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July 28, 2009 – Michael Vick and Cruelty


The front page of the sports section of our local newspaper today carried the news of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s reinstatement of Michael Vick, the Atlanta Falcons quarterback who was found guilty in 2007 of illegal activities related to dog fighting and who ended up spending 18 months in prison, in addition to paying heavy fines. There are many already who are crying out that his punishment was too soft and that his reinstatement to active status in the NFL has come too soon. Others have said that Vick’s misdeeds were not so bad as to warrant the punishment that he received. Still others have no opinion about the crime of dog fighting itself but are simply eager to see a good player back out on the field. I have to admit, I don’t really follow football and I’m no particular fan of Michael Vick’s, but all of this has caused me to think a little bit about the state of our society as it relates to the issue of cruelty in general.

We abhor cruelty. And rightly so. A sensitivity to cruelty is one of the signs of the positive evolution of our society. (There are many signs of the negative evolution of our society as well, but this is not the place to discuss them.) We no longer allow one human being to enslave another. We no longer shield abusive husbands from the law or abusive parents from prosecution. We have a clause in our Constitution prohibiting any “cruel or unusual punishments” of criminals. We are outraged at senseless cruelty. And the more helpless the victim of the cruelty is, the more outraged we feel. Thus, parents who abuse their children are the epitome of villainy in our modern world. And only slightly lower on the list of outrageous offences is cruelty to animals. So, when we heard about Michael Vick’s involvement in a dog fighting ring, we were naturally incensed and were glad that he received a severe consequence for his actions.

We abhor cruelty. So perhaps Vick’s sentence was totally deserved. Perhaps he deserved even worse. I’m not entirely sure how to weigh an act of senseless cruelty to an animal in the scales of justice, but certainly he deserved some punishment and a punishment he certainly got. What bothers me about this whole thing is the vehemence with which our society has demonstrated its abhorrence of the cruelty which Vick and those like him perpetrated compared to the silence which society betrays in the face of another act of cruelty: abortion. Every day, 115,000 unborn children are cruelly aborted worldwide. That’s nearly 42 million per year. This genocide is permitted even in our cruelty-abhorring culture.

We abhor cruelty. We are committed to protecting the innocent. But apparently that commitment only lasts until it runs up against our deeper commitment to protecting our own interests. And when our commitment to protecting the innocent collides with our commitment to preserving our own interests, it disintegrates like a glistening soap bubble, burst and swiftly evaporating on the hard concrete of our convenience. I find that image sobering because, in the end, that’s all our self-righteous outrage at cruelty is: a child’s amusement that entertains us for a moment, but is quickly forgotten. We pass laws to protect animals, and so we ought, but when it comes to protecting unborn children, we turn silently away.

We abhor cruelty. So something must be done. The cruelty must be stopped. If we have a moral obligation to protect helpless animals then we certainly have a moral obligation to protect helpless human beings. The fact that our society can calmly draw a line between the two shows just how morally bankrupt we are. Jesus condemned the Pharisees for being so legalistic that they “strain out a gnat and swallow a camel” (Matthew 23:24). We save dogs and murder babies. But such is the destiny of morality apart from Christ. It is doomed to self-contradiction and legalism. The remedy for us is the same as it was for the Pharisees: stop focusing on outward actions and begin dealing with the heart issue of sin. And the only real way to deal with sin is to repent and allow Jesus to bear it away.

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