Saturday, August 8, 2015

Recognizing Imago Dei: Man > Other Animals

I grew up in a home that was closer to a petting zoo than we may want to admit. At one time or another, I remember having dogs, cats, horses, birds, cows, ducks, fish, and even the occasional snake that I would catch. I get animals and animal people. Growing up, I thought that certain decisions were binary — with only two options. You are expected to choose A or B, like Alabama or Auburn, Republican or Democrat. I developed the impression that you had to declare yourself either a cat person or a dog person. I knew I wasn’t a cat person, so I decided I was a dog person. Later in life I realized, I don’t like dogs either. I’ll admit that I’ve bird hunted with a few dogs that have earned their keep, but for the most part, I think we need to renegotiate our man’s best friend contract. 

I’m not against you loving your animals. I hope you care for them well and they bring a smile to your face as you beg your puppy to please go pee at 2 in the morning. You are certainly free to enjoy your pets as God’s good creation. 

Recently I have drawn the evil eye from a few in our congregation over my animal comments. First, I was preaching through Hebrews 2. The author of Hebrews is making a clear case that Christ became truly and fully human in order to provide the perfect sacrifice for humans to be accepted by God. I made the point that Jesus didn’t become a doberman to redeem dobermans. No offense to the K-9 community, but let’s recognize that they ain’t people. A couple of months later, we found ourselves in Psalm 8 for our Summer in the Psalms series. This Psalm is quoted in Hebrews 2. The Psalmist looks in awe at the vastness of the universe and asks the question, “what is man that you are mindful of him? It’s rhetorical. We are small and relatively insignificant. But yet, “God has given him dominion over the works of his hands.” This dominion is explained in verses 5-8. It extends to all different types of animals, progressing from the domesticated (sheep/oxen) all the way out to the unknown deeps of the ocean and “whatever passes in the deeps.” The point is simple. Man > Animal. No matter what animal, man has dominion. 

Now why is this a big deal? I’ve been alarmed in recent days by some of the insanity in the headlines. A few months ago, there were a pair of chimps granted a writ of habeas corpus. In fairness, that particular language was later struck down, but the reality remains: the chimps were at least initially granted a hearing for wrongful detainment -- a privilege heretofore only given to humans. Natalie Prosin of the Non Human Rights Project made their intentions clear. “This is a big step forward to getting what we are ultimately seeking: the right to bodily liberty for chimpanzees and other cognitively complex animals." She would add: "“We got our foot in the door. And no matter what happens, that door can never be completely shut again.”

The recent outburst over Cecil the Lion has my head spinning. I’m not sure exactly who is at fault for the illegal lion shooting. But let’s be clear: the shooting of a lion is not necessarily morally wrong. The Minnesota dentist was led to the lion and told to take the shot. It is not clear to me whether the doc bribed his guides to lure the big kitty named Cecil or if it was a case of simply trusting the the guides. I’ve been hunting before on unfamiliar property. Generally, you are at the mercy of the locals. Regardless, the reaction has been nothing short of insane. The fact that Americans are trying to ruin this man’s business and life demonstrates a lack of Biblical understanding, compassion, and common sense. Interestingly, the Zimbabweans seem to think we are indeed insane for crying over lions. 

I was pointed to this video recently by a friend who explains, “Dawkins and Singer determine that there is more moral reprehensibility in terminating the life of a horse than a human fetus.” (HT: Dave Kakish) And there you have it. The doctrines of man and dominion obliterated. 

Planned Parenthood offers another case study in moral insanity. The string of recent videos that demonstrate negotiations for baby parts are hard to watch. The connection with the stories above may not be immediately apparent but let me attempt to draw some cords together. Man is uniquely made in the image of God. At the moment of conception, there is a new human being, a unique image bearer invested with dominion over God’s creatures. While a baby in the womb lacks strength, she indeed has the rights of dominion over big cats like Cecil. God has made it this way. Once the distinction is flattened out, value is assigned based on metrics that are designed by man (culture). The linked video above plays out the worldview with brutal honesty.  

I’m a little shocked at how much traction the videos have gotten. Why would they not sell the body parts? What did we think they were doing with the leftover dismembered babies? Does putting them in a sterile trash bag make it better? We’ve lost our imagination. Apparently we need a video to show us that crushing a 20 week old baby is morally reprehensible. Abortion is the real horror, not selling the body. But if these videos cause the world to wake up to the atrocity, then I’m grateful.  

In further proof of this utilitarian view of life and value, consider the movement towards “Death with Dignity” otherwise known as Doctor Assisted Suicide. This is fully legal now in 3 states with California likely to follow among a host of others. How did we get here? We have lost a robust doctrine of humanity. Humans are valuable because they are humans. 

Forgive me if I offend your animal loving sensibilities, but we can’t lose the distinction between man and beast. This is a worldview issue of the highest order. Losing a strong doctrine of anthropology has ripple effects that we have not yet completely understood. As Christians, love your animals, care for them, but let’s not fall into the trap of thinking they are one of us. They aren’t.

No comments:

Post a Comment