The recent child versus gorilla controversy has brought up an older moral question about the status of human life versus animal life. When one is faced with the decision of saving a human life endangered by an animal life, what should one do? In our story the zookeeper clearly stated that the choice was easy because a human life is more valuable than an animal life.[Round of applause from all parents of toddlers] But what does a poor zookeeper know? A recent tweet that condemned the gorilla killing went as far as blaming the entire humanity for the gorilla death saying, “Humans imprison gorilla. Human enters gorilla prison. Gorilla gets shot dead for being near human. Humanity is a disease.” [Round of applause from animal rights activists]
People are very polarized around this issue, primarily because, as we grow more into a society that is delinked from Christianity, we have forgotten the complexity of the relationships between God, man and the entire creation in our current fallen world.
Man, Fall, Sin and Creation
Reading the Ethical Discourses of St. Symeon the theologian, I discovered a striking perspective on the connection between man and creation. Referring to the exile of Adam from Paradise, he says, “Therefore, indeed, when it [creation] saw him leave Paradise, all of the created world which God had brought out of non-being into existence no longer wished to be subject to the transgressor. […] What then? God Who created all and made man, […] now suspends the assault of all creation, and straightway subjects all of it to Adam as before. He wills that creation serve man for whom it was made, and like him become corruptible, so that when again man is renewed and becomes spiritual, incorruptible, and immortal, then creation, too, now subjected to the rebel by God’s command and made his slave, will be freed from its slavery and, together with man, be made new, and become incorruptible and wholly spiritual.”
The creation, that we know is fallen and is not meant for eternity in its current form, but the promise is that, as the Book of Revelation also asserts, that in the end there will be “a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.” (Rev 21:1) Man is the key to this transformation, but not alone, with creation being at his right side.
Fr. Dumitru Staniloae mentions as well that creation was meant for us to be a ladder on which to climb to our lost paradise. God gave creation to mankind to be used by man to regain his glory lost through the fall. Creation obeys the command of the Lord and provides man with all he needs, while man, at his turn, has the duty to care for it and use it wisely exactly for this purpose. The misuse of creation by man, through sin, is what brings destruction to our world. Through sin, the greatest gift freely received becomes therefore an idol and a fighting ground in between brothers. “For nothing else” continues St. Symeon, “so soils the work of God and makes unclean what is clean as the deification of creation and the worshipping of it as equal to God the Creator and Maker.”
The Worth of Human Life
Watching the current trends in our culture, we see human life having less and less worth. Abortions are justified by comfort and convenience. Popular culture validates euthanasia in movies like “Million Dollar Baby” or the more recent “Me Before You”. Governments step in to control population, and so on. Of course all this is supported by extreme utilitarian philosophers like Peter Singer, that go as far as to declare that being human does not even give one the automatic right to live. One may say that we are not living a culture of life but a culture of death. All this streams from fear: the fear of overpopulation with the inevitable loss of comfort, the fear of the self-destruction of our only habitat, and ultimately, the fear of the survival of humanity at large. In this way of thinking, the individual is sacrificed for the sake of the community at large.
We celebrated recently the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ after going through His Passions and death for us on the Cross. He died indeed for the sake of the entire community of humans, a death that He chose to fulfill. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
The rulers of the Jews in Christ times also made a choice. “It is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” (John 11:50). They chose to kill a man that disagreed with their views, a man that was different than them, for the survival of the status quo of their nation.
There is a difference however between the two choices, even if both of them have a man dying for the sake of the community. Christ’s sacrifice was voluntary and filled a greater purpose, not to save a passing kingdom, not to temporarily alleviate the pains of a people, even if it was a chosen one, but to eternally grant life everlasting to the entire creation. He chose to drink the bitter cup that the Father entrusted Him. He was not forced to do it. The rulers of the Jews sent Christ to death without asking Him if He is willing to sacrifice Himself and condemned Him for their own selfish purposes.
A man dies in both scenarios that, through God’s providence, end up being one and the same, but the consequences of the two choices are diametrically opposed. One leads to life and liberation, the other one into suffering. The blood of Christ is for the salvation of those who follow Him and the same blood denounces those who deny Him voluntarily.
Christ did not die because the Jews have condemned Him, although He knew they would; Christ did not die because He could not take on life anymore, because He was disabled or old or bored or any other reason we hear popularized today in the propagandistic media. Christ died as the final hero of all times, one last death to spare from death an entire mankind. Christ, the new Adam died, and through His death no one else has to die anymore. Our lives have now a new meaning that is found in the death and resurrection of that One Man. “We therefore were buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:9)
Every human lives now in order to pursue the chance to reconcile himself to God and become a citizen of the Kingdom, through Christ. The salvation is not a pinpointed event in time, but a process that passes through our death and continues into eternity. Only God knows how long this will take, and it is different for every person. All we know is that He said, “Thou shall not kill” (Exodus 20:13). He is the Master of life, he gives it and He takes it in His great love and care for His Creation, all we need to do is preserve and nourish human life to be fulfilled in the Kingdom.
The Life in the Kingdom Is the Real Life
I personally respect animal lives and I sincerely decry the death of Harambe, the gorilla, as a tragic accident, but I also believe that we should educate ourselves more on the difference between the purpose of humanity and the purpose of the rest of creation from the perspective of eternal life and not with the limitation of out temporal human perspective. By preserving and nurturing human life, by living lives that are focused on the Kingdom, we are actually helping the entire creation to be redeemed, to regain its former glory, to reach its potential in God, not for a few hundred years, not even thousands, but unto the ages.
We value human life because in man rests the key of the redemption of the entire fallen world. Animal lives are important and they should be respected as well, and there is no teacher of the Church that denies that. But as much as I don’t like animals being killed and their habitats destroyed, we cannot forget that we have a duty to learn first to respect human life, to stop living in a culture of death, to stop fighting amongst ourselves for things that will pass and start living a true life in Christ. As long as we tolerate abortion and euthanasia, as long as we are directed by greed, hatred and fratricide, we have not understood yet the purpose of any type of life, human or not.
On the cross, Christ died with His arms spread out embracing the entire Creation, bringing all of us together. On our way to salvation, as humans, we should not forget to embrace the entire Creation as well, to live in peace with ourselves and all Creation, to use, and not abuse, what has been given to us as a gift.
Humanity is not a disease that plagues creation. Sin is the real disease, and Christ is the only cure available. Only a humanity that has eradicated sin and joins itself with Him will be able to properly celebrate life into the eternity of the Kingdom. A humanity that will not choose someone to sacrifice for it but one that, at the level of each person, will choose to sacrifice for one another, to care for one another more than for one’s self, just as Christ did for us.
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