“Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,” begins the UN Declaration of Human Rights, framed in the wake of the most devastating war anyone had seen. There was no sense of when, or how, of even if, peace was possible.
But the UN nonetheless proclaimed what is perhaps as audacious an idea as any we have seen: the inherent dignity of all members of the human family.
The dignity. Not the autonomy or the self-sufficiency or the rational abilities or the presumed innocence. Not something contingent on someone’s present exercise of particular political rights. Not something earned or merited.
This is the beginning of human rights: human dignity. It is inherent and it belongs to all members of the human family. It's the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.
Reports were recently released about the torture of 9/11 detainees by the C.I.A. The reports are gruesome, and devastating, but we should read them. The New York Times detailed seven key points from the report here; Vox has 16 details here; and ABC News has a brief overview here. There are many more. I encourage you to search for them, read them in editorials and in news articles. The full report can be downloaded here.
What strikes me so profoundly in these days leading up to Christmas is that the report is full of stories about the theft of a person’s dignity, the reducing of a member of the human family to what someone called, “a dog that had been kenneled”.
Dignity, that foundation of freedom, justice, and peace, is the thing that such torture robs first.
How are we to say that we are champions of peace, freedom, and justice when, in the pursuit of these lofty goals, we rob others of their dignity, make them stay awake for 180 hours, repeatedly almost-drown them, worsen their injuries and threaten their families?
These things are not the championing of peace or justice. These are violations of the inherent dignity of human beings. And we should be outraged. Injustice is not only a wrong done where a right should have been done; injustice is also the absence of any question of justice, any interrogation about justice. As citizens, we must ask, we must press, we must insist, that the question of justice be among the first we ask our leaders, our fellows, our community members, and ourselves.
We are so often content to sit in the midst of news and denounce it or defend it, but we are not willing to write to our Congress person. We are not willing to vote. We are not willing to organize a protest or put up a petition or tell our friends to read the stories.
So please, read the stories. Read about the UN’s call for prosecution against the leaders who perpetuated the torture. Read the report. Read commentaries on the report - by legal experts and former CIA officials and members of the Bush administration and members of the committee and press into the difficult conversation with the people you live with and love.
Because we further rob the dignity of these members of the human family if we pretend that their torture does not merit our mourning and our outrage and our concern.
God comes down at Christmas. Comes down robed in flesh, robed in humanity, drawing us into the very mystery of Himself in the quiet, frightened, rejoicing night. God does not come down for some members of the family, for some flesh and blood and bone, to give some dignity.
God comes down and from cradle to cross presses on the injustice of the world with widening arms, for not just some, but for all members of the human family.
God comes down, to draw us to Himself.
So should we not also draw near to one another?
-Hilary Yancey is a Ph.D. student in philosophy at Baylor University, where she hopes to focus her studies in bioethics and the philosophy of the human person. You can find Hilary writing about everyday life and faith at her blog:http://thewildlove.wordpress.com chatting on Twitter and Instagram at @hilaryyancey.