Why We Feel Better if We Care About Cecil the Lion

by | Jul 31, 2015 | Can of Worms, Pop Culture | 45 comments

I’m going to start here by saying that I don’t feel particularly protective of this particular big game hunting dentist (but I do feel for his wife and kids). There are hunters in my family, bow-hunters even, but they do the hunting themselves, and there’s an investment of time, and personal skill, and what they hunt actually gets eaten by their families, and sometimes me.

Maybe this guy was hunting legally, probably he wasn’t. I think we can agree that modern trophy-hunting seems a bit, um, off somehow. But that’s not what I want to talk about. What I want to talk about is the near-universal outcry of horror over the death of Cecil the lion.

There has been a deep and very genuine sadness and disgust across this country, (at least the social-media-using part of the country) over the death of one particular lion who happened to have a name. And what it tells me is that we as a society are hungry for a moral absolute. We need to be able to recognize and agree upon something, ANYTHING, as actually wrong.

We’ve all heard the term “moral relativism.” What moral relativism means in practice is that there are no such things as moral absolutes. Something is right or wrong because any one person feels it should be, without recourse to outside standards of morality or natural law.

A huge segment of our population has been struggling ever since they reached the age of reason to reconcile a personal disgust with the idea of abortion, with the loudly trumpeted demands that we all must recognize that it’s NONE OF OUR BUSINESS and we’d better just pipe down. Choice. My body. Reproductive freedom. It’s not really a baby. All of it has been shouted in the streets until two generations now honestly can’t tell right from wrong or good from evil.

The same goes for other evils we’re supposed to celebrate as choice: like euthanasia, and free love, and conceiving children in such a way as to necessarily deprive them of one or both of their parents.

Moral relativism denies a fundamental part of our Truth-seeking human natures. As human beings, we crave moral absolutes. We know somewhere deep down that there IS such a thing as wrong, such a thing as evil. And we want so badly to be allowed to point a finger at it, finally, that when poor, not-actually-all-that-important-in-the-grand-scheme-of-things Cecil the lion comes along, we can barely contain ourselves.

In many cases, we flat out can NOT contain ourselves, and completely lose perspective. And this guy, who seems like he probably deserves to get fined and ridiculed is instead getting death threats and his livelihood revoked.

But it seems reasonable in the throes of our passion in the moment, because here. finally. is evil.

WE can do something about it.

And here’s where the true seductiveness of the Cecil the lion phenomenon comes in: it’s all so easy. It requires nothing of me. No real sacrifice. No real assistance. In a hundred and forty characters or less I can prove I’m a person who cares about right and wrong. Then I can post a photo of my lunch and move on.

But. If I recognize that abortion is a great evil that harms women and children, if I recognize that divorce, and sex outside of marriage, and pornography have grave consequences . . . then what? I can’t solve that on Facebook. That’s going to require commitment. It might require me to offer my financial and prayerful and physical assistance to other people. It might require big changes in my own life.

That’s scary. Maybe I don’t want to think about that.

Ummm . . . Hey, look! A cute lion!


  1. Isabelle

    Trust you to find a charitable angle on the story! When I grow up, I want to be able to do that too 😉

    I think it also shows how horrible internet activism is. Because it requires no personal involvement (bar, you know, sticking a rainbow on your profile picture) but can have real consequences (although, never on actually evil people and organisations, who couldn't care less about #bringbackourgirls).

    Maybe Heather is onto something and we should all join the Amish.

  2. Anonymous

    Yes! I like animals and believe they should be treated with respect. I am sad to hear about this lion, too. But, it's shocking to me (probably it shouldn't be) that we as a society place so much more value on animals with names than people! What about the thousands of babies dying every month in abortion clinics for being inconvenient? What about the Christians being massacred all across the Middle East? What about the children dying of hunger and thirst in 3rd world countries (countries thst this particular dentist visited anually to give free dental care to?)? Where is the outrage there?

    I personally do not agree with trophy hunting at all, but it is legal. It appears he lured a lion off a protected park to kill him. That is not legal. But, the government is getting involved. He will probably be fined. Why isn't that enough?

  3. Loveisneverdefeated

    Yeah. Trophy hunting is terrible . The dentist seems to have a serious lack of good judgment and compassion. I feel sad for that lion. I do feel more sad about abortion though. The timing of this out cry is weird. Maybe we just have to feel bad about something. It blows me away that abortion with no restrictions is legal. In Canada there is nothing even on the books. Which means anything goes. Like hearing about those tapes. All I can think is holy smokes. This is legal! How screwed up are all of us if this has been legal for so long?

  4. AnneMarie

    I love how you bring this into the whole realm of how we like to wash our hands and not actually do anything about problems. The whole hashtag culture gives this sense that we can support good and oppose bad, and ALL that we have to do is sit on the cough and type. But, we are capable of rising up to sacrifice and actually DO something about the world's problems! Like standing on the sidewalks outside of clinics and offer assistance to women who need it, etc.

  5. Amanda

    Yes! We can't really love this lion, he required nothing of us. We don't even have the facts and we're vilifying this dentist – he made a report, it may have been a good faith accident, and frankly, Cecil is not a lion I had ever heard of before. We're in a national outrage over a famous-somewhere-else lion?? Because it feels good to be outraged with everyone else and not need to make any sacrifice. No one's even going to disagree with us! This is the best possible outrage for a moral relativist. I guess you wrote this post saying all that.

  6. Laurel

    You hit the nail on the head, Kendra. It is so hard to watch all these people decry this "atrocity" that happened to a lion, but easily turn a blind eye to the REAL atrocities happening all around us. Boo moral relativism.

  7. Laura @ Mothering Spirit

    You nailed it. I was honestly baffled why this lion fiasco was getting such a public outcry – in the same week that Planned Parenthood is discovered to be even worse than we all thought (which is saying a lot) and innocent PEOPLE continue to be killed all over the world for religious persecution, political violence, etc?!. But you've helped me put this in perspective here. It's so much easier to rally as a "slacktivist" behind a cute zoo animal than to actually question moral depravity and evil and injustice. Lord, have mercy.

  8. Jenny

    I have also been wondering why so many people are upset about a lion yet babies are being killed all over the world everyday through abortion and no one cares. While I feel the lion should not have been killed, he is an animal. I am much more worried about the babies…human beings that are being killed for selfish reasons.

    • Elly

      To challenge you further, no ones seems to care about those unwanted children born into poverty once they exit the womb. I think that is truly the greater shame.

    • Kendra

      Elly, how ever you feel about the Catholic Church, we have a long and unbroken history of caring about and serving the poor, widows, orphans, and unwed mothers all over the world.

    • Elly

      Hi Kendra, I think the Catholic church has done amazing work all over the world. Unfortunately in America, I mostly see the Catholic position on hot-button issues like abortion or birth control exploited and sensationalized to elect politicians who consistently harm the poor by cutting services.

      I am a fan of Pope Francis for bringing us all to task on how we treat the environment. I would be more interested in how American Catholics feel about that than about an inaccurate video

  9. Marilyn

    Well said. This is just the juxtaposition that came to my mind as I thought about these two stories. But you were able to articulate it better. 🙂

  10. Vanessa

    Home run on this post! The outcry is outcried (yep, I fake-created a word =) because human souls are built to stand for, to believe in, to be a part of – something and Someone larger than themselves. As you say, this kind of advocacy is easy and asks little of us in the long-term path. I would be standing up and condemning this as cheap activism, except (cough, cough) I know that -I- have been guilty of having convictions (on other topics) that I don't support with time or money. I know that -I- have been guilty of using activism as a club to beat up those on the other side (which is sinful). Committed, intentional activism requires conscious, continous choices. It's not easy- if it were easy, everyone would do it. And yeah, social media can be weird. I went on a social media fast during Lent and during summer this year. I'm better for it.

  11. Kat

    Yes! We all want a moral absolute but some are easier to accept than others. Truth and demands a response from us which is an action on our part to respond with our whole being. As is our human nature we choose the easier response where we don't have to get out of our comfort zone of our keyboards because to really recognize the horror of evil we must fight it starting with ourselves. Great post Kendra!

  12. Stephanie

    Excellent, Kendra! Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I believe you are onto something here.

    • Elly

      Except that Kendra is a much more articulate writer.

  13. Frances

    Maybe if Planned Parenthood were trafficking lion parts, people would pay more attention to the story. As sad and terrible as it may be that Cecil was killed, this amount of outrage is highly disproportioned. When have we, as a society, allowed ourselves to be moved to the point of tears at one dead lion, yet turn our heads and ignore the harvesting of pre-born human body parts? The truth is that humans cannot treat animals properly until we can properly treat each other, especially our most innocent.

    • Kendra

      Elly, I'm going to consolidate my reply to you here, and leave your link just in one place. Regardless of what the state of Indiana says about what Planned Parenthood has been doing, it feels wrong to many Americans, even many who support abortion. But the real problem for Catholics is abortion itself, which we view as a grave evil and a failure of our society. So, in light of the fact that Planned Parenthood has performed over six million abortions, we would say that they have done a great deal of wrong to the most defenseless women and children among us.

    • Elly

      Hi Kendra, thank you for replying! I understand that Catholics, and many other religions, have a problem with abortion, and I respect that per their belief system it is not something they would support. But not everyone is Catholic.

      It reflects poorly on the Catholic community that no one reported the findings of the "baby parts" case. Nothing illegal or unethical was happening. A maliciously edited video resulting in a vote to defund PP is a huge waste of tax payer's dollars

      I think it's wrong to smear an organization dedicated to helping give women the knowledge and tools to have safe sex and plan their families.

      I do take issue with your description of women seeking abortion as "defenseless." I think that is condescending to 6 million women who made a deeply personal choice. Abortion should be safe and legal and available to women who want to make that choice.

    • Kendra

      Elly, I'm not sure we have any common ground at all here, unfortunately. But I'll try.

      What Planned Parenthood is, is an organization dedicated to providing abortions to women. Women who would NOT choose abortion, if they felt supported in other ways by other organizations that currently exist and would LOVE to help those mothers (my own mom works at one). Even abortionists acknowledge that women with other options don't choose abortion. Unfortunately, as long as Planned Parenthood is the biggest, richest kid on the block, they'll continue to convince women who go to them for help that abortion is their only option.

      It's unfair to categorize the videos as maliciously edited. The group that made the edited videos, also made the unedited videos available. The only issue I'm aware of being in controversy between the two versions is whether Planned Parenthood is attempting to make money off of the parts. For me, that's a total non-issue. They're already making money off of killing babies. That's the problem.

      But the fact of the matter is that many other folks ARE more troubled by the idea of selling baby parts than they are with the killing. As this article points out, we don't harvest organs from death row inmates or do scientific experiments on them, because convicts don't have the autonomy to consent to such experiments. It just plain creeps people out. It's an understandable reaction.

    • Elly

      Hi Kendra,
      The true scandal is that the predictable Catholic response to this issue overshadows other positives coming from that faith and allows members to be exploited each election cycle when politicians promise to shut down clinics that help (usually) poor women obtain health services. If non-Catholics wish to have sex outside of marriage, let them. Don't project the rules of your faith onto us.

      Planned Parenthood is not "dedicated" to abortions. They are dedicated to sexual health and control over reproductive health. PP is so important because it very accessible care. That is a valuable service for us non-Catholics.

      And yes, generally the situations that compel women to choose abortion are not great. I'm sure if they could wave a wand and keep the baby some would, but (and this is important) not all would. The article you linked to said for some women, its straightforward.

      That's what we all must remember that "women" are not a monolithic group. So "women seeking abortion" are also not a monolithic group. We have to trust these individuals to make this choice.

      Just like I trust that you know yourself and know your faith and know that you can support your beautiful family. You can make your choice, and I can make mine because this is America.

    • Sarah

      Hi Elly-I just want to pipe in here-it's not just the Catholic church or religious people that are pro-life. Have you had a chance to look into these groups? When I did I was amazed at the different perspectives. http://www.feministsforlife.org – their series called Metamorphosis (you can find this on that website) is awesome. http://www.secularprolife.org is another one. I like to see all sides of a moral issue-because we must be compassionate to all of humankind and learn the way to serve them best.

    • Elly

      Hi Sarah, thank you for those links. I enjoy reading a lot about this issue, from both sides.

      However, you skip over that PP is really about connecting low income women with a wide range of reproductive health options, not just abortion. Defunding an accessible avenue for reproductive and sexual health doesn't seem compassionate, or a way to better serve American women.

    • Sarah

      Not to bombard you Elly (I seriously apologize if it seems like this!) because you have a great point. This article offers a few (or more) different views on how Planned Parenthood doesn't really serve women holistically (and their children) very well. Maybe if we looked at the community health centers that do this, and give them the funding that PP has, we would have a better model of care. I am not a poor woman, but I don't want to think I am so different from then in my health care needs, and the needs of my family. If I had little money, and no transportation, how would I care for myself and my six children? What if the money that PP receives is channeled to community health centers-ones that serve not just the women, but the children she may have, the family she is trying to care for (with oh so many needs)? (If you read the article, I love Melissa Clement's thoughts the best.) What about postpartum care? Follow-up especially in high-risk situations? What about dental care, pediatric care, etc.
      So much to think about-but this is what I mean when I say "to better serve American women"-not just accept the model that is marketed to us (using expensive PR) by PP, but turn it around and around and really look at it from all angles, and demand the best.

      Sorry I forgot to include the link the first time! Here it is:

    • Elly

      Hi Sarah, Thank you for the link! Sounds like we share common ground on the issue of expanding high quality preventive care. Another step America could take to support mothers would be offering paid parental leave!

      Your right, PP doesn't serve ALL the health needs a woman, or her child, might have. Much the same way that an eye doctor doesn't also to PAP smears. PP offers targeted information and care about reproductive health. Abstinence only sex education has left a generation of Americans in the dark about how their bodies work. In this case, ignorance has very serious consequences. Part of PP's mission is to provide basic education about how bodies work.

      And you CAN go to PP for postpartum care, or if you think you've had a miscarriage but aren't sure, or if you don't know what kind of birth control is right for you.

      I am a poor woman, and I have been to PP. And on my way out the door I was given multivitamins with high B vitamin content because I was told all women of child bearing age should be taking vitamins in case they get pregnant. To me, that sounds like an organization invested in making sure that women can decide when they want to become a mother and in making sure those wanted pregnancies are healthy.

    • Elly

      Hi Kendra,
      It is wonderful that New Hampshire has such excellent resources for its population. It is also the 6th richest state in the U.S. It is also a small state, so getting to those resources isn't an insurmountable burden as it can be in other parts of the country.

      A woman's situation might be much different in Utah, Mississippi, or Louisiana. Poverty impacts choices, all choices. PP has a national presence and you can expect the same options in each PP location. That is incredibly valuable if you don't live in New Hampshire.

  14. Kristi

    Kendra, your insight & perspective is a gift. Please keep it up! And I'm amazed you can think this clearly when your littlest girl is less than a week old! 🙂

  15. Sarah Templeton

    He was with a guide. The guide allowed it. He was legal. The guide has admitted he did things wrong. It's all to take our attention off of the aborted baby part's that are being sold. No media compared to old Cecil.

  16. Catherine Faux

    First, I enjoy reading your blog. You make so much sense! I have heard the radio talk show stations blast different opinions about the planned parenthood scandal and I think it's sad how many people hav missed the mark! It's terrible to want I harvest body parts of babies, but why are we allowing the terrible evil of abortingthem in the first place!

  17. Erin

    Oh wow, yes! Insightful, you've really nailed it!

  18. Sasibe

    Well, now I'm quit sad…

    I'm not a catholic – I'm christian… I believe in love and JK's Word of love. That nothing is greater than love… and I'm not the one to decide if two adult people should be allowed to love… and this I say in the sweetist possible way… hasn't the USA been quit wrong before in that question?

    • Kendra

      I would say that that depends on what you believe is the point and purpose of marriage. If marriage is a (predominately) temporary arrangement between two adults, coming together for their own happiness and mutual fulfillment, and to ensure tax benefits, then there's really no good argument against same sex marriage, or bigamy, or incest.

      But. If the purpose of marriage is to stabilize and strengthen a society by facilitating the having and raising of children in a safe, loving, forever environment, then we have to recognize that male and female are fundamentally different from one another. And a same sex marriage, while it may have love, can never be the place where children are conceived and raised by their parents, in love, forever.

      That's what the Catholic Church sees as marriage.

    • Sasibe

      I deeply believe that there are only one reason for marriage… and that is love. True love.
      If you get married due to Sex or economics , it is my opionen that the marriage has a weak foundation .

      Children most of all need parents who love them more than anything else. If we use a person's sexual orientation, race or religion as a justification for denying them children , we teach our children that it is okay to judge people based on those things… not all adults have a right to children but children have a right to good parents – and my experience as a teacher is, that the task can be performed equally well by gay parents , such as single parents or hetroseksuelle …

      But the big difference is our view of homosexuals. I believe that homosexuals are born gay and that this is so because it was have God decided.

      However, it is an interesting discussion about human nature and I am happy for your reply !

      Two things… for me incest has got absolutly nothing to do with this topic. Incest and pedophilia are evil crimes against minors and should never be allowed or accepted by anyone.

      And If the gal for at marriage are children… what should the society then do, when a hetroseksuelle sadly can't have children?

      By the way – I'm from Danmark and writing on a tablet (which autocorrects english in to danish – so I apologize for my mistakes!)

    • Kendra

      Your English is a lot better than my Danish. 🙂 I know you can find statistics to back up just about everything, but studies do overwhelmingly show that children fare best emotionally, and are significantly less likely to be victims of abuse when they live with both biological parents.

      And to answer your question, the Catholic Church requires that, to have a valid marriage, couples be open to having children, but not that they are able to have them. It's the openness that makes a difference in whether people view marriage as a convenience or a sacrament.

      My husband and I have been married for almost fourteen years now, and just had our eighth child. And our marriage is based on a lot more than just feelings of love. Love is sufficient for the easy days. But when things are tough we can fall back on responsibility and commitment to our children and our faith in God and the Catholic Church and the institution of marriage.

      It's really no wonder that marriages based on feelings of love so often fail, marriages need much more than that.

Submit a Comment

Hi! I’m Kendra.

For twenty years now, I’ve been using food, prayer, and conversation based around the liturgical calendar to share the lives of the saints and the beautiful truths and traditions of our Catholic faith. My own ten children, our friends and neighbors, and people just like you have been on this journey with me.

If you’d like to learn more about what Catholics believe and why, and to be inspired by saints from every era all over the world, you’ve come to the right place. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with the prospect of how to teach your kids about the faith in a way that’s true, engaging, and lasts a lifetime, we can help!

➡️ Get my liturgical living checklist for free when you join my weekly newsletter. Sign up here.

This blog contains affiliate links and sponsored posts, for which I receive a commission. We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.