Pornographers do it. Politicians do it. Sports franchises and marketing companies do it. These and many others do it – the objectification of individuals.
Objectification occurs when a person's well-being is ignored, even sacrificed, to use him or her for someone's gain or gratification. Individual worth, dignity and personality are irrelevant.
As long as the object – the person – fulfills its purpose, it is useful. However, once the gain or gratification has been realized, the object is disposable.
The most egregious example of objectification is found in pornography. Women and men are presented as nothing more than objects of sexual gratification. They are used by the porn producer for gain or the consumer for gratification and then tossed aside.
Politicians have honed objectification to a science. Individuals are votes. They are a means to the end of getting elected. People are further objectified by being assigned to demographic groups categorized by race, gender, age, philosophical leanings and even sexual behavior. Promises are made based on catering to the special interests of the categories.
However, once elected, too many politicians abandon the welfare of those who elected them to pursue an agenda all their own.
Professional athletes often are reduced to objects that produce profits for owners and amusement for fans. As long as they produce, they are loved. However, let injury or age set in and the average player is pushed out and largely forgotten.
Marketing companies objectify individuals by reducing them to nothing more than consumers. Buying habits are tracked, preferences catalogued and annual income noted in order to help their clients separate the consumer from his or her hard-earned money.
On and on we could go citing examples of individuals, institutions and organizations that succumb to the temptation to objectify individuals for their own gain and/or gratification. Ours, it seems, is an age of objectification.
Jesus' modus operandi was wholly opposite from those who would reduce individuals to objects. He valued the individual.
While it is true that Jesus addressed crowds, the Gospel accounts of His life indicate He consistently gave His time and attention to individuals in affirming both their dignity and individual worth.
Perhaps the most revealing aspect of Jesus' emphasis on the individual came in the form of a parable He told concerning a man with a lost sheep.
Found in Luke's Gospel, Jesus begins the story as follows: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it?”
From a business standpoint it does not seem very practical to leave 99 sheep alone and vulnerable to go and retrieve only one that has strayed. Wouldn't it be more prudent to stay and protect the bulk of your investment? What's one sheep compared to 99?
Jesus begins His parable by revealing He does not objectify individuals. One person is as precious to the Lord as is a crowd. Jesus recognizes something those who objectify do not; the crowd is made up of individuals who are of great worth.
Jesus' focus on the individual resulted in the crowds clamoring to hear what He had to say. He lived out the adage that people do not really care what you know until they know that you care.
Those who objectify individuals are like the person who says, “I am enthralled by the sight of a lush forest, but I am not too taken with a single tree.”
While pornographers, politicians, professional sports and marketing companies do it, you and I don't have to. Choose to see people as individuals of worth who should to be treated with dignity and not as mere objects to be used as a means to an end.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press, director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention's office of public affairs, and editor of the Baptist Message (www.baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.)