The official memorial service for Steve Irwin was held yesterday.
A natural exhibitionist, his infectious enthusiasm and emphatic delivery won him a wide following.
The incident in which he hand-fed a crocodile while holding his month-old son in the other arm exposes a limited capacity for self-criticism.
But that was only disillusioning if you put a herpetologist on a pedestal to begin with. I thought he was a likable guy, in his rambunctious way.
I remember one time he described—as only he could—the first time he caught sight of his wife to be. Truly love at first sight—almost the equal of his love of cobras and rattlesnakes.
With his larger-than-life delivery, he would have made a great narrator of children’s stories.
Not everyone was as admiring, though. PETA Veep Dan Mathew said that Irwin “made his career out of antagonising frightened wild animals, that's a very dangerous message to send to children," while Germaine Greer, in a now famous or infamous op-ed, took the same tack:
This goes to certain ironies in secular humanism.
On the one hand, many unbelievers are more overawed by God’s handiwork than are many believers. How do we explain this?
In the past, historical theology has suffered from a deficient eschatology. It equated the intermediate state with the final state. Hence, to be heavenly-minded was to hanker after an angelic mode of subsistence. By contrast, the earthly world was considered to be a spiritual snare.
Conversely, many unbelievers, due to common grace, pay unwitting tribute to the wonder and beauty of God’s handiwork.
Moreover, from their perspective, nature is all there is, so they might as well make the most of it.
This, in turn, leads many unbelievers to idolize nature. Instead of being a signpost pointing to God, nature becomes a surrogate god.
That accounts for the sanctimonious disapproval of Dan Mathew and Germane Greer. For them, Irwin was desecrating the inner sanctum of nature. Nature is their cathedral, and Erwin was defiling holy ground with his muddy footprints.
But Irwin himself was just as nutty in his own way, because he bought into the same worldview.
It’s odd to watch the way in which a hardnosed Darwinian can romanticize nature raw in tooth and claw.
He would risk his life to save a Saltwater crocodile. Why? What does that matter in the great scheme of things? Does nature care if a crocodile lives or dies?
A Saltwater crocodile is a magnificent beast, but it’s just a giant killing and eating machine.
Consider what Irwin said about crocodile farming and other sustainable animal-management programs:
“These Hitlers use the camouflage of science to make money out of animals,” says Steve. “So whenever they murder our animals and call it sustainable use, I'll fight it. Since when has killing a wild animal, eating it or wearing it, ever saved a species?
In Asia, Steve stormed out of a restaurant selling shark-fin soup. “'Sorry, mate,' I told the proprietor, ‘we're leaving.' He said, ‘But Mr Irwin, there're other things to eat. I said ‘You're not hearin' me. I cannot eat here. I will not eat here.' They are raping the oceans and stuffing up the food chain by eliminating the No. 1 predator.”
Hitlers? Rape? Murder? How do you account for such a sentimental view of sharks and crocodiles?
Such is the conundrum of infidelity. It dehumanizes man, humanizes the animal kingdom, denies the existence of God, and divinizes nature.