A few days ago a young woman/teen was found partially clothed and semi-conscious under a Philadelphia bridge. At the time I am writing this post, it is assumed (nothing too outlandish here) that she was assaulted and raped and left for dead. Whether or not this turns out to be the exact situation for this injured woman matters not for the rest of the post. What does matter is that we know that rape happens.
How does one get to the place of treating another human being like an object and caring nothing for that person’s feelings, interests? We’d like to believe that rape, murder, slavery, trafficking, and the sort are different sorts of animals than the wee little sins we commit. But such heinous acts have exactly the same roots as “normal” objectification.
Take porn for example. On first blush, there is not any interpersonal crime in looking at a pornographic image. The assumption goes that the individuals in the pictures have voluntarily allowed themselves to be photographed and are happy with what they are doing. Of course, we know that these two assumptions are not always true. But even IF we accept the assumption, we must also accept that the viewer of the pictures cares nothing about the person in the picture. They exist for one reason only–to provide pleasure for the viewer. They have no feelings, they are only objects on a page.
The one dimensional image allows the viewer to begin the process of not seeing the other and not seeing their abuse of the other. And we are well aware of the common path of porn use. Start with a scantily clad image, move to complete nude, then to more and more dramatic pictures of sex acts which often include bondage, pain, or other grotesque acts.
Most people would have trouble watching a friend or a loved one engage in such an act, much less act out such activity on someone in pain. Most of us couldn’t just rape a stranger–at least at this point. But the root is the same: ignoring the personhood of the person in front of us. The person who is able to rape, traffick, or enslave has just been more successful in protecting themself from empathy, putting themself in the shoes of another, etc. We haven’t yet gone that far but notice that we begin such activities by our ability to objectify people on television or even in our everyday life. We murder (in our hearts) the incompetent bagger at the grocery store. We care little about his or her life. I’m not putting a passing hateful thought on par with rape but when we fail to recognize the person on the other side we begin to make it possible to deny the humanness of the other, whether a victim of a crime or the perpetrator.
Reminds me of Miroslav Volf’s quote in Exclusion and Embrace (p. 124):
“Forgiveness flounders because I exclude the enemy from the community of humans even as I exclude myself from the community of sinners.”