Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Dignity of Man

I have been reminded recently of how we use words to dehumanize people. I recently read the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Schirer. It chronicles the heinous crimes committed by Hitler and how he held an entire nation in his sway. It always amazes me how he used the power of words to form people's perceptions.

In the business world, there is much talk about "creating efficiencies within FTEs" (Full Time Equivalents). In the common parlance, this simply means that a company will be firing people.
In the world of abortion, a decapitated baby is known as a fetus. In the world of war, a slaughtered and broken human being is known as collateral damage. In the world of politics, the mentally ill are known as liberals. In the world of project management, a bright young person is reduced to being called a mere resource (an expendable item).

While some of these terms may not seem insidious at first, all of these words represent a movement away from recognizing the personhood of an indvidual. It is much easier to reduce FTE, than to throw Bob on the street with no way to provide for his family. It is much easier to perform dilation and curettage, than to murder a small, helpless child.

All of these words are the words of the furnace. The words that paved the road to Auschwitz and Treblinka. They slowly steal our humanity and allow human beings to act with rapacious cruelty. Once the dignity of man is lost, anything is possible.

This is why the Christian worldview most adequately preserves the proper notion of humanity. Man is created in the image of God and therefore has immense dignity and profound purpose. On the other hand, mankind is also fallen and prone to despicable acts. The dignity of mankind insures that I treat every human being with respect and honor, but the fallen nature in everyone curbs unfounded trust.

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