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Film review: Christspiracy: The spirituality secret

18 March 2024

Stephen Brown reviews a new documentary about world religions and meat-eating

A still from the documentary Christspiracy: The spirituality secret

A still from the documentary Christspiracy: The spirituality secret

IN A competition for the worst film title ever, Christspiracy: The Spirituality Secret (Cert. 15) would certainly stand a good chance. The title also fails to do justice to how comprehensive this documentary is in asking whether there is an ethical or spiritual way to kill animals.

Kip Andersen’s previous films explored the environmental impact of the meat trade and the adverse effect that its products have on health. The director admits to being religiously ignorant (though adopting certain Buddhist-style practices); so he teams up with Kameron Waters, a young born-again Christian. Together they chronicle how all religions appear to exploit animals, even those whose primary tenet is the sacredness of every life. Much investigation revolves around that somewhat overworked question: What would Jesus do? But the pair examine animal sacrifice from the earliest of times — long before Jesus — and across all the great world religions.

This is not a film for the squeamish, as we witness multiple scenes of cruel slaughter. Less would have been more without losing the point. There is no doubt the makers’ hearts are in the right place. Pretty much all the Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim, and Christian leaders interviewed stumble to justify meat consumption. Carnivores will be left wondering whether there is any theologian on the planet who can produce a robust argument for meat-eating.

Hands down, the vegetarians win every argument, though often with fairly dodgy exegesis. They mainly quote apocryphal Gospels and the Dead Sea Scrolls as favouring their case while declaring into the bargain that Christianity deliberately suppressed these writings. It is claimed that Abrahamic religions ignore facts such as that Noah, Daniel, and God (Genesis 1.29) advocated vegetarianism. Despite the holy nature of cows in Hinduism, opposition to festivals of mass slaughter is dealt with severely in India. Islam, it is said, flies in the face of Muhammad’s sacred attitude towards sentient beings with its halal method of animal slaughter. Even Buddhism differentiates between killing animals oneself and eating meat as the result of death in some other way.

The most cogent interview is with the Revd Dr Andrew Linzey, whose many books have argued the case for Christians to renounce a meat diet. I struggled with a textual interpretation that the filmmakers seize on: Jesus cleansing the Temple. Biblical condemnation is of avaricious moneychangers in a house of prayer. The film reasons that their wealth came through revenue from animals slaughtered there. One ancient meaning of pecuniary refers to livestock.

While there is a certain naïvety, verging on fundamentalism, in much of the documentary’s approach, it does usefully summarise many common misgivings about killing animals. The film works best of all when exploring possible links between human treatment of other creatures and slavery, misogyny, and genocide. Once we take the spiritual high ground, elevating humanity (men, in particular) to the status a superior order to the rest of God’s creation, permission is given to violate the rights of others. “Holocaust”, after all, began in scripture to described the burnt offerings of animals. It has, by association, come to denote the horrors of Nazi death camps.

The film is only, at this stage, being screened in cinemas on 20 March.

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