Fatal Visions

Earlier this month, the half-eaten body of a cyclist was found in a California state park. The next day, a second cyclist barely avoided the same fate when her friends threw rocks at the perpetrator: a two-year-old mountain lion. For people in Boulder, Colorado, the news brought back frightening memories. Thirteen years ago, a mountain lion killed a teenage jogger. The story of that attack, and the events leading up to it, are the subject of a new book, The Beast in the Garden. It's a story that shows how faulty worldviews can do more than mess up your thinking: They can literally kill you. Author David Baron writes that for nearly five years prior to the fatal lion attack, wildlife experts had warned Boulder-area residents that an attack was likely. They proposed a series of modest measures, like a study of the mountain lion population, to lessen the likelihood of an attack. But their warnings and proposals were ignored or discounted. Why? Because of worldviews that many residents embraced. Boulder is known for its liberalism, especially in environmental and lifestyle matters. In addition, Boulder's culture can best be described, as writer Cheryl Smith, a Boulder native, puts it, as "new age/hippie." This combination led Boulder-area residents to believe that they could create a sort of paradise where people and wildlife could exist in harmony -- never mind that, as Baron points out, there has never been such an arrangement, at least this side of Eden. So residents ignored the wildlife officials' warnings that the area's out-of-control deer population was an invitation to mountain lions. No one would agree to a controlled hunt of deer. Even after lions were spotted in the area, they continued to ignore the danger. At a meeting called after a lion had eaten several neighborhood dogs, Colorado game officials expected to be criticized for not adequately protecting area residents. Instead, most of the attendees were concerned about the lion's well being. Their spokesperson, who mentioned her affinity for "Lakota spirituality," told officials that everything is "connected": rocks, dirt, lions, and humans. Similarly, even after the Boulder teenager was killed by the big cat, the anticipated anti-lion backlash never materialized. In fact, one of the teenager's teachers complained that rather than being collected for burial, his body should have been left behind so the lion could finish eating it. Incredible. The Romanticist worldview embraced by Boulderites led them to think that they could create their own peaceable kingdom where the poodle could lay down with the lion. That same worldview caused them to see man, and the civilization he creates, as the serpent in the garden. A more realistic understanding of the relationship between man and nature seeks a way to protect both people and lions. Baron uses the idea of "conservation," which is derived from the biblical ideal of stewardship, as a model for managing this relationship. Of course, doing this would challenge the cherished assumptions that the good liberal residents of Boulder hold so dear. They won't do it because they would rather stay "connected" to the beast -- the one, that is, that views them as dinner. For further reading and information: David Baron, The Beast in the Garden: A Modern Parable of Man and Nature (W. W. Norton and Co., 2003). Visit the website for the book. Kimi Yoshino, David Haldane, and Daniel Yi, "Lion Attacks O.C. Biker; Man Found Dead Nearby," Chicago Tribune, 9 January 2004. Brett Prettyman, "As people push into cougar habitat, close encounters are more common," Salt Lake Tribune, 22 January 2004. Chris Barge, "Residents concerned on attacks," Boulder Daily Camera, 10 January 2004. "Cougar attacks revive arguments over big cat," Billings Gazette, 21 January 2004. Janet Wilson and David Weikel, "To the Cougar, Are People Now Fair Game?" Los Angeles Times, 11 January 2004. Brian Fitzgerald, "Visiting scholar David Baron examines western cougar problem that's eastward-bound," B.U. Bridge, 9 January 2004. BreakPoint Commentary No. 030128, "Happy Cows, Unhappy People." BreakPoint Commentary No. 030507, "Abusing Our Power." BreakPoint Commentary No. 021120, "Are Pigs People Too?" (Archived commentary; free registration required.) Kelley Reep, "O Brother!: The Gospel according to PETA," BreakPoint Online, 20 November 2003. Matthew Scully, Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy (St. Martin's Press, 2002). Learn more about Matthew Scully and read other articles by him at his website.


Chuck Colson


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