Perhaps it was the story about the camel falling over during the Nativity Scene rehearsal, but I have begun to have ethical qualms about the use of real infants to play Baby Jesus in Christmas scenes and pageants. This morning, Fox News featured another one, with Mary and the gang holding a five-month-old child outside in sub-freezing temperatures. “He’s very warm, ” Mary said of the star of the show (I guess a Christmas pageant is one show where the “star” is literally a star; Baby Jesus is, what, the leading man? A key prop?). “Jesus” was wrapped up like a mummy, though his face looked cold. Was it really necessary to have a real child?
Using non-consenting children as props for plays and movies violates classic ethical principles, especially in the Kantian formula which decrees that using human beings as a means to an end is absolutely wrong. In the vast range of such things, wrapping up a sleeping child and making him hang out for an hour with actors, some sheep, cows, and a (non-tipping) camel seems mild compared to all those crying newborn scenes in pregnancy movies. What if the baby doesn’t want to cry? I bet they have ways of making them cry. What do you think they did…pinch him hard? Show him a picture of Barney?
I believe that it is inarguable that using babies in such exhibitions fails all basic ethics tests. It isn’t necessary, and the babies suffer stress, perhaps minimal, but stress nonetheless, as they are used like a spear, a handbag, a starter pistol or one of the sheep…an uncomprehending, non-consenting prop or special effect for the enjoyment of others. I’d ask “What would Jesus do?”, but it’s hard to do much when you’re helpless and clueless.
The first step in getting informed consent is making sure a child is old enough to understand the question. Failing that, step two (making sure he knows exactly what he’s agreeing to) and step three (being certain that he has the capacity to for independent judgement, and that no duress or undue influence is involved) won’t come into play at all.
They make some very realistic baby dolls these days.
Let’s use them.