This month the New York Supreme Court is deciding on whether or not to rule on a case involving the legalization of chimpanzees as human persons. Yes, this is a real report, not one from The Onion. In the state of New York, the Nonhuman Right Organization is filing a lawsuit on behalf of four chimpanzees—Tommy, Kiko, Hercules, and Leo—to let them have the same rights as humans.
Unable to speak for themselves (because they are not human), CNN reports that the leader of NRO (Steven Wise) and the co-founder of the Animal Legal Defense Fund (Joyce Tishler) are making the case for these animals that humanity (i.e., homo sapiens) is not a necessary prerequisite for personhood.
Such is the moral insanity of our day, that men and women made in the image of God are unable to see the (biological, social, spiritual, and legal) differences between humans and apes. Albert Mohler critically reports on this subject on his daily podcast, The Briefing (Dec 4, 2013), and Graham Cole in his new book, The God Who Became Human: A Biblical Theology of the Incarnation provides a Christological reason why men and women are different than apes.
Anglican professor of theology at Beeson Divinity School, Graham Cole makes this critical observation. “The very fact that God became truly human underlines the value of human life. The Creator did not become a lion (apologies to C. S. Lewis) or a dolphin or a parrot. He became one of us” (The God Who Became Human, 150).
Cole is exactly right. Humanity is not only distinct from every other species because we alone are made in God’s image (Gen 1:26-28). Humanity is also unique because Christ only took on human flesh (Rom 8:3; Heb 2:16-17). What was once obvious to humanity—that man and beast were categorically distinct and therefore deserved different legal standings—has been lost in theory and is now requiring a court ruling to determine what personhood means.
Cole continues his Christological argument for humanity’s uniqueness and stresses that Jesus himself recognized the difference between man and beast, giving greater value to the former. Citing Catholic and Protestant scholars alike, he writes,
As . . . the eminent twentieth-century Roman Catholic Jacques Maritain argued often, “the sanctity of human life ultimately rests in the fact that Christ became incarnate as a human creature, not some other sort of creature.” Protestant theologian Karl Barth adds to the chorus: “The respect for human life which becomes a command in the recognition of the union of God with humanity has incomparable power and width.” It is no surprise then to find in the Gospels that Jesus operated with a scale of creaturely value. Human life is more valuable . . . than that of a sparrow, even a flock of them (Matt 10:29–31). This valuing of human life over that of other creatures is criticized by some as ‘speciesism’ [e.g., Peter Singer] but is fundamental to a sound theological anthropology that factors in the reality of the incarnation. (150)
Indeed, as the court case in New York reminds us, we need to go back to the basics and reiterate that man and beast are not the same. God created man in his image to rule over creation, not to receive them as persons with equal rights. While Scripture declares that the righteous will have regard for the life of his beast (Prov 12:10), it never confuses the difference between people and pets. Even more, with the coming of Jesus Christ as a man, we see in Scripture and history that God’s incarnation is the final word on who he thinks is most valuable. Christ gave his life to redeem the human race, and we ought not confuse who that is.
Soli Deo Gloria, dss