We may be made in the image of God, but with cosmetic surgery and pharmaceuticals we could be headed for perfection, at least perfection in the eyes of the Botox Nation.
With Joan Rivers as the cover-girl in the war against aging imperfection, over 1 million Americans have rushed to look younger, albeit stretched and expressionless, with a drug called Botox.
Botox injections are "the most popular cosmetic medical procedure in the country," said the New York Times, making up "19.1 percent of all cosmetic procedures practiced by surgeons in the United States in 2000, compared with 3.5 percent for breast augmentations."
The drug Botox paralyzes facial muscles, causing wrinkles to disappear. For as little as $300 every three months or so, an aging baby boomer can look younger.
Such youthful appearance looks unattractive to some. Robert Redford called this type of beauty "body-snatched."
Botox or Botulinum Toxin Type A is "a purified toxin produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum," according to USAToday.
"These bacteria thrive in rotten meat," USAToday reported. "Ingestion of the toxin in this form can cause a dangerous kind of food poisoning." A lethal dose would contain 3,000 units. To remove forehead wrinkles, only 10 to 30 units are needed.
When the Food and Drug Administration approves Botox for cosmetic use, as expected, Botox advertisements could rival Viagra and Claritin. Botox could become "the next blockbuster drug," according to the Times, creating enormous wealth for its manufacturer, Allergan Inc.
What should we make of Botox Nation? Expressive individualism may say, "If it makes you feel good, just do it." No harm. No foul. No problem.
Pharmaceutical corporations may pitch the product as the fountain of youth for an aging population. Ads could imply that looking young makes one feel young, feeling young keeps one young, keeping young makes one a player—forever.
Cosmetic surgeons may see Botox as the cash cow of financial salvation. A Merrill Lynch representative told the Times, "There is probably not another treatment that is so profitable for doctors." If he is right, doctors will promote Botox with the enthusiasm of a newly minted evangelist.
Healthy ministers may see Botox as an opportunity to talk theologically to our culture about vanity and the empty calories that accompany vain striving. Other topics include the image of God, the idolatry of perfectionism, the irresponsibility of commercialism and the injustice of the nation's healthcare system.
Botox offers ministers a chance to deal with the muddled thinking that sees everything in absolutist terms of good or evil. The newness of drugs and procedures does not make them morally bad. Cosmetic surgeries related to birth defects and burns do much good. Cosmetic procedures related to narcissism are another matter. The theological issue is what we do with the goodness of God's creation.
Of course, our churches need to think more deeply about aging. The biblical witness speaks positively about the wisdom that accompanies aging. For example, judgment at the city gates and leadership in the early church carry the word "elders."
What do you think about the emerging Botox Nation?
Robert Parham is BCE's executive director.