I went downtown today to run a few errands. While waiting in an office area, I could not help but overhear the conversation of two women who were in the 30 to 35 year old (Millennial) demographic. They discussed the divorce the one had gone through as well as child custody. Then the non-mother said to the mother, “You must be getting more time these days, now that custody is worked out, to go to the pub. We could go together” The mother answered, “No, I don’t go to the pub anymore. My job requires a license, so I don’t want to get a DUI. And, I already have a man at home so I don’t need to go to the pub to pick one up.” Wow! That last statement, stated matter-of-factly, without sarcasm or implied humor, really shocked me. The casual way in which a human person was commodified in this conversation was grievous to me. Are people really things we pick up when we want to scratch a particular kind of itch? Probably. I don’t think it was just the fact of the commodification of human persons that triggered sadness in me, it was also the brazen way in which it was presented – as a given within our culture.
When anything in culture shocks me, I know it is time to do self-reflection- for at least two reasons. First, am I so far removed from behaving as the culture does that I am actually shocked? Do I not also transform people into things – perceive them as useful to me, rather than as individuals to be loved? Even in helping people the hidden motive could be: the fulfillment of a strategy, the soothing of a bad conscience for personally owning or enjoying what they do not, or the good feeling one gets when they can, from a position of power, help another.
Second, and having more significant weight in my reflections today, I must ask myself, have I forgotten the evil that is at work in the world, so that I should be shocked?
Just yesterday, in some reading I was doing, the following words by American abolitionist Frederick Douglass troubled me. He said, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. Power concedes nothing without demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”
When men become things we don’t need to “pick up” because we have one at home, humans are redefined as disposable, convenience items. In a throw-away society, this thought is terrifying. That telling comment of this morning reminded me just how very far we, as the human race, have conceded ground to the ultimate tyrant and dictator. Satan is imposing his own ugly and degrading system of value upon the human race – not through terrifying me at night with an unjust arrest and a cold, dank prison cell; but through the unnerving mundane that swirls around, assuring me that this is just the way things are.
Jesus showed us how to love – it looks nothing like what passes for love in this culture, or in my own heart. I need to resist and cease to endure the oppressive view of human flourishing that is imposed upon my life and the lives of those I love. To be human is to be made by and for love. To flourish as a human is to love as Jesus of Nazareth loved.