“Anyone who hates another brother or sister[ is really a murderer at heart. And you know that murderers don’t have eternal life within them.” (1 John 3:15 NLT)
When I was a child, we used to repeat this common phrase, “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Later, I realized that, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will break my heart.” Now, I understand that, “sticks and stones may break people’s bones but words may dehumanize them so much that they may kill themselves and/or others.”
When I was in junior high school, I took a hunter safety class with my mother so that I could get a hunting permit (I grew up in Missouri it's my culture). That class taught me that we could not “win the game” by shooting the animal that we were hunting for unless we were absolutely certain that the bullet from our gun would not hurt anyone or damage any property. This lesson taught me that firearms are a great responsibility. If I fire a gun, I am responsible for that bullet until it stops moving. If anyone is killed or anything is damaged along the path of that bullet (or its ricochet), I am guilty. Likewise, according to the Bible, if I speak a hateful word, I will be guilty, before God (even if my nation’s laws allow it) for the damage and death my word causes to anyone who hears it. If the word is recorded, written, and broadcast via radio, television, books, magazines, newspapers, or the Internet, I will be guilty (before God) for the damage and death it causes to anyone who hears or reads it. "God please forgive me for all the hateful words I have spoken and written, please stop them from continuing to hurt others, and heal those who have been wounded. Amen."
The same sense of responsibility also carries over to controlling our anger and our tongues. We cannot, “win the argument,” with curses, lies, slander, defamation, or other ad hominem attacks any more than we can win the argument with a gun. If people cannot trust themselves or be trusted to handle a firearm responsibly, they should not have a firearm. We can debate gun control laws but we cannot change this fact. It is impossible for humans to outlaw or confiscate the minds of those who hate, the tongues of people who say hateful things, or the fingers of those who write them, without causing more evil than we are trying to stop or prevent.
“The first to speak in court sounds right—until the cross-examination begins. Flipping a coin can end arguments; it settles disputes between powerful opponents. An offended friend is harder to win back than a fortified city. Arguments separate friends like a gate locked with bars. Wise words satisfy like a good meal; the right words bring satisfaction. The tongue can bring death or life; those who love to talk will reap the consequences.” (Proverbs 18:17-21)
For many years I have wondered why anger, name calling, curses, hatred and lust (Matthew 5:27) are taken more seriously in the New Testament than in the Old Testament. I am coming to understand that the common ingredient behind these “zero tolerance” prohibitions is this--dehumanization. Calling people and groups by insulting labels fuses their identity to their humanity and then rejects both their identity and humanity at the same time. Just as emotionally it would be easier for me to kill a mosquito than to kill the family pet, it is much emotionally much easier for genocidal regimes to get their soldiers to kill those who have been dehumanized than it would be to kill someone who they view as a human. Activists who want to prevent cruelty to animals always humanize the animals through “personification.” Genocidal people like Hitler and Pol Pot, always dehumanize people before they can insight others to exterminate them. On the other hand, the Anti-Defamation League exists to prevent the dehumanization of Jews (and others) that led to the first holocaust and could lead to future genocides.
Before we can really understand dehumanization we need to make sure we know what the Bible says about the true identity of humans. As we apply these truths, we can re-humanize everyone, even our fiercest enemies.
1. Humans all have the image of God and this gives us a uniquely high value that cannot be taken away.
“Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.” So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.” (Genesis 1:26-28)
2. God has a special plan and purpose for every person.
“You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered! I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand! And when I wake up, you are still with me!” (Psalm 139:13-18)
3. God loves each person who has ever lived whether they love him or not.
“For God loved the world so much that: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
“Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven. (Matthew 5:17-19)
“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against a fellow Israelite, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:18)
“Owe nothing to anyone—except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law. For the commandments say, “You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not covet.” These—and other such commandments—are summed up in this one commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself. ”Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law.” (Romans 13:8-10)
(see also) http://www.gty.org/blog/B110706/does-god-love-his-enemies
4. Because Jesus loves us, we should and can love others.
“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.” (John 13:34)
“For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13)
5. Therefore, I can and must love my enemies.
“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48)
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (Arabic: أبو بكر البغدادي; born Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim al-Badri) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abu_Bakr_al-Baghdadi the leader of ISIS is my enemy because he chose to be my enemy not because I chose to be his enemy. But if I think Biblically, I can love him.
- Ibrahim has the image of God and this gives him a uniquely high value that cannot be taken away no matter how many sins he commits.
- God has a special plan and purpose for Ibrahim, whether he knows or obeys it or not.
- God loves Ibrahim, whether he loves God or not.
- Only because Jesus loves me, I can love Ibrahim.
- Therefore, I can and must love Ibrahim.
Biblical love re-humanizes Mr. Ibrahim, it does not mean that I approve of his actions or that he is in anyway freed from God’s justice or human legal justice. We can apply Biblical love and re-humanize murderers but this does not free them from the legal or spiritual consequences of their crimes. Also by God’s grace I can forgive Mr. Ibrahim. “Father forgive” Mr. Ibrahim “for he does not know what he is doing.” (Luke 23:34) This frees me from the poison of his actions and places him into God’s hands, the ultimate source of love and justice.
"Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord. Instead, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.” Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good." (Romans 12:19-21)
Hate rejects these truths in our own lives. Curses causes others to reject these truths in their lives. This leads to dehumanization which leads to death.
- Curses lead to seeing victims as less than human (dehumanization).
- Dehumanization techniques dehumanized BOTH slaves and slaveholders:
- Dehumanization leads to suicide:
- Dehumanization leads to genocide: 8 Stages of Genocide http://www.genocidewatch.org/aboutgenocide/8stagesofgenocide.html
Christians in the United States are Not Immune to Being Dehumanized
As a Christian Apologist, I have a duty to defend Christ, Christianity, and Christians from dehumanizing insults that could prepare the way for religious oppression and violence. However, while I can defend Christ and Christianity from dehumanization based on the Word of God, it will be difficult for me to effectively defend Christians from dehumanization if we ourselves are dehumanizing others with our own hateful words. We do not have to approve of or applaud the sins of others, but we must repent from following the sinful pattern of dehumanizing others.
“But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also. Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back. Do to others as you would like them to do to you.” (Luke 6: 31)
"Mugshot of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, 2004" by U.S Army - http://www.scribd.com/doc/256164952/Baghdadi-Detainee-File. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mugshot_of_Abu_Bakr_al-Baghdadi,_2004.jpg#/media/File:Mugshot_of_Abu_Bakr_al-Baghdadi,_2004.jpg