|Dr. Anthony Bradley, associate professor of theology at The King's College in New York City and a research fellow at the Acton Institute.|
“Black lives matter.” “All lives matter.” These slogans may forever summarize the deep tensions in American life in 2014. Catalyzed by the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and two New York Police officers who were murdered while sitting in a police car, Americans are in the midst of a crisis of human dignity. Are we still able to articulate why anyone’s life matters? We can loudly protest that “Black lives matter” but it will mean nothing in the long run if we cannot explain why black lives matter.
Having desiccated our shared anthropology to the point that people are defined by the pursuit of individualistic and depersonalized rights, Americans can no longer ontologically justify the claim that anyone is worthy of dignity, love, and respect. In the current crisis, we are left to reduce some of our neighbors to depersonalized nouns: “suspect,” “thug,” “criminal,” “felon,” or “cop.” This type of depersonalization is the gateway to dehumanization because it gives us permission to suspend the requirement to treat people with dignity, even if they have broken the law.
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