Blasphemy for the Day: Depraved penguins – won’t someone please think of the children?

A new feature in response to the BBC’s Thought for the Day, for that blessed day of rest, Sunday. You don’t have to be a believer to enjoy a day of rest.

Shocking news from the Natural History Museum – a scientist with the 1910-1913 Scott Antarctic Expedition noted such “astonishing depravity” among the Adelie penguins that he felt compelled to record his findings in Greek to spare the blushes of anyone except educated gentlemen like himself. From the Guardian article:

Levick spent the Antarctic summer of 1911-12 observing the colony of Adélies at Cape Adare, making him the only scientist to this day to have studied an entire breeding cycle there. During that time, he witnessed males having sex with other males and also with dead females, including several that had died the previous year. He also saw them sexually coerce females and chicks and occasionally kill them.

Since then we’ve learned much more, not just about penguins, but about other species who flaunt their immorality in the face of innocent scientists. Kees Moeliker, for example, curator of the Rotterdam Natural History Museum. A male mallard slammed into the glass side of the building and dropped stone dead to the ground. Moeliker went to investigate and saw another male mallard having sex with the corpse for 75 minutes, only reluctantly backing off when Moeliker had completed his observations. From this auspicious beginning, he went on to win the coveted Ig Nobel Prize for research into homosexual necrophilia in mallard ducks. Here he explains the findings in his own inimitable way.

Moving right along to the 2005 film, March of the Penguins, a French nature documentary chronicling a year in the arduous life cycle of Adelie penguins. With an English narrative intoned by Morgan Freeman (the Voice of God?), it has from the trailer a distinctly anthropomorphic take on penguin family life.

So perhaps it’s not surprising that Christians have taken to heart the Adelie penguin as a moral exemplar, ignoring what was already known – that they do not mate for life, only for the year. In other words, they’re into serial marriage. This New York Times article surveys the ideological battle ground and disposition of the moral crusaders. I was curious to find out what the most anally retentive of the Christian movie sites – the CAP Movie Ministry – had to say. You can see my post on their methodology here. The site gave March of the Penguins an outstanding 97/100 points, with a few tiny caveats and this (for them) extremely liberal comment:

March of the Penguins also includes an instance of animal copulation. There is absolutely nothing lewd about it and no animal privates are seen, but it is still a sexual act that can create thinking in your adolescents.

Don’t want our adolescents to think, do we? There’s a long tradition in Christianity of animals representing moral values, so it’s interesting to see penguins – probably unknown in medieval times when bestiaries were a teaching tool – enrolled in the fight against sin.

Which begs the question. Now that penguins are unmasked as murderers, rapists (hetero and homo), and child abusers, what’s to become of them? Will the research be denied, or will Christians say the sinners represent only a small sample of the population? It’s hard to square with God having created them, but without free will, because that makes Him either evil or a bad Designer. And the penguins can’t speak for themselves, issuing tearful apologies to God and their congregations, in the approved manner of disgraced evangelists.

Interesting times, and bad news for the Happy Feet franchise.

2 thoughts on “Blasphemy for the Day: Depraved penguins – won’t someone please think of the children?

  1. I saw March of the penguins on dvd, and found the “Making of…” film much more informative (and much less anthropomorphic than the docu-film itself. You’ve now got me worried about penguin salvation – with no pockets to store their tv license – they’re presumably even beyond the reach of televangelists?? 🙂

    • I confess to having seen neither film, but I’m quite interested to see what I’ve been blathering about. Foresight is also 20/20 vision (at the time). You’re right about the lack of pockets – the upside is that penguins don’t have any money, either, so televangelists are unlikely to be interested in them.

      If penguins are no longer reliable charismatic exotic fauna, you have to wonder what the next poster species for family values will be. I’m hoping that Christians plump for meerkats (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meerkat) on the basis of their cuteness quotient and large family groups, because there’s lots of devil in the details.

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