missionary mauled, but saved through god’s will

In case you didn’t see it, a Mormon missionary was mauled in Guatemala by a couple of lions. However, as you read the article, it makes it sound as though: (1) Paul Oakey wasn’t doing anything wrong when he was attacked by the lions and (2) he was saved through divine intervention. And this is in the Salt Lake Tribune.

Here are the offending parts from the article. First, Paul Oakey not doing anything wrong:

Oakey, 20, wanted a picture of himself in front of the lion cage. He scaled a concrete wall in front of the enclosure, not realizing the lions were only about two feet below the wall on the other side.


“Hes a very active young man, and he has fun as all young men do,” Alan Oakey said. “He wasnt trying to do anything crazy, he just wanted a picture. Hes sorry he put us through this, and were just praying it comes out the right way.”

So, climbing a concrete wall to get a picture with lions is just “having fun as all young men do.” Paul Oakey clearly wasn’t doing anything wrong! Really? We have a season pass to our local zoo. Never once have I tried to climb a fence to get a picture with one of the animals, especially not the tigers, the bear, or the alligators. My 2 year-old son is smart enough not to do this. Duh!

But here’s where the divine intervention comes in:

Two sister missionaries began praying. Upon the word amen after a horrifying two minutes the second lion released Oakeys leg.”Sometimes the shorter prayer is the more prudent prayer,” the family wrote on the missionarys blog.


Paul Oakey was whisked away to a local hospital, which normally doesnt have a surgeon on staff.However, a vascular surgeon happened to be visiting, and he was able to reattach an artery in Oakeys arm, which his family says saved the limb. He has good circulation to his fingers, but still cant move them, his family wrote. Oakey has O-positive blood, and all the American missionaries in the area with that blood type lined up to donate blood, they wrote.

To top this off, Paul Oakey doesn’t seem to have learned a lesson:

“He told his companions that someone had better have gotten photographs of it,” said Alan Oakey, with an incredulous laugh. “Thats just the way he is.”

Here’s how this story should read.

A Mormon missionary, stupidly, climbed up the side of a lion cage at a Guatemalan zoo because he wanted a better picture of himself in front of the lions. Not surprisingly, the lions attacked and tried to eat him. He then proceeded to try to gouge out the eyes of one of the lions to get it to let go of him, but to no effect. His companion tried to hit the lions with a pole, also to no effect. When the trainers showed up and fired guns into the air, the lions let go. The missionary climbed out of the enclosure and was rushed to a hospital where doctors trained in modern medicine saved his life and likely his arm and leg. The missionary didn’t apologize for his stupid behavior, hoping instead that someone got a picture, because all that matters to him is fame. (Note: The missionary’s name was intentionally not included in this story because he doesn’t deserve to be famous for being stupid.)

I’m also really disappointed in the Salt Lake Tribune for writing this story in such a fashion that it suggest there actually was divine intervention involved. The two examples cited are beautiful illustrations of confirmation bias: two things seemed to coincide with saving his life (a prayer and a doctor). There is no mention of all of the other ways that a divine entity could have intervened. If there really was a god, wouldn’t Elder Oakey be able to walk into the enclosure with the lions like Daniel did? Wouldn’t his companion have been able to give him a blessing, healing him completely right then and there? Wouldn’t the spirit have told Elder Oakey that he was a fracking idiot for even thinking about climbing up the wall? Wouldn’t he have known that the lions were waiting for him through inspiration and revelation? Yeah, perfect example of confirmation bias and terrible reporting.


I'm a college professor and, well, a professional X-Mormon. Thus, ProfXM. I love my Mormon family, but have issues with LDS Inc. And I'm not afraid to tell LDS Inc. what I really think... anonymously, of course!

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15 Responses

  1. Of course he deserves to be famous for being stupid. It’s too bad he disqualified for the Darwin Awards, but there must be some “consolation price” award that’s equally apropos…

  2. Seth R. says:

    Of course it was all mainly a piece of stupid missionary tomfoolery.

    But the “look on the sunny side” tone the article took is nothing new for these kind of disaster stories. I’ve read plenty of stories about someone getting hurt through stupidity, where the news article ignored the stupidity and focused only on the tragedy. Happens all the time in local newspapers, nothing particularly “Mormon” about this.

  3. profxm says:

    Seth, you don’t see the blatant confirmation bias?

  4. Seth R. says:

    Of course I saw it.

    I’m just saying everyone does this. Local newspapers are famous for doing this with local “tragedy” stories.

  5. kuri says:

    Stupidity precedes the miracle.

  6. Seth R. says:

    Well, we let stupid people vote.

    I don’t see why we should limit miracles to smart people.

  7. SLK in SF says:

    He told his companions that someone had better have gotten photographs of it, said Alan Oakey, with an incredulous laugh. Thats just the way he is.

    I’m not sure this is evidence that young Oakey “doesnt seem to have learned a lesson.” He may not have learned a lesson (and it was a stupid thing to do in the first place), but it seems just as likely that his statement was a joke of the kind I’ve heard many people make in reaction to a traumatic event, combined with a dose of post-adolescent bravado for the benefit of his equally post-adolescent companions.

  8. A says:

    Isn’t God over all nature? Those lions could having been praying “please God send some jackass to sit on that wall so we can eat him” Poor lions.

  9. Seth R. says:

    It must be tough being God – so many competing interests to juggle…

  10. Daniel says:

    “Ah, the prayers of the millions, how they must fight and destroy each other on their way to the throne of God.”
    John Steinbeck (Tortilla Flat)

  11. It’s not nice to make fun of people for being “stupid.” We don’t know if this person “learned his lesson” or not, and I think he deserves to be able to crack wise and have pictures afterwards. He’ll have the scars to remember it, he might as well have those too.

    The people who saved him through direct action should not have taken second billing in the article’s text to the Mormon god, who may or may not have intervened (and presumably wasn’t available for comment at any rate).

  12. Holly says:

    It must be tough being God so many competing interests to juggle.

    Well, he needs some excuse for his lousy performance.

  13. Seth R. says:

    I’ll admit, that article was pretty funny.

  14. trent larsen says:

    All they did was state facts, if the missionaries got done praying and the lions let go, whose to say that it wasn’t part of gods plan? And why does it matter to any of us if he learned a lesson or not? its not our arms gone…if he doesn’t care why should any of we?

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