Of Gorillas and Men

A few days ago, Harambe the gorilla was shot by the Cincinatti Zoo after a 4-year-old child accidentally climbed past the fence and enclosures--only to tumble into the moat surrounding the gorilla's habitat. Sensing that the child's life was in immediate danger, zoo workers made the prompt decision to shoot and kill the animal. For many reasons this was indeed a tragic incident--not least of which is the fact that silverback gorillas are a regal and endangered species. 

The outcry on the web and social media isn't particularly surprising. There are, no doubt, large numbers of people who speak of animals as if they are of greater value than their fellow human beings. What will never get old, however, is hearing them verbally communicate that they believe such things. In fact, some on social media have gone so far as to say that the gorilla deserved to live and the human child deserved to die. Some on the internet are demanding #JusticeForHarambe, insisting that what happened to this gorilla is "worse than murder." Such thinking, of course, puts gorillas on a higher level than humans. How very odd to hear a human being insist that an ape is of greater value than himself. Meanwhile, the ape cannot even articulate such ideas, nor would he return the sentiment in kind if given the chance. 

Such sentiments are easily accounted for in our day. After all, the evolutionary narrative is increasingly dominant in western culture. The question evolutionists need to be able to consistently answer is this: "Given the naturalistic and materialistic worldview, by what standard could anyone say that this gorilla ought to have been killed in order to spare a human child?" The only consistent answer with which one espousing a materialistic worldview ultimately can respond is, "arbitrary preference." 

Jack Hanna, the famous zookeeper, was recently asked whether the Cincinnati Zoo made the right decision. Without hesitation he responded, "I agree 1000 percent. Yes. Thank goodness the human being is alive today because of the decision the Cincinnati Zoo made." The instinct for many of us is to praise Hanna for these words. I'm not sure that it's necessarily praiseworthy for someone to say something that should be so evidently true to all of us; but, in our cultural milieu--where sanity has given way to wild delusion--Hanna's words feel like a breath of fresh air. To a man who has just spent days in the sewer, I suppose even the air around a landfill would smell fresh and clean by comparison. 

We as Christians must remember that Christ came to die for humanity. It isn't animals or angels for whom Christ laid down his life (Hebrews 2:14-16). When he came into the world his priority was to restore the breached relationship that existed between God and those who bear his image. His priority was to lay down his life for men. Likewise, we acknowledge and echo Christ's own love for humanity when we say that if you had to choose between saving one human being (of any age) and 10,000 silverback gorillas, you save the human every single time. Both have value by virtue of their being creatures of God, but only one of them is actually made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26). This doesn't mean that we disregard or mistreat animals. It doesn't mean that we use and abuse creation for our own selfish ends; but, it does mean that in order to have a comprehensible understanding of the world around us, we at least need to know the ontological order of priority. And so we begin with God as Creator, humanity as His image-bearers, and animals as important parts of the creation over which God has made his image-bearers to be stewards. 

In the age of the "easy cause," I suspect Harambe the gorilla and Cecil the Lion have become examples of the sorts of sentimental issue that many are perfectly willing to get behind because they can be trumpeted at little risk and little cost. However, it is disturbing to think that we live in an age when saving a child's life at the cost of the life of an animal causes such fury, as though Harambe was a fellow man. Perhaps the most heartbreaking and disturbing fact is that these same infuriated individuals, when they discover that 125,000 human beings are killed every day at the hand of abortion doctors, don't bat an eye. Walker Percy described our age well: "We're sentimental people and we horrify easily. True, our moral fiber is rotten. Our national character stinks to high heaven. But we are kinder than ever."   

Adam Parker is a graduate of Reformed Theological Seminary (MDiv.) and is the Assistant Editor of Reformation 21. He and his family live in Jackson, MS.