I’ve noticed of late how easy it becomes to dehumanize people. A couple of things got me thinking about this. First of all, I have been talking to my wife, Rochelle, about theology, professors and the culture of critique that is inherent in the academy and the church; how most professors and preachers I know can deconstruct anything and tell you the missteps any other theologian or practitioner have made in their thinking. Second, I recently posted a comment on a friend’s blog about what I believe is the harsh, cruel and dehumanizing treatment of contestants on the audition episodes of American Idol.
It all reminds me of an episode of The West Wing, when Toby is speaking to President Bartlett about the difficulties the president had as a child with his father. As Toby attacks Bartlett’s dad, the president responds, “Can we talk about my father with a little respect? He was my father, not some Dicken’s character.”
What he was saying is that when people aren’t in the room, when we don’t have to deal with them face-to-face we turn them into something other than human. For the aforementioned professors, as well as armchair theologians and intellectual elites, a person becomes what they write or say – or what the reader interprets they wrote or said. I can hear the discussion now, “Have you read so-in-so? He totally misses this,” or “Such-in-such has no idea about ______.” People somehow cease being humans with families and hopes and dreams, with a bright future and terrible foibles, and simple become an object for others to judge, criticize, or toss aside.
Take those American Idol kids. They stand in line for days, and sing for any number of talent scouts before moving along. Most are sent home! Only the best and the worst are allowed to enter the inner sanctum for Randy, Paula and Simon and the TV cameras. They’ve been passed up the line, their delusions of talent only spurned on be the actions of others. Why? So they can get into the room with the judges to be belittled and ridiculed. Can you imagine the sheer heartbreak, after believing you can sing and having producers of American Idol pass you up the line, only to be called “horrible, awful” or “the worst singer ever?”
A community of people can only come to the point of performing this cruelty on one another when we get to the point that people are no longer people; when they become objects! They have been dehumanized! No longer that creation that Psalm 8 proclaims is “crowned with glory.”
I wonder what might happen if the next time I was setting my jaw to deride someone if I thought about their family, their fears, their hurts, their hopes and their dreams. What would happen if, regardless of what their gifts are and are not, I saw them as fearfully and wonderfully made?
I think in that moment, they would become more human to me and I would become a little more human too.