As Hurricane Irma bore down on Tampa, Florida, a friend posted a plea on Facebook that someone take in her cat; another friend fleeing Hilton Head Island posted the need for shelter for her family of four — and three dogs. There was the story of the man who, for lack of a pet carrier, was denied evacuation. He chose to endure the storm’s fury rather than leave his dog behind.
There were stories of people risking their lives to care for dolphins and to save manatees, flamingos, even alligators. Horses were rescued by brave cowboys, police escorted cattle through the streets, and chickens were wrapped in newspaper burritos for careful transport in family cars.
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The prayer at our house as the waters rose in Texas was not only for the people — but for the “many cattle.” As heartless as we can sometimes be, the stewardship for the creature class runs deep in the human soul and we grieve, in the aftermath of the storms, the loss of so many animals.
From whence does that affection and concern spring? It’s part of who we are as image-bearers of a good and gracious God.
God saw the animals He had made and called them good. In the pouring out of His wrath in the great flood in the days of Noah, God’s ark provided a way to preserve the animal kingdom. In Jonah chapter 4, we witness the drama of the prophet’s angry resistance and God’s overwhelming compassion toward the city of Nineveh.
God says, “And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?” God’s concern for people who do not know what they do not know is clear, but so, too, is God’s concern for the many cattle.
In creation, God gave humanity the responsibility to manage and steward the earth. That stewardship extends to animals. The recent hurricanes have been reminders not only of our vulnerability and the fragility of human life, but of utter dependence of animals upon us. Animals are not human. They do not have the ability to reason or read satellite imagery, nor jump into a car to flee the rising waters. They also do not have the capacity to organize a disaster response or rebuild their own habitats.
For all the times we hear it argued that animals are just like people — they are not.
In my forthcoming book, “Speak the Truth: How to Bring God Back into Every Conversation,” I address the cultural confusion of man and beast:
In May 2015, a four-year-old child fell into the gorilla habitat at the Cincinnati zoo. The gorilla took notice of the child and dragged the boy by his leg in a way you might expect a 450-pound male silverback gorilla to respond to the sudden introduction of a small curious toy. The crowd panicked, and the gorilla responded by taking his new toy into an area with a more obstructed view. The Dangerous Animal Response Team assessed that the child was in imminent mortal danger and, with one shot, killed the gorilla, saving the boy.
That is when the furor erupted: “Why not give preferential treatment to Harambe?” “Why kill the representative of a truly endangered species (aka gorilla) when the other ape in the pen (aka boy) comes from a species that is clearly not endangered?” The incident sparked global protests, questions about the mother’s fitness to parent, and debates about the relative value of life.
Eventually it was determined the zoo enclosure was not up to code and the Dangerous Animal Response Team (DART) did the right thing in shooting the gorilla to save the four-year-old boy. And just as happened in the media frenzy in the wake of the incident, there was a global conversation about the relative moral value of life. At the heart of the matter is a question of deep worldview significance: Why place preferential value on the life of the child?
If you’re responding to the question above with an answer like, “The child is a person and the gorilla is not,” then you are right by God’s view but wrong by the view of many intellectuals of our day.
The secular mind sees humans as nothing more than slightly more highly evolved apes. The mind trained in evolutionary theory sees every ethical situation as relative. There is no moral difference between the Homo sapiens and his near-cousin, the gorilla.
As atheist Richard Dawkins was fond of saying, only “Christian-inspired attitudes” favor humans over other animals species.
So, from a secular worldview, because the gorilla represents an endangered species and the boy represented a non-endangered species — it can certainly be argued that preferential value should have been placed on the life of the gorilla.
The argument is also made that the gorilla was just behaving like a gorilla is expected to behave and the human (a toddler in this case), representing a more highly evolved species, bears the responsibility of the consequences of his action of entering the pit. The accountability should have befallen the boy, not the gorilla who was simply acting out of his nature.
If you are protesting this as nonsense, you need to know these are the ethics being taught at the nation’s leading institutions of higher education. Peter Singer is the chief philosopher behind the animal liberation movement and an ethics professor at Princeton University in New Jersey. His ideas are influencing the thinking of the next generation of America’s leaders. In specific response to the reporting on Harambe’s death, Singer said, “Even sympathetic coverage of Harambe’s death referred to him as ‘it’ or ‘the gorilla that,’ as opposed to ‘the gorilla who,’ an indication of his lower moral status.” To question whether or not an animal has a lower moral status than a person reveals much about the Darwinian effects on American thought.
From a Christian and biblical worldview, human beings are uniquely created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) with dominion over everything else in all creation (v. 26) as stewards of it (Genesis 2:15). Appealing to this argument requires that a person recognize the Bible as the self-revelation of God. Many people do not view the Bible in that way — and they do not view human life as possessing any greater value or worth than that of the animals from which, they believe, we evolved.
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Worldview matters because our worldview influences how we view ourselves, one another, the world we inhabit and the society in which we live. A worldview that sees animals and human beings on equal moral footing elevates the one beyond its rightful status and diminishes the glory of the other.
Harambe was a beautiful beast, but a beast nonetheless. The circumstances of his death, on display as a captive example of an animal humanity has nearly driven to extinction, are cause for a moral conversation among the stewards of the earth. But the fact that a gorilla lost his life to preserve the life of a child only causes moral angst for a people who have lost all sense of what it means to be distinctively human.
Human beings are neither animals nor angels. We are human — and distinctively so.
Carmen LaBerge is host of the daily radio show “Reconnect with Carmen” and the author of the upcoming Regnery Faith book, “Speak the Truth: How to Bring God Back into Every Conversation,” to be released September 25. She’s based in the Nashville, Tennessee, area.