Within the last week or so, there has been quite a fuss over the shooting of a gorilla at a zoo in Cincinnati, Ohio. By now, as most would have already been aware, the killing was to protect a young, three year old boy from any harm after falling into its caged territory. The shooting was highly criticised by animal-lovers around the world, with much of this aimed at the apparent lack of adequate supervision or proper parenting by the boy's mother.
The criticism aimed at the killing of the primate was due to the beast's "superior" intelligence, so I read in a newspaper. Considering that science has also proved that pigs reared in the farm and then slaughtered for food has one of the highest levels of intelligence in the animal kingdom, yet no one bats an eyelid when led to the abattoir to supply bacon for our English breakfast. But as we make a loud noise over the unjustifiable shooting of the gorilla, we merely make a quick passing sigh when receiving information that another one hundred refugees had drowned when their flimsy, unseaworthy boat had capsized in the middle of the Mediterranean. I suppose that news of drownings are so frequent, that we become dull-minded to the intensity, probably forgetting that those people consisted of families - men, women and their children, with often the children by themselves while their parents remain in their home country, at least for the time being.
Strange in a way. Had the Cincinnati boy been rescued successfully without any harm to the primate, most likely there would have been celebrations, hailing the rescuers as heroes, while at the same time feeling relieved that the caged primate lives to see another day. But as the news bulletins deliver updates of a boat full of refugees, there is a tendency here to groan inwardly, pondering on how the West will cope with this surge of immigrants, and an heightened fear if any of them managing to reach our English shoreline. The feeling of relief that these refugees had made the crossing safely seemed to have been overlooked, If I'm guessing right. After all the ongoing debate over the coming referendum to stay in or leave the European Union hangs more on the question of immigration even than the future of the economy.
And this debate was intensified, if not actually sparked off, by the discovery of the body of a drowned toddler, found washed up on a Turkish beach a few months ago. The reaction to the find was quite remarkable. It was the basis for the German Government's pledge to let in a large multitude of refugees into their country. And at the same time accusing the British Government of lacking compassion when entry restrictions were discussed at Parliament. The debate has split the nation down the middle, with those, like myself, believing that the refugees should be allowed in on compassionate grounds - against those for the sake of patriotism, the economy, or religious grounds, believing that Parliament should keep the doors firmly shut. In the end, mainly to save face over growing discontent, our Prime Minister agreed to 20,000 refugees to settle and integrate over the next five years.
Is there something in common between a drowned toddler and a gorilla killed by a gunshot? If so, what could it be? Could it be that they were unable to talk and therefore couldn't defend themselves, or at least given the chance to let them have their say? Had the drowned body had been that of an overweight grown man, would the intensity of human compassion rose to such levels at the time? Perhaps the present debate over immigration may not be so intense.
But with the case of the gorilla over in Cincinnati, why such a fuss - the ooh's and ah's over the unjustifiable killing of a large primate, when countless numbers of beasts face the slaughterhouse every day to keep us fed? And then reading the latter chapters of the Book of Exodus and just about the whole of Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, where repeated instruction for sacrificing cattle bulls, goats and birds - mainly turtle doves - by the hundreds within the lifetime of every Hebrew family. Yet we may glib through such Scripture feeling relieved from such duties and the sight of the flow of blood and piles of ashes, and probably the accompanying stench, with hardly a thought on how much these animals must have suffered.
Could the mourning over the death of an innocent gorilla was because such species are seen as "close cousins" in the Darwinian concept of evolutionary advancement? It reminds me of a movie I once watched as an adolescent. The film was centred on two giant beasts which confronted each other in Japan. One was a Tyrannosaur named Godzilla, and its opponent, a huge gorilla-like beast named King Kong, which was worshipped as a god by the natives of an island where the beast lived. The fight was intense but the ultimate winner was King Kong. He then swims back to its homeland, leaving the giant reptile, which posed a threat to the surrounding human population, lying lifeless. It was expected by the audience that King Kong will eventually win. It was much closer to us in evolutionary terms than the other.
Or could the fuss be that the primate confined to a cage in Ohio was seen as a pet? The English has a worldwide reputation for being a nation of animal lovers. And that must mean keeping animals as pets. By contrast, the fox was looked on as a pest here in the UK. So for many decades, perhaps centuries, fox hunting with dogs was seen as an English aristocrat's pastime, sitting on horseback and watching his pack of dogs chase a terrified fox, catching hold of it, then tearing it alive to shreds. It was the Labour Government, that in February 2005, had the sport outlawed, and that itself was very controversial, with many of the better off, posh individuals shouting, even within the Houses of Parliament itself, in protest for eroding such a popular English tradition.
As for pets, veterinary surgeons are frequently found, daily watching the distressed faces of pet owners arriving to bring their sick dog or cat in for treatment. The rivers of tears shed by a family when their pet dog or cat had to be put down are legion, including that of a neighbour who was heard wailing when her family buried their aged poodle in their garden on the morning it was found dead in the kitchen. The attachment between a pet and the owner's heart is not new, but seem to have gone back to Old Testament days, one instance recorded around three thousand years ago.
There, a parable is told by Nathan the prophet to King David, found at 2 Samuel 12:1-14. Instead of being out, leading his troops into battle against the Ammonites, he stayed at home, and strolling around his palace, spotted his neighbour's wife out bathing. Noticing her beauty, the king summoned her, and she eventually became pregnant. To cover up his adultery, he instructed her husband, who had returned briefly from the battle, to spend some time with his wife. He refused. So the king sent him out back to the battlefield with instructions to the captain that he must be posted at a very vulnerable location, to be an easy target for the enemy. The king's plan was fulfilled. The husband, Uriah, was killed in battle and the widowed Bathsheba became Queen. But at a price.
Nathan the prophet was sent by God to pass judgement on David's sin. He used an illustration about a very rich man who owned many flocks of sheep, cattle and other livestock. This rich man had a neighbour who was very poor. The poor man worked hard to buy a single lamb to keep as a household pet. He fell in love with his pet, cuddling it, and even allowing it to feed off his plate. Then one day a traveller arrived to feast with the rich man. But instead of selecting one of his own, he took the lamb from the poor man and prepared it for the feast.
The king was furious. In his ranting, he made a declaration that he, the rich man, deserves to die, and he must pay the poor man four times what he had taken (that is, two male and two female sheep, ready for breeding.)
Nathan held up his hand. "Whoa there, David! You are that rich man." Then after revealing the adultery which has brought the judgement, and the imminent death of their child, David fell to his knees before God at the Tent, and wrote Psalm 51, which contains the line:
Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me - Verse 12.
So he did not lose his salvation through his double sin of adultery and consent to murder. But both knew of the affection the poor owner had for his lamb. The rich man also knew, but lacked compassion, just as the king himself lacked compassion for his neighbour Uriah.
The affection of the human heart towards pets could well be what remains after the Fall, which previous to this, Adam and his wife Eve were commissioned by their Maker to keep the earth and take care of it, which included caring for all the animal species under their dominion. I, for one, keep goldfish, and the reward for caring for them and making sure their aquatic environment is best suited, is therapeutic relaxation while watching them swim around the tank peacefully.
Our love for certain species could well be a picture of how much God loves us and how much he cares for us. That is why I love the verse which reads:
Casting all your cares on him for he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7).
A gorilla was shot and died at a zoo because he posed a threat to a three year old boy, who found himself in its cage. But the sudden death of this primate has upset the hearts of many, perhaps a reflection of the human heart as it was before the Fall in the Garden of Eden. If it wasn't for sin to enter the world which brought about the Fall, how much of a far better world this would be if we all had a universal love for each other and as much care for each individual as much as we love our pets.
The sorrow for the death of the gorilla, our love for household pets, including the ewe lamb owned by the poor man, followed by our sorrow of their demise, David's anger over the rich man's lack of compassion, all seem to be a strong indication that our natural inclinations are more in tune with the record of Genesis than with Darwin's theories.