An attitude that belittles a person by asserting that there is no way this person can process, understand, or empathize with others due to factors of experience and cultural background among others.
Have you ever been in a situation or conversation where you left wondering if you were crazy? You perceived that the person talking to you either saw things in a completely different way than you did, or thought that you couldn’t ever possibly understand what they have experienced and their perspective on a situation. You leave the conversation knowing it didn’t go well, but you are unclear how to make it better…how it might have gone better…or what you have to offer the other person.
And in those moments where someone makes you feel or think like you have nothing to offer them, that is when you have fallen victim to the “capacity problem” because you have ran into someone who truly thinks you indeed have nothing to offer them, no perspective worth considering, and that the way this situation gets solved or this solution works is simply by taking what they have to offer you. You may think that relationships are meant to be a “give and take,” that conversations are a dialogue, and that solutions are best when shared input is solicited…but when you run into this group, that flies out the window!
Avoid being the Faux-Boss by making sure that newer people are welcomed into whatever group you have relational capital in. Ask others to share their opinions with you and listen to them, listen without trying to correct their views or defend something that you are personally invested in knowing that listening is more important than winning. And above all, support decisions and changes made by leaders as an influential member of a group, business, or organization even if you think differently because what I have experienced over my time in leadership is that no decision is “final and everlasting.” If you want to be a person who is respected by decision-makers, then you have to be a person who respects decision-makers.
Avoid being an Xpert by considering different perspectives and choosing to research not just the articles by scholars who agree with you, but read the ones who find faults in your concepts and reasoning. When meeting with others, bring your education and experience to bear but allow others to do likewise, knowing that each person has been invited to the table for a reason. Avoid Intellect type parenting by helping children problem solve instead of telling them what to do. If you want to be a person that other folks rely on for good information and wisdom, then be quicker to listen to multiple sources and slower to respond…I think James provides us with the idea…be quick to listen and slow to speak (1:19).
Who should look out for the Clique-keeper? I think those who try to personally invest in other people or groups where it could be seen as a threat to another person’s relationships and/or a threat to the emotional needs of that person. Often, those who cannot let new folks into a closed system suffer from their own emotional needs that are being met by the group. Therefore, if you work with people, like social services or human services; or if you trying to break into a new group, church, or even blended family…you might run into the clique-keeper.
Avoid being a clique-keeper by trusting that other people, even outside the group, or new to the family, have the ability and desire to feel what you feel and empathize with you. Avoid the skepticism of the “outsider” perspective, and understand that even the outsider can provide thoughtful insights into your group, business, family or friend group. One of the greatest gifts we can give to each other as humans is the gift of hospitality, and that is down when we open up our lives to others, let them in, and allow them to fully enter our space with their stuff (emotions, insights, perceptions, etc.) If you want to feel great about the relationships you have, continue to be open to new ones while fostering the lasting ones.
It is interesting to think about our relationship with God at this point because we truly have nothing to offer the creator and sustainer of our lives, yet God does not make us feel less than nor does he treat us as useless. On the contrary, God lavishes love and mercy upon us and accepts our sacrifices and offerings, regardless of how small, as beautiful worship. In Ephesians, Paul claims that God prides Himself in us as his Masterpieces, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared for us to do. You see, it is the exact opposite of God’s design and attitude to treat people as if they have nothing to offer, no perspective to give, and to dehumanize others in this way is to oppose God and truly be ungodly in our actions towards others. Let’s make sure that everyone we meet and treat knows that they have the capacity to provide insight, love, and meaning to us and others about whom we care.
Usually in a conflict in which there is disagreement with a person and some of their behaviors, We give ourselves permission to treat a person poorly because it is justified.
Disagreement happens, it is actually a natural thing that occurs in groups of all kinds. Individuals bring their experiences, talents, expertise, and weaknesses to all sorts of meetings, discussions, and gatherings. As a result, there are times when conflicting ideas arise, different directions are thrown out for consideration, or even different personalities are on display. Managing conflict is something that every relationship, community, business, and entity will have to face, but there is an easier route. There is a route that avoids new ideas, or different ones, and totally gives you the upper hand. I call it Permission, and it is an effective way to dehumanize someone with whom you have conflict, quickly gathering a group of supporters and silencing those who think differently than you. Here are four ways to dehumanize someone with Permission:
When we practice these permissions, we are so far away from the words of Jesus in Luke 6. He was teaching those who wanted to become like him through discipleship when he told them this:
27 “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. 31 And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
32 “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. 36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
Now, let’s understand that we cannot take this post and this scripture out of context. I would never suggest that persons are to stay in abusive situations, after all this is a series on dehumanization and to bully, abuse, and mistreat people is in essence dehumanizing them. We want to engage folks and talk through disagreements, and using disagreements as permissions to dehumanize is what we are fighting here…nothing more. We want to reconcile relationship and treat people with deep respect. When we fail to do that, which I have, then we want to offer apology and continue to participate. When we can seek to “do good to those who hate us” and when we can “do to others as we would have them do to us” then we will move away from these permissions to be dehumanizing and start re-humanizing each other in authentic (yeah, I used that word) engagement!
The Issue: How a person looks on the outside determines his or her value and worth and how we treat them.
We have our criteria, what makes a person look trustworthy and attractive. We also have our list of features and/or attire that diminishes trust and attractiveness. Let’s just think through a few things that we use to determine the worth of a person:
What would you add to the list, I’m sure there is more to consider but I want to close with a thought from the Old Testament story of the selection of King David. God has this great line in the story, see if you can find it!
1 Samuel 16: 6 When they arrived, Samuel took one look at Eliab and thought, “Surely this is the Lord’s anointed!” 7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 8 Then Jesse told his son Abinadab to step forward and walk in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, “This is not the one the Lord has chosen.” 9 Next Jesse summoned Shimea, but Samuel said, “Neither is this the one the Lord has chosen.” 10 In the same way all seven of Jesse’s sons were presented to Samuel. But Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.” 11 Then Samuel asked, “Are these all the sons you have?” “There is still the youngest,” Jesse replied. “But he’s out in the fields watching the sheep and goats.” “Send for him at once,” Samuel said. “We will not sit down to eat until he arrives.” 12 So Jesse sent for him. He was dark and handsome, with beautiful eyes. And the Lord said, “This is the one; anoint him.” 13 So as David stood there among his brothers, Samuel took the flask of olive oil he had brought and anointed David with the oil. And the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David from that day on. Then Samuel returned to Ramah.
I wonder what might be our approach to folks, if we could look past the outward appearance and see the heart. Maybe broken…Maybe mended…Perhaps pure…Perhaps not so pure. It is interesting to me that God chose and man described as dark, handsome, with beautiful eyes…but it was David’s heart that God really selected. When we learn to look past appearance, it is the heart that allows us to “humanize” each other and truly say, “I select you,” in a conversation, a look, or a relationship. Let’s re-humanize the world!
You know, I really don’t want to post this. I really don’t want to admit to you that I have a dehumanization problem and I also don’t want to charge you, a reader of this blog, of having the same sinful disposition as I do. However, I can’t get it out of my head. I know that many of us have Christ and live in new life, but I am equally aware that we are still in active recovery from our sin addictions—or we had better be anyway. I can’t read, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” and listen again to the words found in Romans 1 about how humanity gave their hearts over to other gods and in so doing, their worship shifted. Once the object of our worship shifts, then our treatment of God’s good creation also shifts…and this includes each other. The result of this monumental lapse in judgement is dehumanization.
Now, I know that we don’t willingly participate in the larger projects of dehumanization. Sure, I’m embarrassed by the very notion of slavery. I detest the global sex slave system that buys and sells children like they are items to purchased. I don’t like reading history books that tell the story of how Africans were thought of as less than human so that they might be treated harshly by their “owners.” I can’t even begin to understand the American pornography machine and its influence in our society. I am tired, as I have already pointed out, of watching people get shot-up by guns in the hands of persons with an attitude of vengeance steeped in dehumanization so rampant in our current American “modus operandi.”
But—we don’t participate it in, right? I mean, I surely don’t join in this sin, do I? Well, let me give you several ways in which we dehumanize others without even thinking it through, like instincts that come naturally to us but are the beginnings of larger and more serious world issues like the ones mentioned above:
While this list is not exhaustive and really has just been compiling in my mind for the last few weeks, it wasn’t all that hard for me to come up with ways in which we, me and you, have bought into systems that dehumanize those who we pass each and every day. As a minister, I have heard these statements above in a church context by those devoted to the teachings of Jesus, readers of God’s Word, and participants in the “new humanity,” along with new creation, promised in the New Testament. And maybe similar to your experience; not only have I stood on the giving end of these, but I have also been on the receiving end of these.
So, for the next few writings, I want to unpack these briefly stated notions listed above. I want to think about what it looks like to be countercultural in a culture that currently continues the ancient practice of dehumanization in innovative ways.
I have heard it said that we should seek to “be the change your want to see in the world,” and so if I want to stop slavery, end shootings, or overcome a porn-saturated culture; then it starts with restoring my heart and opening my eyes to the very things that I do, and that you do too. We must address the attitudes and ideas that start distinguishing us from them and them and them; creating a hierarchy of value. You see, I can’t pass gun laws and I can’t evaluate FBI tips. I can’t tell you exactly how I might react if I was in an active shooter situation. What I can admit is my own contribution to the larger problem, and I can seek revolutionary new ways of loving my neighbors.
There has been a lot written about Paul’s words to the church in Rome as he summarizes the history of the human race. While some thinkers see this scripture as pertaining solely to Gentile culture, others see it more broadly as the way all cultures have failed to recognize God, the creator of the world and the judge of all unrighteousness, and that is the position I find myself prone to take. The reason for a more broad approach is because I think a reader of the Old Testament can easily see that idolatry and dehumanization was just as prevalent in Israel as it was in the surrounding “pagan” kingdoms. In fact, Old Testament scholars point out that at any given time in the history of Israel, monotheistic loyalty to Yahweh was never fully established, and the chasing after other gods was a reality present throughout the history of the wilderness wanderings, the time of the Judges, and the monarchy…not to mention a cited reason for the fall of Israel and then Judah, Northern and Southern kingdoms, once divided.
So, Paul addresses the scene that has played out amongst all nations; and particularly, the downward spiral from the intended and godly purpose of humanity to what we have made of ourselves. Of particular interest to us today is the notion of natural and unnatural relationships cited in this text which leads us to a discussion of human sexuality, sexual freedom, and homosexuality. Here is the text of Romans from the NLT:
Romans 1:24 So God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired. As a result, they did vile and degrading things with each other’s bodies. 25 They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise! Amen. 26 That is why God abandoned them to their shameful desires. Even the women turned against the natural way to have sex and instead indulged in sex with each other. 27 And the men, instead of having normal sexual relations with women, burned with lust for each other. Men did shameful things with other men, and as a result of this sin, they suffered within themselves the penalty they deserved.
28 Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done. 29 Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip. 30 They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning, and they disobey their parents. 31 They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy. 32 They know God’s justice requires that those who do these things deserve to die, yet they do them anyway. Worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too.
Needless to say, this text is extremely controversial and has been used to condemn homosexuals, to contrast the type of homosexuality practiced today from ancient practices, and to particularly condemn those who switch back and forth from heterosexual practices to homosexual practices. Yet, what we need to do when studying a text like this is to remember that Paul was addressing the particular situation in Rome, and after extracting the principles and lessons that he wanted to communicate there, we can properly move from the ancient world into ours in an effort to understand what this text means in our contemporary world.
An aspect of this text I want to point out is that Paul is not speaking of individual choices nor individual behaviors nor individual morality. Paul is speaking about a culture of idolatry in humanity at large. This is to say that Paul is not interested in case study or a small scale sample, he has seized on the human condition of worshipping the wrong things and being deceived to think that that worship of lesser beings would bring about the same ends as the worship of God.
For Paul, this worship of lesser things has resulted in a damaged relationship to God, each other, and the creation as a whole. Particularly, Paul cites the sexual practices that were currently happening in Roman pagan culture as a direct result of inaccurate worship. Humanity has “traded the truth of God for a lie” and in so doing they have treated each other’s bodies as objects to be explored and exploited. This argument is “that the existence of homosexual practice in a culture is a sign that that culture as a whole has been worshipping idols and that its God-given male-and-female order is being fractured as a result.” (NT Wright, Romans, New Interpreter’s Bible, p.435)
While it is evident that Paul regards homosexual practice as a dangerous distortion of God’s intentions for sex and sexuality, and while we might agree or disagree with Paul given what we have studied about human sexuality and psychology; what we cannot do is simply sidestep this passage when it comes to Christian ethics and what it says about culture and accepted practices of sexuality, both heterosexual and homosexual to be inclusive, in any given culture. However, if we are going to take the citation of homosexuality seriously in the passage above, then we must also head the warning against innate moral superiority that is coming in the next section of scripture starting in Romans 2. That is to say, while some participate in dehumanizing behaviors through “shameful desires of the heart,” others stand aloof to these practices as if they are outside the widespread problem of sin…as if only “those” people sin and “we” do not. Paul finds this to be complete nonsense and a type of unrighteousness that is just as damaging to the human condition. (So, Paul would categorize any attempt to condemn and hurt a homosexual for being such alongside the very practice of homosexuality—“falling short of God’s glory”)
A phrase that gets special attention is at the end of verse 27, “They suffered within themselves the penalty they deserved.” While some commentators will point to modern sexually transmitted diseases or even make mention of AIDS in this context, I don’t think Paul had any specific disease in mind. Paul is making reference to the fact that the end of sin is DEATH. I think that becomes clear in the following paragraph and even later in Romans where Paul would assert that sin pays you in death…(“the wages of sin is death” - Romans 6:23). I think it is also telling that Paul, along with other Jewish thinkers would see DEATH as a separation and isolation from God, from each other, and from creation (or the natural world) and less of an event at the end of a life. So, in the second paragraph of our text above, we see God hand them over yet again, showing a growing separation between God and humanity. We see examples of relationships being torn apart in the actions associated with… sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip…and even the “disobeying of parents.” Again, we see this as a result of idolatry, moving to dehumanizing behaviors that then play out in our relationships… As it pertains to the natural world and creation, Paul would argue that men were made to naturally fit with women and that women were designed by God to naturally fit with men. And therefore, what we have is, “DEATH” and the process of dying that started when humanity decided to not worship God or even give him thanks, and they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused…
I want to end with some questions for us to ponder:
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.