Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The instinct to care for animals

This story in Sunday's Newspaper got my mind thinking:

ENTEBBE, Uganda (AP) -- A baby chimpanzee found alone, helpless, in the forest. An African rock python caged and taunted by villagers until it cracks its skull on the metal bars. A rare shoebill crane, a tall, gray-feathered beauty,discovered in the trunk of a smuggler's car. Dozens of animals like these are being rescued,nursed back to health and given a home at the Uganda Wildlife Education Center, a kind of halfway house for animals in trouble - wildlife under pressure on a continent where human encroachment and poachers' greed are pushing many species toward oblivion. "We give them a second chance," says the center's executive director, Andrew G. Seguya. Some are released back into the wild, while those at greater risk are given a home here for life.

By encouraging visitors to its site, which recreates Uganda's grassland savanna, its wetlands and forests, the center hopes to inform Ugandans about the need to conserve their wildlife resources by showing them the variety and uniqueness of what they have to protect. There's the story of Sarah, for example, a 4-year-old chimp being used for witchcraft when a trafficker's go-between bought her for a few dollars. Probably bound for Europe or the Middle East, Sarah raised such a ruckus as she was carried away in a bag that police intervened. She's now been accepted by the center's 11-member chimp colony. Each of the site's 35 shelters has such sad stories with happy endings, as illustrated in ... portraits by Associated Press photographer Kirsty Wigglesworth. "We want to change the way people perceive wildlife," Seguya said.

The story reflects the instinct that many of us have to preserve and protect wildlife. It seems almost innate to us to provide care and support for suffering creatures. Why is it that we care about extinction of species or not? Is it something that's hard wired into who we are as divine image bearers?

Gene Veith had a wonderful editorial in World about two years ago -- suggesting that Green party types and evangelical Christians could work together on some common causes. One of those was on human cloning, but another was on nature:

Still, Christians should be nature lovers. Christians believe in the doctrine of creation, that nature is God's handiwork. Christians have also historically seen God's moral law as having been built into that objective creation. Not that we look to nature—that realm of predators and prey—for moral models, rather than God's Word, but moral transgressions violate something in human nature and in God's created design....

If we can take over some of [Greens'] arguments, which seem uniquely persuasive to people today, and get them to fight on our side, we may have to give them some concessions and support them on some issues in return. For example, they are concerned about endangered species. And while this can be easy for us conservatives to mock, Christians, having a high view of creation, might pause.

We believe that God created the snail darter, which means that God willed that there be snail darters. On what theological grounds can we justify driving the snail darter or any other species to extinction?

Veith hits a rock solid argument that conservative christians would have a hard time dismissing. God created all creatures good -- and God decreed that humanity should have dominion over the earth, accountable to God. Thus humans are not set up as despots, but as stewards who will have to give a reckoning. Thus we cannot be terribly cavalier about our attitude toward the creatures of the earth. The existence of zoos like the Uganda Wildlife Education Center show us that these concerns are built deep into our being - we were designed to care for these creatures.

I'm also aware that our sin nature also produces the impulse for little boys to fry ants under microscopes and for witch doctors to torture chimpanzees -- how do we know which of these deep hard wirings is truly godly? That takes us back to general and special revelation issue. General revelation (through insight, nature, instinct, reason, etc) can only take us so far. It takes special revelation to point us to which line of reasoning, which inner drives are holy and godly. It takes special revelation to tell us we're stewards responsible for the earth, but that we're not one with the earth.

And thus, as Christians, and stewards of the earth, we can rejoice when strange new species are found, such as these species found buried in caves -- for God has been glorified by these species in their very existence unbeknownst to mankind for millennia. Now God's glory is made more widely known in their coming to light.

Soli Deo Gloria