Tuesday, May 23, 2017

"That person is such a...child of God?"

I’m sure we’ve all seen it: comments on articles online where the commenter is outraged (at either the author or the subject of the article) and vomits out his or her feelings in a stream of profanity or disrespect. Or, the times when we make a "vent post" on Facebook where we unleash pent-up feelings of anger and use demeaning words for another. We may not be able to imagine ourselves blurting out these insults to another person directly, but we have few—or no—qualms about impersonally attacking another person over the internet.

Or, perhaps, we keep ourselves under control and don’t actually type out any of these rants, but instead we entertain these thoughts in our minds. He is such a –--! we think, content that we are so “good” as to not say these things out loud, and merely speak them in our minds repeatedly throughout the day. 

While I’m sure there are many angles we could look at in discussing this issue, I’m going to keep things simple here and wrap it all into one question: When we do or say these things, are we affirming the dignity of the human person?

When we plunge into ad hominem attacks in the comments section of a website, are we remembering that we are speaking about—and to—human persons? Human persons who are made in the image and likeness of God. Human persons who have immense dignity, value, and worth. These people cannot be used by us as targets for our rage and frustration. In Love and Responsibility, Karol Wojtyla speaks extensively about the relationships between individuals. While much of his book focuses on the love between man and woman, the principles that he teaches about treating others with respect and love can (and should) be universally applied. He writes: 

"For to be just always means giving others what is rightly due to them. A person's rightful due is to be treated as an object of love, not as an object for use." (Wojtyla 42) 

When we begin abusing another person in the comments section, how are we treated him or her as an object of love? How are we affirming this individual's personhood? By calling a person a __ (insert insulting name or demeaning term here)__, it seems that, in a sense, we are dehumanizing him. We are not treating this individual as an object of love, but using him or her as a punching bag for our frustrations. We are not affirming this man or woman's dignity and worth.

It seems to me that part of our ease at calling others derogatory names could stem from a desire to appear edgy and blend in with the culture. It could also come naturally to us out of habitual use, or because we hear vulgar language all around us. However, our habits or desire to be "approachable" should never come at the expense of dehumanizing another person through our words or actions.

We need to uphold the dignity of all human persons, from conception to natural death. This pro-life message must be witnessed outside of abortion clinics and while posting online. 

I know that some of you may say, “Well, I’m only human. I get frustrated sometimes, so give me a break!” I get it. We all get exasperated. Mad, even. Even though some people refuse to believe that I have moments where I'm not smiling, let me reassure you that I get upset, irritated, and frustrated at people and events. Particularly in the past 12 or so months, I have been saddened at how I have fallen into insulting or thinking ill of others in public office. Several times, I have had to stop my thoughts with the reminder that these individuals have immense dignity. These people are children of God.

To be perfectly honest with y'all, I am horrified that devoted Christians—people who love the Lord, who have studied theology, who continually give their lives over to God—have polluted the internet with derogatory, dehumanizing words as they vent about other people and situations. Folks, if we are upset about the actions of others--no matter if we're having struggles with an unruly child or are mad about those in political office--we will not make the situation any better by slamming at their dignity. Furthermore, what kind of witness are we bringing to the world if “good Christians” are tearing others apart online? 

The next time that we want to rip apart another person’s dignity or character, let’s ask ourselves if our words would affirm that person’s dignity. If we would dare say those words to that individual in person. If we would say those words to Jesus.

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