It’s long been my contention that core to the ministry of Jesus was that he re-humanized those who had been dehumanized by the religious forces of his day. It was not only unseemly but forbidden for a Judean to touch a leper or a menstruating woman, to share water with a Samaritan woman, to heal on the Sabbath. But Jesus did all these things, and he did them with such force and courage that the Gospel writers repeatedly tell us that the crowds were astonished (thaumazo, which means amazed, with a tinge of fear) at the power of his teaching and healing.
Always and everywhere, human beings are tempted to dehumanize other human beings. It was prevalent in the ancient world of Jesus, and it’s prevalent today. Recently, Rachel wrote, You don’t hate me, you hate my brand. Some were upset, saying that Rachel shouldn’t allow herself to become a brand, hoping that she would be more authentic so that her blog and her person would be one-and-the-same. Of course, Rachel is one of the most authentic and honest bloggers around, but nevertheless, she’s a brand. And that is so because 99% of her blog readers don’t know her. That is, they don’t know her in the flesh-and-blood sense.
Last Saturday, Stanford professor Clifford Nass died. He was a researcher on and critic of multitasking. Contrary to today’s conventional wisdom, his research showed that modern people are, in fact, not good at multitasking. Not only are we not good at it, multitasking and many digital inputs per day are destroying our ability to concentrate on endeavors that demand concentration. He was famous on the Stanford campus for running dorm activities in which he forced students to sit facing one another, look each other in the eyes, and talk. He said that the old parental chastisement, “Look me in the eye!” is now more appropriate than ever.
We are, I fear, more likely than ever to dehumanize the other, especially behind the veil of technology. I’m an asshole, you have bad theology, she’s a victim, he’s a bully. Epithets fly around the internet like hive of bees that’s been whacked with a stick, and they sting randomly and without much justice. And it hurts.
I’ve tried, not always successfully, to reach out to those who have become my enemies on the internet and in the academy. Some have chosen to meet with me or correspond with me, and others haven’t. I’ve also dehumanized those who disagree with me, finding it easier to mock them than to take their ideas seriously.
I’m going to redouble my efforts to always always always humanize the other. All of us who spend time in the blogosphere need to remember that core to Jesus’ life and message was to find those who’d been dehumanized and bring them back into God’s fold, where they were again — or for the first time — fully human.