The Lion Sleeps Tonight

Planned Parenthood has been caught selling baby parts and the headlines and talk show hosts are screaming with outrage. But not about that. About a guy who shot a lion in Zimbabwe.

It turns out that the guy who shot the lion is a dentist. His office is just down the road from my home in the otherwise uneventful suburb of Bloomington, Minnesota. He is now a marked man, a wanted criminal. His business is in shambles, his patients all scattered to other dental clinics across the Twin Cities.

Okay, it’s true that we all like to see dentists suffer, and that is perhaps the latent motive behind the worldwide blitz against this tooth-puller who paid $50,000 to some African guides for the privilege of bow-hunting the king of beasts. Open wider, please. This is going to hurt.

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But then there’s that whole thing about hunting. Lots of people don’t like hunting for various reasons. I admit I don’t like hunting. But it’s not a matter of principle, it’s a matter of pleasure. Or lack of it. I tend to agree with Dr. Samuel Johnson who said that God gave us so few pleasures, it’s strange that hunting should be one of them. However, I understand that going back across the centuries, there is a tradition well-honored that involves the thrill of the chase, the bagging of the prize, the meat, the mount, the glassy-eyed memory of man versus beast. One of our most popular presidents, Theodore Roosevelt, posed proudly with the big game he shot in Africa. It contributed to his fearless and rugged image, a man with a zest for adventure. Nobody complained.

Though hunting is still very popular, fueling a huge industry devoted to the pastime, hunters themselves are a strangely marginalized lot, dismissed as unsophisticated rednecks and regarded not nearly as well as the animals they track down. They can be tolerated if they are going after crocodiles or monster carp or wild hogs, and other lower life-forms like themselves, in which case they are part of a freak show, but when they don costly gear and hire outfitters, they have entered the realm of Lex Luthor. They are bad guys of comic book proportions, making war on our precious planet.

But even if we grant that paying a lot of money to shoot an exotic animal that had been lured out of its protected area was wrong, that it violated a well-defined law or a well-defined ethical boundary, even if we grant that it may not have been done in good faith but with a certain selfish coldness, there is still the larger question: why is the outrage over the act so out of proportion with that over the abortion industry selling baby parts? But here is an even better question: what is the connection between the lack of uproar over abortion and the over-the-top uproar over lion-killing?

There is a connection. A few good quotations from G.K. Chesterton will explain it.

First, Chesterton says that if there is one thing worse than the modern weakening of major morals, it is the modern strengthening of minor morals. This explains why abortion is legal, but smoking a cigar in a public park is illegal. This explains why the modern world is more upset about the killing of one lion than the slaughter of millions of babies. It explains why their veins pop from their necks that a game hunter would stalk a wild animal in order to stuff it as a trophy, but they ignore the systematic dismemberment of live babies extracted from their mother’s wombs so as to save the best parts for resale. It is something of an understatement to say that their major morals are weak and their minor morals are strong, but that is still the essence of it.

But when did hunting turn into a sin?

It happened when we stopped worshipping God and started worshipping Mother Nature. And at the same time that hunting was becoming unpopular and then unacceptable, abortion went from being a crime to being a right. Chesterton says, “Wherever you have animal worship, you will have human sacrifice.” That is why there are more pet stores than baby stores in our strip malls and why there is now a price on a lion-hunter’s head while Planned Parenthood rakes in millions of dollars. We have sacrificed our babies to the Earth Goddess.

This worship of nature is a great fallacy, but as Chesterton says, “Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies even if they become fashionable.” The problem comes from calling Nature our Mother. Chesterton says, “Nature is not our mother, nature is our sister, because we both have the same father.” We love our sister, we respect our sister, we laugh at our sister, we watch out for our sister, “but she has no authority over us.”

The fallacy of nature worship is revealed in its own inconsistencies as a philosophy. What, after all, could be more unnatural than abortion? Or, as Chesterton says, “If Nature herself is so kind a mother, why should anybody be so pessimistic as to shrink from motherhood?”

Keeping everything in its proper proportion is one of the great tasks of the Catholic Church, especially as the world continues to spin out of balance. Pope Francis, in his recent encyclical, shows that balance very well. He urges us to take care of both our physical environment and our spiritual environment, as both have suffered the degradation that comes from sin. The solution, as always, begins with repentance.

  • Dale Ahlquist

    Dale Ahlquist is President of the Society of Gilbert Keith Chesterton and the author of Knight of the Holy Ghost: A Short History of G.K. Chesterton.

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