Wednesday, 1 June 2016

A Few Thoughts on the Gorilla Story

Wow. The Internets just exploded as Harambe, a 17 year old male western lowland gorilla was shot dead in a Cincinnati zoo to protect a 4 year old boy who accidentally got into the gorilla's enclosure. So many comments, articles, blogs. And SO much of anger.

I've seen reactions ranging from this:

To this:

And a lot of this:

I've been thinking about it, and of course I decided to think in the public eye. Because that's what bloggers do.

It seems as if in many people's opinions, the life of an animal is as valuable (or more valuable) as the life of a human child. It is seen as selfish to consider human life as more valuable than animal life. You see your 2 year old child and a puppy in a burning building, you can only save one. Which one should you pick? This belief system says there is no right answer.

Usually I can find some common ground with varying belief systems. But in this... I don't know what to say, how to respond. Because in a non-Christian world, humans ARE just animals. Not more or less important than any other species. It makes sense.

But in the Christian worldview, there IS something different and more valuable about human beings. We believe that they are made in the image of God- they are capable of choosing love even when hurt by others, they are able to show mercy, to forgive, to love by CHOICE not by instinct. We believe they are made for heaven, not just as creatures, but made to be CHILDREN of God, the Creator. And so no matter whether they are ugly, or stupid, or handicapped, or weak, or unkind, or a 'burden' on others, we consider that God has given us a special task in loving and caring for human life. That's the real meaning of pro-life.

But does that mean Christians have no responsibility towards animals? Can a good Christian kick a cat? No no no. Here's what the Church says-

Animals are God's creatures. He surrounds them with his providential care. By their mere existence they bless him and give him glory. Thus men owe them kindness. We should recall the gentleness with which saints like St. Francis of Assisi or St. Philip Neri treated animals.

God entrusted animals to the stewardship of those whom he created in his own image. Hence it is legitimate to use animals for food and clothing. They may be domesticated to help man in his work and leisure. Medical and scientific experimentation on animals is a morally acceptable practice if it remains within reasonable limits and contributes to caring for or saving human lives.

It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly. It is likewise unworthy to spend money on them that should as a priority go to the relief of human misery. One can love animals; one should not direct to them the affection due only to persons.

You would think in an ideal world, we could care equally for humans and animals. It wouldn't be a conflict at all. But it seems like that isn't usually the case. For many, the more we elevate animals, and in many ways ' humanize' them, the less we are affected by human suffering and misery. As I read in one article, it seems very unlikely that the news of the 4 year old being killed by the gorilla would have been particularly noteworthy or even compassion-worthy.

Pope Francis recently said, "Sometimes you feel this [pity] towards animals, and remain indifferent to the suffering of others. How many times we see people so attached to cats, dogs, and then leave without helping the neighbor in need? This will not do!" 

So.. what am I saying?

I believe that we need to let God stretch our hearts, to see the world as He sees it. That means changing from hard-heartedness to soft-heartedness, from indifference to compassion, from judgment to mercy towards the least of his brethren. It means having compassion on that poor mum who almost lost her child, even if it was from a moment's negligence. It means feeling deeply grateful that the little 4 year old's head wasn't accidentally smashed by the strong hand of the 400 pound gorilla.

It means not despising the human race, but seeing the goodness, and the potential for good- as God does. It means even though human beings have hurt us, and in many ways, it's easier to love animals who are a lot less likely to, choosing the hard path of forgiveness, and vulnerability. Allow your love for animals to spur you on to a love for not just humanity, but for human beings. For that is what you were made for.

And for those who think caring about humans exempts you from caring about animals, here is your challenge- it also means feeling sadness at the regrettable death of one of God's beautiful, mighty creatures. It means doing what we can to prevent the needless killing or mistreatment of animals. Allowing our humanity to translate into humaneness. For that too is what we were made for.

A hard choice had to be made, as it often has to be in a world where accidents really do happen. You can both feel relief that the little boy survived, and sadness that the gorilla didn't. But maybe hold the blame, and serve an extra helping of compassion. Our world needs it.

P.S. For those who disagree, and I know there are many- let us agree to disagree, and each attempt to change the world in the way we are convinced we must.

A few articles:

This Gorilla Thing is Going to Make Me Go Bananas

How Tears for Gorilla Water Seeds for the Culture of Death

Of gorillas, control, and swiping left

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