When we see everything but the humanity and intrinsic value of those around us, we truly see nothing at all.
Recently, Justin Bieber stated that he would no longer pose for pictures with his fans. Now, before you write his comments off as the selfish words of a petulant and spoiled celebrity, consider his reason. He said that he feels “like a zoo animal” because his fans often don’t acknowledge him as person before asking to take a picture. Alas, to Bieber, their selfies are a bit too selfish.
Bieber’s situation reminded me of the story of Joseph Merrick, an Englishman who lived in the late 1800s. After about age 5, Merrick developed a severe deformity that made his skin saggy and lumpy, much like the skin of an elephant. His story was eventually fictionalized in a 1980 film called, “The Elephant Man.” In the movie, there is a famous scene where a crowd— much like after a Bieber concert – chased Merrick through a train station. Once Merrick is cornered by the throng, he exclaims, “I am not an animal…I am a human being…” Unfortunately, the crowd is unmoved.
Interestingly, when you consider the unlikely pair of Bieber and Merrick, a timeless truth becomes evident. Whether one has a face that every teenage girl loves, like Bieber, or one that only a mother could love, like Merrick, we all want and need to have our humanity acknowledged. Why? Well, I believe that it is written on the human heart that we are created in the image of God and, therefore, we should be ascribed an intrinsic worth not for our “doing,” but rather for our “being.” And when this doesn’t happen, it wounds us…deeply. Indeed, we don’t want others to value their story about us. We want and long for them to value us.
And this brings me to the unborn.
Unfortunately, the utilitarian view of human value that triggered Bieber’s reaction to his fans is most pernicious for the most vulnerable. If one’s worth is viewed primarily through a consumer lens (“what can you do for me?”), then the most vulnerable are the first to be marginalized and discarded. And this is exactly what has happened in the case of the abortion of the unborn.
You see, in the decades since abortion was legalized in our nation, there have been those who advocate for stripping the humanity from unborn babies. Their mantra that unborn babies are just a “blob of cells” has made them “truth deaf” to all of the evidence that screams otherwise. Indeed, the ultrasound—our first and most expensive human selfie—tells a very human story. And so does the heart of a baby, which begins beating its version of “I am a human being” just 22 days after conception.
We see this sub-humanizing and dehumanizing play out similarly in the lives of all who are victimized by it. Merrick, after being used as a display in freak shows, was discarded and died alone in a hospital. Over one million babies, whose lives are considered less valuable because they can’t “do” anything for us, are aborted each year in the United States, dying alone on the abortionist’s table. And while Bieber is young now, the star of celebrity always fades. Indeed, there will be a time when no one wants a selfie with him. Once that happens, he too, will be discarded by our culture.
Certainly, as the treatment of Bieber, Merrick and the unborn attests, when we see everything but the humanity and intrinsic value of those around us, we truly see nothing at all.