Keeping the Human in Humanity

on September 10, 2015

The above-the-fold photo on the front page of the Washington Post my first day back from vacation was of the police officer recovering the body of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi dead the surf on a Turkish beach. According to the Wall Street Journal, Aylan was one of twelve who drowned after the fifteen-foot boat carrying them from Turkey to Greece capsized. Aylan’s family, refugees from Syria, was on route to freedom and safety in Europe. The illegal trip had cost €4,000 ($4,460) in addition to the deaths of Aylan, his five-year-old brother, Galip, and their mother, Rehan.

In the movie CasablancaHumphrey Bogart tells Ingrid Bergman, “I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.” He couldn’t have been more wrong.

Given a world with more than seven billion people, it may be only natural and reasonable for us to think of nameless, faceless masses. The crowds of Middle Eastern immigrants marching from Hungary to Austria seem to be just that: crowds, mobs, hordes, multitudes. But it’s merely a coping trick of the mind, not reality.

Where we see crowds, God sees individuals. Each has a name and a face, a history and a future, a family and a purpose. “There are no ordinary people,” C. S. Lewis declared in The Weight of Glory. “You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations — these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit — immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”

Yet we allow individuals to become abstractions and when that happens it is to the detriment of the individuals in need, the world, and our souls.

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