Human beings always serve something.
We always put something in the centre of our life, a thing against which we measure all other things. Perhaps it’s an ideology or a religion or a nation or a cause. Or partying or sex or work. Maybe the arts or sports or fine food and fast cars. Even abstract concepts like freedom or charity or happiness.
Today I heard on the radio that the highest value was “universal human rights.”
We make gods of things.
And it’s dehumanizing.
Idolatry and Dehumanization
If you make a thing more important than human beings, you have made humanity a lesser thing.
- Religion says that the needs of the god are more important than those of humanity.
- Nationalism means that the nation is more important than human beings.
- If I worship sex, getting some is more important than the person I’m getting it with.
- If freedom is the most important thing, then we sacrifice some people on the alters of that freedom.
- If you are committed to your own personal flourishing, that of others is subjugated.
We seem to know innately that it is inappropriate to make the value of a human being less than that of a thing.
Innate Human Value
A human being is inherently valuable.
Freedom, nation, happiness, sex, sports, arts, and charity are all good things, but when one of them is made into the ultimate thing, we start to see problems. When humanity is dethroned as the most important thing and replaced by some good, but lesser thing–political power, pleasure, peace, elimination of murder, and long life.
Bad things happen when we make good things into ultimate things. Good things are ill-suited to occupy the position of a god.
Surrendering to an object or an idea is dehumanizing. The only possible way to serve something, which is part of our nature, and avoid dehumanization at the same time, is to surrender to another person.
You might object that surrendering to another human being can also be dehumanizing. This is true, there are a lot of one-sided relationships where people that are happy to take whatever they can get from you and give very little in return, and they end up being the only ones that are thriving. This is usually (always?) because they are serving a thing or an idea.
There are other relationships based on sacrificial love, they are far from dehumanizing–these are actually humanizing. We have this for our children–we give far more than we receive, and we don’t care because we are so interested in their flourishing. Some marriages are like this, thankfully mine is one of these, where both put the other’s needs ahead of their own. You give a lot in these relationships, but by some magic, you get back so much more than you give up.
This is was what we were made for, that’s why we flourish by these relationships.
The Truely Humanizing Relationship
Human beings were not only created to have relationships with each other, but also with God. Not God as an idea, but as a person. The God of the Bible was always a personal God, but when he became human, he got way more personal.
Submission to him isn’t dehumanizing, first of all, because he is a person. But also because he’s not one of those gods–like Baal, Nation or Universal Human Rights–who demands we conform our lives to his desires in order to gain acceptance. Rather he conformed to us by becoming human and then dying for his enemies (myself included), and while we tortured and killed him he forgave us.
What can we do but respond to this grace with a life of gratitude?
If you are going to serve, and you certainly will serve something, it might as well be to the God who served you first. Not just because it makes sense, but because it was for this relationship that we were made.