Stripped of Humanity

Reflections on the Stations of the Cross

Jesus is Stripped Of His Clothes


Photo by Ania Krawet, via Flickr

The first summer I worked with my dad on the farm, we were also preparing for my sister’s wedding. One morning my mother came out of her room and grabbed me by the arms with a vaguely wild look in her eye. “I dreamed that you were getting married, and you climbed up in the tractor in your wedding dress! And you didn’t know what to do with the train, so you shoved it behind the seat, in all that dust and grease!

Human society has always imposed a complicated set of guidelines about attire. We choose styles to disguise the imperfections of the body, to flatter our figures or our skin tone, to show respect or to convey a mood. You can overdress and insult a host; you can under-dress and insult a host. We judge people by their clothing choices (Example A: the flap about people wearing jeans/shorts/spaghetti straps/etc. to church. Example B: the saggy pants phenomenon). Schools and workplaces have dress codes, because theoretically, what you wear tells something about you.

Nakedness just isn’t done. It conveys an image of vulnerability or licentiousness, depending on the context. Being stripped naked as a public punishment? That’s a big deal. To be vulnerable is one thing. To have it forced upon you is much worse.

When nakedness is used as a weapon, it dehumanizes the victim. The Romans certainly weren’t the only guilty parties. The Nazis come to mind, and I’m pretty sure nakedness has been used by the “good guys” to get prisoners to talk, too. At a more local level, if you think about it, sexual abuse does the same thing: it forcibly exposes what is meant to be intensely personal.

You and I are not the kind of people who would use nakedness as a weapon. But focus on the end rather than the means, and this hits pretty close to home.

Let’s face it: virtually all of us routinely and systematically go around dehumanizing people who are “other.” Gay or lesbian, ethnicity, Protestant, Catholic, Muslim, atheist, entitled rich, lazy poor, crunchy-granola, Republican, Democrat, “traditional”, “happy-clappy”–we generalize, we label, we list reasons why an individual member of a group is different, and by extension, less-than. Don’t blow this off. It’s insidious. The best of us do it, and most of us aren’t “the best.” If you want to know the truth I caught myself doing it the other day.

And free speech has trained us to say whatever we want about anything and anyone without regard for the dignity of the people involved. I’ve stopped reading through the comments on news stories because I always come away feeling a little nauseous.

Photo by Howard*k, via Flickr

Facebook, Twitter & all are terrific resources, capable of enriching our lives and connecting us to people long gone. But they also make it easy to blanket the airwaves with rants we would never dare to speak to the person involved. That would be rude! Couch it in generalities, though, attach the words, “just sayin'” or “I don’t mean to offend BUT…” and we figure it’s par for the course.

Deep down, we know the darts are still going to hit their marks. But we’re more concerned about our own right to opine than we are about the dignity of others.

And every time we engage in this behavior, we do just as the Romans did when they tried to strip Jesus of his humanity.

Something to think about.