PETA strikes again.

Driving along the road this Lent or Easter you might suddenly come upon billboard blasphemy, a picture of a pig with the caption: “He died for your sins — go vegetarian.”

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is trying to get under our collective Christian skins in hopes that, once underneath, the organization can burrow into our consciences and remake us in its own vegetarian image.

Does it work? I for one do not take kindly to not-very-thinly-veiled blasphemy in which Christ himself and his sacrifice are being compared to a pig and its fate in a slaughterhouse.

PETA should gauge its success by my reaction because my family is largely vegetarian for many of the same reasons bringing PETA to spread such blasphemous bilge on their billboards. The factory farms in which much of our meat is produced are both morally and hygienically vile.

Don't get me wrong. I do believe that “animals, like plants and inanimate beings, are by nature destined for the common good of past, present and future humanity” and hence that “it is legitimate to use animals for food and clothing” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Nos. 2415, 2417). But I also hold that “animals are God's creatures. … By their mere existence they bless him and give him glory. Thus men owe them kindness. … So that it is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly” (Nos. 2416, 2418).

Thus we have the right to raise, kill and eat animals. But “does the right to use animals for food imply the right to raise chickens in tiny cages where they live in a space smaller than a notebook? Or calves in compartments where they can never move about or see the light? Or to keep sows pinned by iron rings in a feeding position to allow a series of piglets to suck milk constantly and thus grow faster?” (These rhetorical questions come, by the way, not from PETA's website but from an article written by Marie Hendrickx, a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in the Dec. 7, 2000, edition of L'Osservatore Romano.)

That having been said, however, PETA has lost me. It has moved from rational disgust at such morbid conditions and into the realm of unholy, unnatural and irrational hysteria.

As for unholiness, the blasphemous billboard speaks for itself. The group also has a billboard with a picture of a lamb emblazoned with “Lamb of God” and, under it, “Please don't eat his creatures. Go vegetarian.” And that's just one in a series that also misuses the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Ten Commandments.

PETA claims that “all our faith-based billboards are meant to promote compassion — compassion for all God's creatures.” The group also claims it has Christians among its ranks, some of whom have helped design the billboards. Well, it is true that Christians are among their ranks. But is PETA, as an organization, really concerned to promote “compassion for all God's creatures” or merely to use Christians to advance its larger, essentially non-Christian, even anti-Christian agenda?

I believe it is the latter. First of all, to engage in blasphemy for the sake of some lesser goal hardly shows that one's compassion for animals issues from a fundamentally religious source. That PETA does not think vegetarianism is a lesser goal only shows that, for them, vegetarianism has become not only a religion but even the religion.

If PETA's members were known for singing hymns outside of factory farms and slaughterhouses, I'd have more sympathy. But anyone familiar with PETA knows one of its favorite protest tactics is, odd as it might seem, to have its members take off their clothes in public. It is hard to discern the relationship between being naked in public and being against bull-fights, the fur industry or factory farming — except that PETA members find it a thrill to be nude in public. As it says so tantalizingly on its website: “See how far PETA will go for the protection of animals!”

But even more perverse — indeed, at the heart of the group's perversity — is the reduction of human beings to just one more animal. Those who believe killing an animal is equivalent to killing a human being must of necessity treat human beings and animals as morally equivalent.

That means not only that we don't eat animals because we don't eat human beings but also that we should sterilize human beings who breed too much and “put down” sick, crippled or suffering human beings because we do the same, out of compassion, for animals.

Finally, PETA is irrational and unnatural. Nature is full of carnivores, and for carnivores, hunting and eating meat is natural. One wonders by what method they hope to reform the rest of the animal kingdom. Since we are just one more meat-eater, it is irrational to claim that eating meat is unnatural.

So again, whatever kernel of truth resides in its message, the organization has made a foe rather than a friend with its latest tactics. I believe we'll also have some bacon on Easter morning. Someday, I hope we'll raise our own pig.

Benjamin Wiker writes from Steubenville, Ohio.