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Christ’s Death and the Fate of Western Lowland Gorillas

AFP PHOTO/Shaun Curry
Essay / Art

by Adam Johnson on   

Paul Fryer’s striking art installation is a beautiful and realistic work… of a crucified gorilla. At first one might think his “Privilege of Dominion” is little more than a parody of the Christian faith, a repetition of ancient graffiti portraying Christ crucified with the head of a donkey. And in fact there has been some debate over whether Christians should take offense at this, with varying levels of insight into how non-Christians can and should interact with Christian beliefs and symbolism.

I, for one, am not at all inclined to take offense. Rather, I am enthralled with this image, having taken the artist at his word. As far as I understand, Paul Fryer sought to “highlight the plight of the Western Lowland Gorillas, and to challenge the Christian notion that animals do not have souls.” And of course those are great things to highlight and challenge. At the moment, however, I would like to point out a further dimension of Fryer’s piece: the question of whether Christ in any sense became a creature for the sake of creatures (Barth, Church Dogmatics III/1, p. 381)—a broader and more inclusive understanding of the incarnation. In other words, did Christ die for animals?



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