I recently came across a study conducted a few years ago at Princeton that when men see women in bikinis they engage the area of their brain associated with tools (not people). In fact, most of the men best remembered the headless photographs of bikini-clad women, even if they’d only seen the image for two-tenths of a second.
I doubt that many of us are shocked by the discovery that men often dehumanize women for sexual gain.
But this got me thinking about other possible parallels, particularly in the area of theological and political debate. I’d hazard the guess that we’d find similar results if the study were repeated, but modified so that subjects were asked to interact with people with differing viewpoints instead of women in bikinis.
While that particular study is unlikely to be carried out, its possibilities carry profound implications for our current ecclesiastic and political landscape. The value isn’t so much in the recognition that no one is listening–it’s easy to walk into a room of shouting people realize no one is listening. Rather, the value is recognizing WHY no one is listening.
I’m saddened by the parallels between the dehumanization of those viewed as sexual objects and the dehumanization of those with whom we disagree. In both cases, it is necessary to dehumanize the other in order to get what we want. In both cases, it is necessary to dehumanize to ensure that we remain absolutely unchanged by the experience. In both cases it is vital that we dehumanize to maintain control and ensure outcomes.
In both cases it is absolutely necessary to dehumanize the other so that we can gratify our own selfish lust.
Which has been a more destructive force throughout history–the insatiable hunger for sex, or the insatiable quest to preserve one’s truth?
This strikes me as the only possible explanation for why so many people who speak so much about love fail so consistently to love those who are perceived to be wrong. It’s not that we forget we’re called to love our enemies, it’s that deep down we’ve convinced ourselves that our enemies are no longer human.
I believe that most Christians understand that there is nothing that justifies dehumanizing a person for sexual gain. I would encourage all of us to honestly ask ourselves this question:
Have I ever used the excuse of ‘protecting my truth’ to justify dehumanizing a person?