- Charles C. Camosy
August 13, 2016
Donald Trump’s sons are going hunting again.
Evidence of their previous exploits have made the rounds on the internet.
One of the most disturbing images was that of Donald Jr. posing for a photo with an elephant tail in one hand and a knife in the other. Most Americans are against big game trophy hunting (86 percent disapprove, with nearly 60% claiming it should illegal), but this photo provoked particular outrage.
And how could it not? Elephants are some of the most sophisticated and interesting creatures God has made. Everyone knows about their amazing memories and intelligence, but did you know they recognize themselves in a mirror, thus proving self-awareness? That they develop deep friendships, not only with each other, but sometimeswith other animals?
Did you know they even mourn their dead, returning to the grave-sites of deceased relatives and friends to handle their bones?
For the last couple generations, animal activists have blamed religious traditions as bearing particular responsibility for ideas and practices which could lead to treating these animals as mere things to do with as we please. But this couldn’t be further from the truth, and even animal activists like Peter Singer now see religious traditions as allies in the fight for animal protection.
This is not surprising when we consider that gross mistreatment of animals took place long before religion was on the scene in the development of Homo sapiens, and it is driven today mostly by what Pope Francis calls the secular “use and throw-away culture.”
There is no sense in which our secular culture formed the Trump boys to understand that these creatures are gifts from God, and that God limits our use of them to such that it fits within a divine plan.
No, instead animals are understood to be mere things or products bought and sold in a marketplace. If you’ve got the money-as the Trumps surely do-then you can even use elephants and throw them away.
I’ve tried to raise awareness about how the Roman Catholic moral tradition critiques contemporary practices when it comes to how we treat animals, but I’ve focused mostly on how we eat. The one good thing to come of the Trump bros killing these animals is that it has raised cultural awareness with regard to a different set of practices.
It is interesting to note that the Church has, over the centuries, fairly consistently condemned sport hunting of animals as against God’s plan for creation. Recall that in the first pages of the Bible, all animals (human and non-human) in Eden were vegetarian, and animals were brought to Adam “because it was not good man should be alone.”
After sin enters the world, God gives limited permission to eat animals in Genesis 9, but early Christians understood that this permission did not extend to other practices. Recall, for instance, that Christians were forbidden from attending the Roman games when animals were slaughtered merely for the blood-thirsty entertainment of the crowd.
In Jerome’s commentary on Psalm 90, he equated Esau’s sinfulness with his being a hunter, and claimed that in “the Holy Scriptures we do not find any saints who are hunters.” St. Cyril of Jerusalem specifically called sport hunting “the pomp of the devil,” and urged fellow Christians to avoid even watching it, much less participating in it.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that Catholics may use animals for things like food and clothing, but with two important restrictions. First, we must treat animals with kindness. Second, we must never “needlessly” cause them to suffer or die.
Whatever one thinks about the broader discussion of how we treat animal protection, and more complex questions about the morality of our eating habits, the morality of sport hunting is cut and dried. Because it is done for entertainment, and not anything remotely resembling need, it is immoral. Period. End of story.
The Catholic Church is a powerful witness to the protection of vulnerable and voiceless life in other moral and legal contexts. We should also honor the parts of our tradition and teaching, which call us to be a voice for the vulnerable and voiceless animals killed by the likes of the Trump brothers.