Social media lit up during this year’s Super Bowl over the abortion lobby’s outrage about a chip commercial. Doritos aired an advertisement depicting a husband and wife proudly looking at an ultrasound of their unborn baby. Suddenly, the baby begins motioning for the Doritos chips that her dad is eating. Dad then begins moving his bag of snacks around his wife’s belly to get his baby to follow it, which the baby does.
In response, NARAL, a national abortion rights lobby, posted on Twitter, denouncing the ad for “using [the] #antichoice tactic of humanizing fetuses.”
In some ways, this is indicative of the state of American culture wars and outrage culture. The ad was about selling chips, not about taking any sort of political stance. But, at another level, the hubbub here gets right to the heart of what the debate over human dignity is all about.
The abortion lobby responded this way to a commercial that wasn’t in any way directed at them. It wasn’t about abortion at all. Why? The outrage was because any hint of personhood inside the womb is the beginning of the end for a culture of death.
The fact that the parents in this ad (it is telling that the abortion lobby’s Twitter feed referred to them as a “Mom” and a “Dad”) could recognize the “product of conception” on a sonogram as their child was problematic for NARAL. The abortion lobby didn’t want viewers to see on television what every expectant mother can see in a sonogram—that the child within her is a growing human being, not just a blob of dark matter. The ad didn’t “humanize” the “fetus,” God did.
Now, it would be easy for those of us who are pro-life to see this as merely more evidence of how abortion advocacy sears the conscience and blunts even common-sense moral intuitions. But our response here should not be self-congratulation. This small window into the way moral reasoning works ought to serve as a warning to us.
We cannot “humanize” what is already human, but we can certainly dehumanize the humanity around, or within, us. The abortion lobby wants the “fetus” to be thought of only in clinical language, as though he or she were merely an “it,” tissue to be disposed of. Those who oppress the poor want them to be thought of merely in economic categories, as drains on the “system,” not as image-bearers of God. Those who want to “consume” pornography want to think of those on the screen as images, not as people with stories and hurts and families. We too often want to think of our enemies—whether on the geopolitical stage or in our office coffee-room conflicts—as exemplars of total evil, not as each one a representation of God’s creation wisdom. We want to be justified in our actions, by reassuring ourselves that there’s no judgment to come.
When we sin against God, we wish to convince ourselves that God is not there. We, as our primeval ancestor did, seek to hide in the creation around us, until we no longer hear his voice asking, “Adam, where are you?” (Gen. 3:9) When we sin against one another, we want to see the other person as something less than a person. We want to ask as the lawyer did to Jesus, “Who then is my neighbor?” (Lk. 10:29)
When those we dehumanize are seen, despite our best efforts, as human, we either repent or we become angered. That’s why Jesus’ hometown was enraged when he pointed to the truth that God, through his prophets, went outside the bounds of Israel to minister to a Syrian soldier (Lk. 4:27-28). I fear that some of us would have a similarly angry response to a sermon about ministry to a Syrian refugee.
In our sin, we want to keep our illusions–whatever they are–that enable us to silence the conscience within us. We want to, in short, walk in darkness. But Jesus is the “light of the world,” the light from Galilee that illumines the nations and ultimately the entire cosmos. Light isn’t a soft metaphor.
Light is painful. In our natural state, we shrink back from it, because it reveals who we are and what we’ve done (Jn. 3:19). It reveals that those we want to use as things are actually people. When we see what we’re doing, we feel exposed and ashamed. Someone told us that we are naked (Gen. 3:11). This can lead to rage, even over something as banal as a snack advertisement during a football game.
But it ought also to remind us that light has power. It shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it. Sometimes, just a little bit, even in a Super Bowl ad.