman, "A Plea for the Poor"


". . . [T]he apocalyptic witness . . . is simply the cooperation with God in the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God, by living as if this Kingdom has already come."

--William Durland, "The Apocalyptic Witness"

News Notes

Two "Ag Gag" Bills Fail to Pass

Good news! The bills which the agribusiness industry had introduced in Florida and Minnesota to criminalize photographing abuses inside their facilities are officially dead. (However, Florida's governor has pledged to bring it back in his state.) Paul Shapiro, senior director of farm animal protection for The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) said, "These draconian bills to silence whistle-blowers show just how far the animal agribusiness industry is willing to go, and just how much the industry has to hide . . . " Similar bills are pending in Iowa and New York. See Ag Gag

--Contributed by Lorena Mucke


All the Way Home

On March 30 five little pigs, apparently fallen from a truck bound for market, turned up on Interstate-40, blocking traffic and prompting commuters to call police. The half-grown piglets were arrested and taken to the shelter of the Durham (N.C.) Animal Protection Society, where their winsome personalities and lively play won friends. Despite much publicity, their "owners" did not claim them, but both farmers and animal lovers expressed strong interest in getting them. As state law required, they were sold at auction on May 27, all going to an "angel," happily. Their new home is a sanctuary in Florida. See Piglets and Going Home

--Contributed by Lorena Mucke

A Glimpse of the Peaceable Kingdom

Bird Befriends Human Child


Emmanuel Adams, a schoolboy who lives in Sunderland, in northeast England, has been selected by a jackdaw to be his special friend. The bird rode Emmanuel's shoulder to school from January 2011 until March, upon which he moved in with Emmanuel's family. See Bird & Boy

Letter: Lisa Adams

Dear Peaceable Friends,
I have been reading The Peaceable Table for some time and enjoy it immensely, although I approach vegetarianism from a slightly different standpoint. Because of this, I wanted to offer my response to two comments made in this most recent newsletter. One was the comment that "humans are herbivores (or healthiest) as such...for us to eat animals is culture not nature." From what I read of anthropological research, I agree that culture (e.g. tool-using) evolved alongside meat-eating, whether scavenging or hunting or both. Although certainly human culture can grow and change (and we hope it does), I do not think we can so easily dismiss the fact that meat-eating is deeply embedded in the human make-up. Humans and culture are inseparable; culture is, in some ways, what distinguishes us--perhaps in degree, not absolutes--from other animals. And the culture of meat-eating seems to stem from our very origins as hominids--or perhaps even as primates, since in recent decades scientists have discovered that other primates are meat-eaters and even hunters. So to say [or] suggest, even indirectly, that we should merely be "natural" is a somewhat simplistic if not illogical solution, and to state that humans are herbivores, as I understand from contemporary research, is incorrect. (It would be more correct, I think, to say that humans "can be" herbivores.)

For someone like me, in fact, the recognition of the key role of meat in numerous human cultures was a serious impediment to my becoming a vegetarian for years. I could not bring myself to say that, for instance, the Inuit are immoral or wrong to eat meat, when their whole culture and lifeway evolved to do so, and do so in a much more sustainable fashion than cultures such as modern western ones. Nor was I prepared to state that much of the natural world--which involves numerous instances of creatures eating (or otherwise harming) other creatures--was inherently wrong. I only came to vegetarianism after reading authors such as Jane Goodall and Peter Singer, who suggested that I need not necessarily make such a philosophical statement as "eating meat is wrong," but that I must recognize that the way we--in the West--eat meat is wrong because of the amount of suffering and harm it causes for animals, humans, and the environment.

I recognize that this is a completely different philosophical and religious basis for vegetarianism than you or perhaps other readers hold, but I think it is also a valid one. I think it is also important to realize that there are perhaps millions of people who will come to vegetarianism--or a reduced-meat diet--not through making absolute statements but from realizing that small changes make a difference. To reduce suffering and harm, we need as many people eating at the vegetarian-vegan table as often as possible, and not all will come by the same route. This brings me to the other point on which I would like to comment, and that is the suggestion by another reader that eating meat as a guest in someone's home or other location is "lacking commitment or morality." I have sometimes opted for the choice of eating meat in certain social situations--one often does not know that one will be partaking of a meal, nor have time to prepare something, nor have a host who would not be offended by declining food. And, yet even as I eat the meal, I try to bring up a discussion of my more customary diet. I think more people listen to me because I have not offended them or, as some have said, been "difficult" or "judgmental" (or worse epithets) like other vegetarians they know, and they can see that they can make a difference without committing to an absolute with which they will never agree.

Thank you for your attention, and thank you for the inspiring newsletter.

My conviction is that cultures where humans cannot survive without eating animals are tragic. As with animal predation, they can be seen, following Jewish and Christian tradition, as instances of the "fallenness" of creation, subject without (or with) our will to unawareness, violence, and grief. But the mind of God is to restore creation to its true paradisal state of beauty and love; and we are called to be the means to this restoration.--Editor

A short essay by Stephen Augustine, "Are Humans Naturally Meat Eaters?" (see What to Eat?) and a longer one by Milton R. Mills (see Anatomy ) speak helpfully to the issue of human physiology and the spectrum of herbivorism-carnivorism. (Thanks to Lorena Mucke and Steve Kaufman.)

We welcome responses from readers.


Carrot Salad with Miso Dressing
Serves 4 -6

6 organic carrots, cleaned and grated
1 organic pink lady apple, peeled and grated
¼ cup roasted and salted cashew halves
2 T. freshly chopped chives
1 tsp. sesame seeds
 Miso Dressing
2 T. mellow white miso
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. toasted sesame seed oil
2 T. water
¼ tsp. ground ginger OR 1 inch piece, peeled and grated
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
½ tsp. sea salt (or to taste)
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
 Place miso dressing ingredients in a jar (at least 18 oz. jar) with a lid. Whisk ingredients together , using small whisk. Place lid tightly on jar; shake to mix well. Pour desired amount on the carrot- apple mixture. Store remaining dressing in refrigerator. Use within a few days.
Place carrots and apple in medium size serving bowl, toss together with Miso dressing; add cashews. Top with chives and sesame seeds. Toss together and serve.
-- Angela Suarez

 White Bean Dip
Makes about 2 cups

1 ½ cup white beans, cooked
3 scallions, chopped
3 T. fresh parsley or cilantro, chopped
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. agave nectar
Juice of 1 lemon
1 T. brown rice vinegar
2 tsp. mellow white miso
2 tsp. brown rice syrup
3 T. extra virgin olive oil
filtered water

Process all ingredients except water. Add a little water at a time to desired consistency. Place in a serving bowl. Serve with vegetables and crusty bread or gluten free crackers.
--Angela Suarez

Pioneer: Henry Steel Olcott, 1832-1907

Henry Steel Olcott was an agronomist, the co-founder and first president of the Theosophical Society, an early western advocate of Buddhism, and a pioneering vegetarian. He was born in Orange, New Jersey, and attended Columbia University. A man of many interests, he next spent two years as a young man on an uncle's farm in Ohio, where he acquired both a fascination with the spiritualism then sweeping through that part of the country and a concern for scientific agriculture. Devoting full attention to the latter for a time, he wrote a still well-regarded book on sorgho cultivation (1858), then became agricultural correspondent for the New York Tribune. (He also managed the dangerous task of witnessing incognito the hanging of the abolitionist John Brown, and described it vividly in that paper.)

When the Civil War began in 1861, Olcott served briefly in the Signal Corps but became ill and was invalided out. After recovery, he was retained by the War Department to bring to light fraudulent suppliers to the Union Army, a task he performed so well he was made a colonel, and was later appointed to the commission investigating the assassination of President Lincoln in 1865.

After the war, Olcott took up the study of law, was admitted to the bar in New York in 1868, and practiced successfully for some years. He kept spiritualism and journalism on the back burner, however, and in 1874 took an assignment from the New York Sun to write about alleged spiritualist phenomena at the home of the Eddy brothers in Chittenden, Vermont. The ensuing sensational reports were published in the paper and also as a book, People from the Other World (1875). Even more importantly for his future, Olcott there met Helena Blavatsky (1831-91), an imposing woman of aristocratic Russian background recently come to the U.S. out of a similar interest in spiritualism.

They hit it off, and before long the unlikely pair, a colorful Old World exotic and a sturdy Yankee lawyer, joined forces. In 1875 their mutual enthusiasms led them, with some like-minded friends, largely of the "bohemian" sort, to form the Theosophical Society to facilitate that study.

In late 1878, the "Theosophical Twins," as Olcott now liked to call them, embarked for India, where they believed an Ancient Wisdom which lay behind much of the world's little-understood happenings was more readily accessible.

The complex tale of their adventures in Hindustan cannot be told here. Suffice it to say that they created a considerable commotion, creating suspicious doubters as well as friends among the British overlords in this the heyday of the Raj, as well as much sympathy from the native peoples. This was because of Olcott's and Blavatsky's sympathetic interest, unusual in those days, in the indigenous religion and culture.


Olcott resided in India the remainder of his life, as international president of the Theosophical Society, as traveling lecturer and psychic healer, and as friend of Buddhism. He encountered the latter faith first in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), and subsequently represented grievances of Buddhists in that beautiful isle "where every prospect pleases, and only man is vile" to the Colonial Office in London, winning some reforms. He is still regarded as a national hero in Sri Lanka.

It may be that the example of devout Buddhists, as well as of many Hindus in India, led Blavatsky and Olcott in the direction of vegetarianism. It was not a smooth transition. Blavatsky, a woman of ample proportions and appetite to match, wrote in her characteristic very forceful style on behalf of animals and against meat-eating toward the end of her life, but she never actually demanded more than cutting way back. It is not certain whether she ever became consistently vegetarian or not. But Olcott became definitely vegetarian, with one exceptional period, as we shall see.

Here we shall turn to his delightful Old Diary Leaves, a series of six volumes of reminiscences he wrote some years later (they are not literally a diary) recounting his many adventures. In volume III (1883-87), the American tells of tiffin [lunch] with Lieutenant Colonel A. Kenney-Herbert, a British officer with the Government of Madras and a man who, the narrator tells us, possessed "so perfect a genius for cooking, that I believe he could develop the latent potentialities of a potato or parsnip so as to force one to realise what must have been the food of the Olympian gods. . . He invited H. P. B. [Blavatsky] and myself to his house on day to a tiffin which, in compliment to us, he made an entirely vegetarian repast. . . The service matched the food, giving one the impression that this was not a feast of Gargantua, but a Lucullan banquet over the preparation of which an exquisitely refined taste had presided. Most of our Western vegetarian cookery, on the other hand, has given me the impression that it was but the serving up of chicken feed in a style the reverse of attractive to a refined nature. If vegetarians could but get [Kenney-Herbert] to teach them how to do it, their cause would win fifty converts where it now does one. They have proved unmistakably that vegetable food is as nutritious and healthier than meat diet, they need go no farther; but their cause can never be won until their cooks learn how to make one's mouth water at sight of their dishes."


Unfortunately, a later episode in the same book requires a modification of this idyllic picture. During one of his travels about India on behalf of the Theosophical Society, Olcott was prostrated by illness and extreme weakness, which he attributed to "indigestible food, aggravated by the intense, debilitating heat." A certain Dr. Mahendranath Ganguli strongly recommended his taking chicken broth, "which, after some hesitation, I did, thus breaking the vegetarian course of diet which I had been following for several years. The effect was instantaneous, my physical strength poured into me in full force, and by the next day I was quite recovered. [One wonders if the placebo effect had a major part in this impressive recovery?] From that time on I did not return to vegetable diet until about two years ago, when I did so on the advice of the French clairvoyant, Mme. Mongruel (queerly appropriate name for the occasion!) with the happiest result."

Since the late nineteenth century, the Theosophical Society has strongly promoted vegetarianism as an expression of its affirmation of the oneness of all life. (However, it is not mandated for regular members). Meat is never served at functions under its sponsorship, and the nutritional as well as compassionate and spiritual benefits of this diet are recognized.

Poetry: Al-Ma'arri (973-1057)

I No Longer Steal From Nature

You are diseased in understanding and religion.
Come . . . , that you may hear something of sound truth.
Do not unjustly eat fish the water has given up,
And do not desire as food the flesh of slaughtered animals,
Or the white milk of mothers who intended its pure draught
for their young, not noble ladies.
And do not grieve the unsuspecting birds by taking eggs;
for injustice is the worst of crimes.

And spare the honey
Which the bees get industriously
from the flowers of fragrant plants;
For they did not store it that it might belong to others,
Nor did they gather it for bounty and gifts.
I washed my hands of all this; and wish that I
Had seen my way before my hair went gray!

--Contributed by Judy Carman and Will Tuttle
Photo of bee and blossom by Aussiegall

Al-Ma'arri (Abu Ala) was a blind Syrian poet and philosopher who was critical of the absolute claims of religions. He followed an ascetic lifestyle, including a compassion-based vegan diet.

The Peaceable Table is a project of Quaker Animal Kinship / Animal Kinship Committee of Orange Grove Friends Meeting, Pasadena, California. It is intended to resume the witness of that excellent vehicle of the Friends Vegetarian Society of North America, The Friendly Vegetarian, which appeared quarterly between 1982 and 1995. Following its example, and sometimes borrowing from its treasures, we publish articles for toe-in-the-water vegetarians as well as long-term ones.

The journal is intended to be interactive; contributions, including illustrations, are invited for the next issue. Deadline for the July issue will be June 27, 2011. Send to or 10 Krotona Hill, Ojai, CA 93023. We operate primarily online in order to conserve trees and labor, but hard copy is available for interested persons who are not online. The latter are asked, if their funds permit, to donate $12 (USD) per year. Other donations to offset the cost of the domain name and server are welcome.

Editor: Gracia Fay Ellwood
Book and Film Reviewers: Benjamin Urrutia & Robert Ellwood
Recipe Editor: Angela Suarez
NewsNotes Editors: Lorena Mucke and Marian Hussenbux
Technical Architect: Richard Scott Lancelot Ellwood