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I Can’t Call Myself…

Then I said, “That’s why I can’t call myself a human being anymore!”

The conversation had been about impoverished parents selling their children into the sex trade, to be used and abused by slimy first-world sex-tourists.

Human beings do too many terrible things. Their legacy is horrific. Really, “people” are just as bad as human beings. That’s why I now refer to myself (and I ask others to honor this) as either a “sentient being,” or sometimes “a species of great ape.” “Homo sapiens,” if you must. But too much bloodshed and duplicity is associated with “human being.” It’s a label I can’t bear.

Teasing on the playground. Targeting young girls who want an education. Planning terrorist attacks. Waterboarding. Underpaying employees. Not recycling. Buying elections. Fudging boundaries so your Little League team wins. Being self-righteous and pompous. All of this, done by people. When others meet me, only to hear that I am a person, how can they not but think I have something to do with all this?elepahant slaughter

While human beings may try to deny it, they’re warming up the atmosphere, perhaps to a point of no return. These same human beings are slaughtering elephants for ivory. And what about whaling? Such savagery. All this, done by human beings. I hear that gorillas and chimpanzees can sometimes be a little nasty toward one another. But to me it is clear that I’d much rather be lumped with great apes than be called a human being even one more time.

Here in Iowa, the city of Des Moines spends thousands of dollars a day removing nitrates from our drinking water. Nitrates put there by—you guessed it—“people” upstream. These same nitrates cause a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. People!iowa nitrates

Humans have been causing trouble for a long time now. The guillotine and the Reign of Terror, Thomas Jefferson and his slave “wife” Sally Hemings, Soviet gulags in Siberia—all great human accomplishments. Humanist/humanism—they’re labels many seem able to wear with elegance and charm. I however need to disassociate from the all skeletons (literally) in the human closet.gulag

Two labels I will wear:

I am religious. There are practices and beliefs, rituals and traditions that are binding to me. I don’t want to make up my own way. I don’t want to be spiritual either. I find that my spirit is rather droopy, trite, and undisciplined. Religion—trusting that others before me are wiser than I am, understanding that ancient paths are still with us for a reason, necessarily being subsumed by a social body, even “going through the motions” when necessary—these things I want.

Jesus bobbleI am Christian. Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, the unique and unsurpassable revelation of Almighty God. Exclusive and arrogant as that may sound, I try to hold it lightly. I don’t want to be merely a Christ-follower, or Jesus-imitator, or friend and fellow traveler with the guy. Jesus is the eternal Word of God, made flesh for me and my salvation, and by his life, death, resurrection, and ascension, the course of the universe is somehow altered.

I understand that with the label “Christian” comes not only good-guy Jesus, but also the crusades and the inquisition,servetus (thanks for pointing that out, Barack), burning Servetus in Geneva, the Ku Klux Klan, and subjugating the Native Americans, as well as probably ten thousand other indigenous peoples. For all the bloodletting, there is manipulating, shaming, and trivializing–thirty, sixty and a hundredfold.

Hateful, judgmental, and hypocritical—pollsters apparently find these are the terms young Americans associate with my Christians. What can I say? Families are often obnoxious and embarrassing, but they’re still yours. Beside, while I’m relatively certain that the charge of genocide won’t stick to me—not directly at least—I’m not such a peach myself. Readers like you put up with my petty and peevish blogs. Congregants deal with a sarcastic and bullheaded pastor. I’m boorish and snappy and inattentive to my loved ones. All that, and a Christian too. Still, I can live with it.

Just don’t call me a “human being” or “person” any longer. Please, please, please, it’s too ugly for me to bear.

Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell

Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell is a recently retired minister of the Reformed Church in America. He has been the convener of the Reformed Journal’s daily blog since its inception in 2011. He and his wife, Sophie, reside in Des Moines, Iowa.

One Comment

  • Sara Tolsma says:

    As a biologist, remembering my chemical and physiological connection to the rest of creation along with the hurt imposed on creation is a call to humility and confession. Thank you Steve! I will use this in my confessional prayers this week.

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