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The Shrug That Scares Me to Death

One of my favorite films is Roberto Benigni’s 1997 tragicomedy, La Vita è Bella (Life Is Beautiful). It tells the story of a Jewish father, Guido, who invents creative ways to keep his son out of danger while they endure life in a concentration camp.

There is a scene in that film that continues to haunt me. Guido is a waiter serving German officials and their wives as they gather for an evening of fine dining. While the Nazis are eating and drinking in luxury, the horror of the concentration camp lies just beyond the walls.

But then, one of the German officials who knew Guido before the start of the war calls him over for a private conversation. Guido has every reason to think that this officer wants to help him and his family survive. Instead, the German officer picks up where they left off years before. You see, Guido was good at solving riddles, and this officer needs help in solving a particularly perplexing one.

The conversation is long. It goes on for several torturous minutes. As it dawns on him that the officer has given no thought to assisting him, Guido remains silent—his face filling with pain and disbelief. And in a moment of tragic and terrifying irony, Guido—a Jew who is seen as less than human by the Nazis—is the picture of humanity that stands over against the cold indifference of the Nazi officer.

“A Shrugging of the Shoulders”

I’ve thought of that scene a few times as I’ve read some of the online defenses of Planned Parenthood.

In New York Magazine, for example, Rebecca Traister claims that the “big secret of abortion” is that “women already know how it works”—that pro-life efforts to show us the results of the procedure won’t really change minds, no matter how grisly the videos get. Quoting Frances Kissling, she writes: “Abortions are yucky … but after that response, there is a shrugging of the shoulders.”

That shrugging of the shoulders is what scares me to death.

Yes, I know there are pro-choice activists who, in light of these videos, are rethinking their position on abortion.

Yes, I know there are politicians on both sides of the aisle who find the videos disturbing.

Yes, I trust there are people who have shifted in their views due to the videos.

But the shrug is what scares me. It frightens me to think that we live in a society that can watch this kind of violence against the defenseless, say, “Oh well!” and then click to the next news story.

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Trevin Wax is first and foremost a follower of Jesus Christ. Trevin currently serves the church by working at LifeWay Christian Resources as managing editor of The Gospel Project, a gospel-centered small group curriculum for all ages that focuses on the grand narrative of Scripture. He has been a regular blogger since 2006 and regularly contributes articles to publications such as Christianity Today. He authored two books, "Holy Subversion: Allegiance to Christ in an Age of Rivals" (2010) and "Counterfeit Gospels: Rediscovering the Good News in a World of False Hope" (2011).