Ponderings …

what’s in a name?
October 1, 2007, 2:31 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Scanning the news today I came across an interesting report: an Austrian based animal rights group is working to secure the status of personhood for a chimpanzee. (to check it out follow this link http://news.yahoo.com/ and find it under most popular stories.) It’s comical at first; I imagine a chimpanzee in a 3-piece suit patronizingly declining a banana to prove he’s over his embarrassing primate behavior. Continuing the story I found the chimp’s home will not be able to support him any longer and is seeking a home for him that can continue their work. The courts won’t allow it because the court refuses to recognize the chimp as a person. The fate of this chimp hinges on whether the Austrian Supreme Court decides if this chimp is a person or a thing.

Those crazy Austrians! Don’t they have anything better to do with their time? I come from a Christian tradition that emphasizes humanity’s dominion over all of creation; God gave us this earth to use as we see fit. The right of personhood belongs solely to humanity.

But is it that simple or are these animal rights activists on to something? Right above this article I noticed a report that boasted the killing of 60 insurgents by American troops. I was shocked to find a parallel with the chimp: by describing the Iraqi men and women who died as insurgents or civilians or what ever non-person term we’re using today, we step deeper into dehumanizing these people and desensitizing ourselves to their deaths.

Maybe the chimp connection goes even further. Perhaps by distancing ourselves from creation we distance ourselves from one another just enough so that I no longer realize the loss of your life is an insufferable loss to mine. The very fact that we have to argue to protect the life of an animal reveals a world in which just by changing the name of an animal, or a human, we can become comfortable and even proud of disposing of them.

Perhaps we can view the idea of dominion in a different light: not in the way of reckless domination, but as a responsible caring for things, and animals, and people who don’t hold our positions of power. That, instead of standing in front of a situation giddy with the limitless choices to take advantage, every decision is made from the perspective of the ones who are the least of these.

In the end then I hope Mr. Chimp gets his status as a person. And I hope, sooner rather than later, so also do the men and women of Iraq as we find our way out of this dehumanizing quagmire.


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