I am utterly intrigued by the box jellyfish (Tripedalia cystophora). It has 24 eyes of four different types, including a set for peering at the sky (“Jellyfish Have Human-Like Eyes,” Live Science, 2007-04-01). What is even more fascinating to me is that this extraordinary sea creature has no brain (nor heart nor respiratory system). Its eyes do not form an image, but can distinguish points of light and dark. A complex nervous system allows it to respond to stimuli in a most simple way.
One might say, from a theological perspective, that the box jellyfish is not “blessed.” In Matthew 13:16 we read, “For I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see. . . .” In addition, in Luke 10:23, Christ says, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see.” The meaning here is to be taken in both a corporeal and intellectual sense. It is possible to have eyes but not see what is important, the meaning of things behind their façade. Blind Homer, on the other hand, thrived as a poet because he had insight. “Vision,” said Jonathan Swift, “is the art of seeing the invisible.”
The mere multiplication of eyes, naturally, does not improve one’s vision. Otherwise, the box jellyfish would rival the eagle. Romano Guardini once remarked that the difference between eyesight and vision is that the roots of vision are not in the optic nerve but in the heart. It is important to know that the heart can improve one’s vision. An ancient Latin adage speaks to this point: Ubi amor ibi oculus (Where there is love, there is the power to see – oculus refers to the eye). The lover can see the beauty of the beloved because his vision is rooted in his heart, an organ which the poor box jellyfish lacks. The wise person can see meaning where others see inconvenience.
Why, we may ask, can some people not “see” the value of human life, the reality of love, the existence of God? Such sight requires more than just eyesight. I was saddened to learn recently that Google has banned ads from pro-life crisis pregnancy centers.
Carol Tobias, who is the National Right to Life Committee president, has commented that “Google is waging a war on women by limiting knowledge of the options and services available to women.” Such services, she goes on to point out, are used by many pregnant women who stand to be hurt by Google’s censorious action.
Why is it, we may well ask, that Google cannot see that abortion harms women, that pro-life centers offer a valid service, that, at the very least, pro-life centers should have rights equal to those of agencies that assist in helping a woman to destroy her unborn child? The image of the box jellyfish comes back into focus: a multitude of eyes that seemingly operate sans brain, sans heart, sans vision.
The essential difference between the Culture of Life and the Culture of Death may be a matter not of eyesight, but of vision. Those who associate themselves with the former can see beyond the pain, suffering and inconvenience of the moment. To borrow from Edna St. Vincent Millay, they see the “tranquil blossom on the tortured stem.” They do see these problems, but they see more than that. They understand that mere expedience does not bring about a better world. Instead, they offer hope and will not consign the unwanted to premature death. They envision a better future because they refuse to abandon those who are in need in the present: the unborn, the chronically sick and the elderly.
According to Proverbs 29:18, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Thomas Jefferson, among many other political leaders, saw merit in this notion and used it to his advantage. We are now, as a nation, losing a sense of its importance. What has become of our unifying vision? The box jellyfish should not be our national emblem.
Donald DeMarco is a Senior Fellow of Human Life International. He is professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University in Waterloo, Ontario, and an adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, and a regular columnist for St. Austin Review. Some of his recent writings may be found at Human Life International’s Truth & Charity Forum.