a voice crying out in the postmodern wilderness

Our Dehumanization Problem

Our Dehumanization Problem


Since the beginning of time, we people have committed atrocities against one another. The atrocities vary in type and scope, but they all share a common motivation:

We want to turn people into ideas.

Hitler turned the Jews into an idea, didn't he? He described them metaphorically as a sickness which must be eradicated. Check this out:

"For us, it is a problem of whether our nation can ever recover its health, whether the Jewish spirit can ever really be eradicated.  Don't be misled into thinking you can fight a disease without killing the carrier, without destroying the bacillus.  Don't think you can fight racial tuberculosis without taking care to rid the nation of the carrier of that racial tuberculosis.  This Jewish contamination will not subside, this poisoning of the nation will not end, until the carrier himself, the Jew, has been banished from our midst." (Applause)

Source: D Irving, The War Path: Hitler's Germany 1933-1939. Papermac, 1978, p.xxi

I want you to imagine something for a moment. It will not be pleasant, but I want you to force yourself to do it. Imagine you're in the crowd and Hitler is at the podium. You are next to your countrymen. Everyone is fired up. There are giant flags and crisp uniforms.  In a rousing tone, Hitler explains the reason for your problems: Jews. 

Imagine yourself applauding. Imagine getting caught up in the nationalism and dogmatism.

You can't do it, can you? It's pretty hard to picture yourself nodding along while someone talks about the eradication of an entire people group. Hitler didn't just want to eradicate the Jews, he wanted to eradicate their very spirit. That's a hatred so dark it's hard to comprehend.

Okay, so let's go at this a different way. Imagine yourself in traffic. A Honda Civic cuts you off and then the driver gives you the finger. Then he slams on his brakes. Feel your blood boiling. Smell the tire smoke as you slide to a stop. 

Is the Civic driver a person or an idea?

How about when you look at porn? How about when you stare gape-mouthed as an attractive member of the opposite sex walks by in revealing clothes? Is he or she a human?

How about when you see a talking head on television railing against the political ideas which you hold near and dear? Is Bill Maher or Bill O'Reilly a human?

Uh oh. This is getting close to home, isn't it?

The mass shootings of late have rattled us, and for good reason. Because this world is so filled with danger, we naturally want to know why bad things happen so we can avoid them in the future. But there are no simple answers. Of course, some claim guns are the problem. Access is too easy and these modern weapons are too deadly for civilized society. Others believe there are too many guns already in circulation that the solution isn't gun control, but rather arming teachers and guards to shoot back. A third option - and this is getting closer to the heart of the matter - is that mental health is the problem. These folks hold that our young men are alone and unstable and something must be done.

I don't have the answers. I feel the exact same way you do when I hear of another horrible headline. Grieved. Angry. Frustrated. Helpless. How do we stop this? God help us.

Jesus teaches us to love our neighbors. We are to treat our fellow man as we'd like to be treated. That's a high bar, isn't it? But Jesus takes it up a notch when he tells us to love our enemies. I have a real hard time with that one.

It is tempting to dehumanize the mass murderers. They're scum. Evil. Disgusting. Cowards. Yes and amen. They really are bastards, but the terrifying thing is these people aren't a different breed or species. They are humans, like it or not. We cannot dehumanize them, even if we want to - and it's not for their sake that we avoid dehumanizing them, it's for the sake of goodness and truth. The reason we can't dehumanize them is because the killers aren't ideas of humans, they're real live people. That's just a fact. And if we want to learn more about how to prevent evil in this world, we must seek to understand what darkness looks like and how it grows inside people like us.

For starters, murderers dehumanize their victims. Be it a crime of passion or a crime of calculated killing, the victims are no longer seen as people. They are ideas: a cheater, an enemy, society. An idea doesn't have a mom and a dad. An idea doesn't bleed real blood. 

When Jesus explains the log/speck thing, what he is really saying is that when we seek to solve the problems in the world, we should start with ourselves. When you've got yourself in check and your righteousness is on point, then you can judge others. Read: that'll never happen so don't judge others.

Consider the story the adulterous woman. As a crowd of scribes and Pharisees huddled around a wife who had just cheated on her husband, their collective ire burned hot. They wanted to stone her to death. And they wanted to catch Jesus in a heretical act (Jesus was an idea to them, not a person). So they tell Jesus what happened.

Art:  Woman Caught in Adultery , John Martin Borg, 2002

Art: Woman Caught in Adultery, John Martin Borg, 2002

"Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery."

Then they insert the Law, to see if Jesus will obey what it says:

"Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?"

Jesus - and I love this about him - just draws in the sand with his finger. They keep asking him the question. He seems to ignore them for a while. You can imagine the woman's face as she waits for Jesus' answer. Then Jesus stands and says:

"Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”

She is a person.

She is made in my image.

You are capable of doing what she did.

Check your eyes for logs.

Then Jesus addresses the woman. With the power only reserved to God himself, he frees her of her condemnation and tells her to go free. 

Our story is that we're broken beyond repair and we live in a world which exacerbates our brokenness. We need healing and forgiveness. Jesus is the answer. His blood pays for our transgressions and his Spirit changes us from the inside out. And not only does Jesus exonerate our guilt, he makes new creations. And as he remakes us, he helps us to see other people not merely as ideas, but as fellow divine image-bearers. You cannot dehumanize an image-bearer of God.

Heart changes aren't a quick fix, though. They take time. But the change is deep, like a canyon carved with water. As God is shaping us, he is shaping us for eternity.

Try as we may, we cannot fix the world. Without God's help, we can't even fix ourselves. But if we will hand our lives to the Fixer, he will change us into people who love deeply - and that change could start a movement which God uses to change the world.

It starts with us.

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