In 2007 the London Zoo had a special animal exhibit. Eight humans—three men and five women—were placed in one of the areas normally reserved for bears. The exhibit was made to look like the Garden of Eden, a kind of primordial paradise, and the humans were scantily dressed in faux fig leaves. As visitors gawked at the human beings, they saw a sign reading, Warning: Humans in Their Natural Environment. A spokesperson for the zoo explained the fairly obvious meaning of the exhibit: Seeing people in a different environment, among other animals … teaches members of the public that the human is just another primate. One visitor to the zoo commented, A lot of people think humans are above other animals… When they see humans as animals, here, it kind of reminds us that we’re not that special.
But what happens if we really were to see ourselves as not that special? What if we are simply one primate among many? What if the universe and everything in it is an accidental collocation of atoms and energy? Well, at the end of the day, we don’t get primates in paradise; instead we get Lady Gaga and Professor Miller-Young.
Did you hear about the recent South by Southwest annual music festival in Austin, Texas? Almost 50,000 people attended the event that featured bands such as Protomartyr singing “Scum Rise!” and The Pampers. One of the main acts was Lady Gaga. The 27 year-old singer’s act began with Gaga herself appearing to be skewered on a spit and roasted like a pig. The singer revealed herself in a black bikini, and during the song “Swine,” Millie Brown, a so-called vomit artist, appeared on stage. Ms. Brown drank a large bottle of neon green liquid and proceeded to vomit on Gaga three or four times. Gaga continued singing the chorus of “Swine”as both women mounted a giant mechanical pig and gyrated in homoerotic rhythm. And the crowd cheered wildly. The following day Gaga said, The best thing that happened last night was I came off the stage. I was covered in vomit—we did live art at the show…
What happens when we really see ourselves as not that special? In addition to Gaga, we get teachers such as Mireille Miller-Young, associate professor of feminist studies at UCSB, teaching classes on pornography to college co-eds for academic credit. Miller-Young’s Ph.D. dissertation, A Taste for Brown Sugar: The History of Black Women in American Pornography, celebrates the empowerment of African American women who appear in pornography even as the professor complains that black women aren’t paid as much as white women in the industry. That’s it. No outrage about the exploitation of black women in this insidious, women-degrading industry. No complaint about the rampant racism present in pornography. No lamentation for women of any race who give their bodies up for the sexual titillation of others. Miller-Young presents, at tax-payers’ expense, pornography as art, pornography as free speech, pornography as a civil right, pornography as freedom.
Miller-Young and Lady Gaga are but two examples of many that testify to our culture’s exaltation of depravity. Our sins and transgressions have been trivialized. We snicker at shame and then turn it into entertainment. Our very appetites have been coarsened, gradually, unperceptively, but surely. The boundaries have come down. We exult in the macabre; we delight in what should be our shame.
Think about this: When a culture exalts the transgressive, when a society celebrates cruelty and calls it art, we can be sure the foundations of that culture are crumbling. Primates in paradise? Hardly. We have lost a vision of who we are. No longer do we see ourselves as creatures made in God’s image. Instead we see ourselves as complex organisms with a plethora of desires calling out to be satisfied. Instead of homo sapiens, man of wisdom, we have become homo satisfactio, man of satisfaction. No desire is too debased to satisfy, no need is inappropriate, no want should go ungratified.
The grandson of the Charles Darwin was named Charles Galton Darwin. In 1952 he wrote a book that turned out to be quite prescient. The book was titled The Next Million Years, and in it the grandson of the famous Darwin wrote, The fundamental quality pertaining to man is not that he should be good or bad, wise or stupid, but merely that he should be alive and not dead.
Primates in paradise? No, merely alive and not dead, worshipping the creature rather than the Creator. As the Apostle Paul said, we have suppressed the truth by our unrighteousness. And we’ve ended up with vomit artists sticking fingers down their throats. As C. S. Lewis put it, we have an ever-increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure…
Os Guinness points out in his excellent book A Free People’s Suicide, that freedom demands restraint, or it will suffocate under its own weight:
Americans today are heedlessly pursuing a vision of freedom that is short-lived and suicidal. Once again, freedom without virtue, leadership without character, business without trust, law without customs, education without meaning, and medicine, science, and technology without human consideration can end only in disaster.
Our society is suffocating under the weight of a secular worldview that has dis-enthroned God and replaced him with the gods of personal preference and choice. In the end, our freedom may prove to be our undoing. If we are just one animal among many, we are not primates in paradise, but rather prisoners in Pandora’s box. When we forget God and when we view man asjust another primate, then morals are individualized and become a matter of personal preference. We will be merely alive and not dead. Aren’t you glad we have a Savior?