Cecil the Lion
This past week a good portion of the world got very emotional about a lion in Zimbabwe that was killed by an American dentist who paid a fortune to “hunt” him. The event seems quite appalling and, judging by the global reaction, nobody who has even the slightest sense of self-preservation would dare shrug and say “Who cares?” I mean, they were projecting images of poor Cecil, as well as other endangered species, on the Empire State Building last night!
I’m not a hunter, don’t want to be a hunter, and don’t view this stage-managed killing as hunting in any comprehensible sense of the word. Right now the governments of Zimbabwe and the U.S. are both searching for something, anything, that the can use to impose some sort of criminal penalty on the dentist. I’m not sure that they should bother. This seems to be a case where near-unanimous social disapproval will punish the dentist far more severely than anything they can come up with. I think he is going to join people like OJ Simpson and Casey Anthony in the ranks of social outcasts.
The whole matter seems to be an example of something that I call “virtual outrage.” It is different than real, personal, outrage where we rage against injustice done to us or to someone or something we care about. Real outrage is hard, if not impossible, to let pass. Virtual outrage however is something we can indulge in at our convenience. We can hear or see the report of the lion killing; spend a few minutes sputtering in outrage, perhaps take to social media (particularly Twitter) to rant; and then set it aside either for good or until we choose to pick it up later. In the aftermath of, or between the gaps of, our outrage we are free to not think about the lion at all.
Another byproduct of virtual outrage is comparative outrage. Someone who is outraged about something other than the senseless killing of poor Cecil sputters in indignation that so many are not even more outraged about their particular something else.
“You are outraged about killing one lion in Zimbabwe but don’t care about the cop in Memphis who was killed in cold blood!”
“You are outraged about killing one lion in Zimbabwe but don’t care about the driver in Cincinnati who was killed in cold blood by a cop!”
“You are outraged about killing one lion in Zimbabwe but don’t care about the babies that Planned Parenthood is killing!”
“You are outraged about killing one lion in Zimbabwe but don’t care about the senseless gun violence in that Lafayette movie theater!”
And on and on. We will all, at times, indulge in virtual outrage. But different things hit different people in different ways. It is very human to want everyone to be outraged exactly like me. But that is never going to happen.
Sometimes virtual outrage can become real. Sometimes an incident such as killing Cecil can be the trigger for someone to have a life-changing epiphany. I rejoice when virtual outrage morphs into a zeal for taking up the battle against injustice. But there are a million places in that battle. Only grace makes me realize that God simply will not call all of us to the same place in the battle – and that I need to show grace to others who stand in a different place.
A few, probably a very few, will find the death of poor Cecil to be life-changing and even if that is not my place in the battle I am glad. Of course, if they ask me I could suggest a few things that they might want to consider being outraged about. Or maybe grace will let me just be happy for them.