Focus on divinity, not humanity
The latest statements by President Duterte and his subalterns that criminals and drug offenders are not human make one reflect on the circumstances faced by Jesus, who was convicted of treason 2,000 years ago.
While apparently Jesus did not want to meddle in politics, his ministry could not but be political, preaching as he did of compassion and true piety in an environment of subjugation and hypocrisy. His singular revolutionary act of driving merchants and money changers out of the temple in Jerusalem made him a marked man. About a week after the incident, he was dead. While his reasons were religious and it was the Jewish religious authorities he offended, he was nailed with a political crime so he could be executed by the Roman authorities, who had the sole power to order executions.
Hauled before the Sanhedrin, he was asked: “Are you the Son of God?” And when he replied, “You say that I am,” they dragged him before the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, and accused him of claiming to be the “King of the Jews” and therefore of opposing the Romans.
Bleeding and torn after being mercilessly whipped, and with a crown of thorns jammed on his head, Jesus must still have in some way impressed the governor. Pilate exclaimed, “Ecce homo” (Behold the man), but the mob crying out for Jesus’ execution was not to be silenced. The Romans were actually very tolerant of different religions and did not care for religious infighting, except when it threatened the peace and infringed on their political domination. So despite Pilate’s hand-washing, Jesus was accorded the most painful and humiliating punishment reserved for noncitizens of Rome: crucifixion.
Just as the Duterte administration feels no compunction about littering our streets with the corpses of persons who are not human, so was the Roman Empire resolute about decorating its highways with crucified noncitizens who dared oppose Rome.
But Jesus was no ordinary criminal. Even as Pilate affirmed Jesus’ broken-but-unbowed humanity, whatever one’s religious beliefs, there was clearly something about Jesus that was beyond human, beyond flesh and blood. By the way he died on the cross, Jesus pointed us to what can give ultimate meaning to our human existence—something not of this world of limited perceptions, if one can call it that.
The argument used by Mr. Duterte, that criminals and drug offenders have forfeited their humanity because of the crimes they committed or are likely to commit, is a reason we can appreciate. We are not blind to the execrable behavior of money- and drug-crazed people as exemplified by the Mexican cartels, American biker gangs, and Chinese drug lords. (Imagine getting dissolved in a vat of acid or having your face duct-taped while you are bound and helpless.) That persons can be unspeakably cruel and inhumane to each other is beyond question. That the cradles of civilization and the great religions—Mesopotamia (now Iraq), Syria, and the rest of the Middle East—are the sites of unceasing, uncivil strife show clearly how so much has happened but nothing has changed.
Nonetheless, the latest reiteration by Mr. Duterte that criminals are not human is truly worrisome. Early in his administration similar statements have been spun as hyperbolic, as exaggerations, but now we know he means them literally. Sadly, when you deny the humanity of others you also deny it in yourself. That is why we must strive for something else. We must aim higher and seek the divinity we all potentially have—for that is what Jesus pointed us to—and no longer just the humanity we so easily lose and no longer value. By putting himself beyond the reach of earthly powers at the same time that he was suffering the most abysmal maltreatment at the hands of the sepulchral Pharisees and their cohorts and the professional killers that the Roman soldiers were, Jesus showed that we might be more than human and find salvation after all.
Roderick Toledo is a freelance communication projects manager.
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