The news over the last few weeks has been replete with stories of death – the Charleston shooting, the Chattanooga terrorist, the Planned Parenthood videos, the police shooting of Samuel DuBose and now the death of Cecil the Lion.
Now, it goes without saying that the least tragic of all these stories is the last one. But what they all have in common is that each time one story broke, it elicited comparisons to the others.
For instance, when Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez killed four marines and a sailor, many people compared the treatment of that shooting with the killing of nine people in Charleston by avowed racist Dylann Roof. “Why,” these people asked, “does Dylann Roof represent all southern whites while Abdulazeez doesn’t represent all Muslims?”
Similarly, when the Planned Parenthood videos were released, some people took the opportunity to make the point that abortion has taken many more black lives than police brutality. “Where’s the hashtag for that?” they asked.
In almost every reaction to the death of Cecil the Lion, that event has been compared to the deaths of human beings – be they from abortion, police brutality or the war or terrorism – and scoffed at by its comparative insignificance.
None of these critiques are necessarily off base. The reaction to the Dylann Roof shooting was certainly overwrought with accusations pointed towards all white southerners and the Confederate Flag. It is also true that Planned Parenthood has murdered many times more human beings than the police have, just as it is true that the death of a lion is not on the same moral plane as the death of a human being.
But underpinning these criticisms is a problematic tendency: valuing some human lives less than others. The people who were so incensed over the deaths of five military members, for instance, can scarcely spare the time to mourn the hundreds of thousands of civilians killed as a result of America’s overseas military adventures. This is not to downplay the tragedy in Chattanooga, but while decrying the imminent threat of Muslim violence to our country, most Americans turn a blind eye to the ongoing threat of American violence to the Muslim world.
Similarly, there’s no tension between recognizing that Planned Parenthood is an eminently wicked institution and also recognizing that there is a real problem of police violence in our country, violence that is often directed at black Americans. But here too, the lives of the latter victims are often devalued by appealing to whatever convenient rationale is available. This usually takes the form as blaming deaths on the victims’ behavior, including “criminal” records, which are almost always owing to petty and non-violent offenses.
That it is just as immoral to shoot and kill an unarmed man for running away, or for selling untaxed cigarettes, or for failing to have a front license plate as it is to wrest an unborn baby from its mother’s womb is a point that is largely lost on many Americans, even pro-lifers.
It may even be worth consideration that, for Christians, the trophy killing of animals might be poor stewardship of God’s creation.
But, this point notwithstanding, there is a real and present problem in America of only being outraged and mournful over the deaths of people that we care about. And no matter how sincerely someone might mourn the death of a person in their preferred group, the inability to recognize that all human life, created in the image of God, is inherently valuable undermines the strength of their own commitment to the protection of innocent life.
For liberals, this means that professing that #blacklivesmatter while supporting the wholesale slaughter of unborn babies is an untenable position. For conservatives it means that it is a significant moral failing to not recognize that the foreign child killed by U.S. bombs is as valuable to God as an unborn American baby is.
That all points on the political spectrum have such a difficult time acknowledging these truths is evidence that political concerns have infiltrated and infected the American mind, to the point where Americans are willing to devalue lives that politicians and commentators tell them are not important. And even as they justify this position to themselves, they live in sincere confusion about why American society is losing its moral sense.
The reality is that all lives matter. They matter to God. They should matter to us.