Humanizing the other

I usually avoid taking on Tony Jones.  Actually, I usually just avoid reading Tony Jones.  I know a lost cause when I see one.  Chances are good that on any given day, he’s going to say something I find offensive.  My time is too valuable to waste on spending it being irritated.  But he posted this, and, well, I couldn’t resist.

First of all, let me start with the very title of this piece of crap.  “Humanize the Other, because That’s the Gospel.”  Oh, okay.  Got it.  There’s no other reason to treat people with respect outside of “Jesus said it” or scoring Compassion Points with the Big Guy.  I certainly hope that’s not the only reason to show kindness to people, though the nice part about that rationale is that you get to then self-righteously claim that atheists, Jews, Buddhists, and Wiccans have no idea how to be nice to people because the Gospel.  Yay.

What really bothers me, however, is the idea of “othering” people in the first place, and the need to “humanize” anyone.  There are two problems here.  One is that, by definition, people are already human.  No one needs to be “humanized.”  I understand that what’s meant is both not dehumanizing people and reaffirming their humanity.  That sounds pretty good on the surface.  Unfortunately, that’s not how it works in practice.

The way it often plays out is something akin to “love the sinner, hate the sin” (which is so full of superiority bullshit I would need a whole post just to dissect it).  In other words, think of people as your fellow humans–ones who happen to make you feel weird, gross, creepy, uncomfortable, or whatever, but still your fellow humans.  That enables people to continue to feel that they are better because at least they’re not whatever-it-is.  Perfect example:  You can totally love your gay friends, even if you still think they’re probably going home right now to do some kind of sex thing that trips your gag reflex.  And since you are obviously not going to trip anyone’s gag reflex with your completely non-kinky, missionary-position, married (of course) straight sex, you are clearly still morally superior.  You may get it that your gay friends are human, but you still think they are morally inferior humans.

That can be applied to anything–race, ethnicity, neurodivergence, varying physical and mental ability, and so on.  It’s this pitying standpoint–that we are going to show compassion on the poor, suffering masses–that bothers me.  It isn’t giving up any of the power and privilege we enjoy, and it isn’t sharing it with someone else.  It’s a posture of reaching down rather than across.

The second problem is that “humanizing” nearly always becomes about seeing abusers as humans.  How often do we see people defend the likes of Driscoll, Piper, Furtick, Schwyzer, Yoder, and so on by saying, “Look at the good they’ve done!  And they are only human, after all.”  That’s misplaced compassion.  I agree that they are human; but that doesn’t absolve them from the harm they’ve done, particularly that which was done in Jesus’ name.  Humanizing, in this case, must always start with the people who were harmed.  We need to see the individual faces, and hear the individual voices, of the people who have been wronged rather than imagining them as, collectively, the “sin” of the people who perpetuated the damage.

Finally, specifically about Tony Jones’ post:  He used the image of the Pope kissing the man with boils to launch into some nonsense about blogging.  What a way to miss the point.  He wasn’t speaking about loving actual people who have been shamed, dehumanized, and wounded.  He was talking about Internet writers.  That says everything I need to know about where he’s coming from.

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