Protecting Chimpanzees and the Imago Dei

I am leaving on vacation today, but I wanted to share a quick post before I go, on this article in The New York Times:

It describes the proposal by the US Fish and Wildlife Service to add chimpanzees in captivity to the endangered species list.  What this would do is block most experimentation on them, and perhaps discourage their use in entertainment, too.  It’s the former ramification that I find most interesting, especially in light of what Jane Goodall said at the announcement:  “What the chimpanzee has done is to prove there is no hard and fast line dividing us from the rest of the animal kingdom.  That’s the greatest gift the chimpanzee has given those of us who care about animal welfare.”

This has very, very important theological ramifications as well, obviously:  when that “hard and fast” line is blurred, justifying experiments on animals that we would unequivocally reject performing on human beings becomes much harder, as is insisting on exclusive moral rights for human beings alone.  In this way, it forces us to ask questions about our relationship to non-human animals, and their own integrity and personality as beloved creatures of God–not only chimpanzees, of course, but other non-human animals as well.

As a theologian, I’m really glad these challenges to scientific practices are being raised, and that these questions are being asked.  They can only help us better understand who God has created us to be–both unique, and also deeply embedded in the whole of creation and dependent on the health of the cosmos as a whole:  these are complementary understandings of the human being, not competing ones.  And the more we come to see ourselves as deeply relational–not only with chimps but also with trees and newts–the more we come to appreciate our existence as imago Dei.

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