Naughty child

Every human being is unique and irreplaceable because we are made in the image and likeness of God
September 08 2016 | by

On saturday, May 28, 2016, a mom took her 3-year-old son, and possibly other children, to the Cincinnati Zoo in Cincinnati, Ohio. At the gorilla exhibit, the youngster wanted to go in to see the gorillas close up. According to a bystander, this elicited an argument.

“You’re not going in,” Mom declared.

“Yes, I am,” the child retorted.

“No, you’re not!”

“Yes, I am!”

When Mom was distracted, the child swiftly clambered over a threefoot fence, dropped into four feet of thickly planted shrubs, crawled through them and tumbled down fifteen feet into a shallow moat. The moat was part of the zoo habitat for a 17-year-old, silverback male gorilla named Harambe, who was part of the zoo’s endangered species exhibit.

Moral dilemma

In videos of the event, the terrified shrieks of the crowd can be heard mingled with the mother’s frantic call to the 911 emergency hotline while calling to the child “Mommy’s here.” Videos also record 450 pound Harambe grabbing the child, dragging him through the moat and barricading him with his body into a rear corner of the habitat. In the wild, male gorillas frequently attack and kill the children of their rivals, and Harambe’s behavior resembled that of a cat playing with a mouse before killing it. Zoo officials determined that tranquilizing Harambe might require multiple shots and would take 10 to 15 minutes to take effect. That would give the already agitated Harambe plenty of time to kill the boy so zoo officials took no chances. They lethally shot Harambe, then rescued the child who sustained serious, but not life threatening, injuries.

One would think that headlines of this rescue would read Child Saved. Instead, they blared, Gorilla Killed. Headlines and lead paragraphs from articles published worldwide speak of ‘outrage’ at Harambe’s killing. Blog and facebook posts shame the mother for not watching her child more closely. One writer suggested that, instead of the gorilla, the mother and son should have been shot. Echoing the sentiments of many, another blogger wrote, “Shameful. That gorilla was irreplaceable. And trying to save the kid from an irresponsible mom who was too cowardly to jump in after the kid.” Another commented, “If a parent is unwilling to watch over their child at all times, especially in a place that keeps wild animals, then that person should not have the child in the first place.”

What is man?

Four days after the rescue, more than 430,000 people had signed an on-line petition that focuses on ‘parental negligence’ and states flatly, “This beautiful gorilla lost his life because the boy’s parents did not keep a closer watch on the child.” It con

tinues, “We believe that this negligence may be reflective of the child’s home situation. We the undersigned actively encourage an investigation of the child’s home environment in the interests of protecting the child and his siblings from further incidents of parental negligence that may result in serious bodily harm or even death.”

Aside from the fact that people who signed this petition must never have parented strong willed, quick footed youngsters, the Harambe incident reveals that many people consider humans as simply another species. Had Harambe cornered a dog who fell into the moat, zoo officials would have tranquilized the gorilla in an effort to save both animals, even if that meant taking a chance with a dog’s life. The underlying assumption of people who are outraged over Harambe’s killing is this: Harambe was one of less than 175,000 of his endangered species. The boy was one of 7.4 billion of his un-endangered species. Why lose one of 175,000 instead of one of 7.4 billion?

Spiritual soul

Christians believe that all species are not equal. God made the human species in God’s own image and gave each human an eternal soul.

“On the sixth day, God said: Let us make man [Gen 1.26]… the Holy Spirit… breathed into the face of man the breath of life. [Gen 2.7]… and thus man was made a living soul” ( Sermons for Sundays and Festivals, Messaggero di Sant’ Antonio Editrice, 2007, Vol. I, pp 16-17).

But what exactly does the word ‘soul’ mean? Section 363 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “In Sacred Scripture the term ‘soul’ often refers to humanlife or the entire human person. But ‘soul’ also refers to the innermost aspect of man, that which is of greatest value in him, that by which he is most especially in God’s image; ‘soul’ signifies the spiritual principle in man.”

Saint Anthony tells us that “The soul is glorified by three gifts… wisdom, friendship and concord. The wisdom of God is reflected in the face of the soul: she will see God as he is, and she will know as she is known… there will be friendship with God… there will be harmony with neighbors, over whose glory she will rejoice just as much as over her own” ( Sermons I, pp. 30-31).

In the soul, love of God and love of neighbor are inseparable. Lest we wonder who our neighbor is, Jesus told us in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10.25-37). Our neighbor is anyone who needs our help. The Good Samaritan loved everyone. This is why he helped the man beaten by the robbers. The Scribe and the Pharisee, who ignored the man, lacked love of neighbor and possibly love of God because they did not see God in their neighbor by the road.

Love spawns service. “St. Augustine says, ‘Charity is the name I give to that movement of the soul to delight in God for his own sake, and in self and neighbor for God’s sake.’ He who lacks this, however many things he does which are in themselves good, he does them in vain. That is why the apostle says, if I speak with the tongues of men, etc” ( Sermons I, p. 59).

The Ten Commandments, Saint Anthony reminds us, discuss love of God and love of neighbor: “God gave the soul four principal virtues – prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance – and the Ten Commandments. These are: Hear, O Israel: the Lord thy God is One; Thou shalt not take the name of thy God in vain; Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day... These first three Commandments, which concern the love of God, were written on the first tablet. The other seven, which concern the love of neighbor, were on the second” ( Sermons I, p. 91).

St. John the Evangelist says, “God is love” [1 Jn 4.8]. “We love God and our neighbor with the same love, the love which is the Holy Spirit, since God is charity… Your neighbor is every man; there is no one whom you ought to do harm to” ( Sermons II, pp. 12-13).

Human dignity

Love of the Father teaches us our dignity: “How great is the love of the Father towards us! He sent his onlybegotten Son to us and for us, so that as we live by him, so we may love him: for to live without him is in fact to die.” ( Sermons III, p. 13) The toddler, not Haramabe, is made in God’s image. The boy, not Harambe, has a human soul. God sent his only-begotten Son for the child, not for Harambe. The blogger is correct who wrote, “ That gorilla was irreplaceable.” But the endangered toddler was also irreplaceable. The dignity of an animal cannot surpass the dignity of the human person for whom Christ died. 

Updated on October 04 2016
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