Obama, PETA, and the Value of Human Life

There was a lot going in the news last week—riots over the election in Iran, North Korea’s nuclear saber-rattling.  But the biggest story of the week, in turns out, was—drum roll, please—the story of President Obama swatting a fly.

“I got the sucker!” Obama told CNBC correspondent John Harwood after killing a fly that had been buzzing around his head.

Harwood laughed and the camera crew applauded. But the sight of the fly’s corpse lying on the White House rug was too much for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals—and insects, apparently. They sent a letter to the Fly Swatter in Chief, expressing their disapproval.

In the future, PETA said, they hoped Obama would treat flies in a more “humane” manner. To underscore their point, PETA sent the President a Humane Bug Catcher, which allows flies to be trapped and then released outside.

The story of the squashed fly afforded us a moment of comic relief. But there’s a serious point at stake here. We are seeing more and more examples of people treating animals—and even insects—as if they had as much value as humans.

The other day, I saw what I first thought was a school bus. It wasn’t. It was a doggie daycare bus, taking the neighborhood pooches to a dog-sitting facility. As Dave Barry would say, I am not making this up.

Go online, and you’ll see many ads for expensive clothes for dogs and cats. And a few years ago, during the making of the film Men in Black, the American Humane Society was on hand to make sure none of the hundreds of cockroaches used in the film were injured. Cockroaches!

Groups like PETA illustrate a philosophy of reductionism, which treats all life as morally equivalent. Of course, if reductionists really want to be consistent, they would not even boil water, because every time they do, they kill millions of innocent microbes. If all life has equal value, then the logical conclusion is to treat all life the same, no matter how lowly—or how deadly, like mosquitoes carrying the West Nile virus.

Obviously, nobody can live in the real world on the basis of this philosophy.

A realistic and livable philosophy of life comes from Scripture, which teaches that God created us in His image and set us up as stewards over the rest of creation, from amoebas to apes to houseflies.

That doesn’t give us license to treat animals cruelly. But it’s one thing to treat animals kindly, and quite another to accord them equal status with humans.

Christians need to learn to press people to face the logical conclusion of their own beliefs. The idea that animals—even flies—ought to be treated with the same respect as humans may sound humane at first. But press the idea to its rational conclusion, and people will soon begin to see how irrational and illogical it really is.

The good news is that this many Americans did begin to think about these ideas last week. The result: Many people told PETA to buzz off. So I think we ought to congratulate the President for squashing that sucker, as he put it. It ignited a great national discussion about the absurdity of putting flies on the same moral plane as humans made in God’s image.

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage

  • Trust me, the PETA people do follow the notion to its conclusion. Meat, fur, hide glue, and leather are murder, and you can bet they’d push to change the laws to make it so if they could. We are OBLIGATED to permit ants in our pantry, termites in our homes, and moths in our woolens. It is a very anti-human agenda.

  • ldburnley93

    SO…does this mean PETA is Pro-Life? Or is it time to trot out the H word?

  • Pancho

    Being pro-life is not a requirement for PETA membership, it would really cut into their funding if it was.

  • DWC

    I come from a very stong veterinary family, and so was warned about the crazy PETA folks decades ago. It ain’t better today!

    As for a pro-life stance …. I’m afraid in most of their circles that goes only to animals. If they could show that an aborted fetus could save a puppy … they’d be all for abortion.

    They have done very little that I would call good and valuable. Sorry.

  • tigris

    Some people believe in being humane whenever you can. There’s nothing inherently reductionist about getting rid of insects without killing them. And I think many PETA or PETA-type advocates would respond to the boiling-water-kills-microbes argument with some statement about creatures with a central nervous system or the capacity to feel pain, exempting microbes.