By Jim Tune
In C.S. Lewis’s book The Magician’s Nephew, readers meet an unsavory character named Uncle Andrew, who consistently displays an arrogance that causes him to distance himself from others, view them with contempt, and attempt to use them for his own purposes.
Near the end of the book, when Uncle Andrew encounters things he can’t fathom or explain (like talking animals) he descends into insanity. Aslan and the other animals are speaking to him in plain English, but he can’t understand a word. All he hears are roars and growls, and he is terrified. Finally, he loses his ability to speak, and he flees into the forest, alone and suspicious.
He has essentially become something less than human. Lewis hints that the talking animals are more human than he is. They have something of the “image of God” in them, while Uncle Andrew has forfeited it—made mad by his fear and pride.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “Human beings are dehumanized by fear.” Fear makes us less than what we truly are, what God made us and calls us to be. Of course, Bonhoeffer had a unique perspective on the progressive dehumanization of those who were different, and therefore threatening. Nazi Germany made scapegoats of the Jews, and Bonhoeffer himself became an enemy of the state.
At the core of evil is the process of dehumanization, by which certain “other” people, or collectives of them, are depicted as less than human to those who do the labeling. Sinful humans, when fearful of that which they do not understand, will employ negative stereotypes or abusive methods to demean those they see as different.
In The Lucifer Effect, Philip Zimbardo calls dehumanization a “cortical cataract” that clouds our thinking and fosters the perception that other people—those we don’t understand, and consequently fear—are less noble, less moral, and ultimately, less than human.
When we denigrate those of differing nationalities, ethnicities, religions, politics, and classes to a dehumanized “them,” we open the door to prejudice, hostility, and ultimately unimaginable atrocities. If we believe the lie that they are “not like us,” we are capable of discrimination, and the same atrocities that seemed unimaginable a generation or two after Nazi rule suddenly seem reasonable.
The Pharisees claimed they could see, and that’s what kept them blind. Because they thought they could see everything clearly, they claimed they were qualified to judge others. If it had been true, they would have recognized the work of God in Christ. But instead, their own spiritual pride condemned them to their own spiritual darkness.
I’ve been there. God help me. Sometimes the window of my soul has been so covered over with the grime of fear and pride that it neither allows light in nor allows me to see out.