On Cecil, Cecile and Hearts of Flesh

The last week of July has brought no shortage of stomach-turning news. The Center for Medical Progress continued its slow, steady undercover expose of Planned Parenthood’s harvesting and transfer of fetal organs. The subtext is, of course, the horrific nature of abortion itself. Video of torn, blood-soaked arms, legs, heads and other body parts belies the notion that abortion is anything other than the destruction of human life. For those desperate to protect the delusion, it is only natural to turn away. Cecile Richards, Planned Parenthood’s CEO, has certainly done all in her power to encourage just that.

Pro-life commentators and politicians have rightly spent the week attempting to force the news media, in particular, to face down reality. In so doing, several of them (including Marco Rubio, Erick Erickson, Heather Wilhelm and many far less enlightened voices) have pivoted off another of the week’s sickening stories, that of an American dentist poaching a lion (and a famous one, known as Cecil) with the help of Zimbabwean guides. It is an unworthy diversion, they say. Why so much outrage over Cecil the Lion? Why not more for Cecile the Liar?

The sentiment is understandable and not invalid. Whatever the means of distraction, willful avoidance of human life’s value is an abdication of integrity, journalistic and otherwise. But, at least from a Christian perspective, contrasting the two stories in this way is unnecessary and unfortunate, and it speaks to a larger flaw in conservative thinking about the value of animal life.

Adam had no such lack of clarity in his last moments in the Garden of Eden, when God killed an animal to clothe him after the fall. In an act of earthly regency, Adam had named that animal, indicating a dominion not of oppression, but of husbandry, even intimacy—closer to the kind we have with our pets than with our food. For a too-brief moment, he, alongside his wife, ruled the animals with equity, as a shepherd rather than a consumer. He understood their divinely appointed innate value as subordinate fellow creatures.

How he must have trembled at this new covering of his body and his shame! First because, as a witness to the planet’s first death, he began to understand the wrenchingly high cost of his rebellion. But even more as he considered how that death indicated his own worth, even in his newly fallen state. The animal that clothed him was not a commodity or an asset of production—it was a substitute. The higher its inherent worth, the higher Adam’s own.

Christians know the rest of the story, that the True Substitute to come offered something infinitely more valuable at the cross. The blood of Christ is the ultimate sign of humanity’s worth, a significance that, rather than being diminished by comparison to a lion, can only be elevated.

The lion, after all, is itself an illustration of Christ in scripture. C.S. Lewis’ Aslan continued the analogy of the great and terrible king of beasts as creation’s ruler in The Chronicles of Narnia. Making light of such a magnificent creature’s death is misguided, even when purposed to show humanity’s higher value. Instead, believers ought to start at the other end of the equation. It is not so much that a lion is worth less than a human (including an unborn one) as it is that a human is worth more than a lion. Not one lion falls to the ground without God’s knowledge. And you are worth more than many lions. 

The power, then, of the comparison of Cecil the Lion with Cecile the Liar is not in the difference between big-game trophy hunting and abortion, but in their similarity. Both are morally bankrupt acts, consumerist and utilitarian, empty of appropriate awe at the wonder of created life. Both are marked by self-delusion and a calloused heart, a heart of stone and not flesh. One act is evil. How much more the other?

Human beings are finite, but in the church visible, the body of Christ on earth, there is plenty of outrage (and its converse: compassion) to go around. Cecil the Lion is worth mourning and worth a cry for justice (which, by the way, certainly does not include hanging his killer). So is factory farming. So is the loss of your favorite dog or cat. And so—resoundingly so—is abortion. Give us hearts of flesh, that we might not turn away.

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