Fellowship of Saints and Sinners

This week Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer admitted to hunting and killing Zimbabwe’s beloved celebrity lion Cecil, the most famous resident of one of Zimbabwe’s national parks and the subject of a decade-long study by Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Unit.

Earlier this summer, Palmer reportedly paid two local guides $55,000 for the thrill of baiting then luring Cecil out of his government-protected habitation, so that Palmer — who has a long and colorfully photographed track record of hunting endangered animals, and who has misled authorities before about his illegal activities — could use Cecil for target practice and, presumably, for another disgusting photo opp, just before skinning and beheading the magnificent creature whose movements in the bush researchers had been studying for years.

Palmer and His Dental Practice Are Now the Target of an Effective Public Shaming Campaign on Yelp

News of the identity of Cecil’s killer and details of Cecil’s death generated an international outcry in no time. Public heartbreak and outrage spontaneously prompted a public shaming campaign of sorts, directed against Palmer and the River Bluff Dental Practice he ran — this in the form of a flood of devastating rebukes on Yelp. The public shaming quickly met its mark: it effectively shut down Palmer’s dental practice, (which on its website had previously characterized Palmer’s endangered animal hunting pursuits with the misleading euphemism, “photographing wildlife”).

I read with relish those comments on Yelp, from the more serious

The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated -Mahatma Gandhi

You are a true example of the degeneration of our gene pool.  You are the lowest form of life and should bear the pain that only a mind as twisted and warped as yours can provide.  

Dentist…go figure. — Myron in Seattle, WA

To the creative, like this 5-star rating for “vile” and “sociopathic” dentistry:

Here’s what I look for in a healthcare professional:  a disgusting and thorough lack of compassion, sociopathic tendencies, a vile propensity for torture of the innocent, a bombastic self-importance, a demented and narcissistic sense of fun, a self-serving and egocentric disposition, a knack for betraying others’ trust, a history of lying to officials, a criminal record, and most of all a smug mug. I found all that in Dr. Walter Palmer at River Bluff Dental!

I don’t give many 5-star reviews, so you know that Dr. Palmer really fits the bill!  With Dr. Palmer at his best, your soul will be black, your hands will be bloody, your head will spin, your stomach will turn, and your heart will hurt, but hell if your teeth won’t be white!!!!

The main con with Dr. Palmer is that he doesn’t have any balls, but he more than compensates for it with his BIG bow and arrow.  Pssssshhh. In case there’s any doubt, he will be happy to prove it by illegally slaying “mature, magnificent” creatures who are beloved and protected. And when he needs reinforcements, he doesn’t hesitate to bribe the right people to back him up. Highly recommended! — Christine, in Los Angeles, CA

To the more merciful:

Dr.  Palmer, I am going to pray for you. Your heart has something wrong down deep in your soul. … —Michelle in Waukegan, IL

To the far more common, profanity-laced and relentlessly unmerciful (which I won’t feature here but which were therapeutic to read, nonetheless).

To the humorous

Hi, I’m every other DDS in Minneapolis. Just want to thank Walt for all his former patients. Regards, Normal People — Andrew in Nashville, TN

This guy is wonderful at administering novocaine. He just waits until you’re sedated, relaxed, comfortable. You trust him. Then he shines a blinding light in your eyes and bang! There’s the shot. If a dentist can be a hero, this man, ladies and gentlemen, is a brave, brave American hero! — Christian in New York, NY

The Power of Shame — Is It Necessary, and What’s its Utility?

In the ironic twist of a still unfolding story, Dr. Palmer has since gone into hiding — a vain-glorious predator now turned helpless prey, much like the beloved lion he hunted for sport. Some people might chalk it up to “karma.” I call it the “power of shame,” which is the subject of that next book I hope to write. In the world of addiction recovery and behavioral healthcare that I professionally inhabit these days, “shame” is indisputably a bad word: it’s the toxic force that keeps so many people bound in addiction and unhealthy, self-destructive behaviors.

In the Bible, from what little study I have done in preparation for that next book, shame often carries similarly negative undertones; but my preliminary hypothesis is that its biblical and theological treatment is more complex, with shifting cadences depending on the context.

This week’s news leads me to wonder whether shame does not hold at least some positive utility in God’s redemptive purposes. By shining a light on the human cruelty of those who prey on the defenseless for the sake of sheer enjoyment, and by holding up a mirror to those who commit injustices (in this case, Palmer and the booming prize-hunting trade he has come to represent), maybe shame can serve as an engine of redemption in this tragic world.

But, what do you think? Leave your comments below.

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