My friend Cesar who works at a very reputable modeling agency got a rather zany call earlier this year. A couple had selected from their portfolio a number of male and female models from which they would like to obtain sperm and eggs. They were willing to pay large sums of money for this perfect genetic material so they could create a designer baby… really. Yes folks, this happened in real life. We here in Hollywood are forging brave new frontiers for mankind where buying supermodel eggs will be as normal as shampoo from a drug store.
Being the faithful Catholic man that my friend was, it got him thinking - who was this couple, and what would motivate such a ridiculous request? Why, to those of us more "normal", does this strike such an unnerving chord?
By first contacting a modeling agency they were placing a disproportionate importance on the physical characteristics of their baby. To them a baby was simply a collection of external characteristics – tall or short, fat or skinny, sexually attractive or not. I could perhaps forgive them more if they had called up Cambridge looking for eggs from Nobel laureates, or even a convent, looking for the eggs of the holiest women they had. But all they considered was the looks of the child. Their choices reflected nothing of what St. John Paul II dubbed as the “interiority” of a person – what makes up a person that is externally invisible.
But the problems with a designer baby go much deeper than that.
This Christmas season, we are called to meditate upon the conception of a very different baby - the only one that could ever fulfill the deepest longings of this couple – our savior, the Christ Child. Meditating upon this divine mystery reveals some of the flaws in this couple’s thinking.
The idea of God becoming man brings prompts endless questions: When did Jesus know he was God's son? Did he just “goo” and “gah” like a baby, even though he perfectly knew what was going on? Or was He given the mind of a baby unable to comprehend our words? When did he know he would have to suffer and die on the cross? Could he really read minds? How is even possible that an infinite being took on human form?
Try to answer any of these and you’ll soon realize how hard it is to answer questions about a regular, non-divine person. How does my intellect work? What does it mean to give birth to a child, to hold a helpless little being in your arms, and have their whole life depend on you? What does it mean to be made in God’s image? People committed to studying a single human being their whole lives (like your spouse) will tell you that they are always learning new things! The depth of a human being is truly incomprehensible.
If we can’t even begin to answer basic questions about man, then how can we be so sure that we are doing something good when we “mess with the formula” and move the sexual act from an intimate exchange between persons and into a test-tube?
The Catholic Church has the humility to see that human conception is something very much beyond us, something transcendent, and that we don’t have the right to change something like that. The world thinks otherwise - that we instead have become god. The inventor of in-vitro fertilization, Robert Edwards, said “I wanted to find out exactly who was in charge, whether it was God himself or whether it was scientists in the laboratory…It was us.”
The good news is that the agency didn’t even begin to consider this request – they saw the intrinsic wrongness of it immediately. Praise God! Yet, it’s probably a sign of things on the horizon in our culture.
Go deep this Christmas season - ask God what it really means to be human, and what it really means that he incarnated himself in our world. It will help you to be ready to give word, explanation and witness to a world gone astray.
Mark J. Matthews – our Hollywood Undercover Missionary
Mark Matthews is a graphic designer and animator working in Hollywood. Listen to his “What’s Good About Hollywood?” column once a month on