Last weekend a gorilla was shot and killed after a four-year-old boy fell into an enclosure at the Cincinnati zoo, with scenes been captured on video. Once it hit the internet, the news went viral. The response? Public outrage. Why – because a young human life was unnecessarily put in danger? No, because a beautiful gorilla was killed for the sake of a stupid kid and his (even more) stupid parents.
The social media engine went into overdrive. Within days a Facebook page called “Justice for Harambe” was launched, and now has over 140,000 likes. Change.org petition has amassed more than 400,000 signatures calling for an investigation of the mother’s home life to assess the safety of children in her care. Perhaps some of the most concerning content has been coming from Twitter, with comments such as “They should have tranquilized the gorilla then shot the kid and parent for being idiots”I’m not suggesting for a minute that losing a beautiful Western Lowland gorilla is not a tragic thing. It is. And I’m not arguing against the fact that this incident could easily have been avoided – by either the parents being more watchful or the zoo being more diligent with securing their enclosures. What concerns me is the extent of anger, indignation and moral outrage being expressed over the loss of a gorilla’s life and hardly a whisper in defence of the life of the four-year-old boy.
And this raises a more important, underlying issue which is this: are we saying the life of an animal is of more or equal value to the life of a human being? Because if we are that marks a massive shift in thinking in our society.
I posed this question to a young group of 10-12 year olds that come to our church on Monday nights. About half come from homes that are unchurched. I showed them the video of the gorilla playing and the boy in the enclosure and then informed them that only minutes later the zoo keepers shot the gorilla dead. They were horrified.
Then I asked them, “What would you do if you were the zoo keeper?
“Tranquilize the gorilla.”
“No can do. It takes some time for a tranquilizer to work and sometimes animals go berserk.”
“Jump in the enclosure and distract the gorilla while someone grabs the kid.”
“Too dangerous, and the gorilla would definitely become agitated.”
Their faces went blank. None of them wanted to say “shoot the gorilla”, which proves how terribly difficult it would have been for the zoo staff, who give their lives to caring for animals, to do what they did.
“So should they have shot the gorilla or not?” Blank faces. One or two said yes.
“OK, say there’s a fire in my house. There is a person and my pet dog and you only have enough time to save one. Which one should you rescue?” One said it depends on who the person is, but I think he was joking. The rest said save the person.
So far so good
“OK, let’s say there were two lives – a perfectly healthy chimpanzee and a mentally handicapped child. You can only save one. Which one would you save?”
Now the ethical test really kicks in. About half spoke for the child, the others said save the chimp.
“OK, what if the person was an elderly lady, with terminal cancer?”
The response was immediate: save the chimp, let the lady die.
“So the life of the chimp is worth more than the life of the elderly lady?”
We are going to have euthanasia in this country within a decade.
I had about 10 minutes left so gave it all I had. “Did you know that up until this time human life in our society has always been considered more important than the life of an animal – whether the person is deformed, has a terminal disease or is mentally impaired? And did you know where that ethic or belief has come from? It’s based on the bible.”
Then I opened up the Scriptures and walked them through 7 reasons why God values human life over the life of an animal:
- Only man was made in God’s image and likeness – not animals or birds or fish or insects (Genesis 1:26). Human beings display qualities of God such as the ability to love, show compassion, make moral judgements, create and plan, organize and strategize. Animals display no such likeness.
- Only man received the breath of God. God breathed into Adam and he became a living soul (Genesis 2:7). From this point on mankind transcends the world of animals.
- Mankind was assigned the job of taking care of everything on earth, including animals (Genesis 1:28-31).
- Noah and his family built the ark and saved the animals from the flood. God didn’t tell any of the animals the plans for building the ark, when the flood would come, or how to get themselves into the ark (Genesis 6).
- Jesus died for man’s sins and for man’s salvation (Hebrews 2:14-18). Jesus did not come as a gorilla or a horse or a dog but as a man because a) he died as a perfect substitute for humans, not animals, b) only human beings continue to exist after death and c) humans are the ones with the sin problem, not animals. Animals cannot consciously rebel against or disobey God. Only we do that.
- Jesus said that God cares about sparrows, but that man was more valuable than many sparrows (Luke 12:1-7).
- Jesus rescued the demon possessed man by ordering the demons to go into a herd of pigs (Mark 5:1-13). He obviously thought the man’s present and eternal welfare was of far greater importance than a whole group of pigs.
So does this mean we shouldn’t care about animals? Can we do with them what we like? Not at all. God is deeply concerned about the way we treat animals which are part of his good creation. Proverbs 12:10 says, “Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast, but the mercy of the wicked is cruel.”
The zoo staff were not being cruel or barbaric in shooting Harambe. They were simply operating by a Judeo-Christian ethic that has been engrained in our society for hundreds of years. That ethic says the life of a human being is more valuable to God than that of an animal. Therefore we should not risk the life of a human being for the sake of a gorilla or a dog or any other animal.
Not all of those kids agreed with me. But it gave them a lot to think about.