This morning, Max Lindenman offers this astute critique of one of the most talked-about stories of the long weekend:
For a Christian, the progression is all too predictable: With God, who created mankind alone in His image, struck from the equation, we’re hard pressed to name what inherent value any of us has that a gorilla – especially an endangered western lowland gorilla – might lack. If our only concern is meeting some quota, then, yes, we might as well install a preferential option for the apes.Twenty years ago, St. John Paul II warned that any culture given to assigning human life a priority value or a price tag would end up creating a tyranny of the strong over the weak. In his encyclical Evangelium Vitae, he wrote that, in such a culture, “A person who, because of a handicap or, more simply, just by existing, compromises the well-being or life-style of those who are more favoured tends to be looked upon as an enemy to be resisted or eliminated.” And he named this culture for the ages: The culture of death.The tragic part is that animal-rights activists would avow themselves the enemies of any culture of death. By their own lights, after all, they’re fighting the exploitation of a voiceless, largely powerless population. But the most extreme forms of advocacy for the slain gorilla illustrate what happens when justice is pursued without any notion of transcendent human value. Nothing remains to prevent our swapping a sometimes harsh pecking order for an absurd one, and talking in terms that would resonate with the imperialists of Orwell’s day.
I’d argue this is one more symptom of a shredded seamless garment, wherein our culture has decided that some lives are worth more than others, so the state can decide which is worth killing. But it is all connected; the fabric of life is interwoven, and once it is decided that some people are worth eliminating, it follows that others will be judged expendable.
Our Catholic teaching tells us that all human life has inherent value—including the criminal and the deformed, the wicked and the innocent—because all of us are made in the image and likeness of God.
Animals, precious as they are, are not.
But somewhere, as Max indicated, we have lost that sense of what is worthy and what isn’t, what is modeled on the divine and what isn’t, what is a child of God and what isn’t. We have removed God from the equation and lost all sense of perspective.
Killing a gorilla is unfortunate and sad. But this is hardly a tragedy when one considers that a human life was at risk—human life that is, above all, sacred. We forget that at our own peril.
But maybe it’s already been forgotten—and it’s already too late.
UPDATE: A reader reminded me of this. From Pope Francis two weeks ago:
Pope Francis on Saturday said that it’s wrong to feel pity towards animals while remaining indifferent to the sufferings of one’s neighbor. “Sometimes you feel this [pity] towards animals, and remain indifferent to the suffering of others,” Francis said on Saturday. “How many times we see people so attached to cats, dogs, and then leave without helping the neighbor in need?” “This will not do!” he added.