Studies have found that most vegans are either atheist or not religious, and there are a number of possible explanations why these groups are more likely to be vegan.
In a 2017 survey of 11,000 vegans, 47% said they do not actively practice religion, the largest choice selected.
A 2013 survey found that only 11% of vegans said they belonged to a major religion with 43% identifying as atheist or agnostic and 45% reporting that they are “spiritual but not religious.”
To understand why veganism is more appealing to atheists and irreligious individuals, we have to first look at the connection between religion and veganism.
Why Religion Plays Such a Big Role in Veganism
A Pew Research poll found that 41% of Christian men and 59% of Christian women say they look to religion as the primary source of guidance on what’s right and wrong.
Considering that veganism is an ethical lifestyle choice, such high numbers of people looking to religion for morality can have a massive impact on whether they choose to eat meat.
Religious Books Are Often Contradictory When It Comes to Eating Meat
There are over 10,000 religions in the world, and while it is not known if any of them require the consumption of animals, we know that none of the world’s major religions do. So, theoretically speaking, most religious individuals should be open to going vegan.
However, one problem lies in the fact that religious texts often contradict themselves on many issues, including eating meat.
Since Christianity is the largest religion with over 2.4 billion followers, we’ll use it as an example.
Genesis 1:29 And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.
Genesis 9:3 Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.
Romans 14:21 It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble.
Romans 14:2 One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables.
Genesis 9:4 But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.
The preceding verses show that the Bible often contradicts itself, and in such a case, we humans tend to do what appeals to us most and use religious verses as justification for our desires.
Religions That Encourage Veganism
On the other hand, there are religions that interpret their scriptures in a way that favors going meat-free, and they often have much higher rates of vegetarianism and veganism.
Take, for example, the Seventh-day Adventists who are about 30% vegetarian or vegan. This is, in part, because Adventists believe in the idea of their bodies being a temple of God and are, therefore, encouraged to take care of it.
While Seventh-day Adventists are not prohibited from eating meat, many hold the belief that a diet free of meat or limited in meat is the best diet for living a healthy lifestyle.
This is why the longest-lived Americans, who are also some of the longest-lived people in the entire world, the Loma Linda, California Seventh-day Adventists, follow a vegetarian or vegan diet.
Like Seventh-day Adventism, Buddhism leaves room open for interpretation as to whether or not followers of this philosophy should be vegan.
Theravada Buddhism teaches against killing animals with one’s own hands but considers eating meat a personal choice.
On the other hand, Vajrayana Buddhism encourages, but does not require its followers to be vegetarian.
This had led to about 50% of Buddhists following either a vegetarian or vegan diet, according to Buddhist encyclopedia Dhamma Wiki.
For Jains, vegetarianism is mandatory for all followers as they go out of their way to avoid harming even the tiniest insects.
The Role Religious Teachings Play
Based on the sizable percentage of individuals who adhere to a vegan diet when encouraged to do so by religion, it is clear that religion can play a significant role in guiding people’s lifestyle choices, which can include food.
Religious individuals tend to turn to religion for guidance on ethics, morals and lifestyle choices.
As such, followers of religions that either don’t recommend a specific diet, offer contradictory advice or leave more room open to interpretation are more likely to go with what’s most popular and convenient, which is eating meat.
Atheists Get Their Morals Elsewhere
Atheists, on the other hand, don’t seek out a higher power for guidance on how to live their lives. According to Atheists Alliance International, “atheists, far from having no basis for moral values, can base their values soundly on reason and science.”
Considering the overwhelming amount of data showing how disastrous animal agriculture is to the environment, to the animals and to human health, if one were to look at eating animals purely from a position of reason and science, as many atheists do, it is incredibly difficult to justify consuming animals.
This might explain why atheists are more likely to go vegan.
Most Vegans Are Atheist But Most Atheists Are Not Vegan
That is not to suggest that the vast majority of atheists are vegan, as they are not.
In fact, Sweden is one the most atheist countries with somewhere between 46% and 85% reporting they do not believe in a higher power, according to sociology professor Phil Zuckerman, and yet only about 10% of Swedish do not eat meat.
This evidence simply suggests that atheists are more likely to be vegan than meat eaters as a whole.
Based on the enormous number of religious individuals who eat a diet free of meat when their religion either requires it or recommends it, it is evident that religious teachings may be holding some people back from eliminating meat from their dinner plates.
The implication here is not that religious people are less informed on the science behind animal agriculture as there are many religious vegans.
However, when society as a whole (both religious and non-religious alike) have made it the norm to consume animals, and a person’s religion teaches that a higher being put animals here for consumption, there are more obstacles for religious people (who might otherwise go vegan) to overcome than the average irreligious individual.