A Former Person: Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD

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24 Responses

  1. Michael says:

    I hope this article goes viral.
    We’re in deep trouble as a culture unless we choose to change how we relate to each other.
    History tells us that the next step beyond dehumanizing people is eliminating those we have stripped of their personhood…but we think ourselves better than that…

  2. Duane Arnold says:


    In secular society, it has become the norm. It’s expressed most blatantly in name-calling. Once they hang a epithet on someone – “loser”, “low IQ”, etc. – it ends any sort of dialogue.

    What concerns me, however, are Christians taking up this tactic of stripping away the humanity of any perceived opponent. In that it demeans others made in the image of God, in that it devalues the Incarnation, it needs to be called out. If you devalue the Incarnation, how is this any different from Arianism or any of the other heretical movements that diminished or devalued the person of Christ? While we may not be justified by our conduct (works)… our conduct does indicate the nature of our faith…

  3. Rob Diamond says:

    Very thought provoking insights. A lot to chew on.

  4. bob1 says:

    Great article, Duane.

    Yes, I wince when I hear what I consider to be dehumanizing language about ‘others’ — “right wingers” and “libs” are two that I hear on the radio and come to mind. And it’s not only the
    words, but the contempt and sneering attitude behind them that’s especially toxic. IMHO. This
    stuff can spread like a cancer and poison our souls.

  5. Duane Arnold says:


    Anger you can deal with… contempt means you’re written off as being of no value.

  6. JoelG says:

    Thank you for this in particular:

    “In stripping away the personhood of the individual behind the name, we give no thought to their life experience, or to their history, or to their education, or their struggles, or their reading, or their service to others, or the many other aspects of their life and thought.“

    Do you think there is something to be said for spending less time online and more time focusing on those in relatively close proximity to us in our daily lives? Or is it our responsibility as Christians to enter in to public discussion?

  7. Duane Arnold says:


    I sometimes wonder about the value of engaging people online whom we hardly know. I’ve chosen to write in such a manner to make myself “known” to people in this online community. Even with that, there is much that is not known, such as I struggled with a speech impediment for years which required surgery and years of therapy to correct. Now, you might think that a small thing, but it has shaped much of how I approach people with various disabilities. Knowing what shapes a person enables us to seek understanding a person’s point of view, rather than dismissing it simply because it does not align with our own.

    Similarly, most do not know that my father was born dirt poor and only made his way out of poverty to be a successful business man owing to the CCC during the Great Depression. That informs how I view government programs… I could go on.

    So to answer your question, yes, I think we need to start with those whom we know. We can also participate in public discussion, but we should do it with grace.

  8. JoelG says:

    Thank you for answering and sharing those things, Duane.

  9. DavidM says:

    Another great article, Duane.
    What most concerns me right now is that many of my Christian friends have chosen to not hear the opposing viewpoint. THEIR side is the right one, THEIR theology is the best one, God is on THEIR side. And there seems to be no ability to hear anything else objectively. Yesterday I was talking with a long-time Christian friend who moved to another state. In the course of our conversation, he said, “It’s great here, there’s not a liberal within 100 miles”. I also have a Christian relative who moved from California to a more “conservative” state. In each of these cases, my thought is that Jesus said to “go INTO the world”, not retreat from the world. When I’ve brought up Trump’s words, captured in a video, where he said of women, “Just grab ‘em by the . . .”, the reply was, yeah but the economy is healthy, he is pro-life, and on and on. People see and hear what they want to hear. Among many of my friends, at least, there is little objectivity. It is nearly impossible to engage in a rational, meaningful conversation about politics or our nation. The extreme of that is what you have described, the dehumanizing of those who think differently. Man, it is really discouraging.

  10. Em says:

    I have had some success with those “labelers” – if you engage them, ignore their contempt, they (some) suddenly realize that they are talking to a fellow human being… ?.
    The others? Well, they’re Gods problem

  11. filbertz says:

    Duane–well said. I’m always looking for a great read and will order the novel identified above. I appreciate your words on this topic–I imagine it feels like an insurmountable task to speak to a culture that shouts while capping its collective ears. The manner in which our social discourse is going, I’d be curious to hear your thoughts as to the inner drives that are fueling it. I think fear, ingratitude, and xenophobia are my initial top three. Thoughts?

  12. Duane Arnold says:


    Many thanks. Yes, I think you’re right in your observations, I’ve seen the same thing. It sometimes seems to me as if it is old fashioned self-righteousness on steroids. I think that there is also a good bit of self-satisfaction at work as well. In forgetting our common humanity, I think many evangelical Christians have also forgotten our common mission… regardless of our politics.

  13. bob1 says:

    I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what JoelG and Duane havearticulated so well — how many people, thanks to the Internet, etc., are in tune with ‘national’ or nonlocal discussions but doing nothing locally? I think there’s a strong case to be made for physical, local interactions. We need to realize that people exist in contexts, not abstractions.

  14. Duane Arnold says:


    I think that fear, ingratitude and xenophobia are all certainly present. I think, however, that there is an over-riding resentment at work as well. There are a vast number of people who feel that they have never really been heard by the powers that be. They feel that “elites” in government, education and society at large have looked down their noses at them. That resentment now has a voice. Moreover, that voice has said that rational discussion or debate favors the elites and has replaced reasoned discussion with slogans. They have been given permission to move from anger and resentment to contempt for others. If someone is angry, you can reason with them, or try to calm them down. When however that person regards you with contempt, little can be said… you are “a former person”. This is payback for long simmering resentments.

    Think of the generals, policy experts, ambassadors, etc. who have been dismissed. It is not their judgement, ability or expertise that is questioned. They are simply labeled and made of no-account. Whether it is a war hero, or a gold star family, or a woman standing up for herself, the routine is the same – derision, contempt, dismissal. Yet we should recognize that many of those who support this sort of conduct feel that they have been derided, dismissed and held in contempt for years. We all have a lot to learn unless, of course, it’s too late…

  15. directambiguity says:

    A “Godless Baby killing Democrat…” would still be a person created in the image of God. But not all ideas, theologies, religions, cultures, politics and so on are of equal value. I think it’s important to not conflate the value of a person with the value of other things.

    For instance, I put a very low value on that song and find it very misleading. Ever notice that many people who hate Trump are some of the some most evil diabolical people in the world and then we have I guess 19% of white evangelicals who agree with them. It seems easy for there to be some confusion.

  16. filbertz says:

    Duane–I think your identification of “resentment” is helpful and a good working concept moving forward. It also was the feeling capitalized on in the Russian revolution and the rise of Nazi Germany. Cautionary tales, both.

  17. Em says:

    Was the French Revolution righteous?

  18. Duane Arnold says:


    With respect, I think you have missed the point….

  19. Duane Arnold says:


    I’m not sure what this question has to do with the topic at hand…

  20. Michael says:

    “Ever notice that many people who hate Trump are some of the some most evil diabolical people in the world”…
    No, I haven’t.
    There are good and evil people on both sides.

  21. Duane Arnold says:


    It’s just so much easier to attach a label…

  22. filbertz says:

    Em–I think your reference keyed off my comment, but most revolutions tapped in to simmering resentments or offences of the ruling class, monarchy, or dictator. Few have been righteous–in my own opinion–our own included. When the revolt cascades into mass slaughter, the ends never justify the means. I fear our civil discord could easily boil over into senseless acts of violence.

  23. bob1 says:

    I fear our civil discord could easily boil over into senseless acts of violence.

    I’m afraid it already has…

  24. Em says:

    Thank you, Filbertz…. Agree

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