Who gets to define what it means to be human? Harmful attitudes and practices begin and blossom when God’s definition of a human being is ignored, or insufficiently implemented in all areas of life. These areas of existence can range from family, government, work-relationships, even life and ministry in the church. This can climatically extend to who is allowed to live.

Harmful attitudes and practices blossom when God’s definition of a human is insufficiently implemented in all areas of existence.When that which defines human beings shifts unilaterally to the human sphere, humanity at the individual and communal level can be redefined at whim and thus lose value against the broader schemes of communal constructs. In my series of posts thus far, we have focused on some implications from the reality of God in his being and action, his goodness, his position as the ultimate evaluator of the “good.” Now I’d like to consider the consequences of the neglect of the divine perspective, what happens when personhood is unilaterally defined by the whim of human schemes.

Examples of the neglect of the revealed human definition abound. Over the next few reflections, I will consider a few scenarios, beginning with a case that will be easy be identified as an atrocity. Later, I will also present some examples that may not be considered violent, or atrocious, but are no less insidious, assuming that a human being can only be properly conceived of, and treated as, an image bearer of God.

Personhood & Dehumanization: A Case Study

According to the Cambodia Tribunal Monitor, the Khmer Rouge (Communist Party of Kampuchea) gained control of Cambodia on April 17, 1975. This situation is much more complex than what I present here, but under the leadership of Pol Pot, many radical dehumanizing practices were made law and policies were practiced that resulted in the deaths of over two million people. Their rationale was particularly striking:

The Khmer Rouge claimed that only pure people were qualified to build the revolution. Soon after seizing power, they arrested and killed thousands of soldiers, military officers and civil servants from the Khmer Republic regime led by Marshal Lon Nol, whom they did not regard as “pure.” (Cambodia Tribunal Monitor)

Khmer Rouge Boy (1998) photograph by David Longstreath

Khmer Rouge Boy (1998)
photograph by David Longstreath

This politically driven definition legitimated a radical form of dehumanization of these people, namely, extermination. But this is not surprising. The atheistic foundation of this kind of communism calls for the “proper” definition of both human beings and human social constructs to be products only of “the people.” My point is that though this is admittedly an extreme implementation of practice when the human is defined by the state, it is founded, however, on the dismissal of God’s revealed definition of human beings. What will follow in future reflections are examples of a seeming mundane sort that demonstrate either an ignorance of, or dismissal of the revealed divine perspective on the definition of human beings.

It would be nice to think that there are limits to the manifestations of inhumane behavior among human populations. It is sad and troublesome that our history demonstrates that we will use any means accessible to us at any time to kill and incapacitate one another. The situation is even more critical for those who have exposure to the instruction of the revealed Word of God. To ignore it is to invite the possibility of even less exposure to the Scriptures (Amos 8:11), which can contribute further to the downward spiral of dehumanization.