In his novel, Til We Have Faces, C.S. Lewis states that, “No herd of other beasts, gathered together, has so ugly a voice as Man.” Recently, I read through quite a bit of African American literature depicting the raw horrors surrounding so much of their history related to this nation.
Torture. Abuse. Rape. Murder. Genocide.
Slave Trade. Civil War. Jim Crow.
No evil is beyond the greedy reach of humankind. How much of it permeates the groanings of our shadowed past. Two pieces of literature in particular, Invisible Man and Going to Meet the Man, brought these dark secrets of the past sharply into the present. Though many themes could be addressed, I want to focus on the idea of the sad dehumanizing irony that occurs to those who see others as less than human, no matter the self-justifying fables that can be proffered, such as Jesse believing that “it wasn’t his fault” and that “he was only doing his duty” or the white men of Invisible Man ridiculously declaring, “We mean to do right by you.”
Historically, dehumanizing an individual, making them less human than oneself, is demonstrably a favorite move for those committed to the worst of crimes. Hitler certainly championed such a power-play. And no doubt the idea permeated the South as reflected in Jesse’s statement, “They were animals, they were no better than animals, what could be done with people like that?” Anything. Anything can be done, can be ‘justified’, when the “social equality” of humankind is removed. When equality is either a curse or a facade. When our brothers and sisters are left blindfolded, only able to declare, “I had no dignity.”
But ontologically that is not so, not within the Christian worldview at least. No human being is without dignity, though they can be treated as though that were not true; that is, they may have no recognized dignity even if they have inherent dignity. When we forget our duty to recognize this dignity of our fellow human beings a great and tragic irony occurs. Though we may consider a “whole tribe” as mere objects and pieces of less worthy flesh, existing only to fulfill the ravenous appetites of our “poisonous cottonmouths,” it is then that we become less than human, it is then that we become Lewis’ ugly heard of beasts. Though jokes may abound, though the food may be plentiful, though our friends, and even our family, may simply call it a “picnic,” at such a point we have decayed to the point of beastly. When we make those different from us invisible, it is ourselves who truly dim.