I was raised in a time and place—another world really—where we believed that every man and woman, and child even, was worthy and valuable, and each person possessed an inherent dignity by simple virtue of existing. It didn’t matter what color their skin, or what they believed, or where they came from. Admittedly, we didn’t all practice this perfectly, but it was what was taught and what we learned, and how we tried to live with one another; it was the noble goal of our lives, even when we failed to live it out.
In fact, we were taught—and we believed it—that everyone was made in the image and likeness of God. Imagine that! And though each of us failed to live up to that likeness, still, the essence of who we were was divine and filled with dignity. And armed with this belief it was near impossible to see another human being as a thing—an object—or to look down upon them for any reason.
However, this did not mean that we weren’t held to high standards of conduct, in all things; we were made in God’s image after all! So, certainly there were reasons to admonish, or suggest, or instruct one another—to guide—when one of us inevitably lost our way; as it happened to all of us from time to time. And this was an aspect of our love; upholding what was Godly in one another, and therefore most noble and pure within us, and also what is most essentially true about our being human.
But now I live in a new world—and in this time and place—God is being forgotten. And by extension, our awareness of human divinity is also fading away. Now, if one suggests that all people, regardless of race or religion or political affiliation, are created in God’s image and likeness, we might hear in response, “God who?!”
Instead, the people in this world have been taught, and they believe it: “I think, therefore I am! And therefore what I think I am—this is what I am!” What they are, is no longer dependent upon God, but simply upon what they think. More efficient, less complicated, remove the middleman; nobody is the boss of me any longer!
I had the strange experience to visit a place recently—I won’t mention exactly where—but a place populated by folks who had, from a very early age, all been taught that they were not at all the sum of their parts, but completely on the contrary, they were all taught to identify their entire personhood with a mere portion of themselves. They had complete freedom to choose what part they wanted to be, they could be their race, or their gender, or whatever they fancied; in fact, even if they wished to be something that had no relation to themselves at all, they were entitled to be that, if they had the compulsion and desire.
Oh, the freedom they all enjoyed! Whatever they thought they were, suddenly they became that thing! It was a magical place; though it seemed unreal, and in the end, it made me a little bit sad. They could be anything they wanted; but they never knew who they really were.
One group I met there was particularly fascinating to me. They had been raised, of course, like everyone else in this place, with the mantra, “What I think I am, this I am”, but this sect had also been taught from the very beginning: “You are what you eat!” Now to you and me, this is more of a figurative statement, but for them it was literal fact. And so some believed themselves to be hamburgers, while others were certain that they were soda-pop, and nearly all of them believed, to various degrees, that they were French fries.
They clearly didn’t eat very well. But apart from their poor nutrition, I was concerned for their mental and emotional well-being. And, coming from the world that I did, I also cared deeply about their spiritual health; I could clearly see they were made in God’s image and likeness, even if they couldn’t see it. I wanted to help them see and believe they were more than simply what they ate. They were more than what they thought, or what they felt; and they were more than a mere small portion of themselves—even if they identify deeply with that part—even if they were taught, and believed and accepted, that their complex personhood could be reduced to a mere hamburger.
So I tried to explain this to them, but you know, folks don’t like being told things. I was accused of hating them, since I didn’t accept what they thought they were. And if I couldn’t see that they were really French fries, then I was obviously a bigot, and I should work on myself, and maybe get my eyes checked. “But!” I protested, “You all can be, and are, so much more than merely what you eat…or simply what you think. Yes, you might be anything, but not in this way; this isn’t really freedom after all. You are an entire human being, a whole and unique part of this wide and grand human family; and this already means that you are something quite special and spectacular!”
And had it been a former time and place—the old world—they might have listened to me; but needless to say—in this world—they canceled me. And when I got back home again, I received an email from their lawyers, inviting me to learn more about people who think they are food. So that I might become a more loving and accepting person in the future.