Animal Rights: A Dangerous Aspect of Our New Secular Religion

Zimbabwe Lion Killed

--Image Credit: Associated Press

Those convinced the Inquisition died out hundreds of years ago may be surprised by the emergence of the all-powerful Twitter mob. While those found in violation of the tenets of the pope were rarely actually tortured or killed, death threats and career-ending protests now target our modern apostates, with a vehemence rarely seen since the Salem witch trials.

The elevation of “animal rights” to a semi-sacrosanct belief has taken many casualties, like the freedom and livelihood of a certain American dentist -- but more on that later. Religious liberty, historic tradition, and even -- ironically -- the lives of animals have been taken hostage by this all-consuming movement.

None of this is to say that animals do not deserve fair treatment. They do, and humans should be accountable for treating them well. Christian doctrine holds that men and women are to be stewards of God’s creation, and should treat animals well as a result. The difference between the historic reverence for animals and the newfound secular movement lies in the position of man, and human concerns above -- or below -- the creatures we are obligated to protect.

Cecil and the Twitter Enforcement Mob

The story of “Cecil the lion” has taken Western media and animal-rights vigilantes by storm, much to the surprise of people in the lion’s native Zimbabwe. The death of Cecil, a 13-year-old lion tourist attraction for Zimbabwe, tagged for study by Oxford University, has drawn a wave of international indignation. In early July, Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer shot and killed Cecil, after hiring local guides to allegedly lead the lion away from its legal sanctuary.

“Hunting is a coward’s pastime,” alleged People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) President Ingrid Newkirk. “If, as has been reported, the dentist and his guides lured Cecil out of the park with food so as to shoot him on private property, because shooting him in the park would have been illegal, he needs to be extradited, charged, and preferably, hanged.”

Why Cecil Matters More than Aborted Babies, Credit Facebook, Catholic Memes Why Cecil Matters More than Aborted Babies, Credit Facebook, Catholic Memes

As RealClearPolitics’ Heather Wilhelm has noted, the outrage did not stop there. “Actress Debra Messing argued for revoking Dr. Palmer’s citizenship; Sharon Osborne, who is married to a man who once bit the head off a bat, called for the eradication of Palmer’s home, business, and money.” Even late-night host Jimmy Kimmel, who argued against “a witch hunt for the guy,” did not restrain himself from calling Palmer “vomitous,” and “the most hated man in America who never advertised Jell-O pudding on television.”

Twitter vigilantes gladly joined in the character assassination, unleashing a storm of hatred and death threats. Some Twitter users have fantasized about shooting Palmer with his own crossbow and murdering him with his own dental implements. Protesters tracked down Palmer’s practice and left stuffed animals, threats, and hate mail at the site. Nearly 200,000 people have signed a petition on WhiteHouse.gov to have the dentist extradited.

And 159 people have petitioned the review website Yelp to allow them to post negative Cecil-focused reviews of Palmer’s dentistry practice. Some of these reviews call Palmer “a gun-toting redneck murderer,” a “f***ing waste of sperm,” and “a true example of everything that is wrong in this world.”

Palmer himself has closed his business and gone into hiding.

None of this excuses Dr. Palmer’s poaching, but can’t we acknowledge it is a bit over the top? This act may have violated Zimbabwe’s law and hampered an Oxford study. But many find the punishment ill befitting the crime.