In this episode, Ryan talks to Andy Steiger and they focus on identity, asking: Who am I? It’s actually one of the questions in the film, the Human Project, which was recently released by Apologetics Canada and has caught worldwide attention. Andy talks about his involvement and how the film discusses both dehumanization and humanization, instilling that every human being is valuable no matter their ability. You’ll hear about how your view of God is the most important view that you have – the biggest test of humanity – which changes how you view yourself and other people.
Who's our guest?
Andy Steiger is the founder and director of Apologetics Canada, an organization dedicated to helping churches across Canada better understand and engage today’s culture. Andy created and hosted the Thinking Series and is the author of Thinking? Answering Life’s Five Biggest Questions. Andy’s most recent work is with The Human Project, an award-winning video series created in partnership with Power to Change.
Welcome to the indoubt podcast, where we explore the challenging topics that young adults often face. Each week, we talk with guests, who help answer questions of faith, life, and culture, connecting them to our daily experiences and God’s Word. For more info on indoubt, visit indoubt.ca or indoubt.com.
Hey, everyone. Glad to be with you today. My name is Ryan, your indoubt host. This week, we’re listening to a conversation that I had with Andy Steiger. Andy is the Young Adults Pastor at Northview Community Church, which is in Abbotsford, British Columbia. He’s also the Founder and Director of Apologetics Canada. We’ve recently had conversations that surround the question of identity. Apologetics Canada recently released their film, The Human Project. They asked four main questions. The question that I was really drawn to was, who am I? I was able to talk with Andy about human identity, value, and where the darkness of humanity really begins to creep in. Take a listen.
Okay, welcome to this episode of indoubt. Today, we have a special guest. His name is Andy Steiger. Andy has a new video series out, called The Human Project, which teaches on some of the foundational questions of what it means to be human, how we value humanity and human life, and what it looks like for humans to live their best life. Andy is currently working on his Ph.D. from Aberdeen University in Scotland and has spoken on matters of faith and life all around the world. Andy, it’s great to have you.
Thanks. It’s good to be with you.
Really good to have you, so Andy, could you tell us a little bit more about what you’re up to?
Yeah, well, I’ve been doing my Ph.D. for a number of years now. I’m just into… I’m heading into my fourth year, so I’m almost done. The topic I’ve been working on is not so much the dehumanization portion of my Ph.D. work, but more the humanization, which is interesting, because most of the research I’ve done into dehumanization tends to be able to identify the problem, but most of the works I’ve gone through doesn’t really have a solution to the problem. They can just identify it.
As Christians, we’re in a unique position, where we’re able to demonstrate not only what dehumanization is, but what does humanization look like, and how it can answer a lot of the questions and the concerns that we see going on in our culture. For me, where this project just means a lot to me is we can look back and see how people have gotten the question of humanity wrong, and we can see the implications of that.
As you look at that historically, I mean, horrible implications of what takes place when people don’t see each other correctly. This goes all the way back to Aristotle in the way that he saw people that led to justification for the slave trade, that brought us into modern times. All the way back then, equating, and dehumanization, just to be specific, happens in one of two ways, either by equating a person as an animal or an object.
Back with the slave trade, it had a foundation with Aristotle. It went farther than that, but we see it well articulated in him, with just equating that there’s some people that are better than other people, that there are some that are more akin to an animal. Then, when somebody’s viewed as an animal, they’re treated as an animal. That’s the kind of thing that we’ve seen historically.
Where I get passionate about The Human Project is I see a lot of the mistakes we’ve made in the past happening in the present. These need to be addressed and addressed quickly, because they spiral out of control. When dehumanization takes place, violence ensues. We see that. We see that consistently. We’re even seeing that right now, with what’s going on in Myanmar currently. It’s just been recently being declared a genocide that’s taking place there against the Muslim people from the Buddhists. It’s interesting because Facebook is the catalyst of what’s going on there, a nation that didn’t really have cell phones, didn’t really have internet connection, not that many years ago.
All of a sudden, they get that. They get access to Facebook, and now, all of a sudden, it’s become not just a means of checking out what your friend’s up to, but a means of communicating a hatred for a specific people. It has led quickly to violence.
Mm-hmm (affirmative), and I’m really intrigued about what you just said there, even about how so often it’s easy to identify the problem, but not to provide a solution. I think that’s so common, that in our natural tendency, we want to point the finger, but the real challenge comes when it says, what’s the solution? What’s the way forward?
The Human Project has received… a film series that has been reviewed in Christian and non-Christian environments and has won some awards. Why is that?
Yeah, so The Human Project has been in a number of film festivals this last year around the world. It’s been in the Human Rights Film Festival in Barcelona, for example. It’s been in a number of film festivals throughout the United States, Canada, and yeah, we’ve won a number of awards, from Christian film festivals and non. In a non-Christian film festival, the Compassion Film Festival, we won People’s Choice Award, which is, I think, a really cool award. Another one that we won was Best Short Film of the Year. That’s another… I’m amazed. We were excited just to get into these film festivals. Let alone, to start winning was unreal.
The film… Basically, what’s winning is The Human Project is a two-part series, in that there’s four questions, but in each question, they’re broken up into two parts. We raise the question, such as, what is human? Then we answer the question.
We travelled around the world, places like Africa and South Korea. We were in Canada, United States, filming these short films that raise the question. It’s particularly the one on “What is Human?” that we filmed in Uganda that’s won the most awards. The one in Korea has also been in a number of film festivals, as well.
Why are these videos winning these awards? What is the people that are watching them finding so captivating, so inviting?
I think that we’re clearly hitting a nerve with the culture. We’re scratching an itch if you will. What I’m finding is that, as we play these short films, and particularly… Actually, all of them have really resonated with people, even the one that we did on “What’s the Value of Human Life?” We filmed that with a girl that has cerebral palsy, and just talking about where do I locate my value if I… with this girl, who can’t even run or jump.
We tend, in our culture today, to play very much a comparison game. We’ll try to find our value in what I call the career caste system or accomplishment climbing. Man, if you’re not able to do that, it all of a sudden becomes a real challenge to identify where does your value lie?
Let me give you an example, too, that really struck me recently. I was at one of our local universities, speaking on the topic of human value, and a girl that is at the university, that’s blind, came up to me afterwards. She was in tears, as she was talking about how meaningful this conversation is to her and how much angst she feels as a person with disability. There’s a lot of people in our culture today. They’re hearing the messages that are being talked about, and the movies that are coming out, in which they’re feeling as though they’re a burden to society, and there’s many of them that are fearful. They’re fearful of what’s going to happen to me as I feel more and more like a burden, that it takes money and time and people to care for me or help me? Am I really valuable in this culture today?
This is an important message, I think, for a variety of people to wrestle with and to hear, and that we, as a culture, really need to understand. I feel like there is an interest to understand these questions out there because plan are feeling the effects of the different ways that we devalue one another.
Right, yeah, and I’m curious, again, your thoughts on how this creeps into modern thought. How does objectification and dehumanization… Where does that creep in? For somebody who has a disability, they might be thinking, I’m afraid because I don’t want to be treated a certain way because I’m-
Yeah, or devalued, but then also where does it creep into the… I’ll just call him the Average Joe, who’s maybe just living their life, and they suddenly… It’s not like everyone’s just like, oh, I’m going to go murder someone. However, the steps towards genocide… They happen somewhere, and it begins at some place. I’m curious your thoughts, like where does that slippery slope start?
Honestly, it starts all the way at the beginning, with children. There’s a book out, by the way, that’s just a key example of dehumanization, and it was sponsored by the Canadian Government, of all things. It’s a children’s book, you can find it at your local library, that’s called, You Are Stardust. It’s this children’s book that I remember finding with my kids. We were reading through this book, because my kids love space right now, and so they thought this would be a cool book.
We’re flipping through this, reading together. This was a couple years ago. This book basically explains to our children that they are made of carbon. Carbon is made from dying stars, and thus, they are stardust, as Carl Sagan famously concluded. Now, the problem is that’s where it ends, and so your child is left going, “Okay, I’m cosmic dirt?”
The reality is you and I would never want our children to be treated that way, nor to treat anyone else that way. You can’t end there. Now, the part that gets concerning for me is how are you going to answer that question, “Am I more than stardust, though?” We would agree with their conclusion. Of course, we’re made of carbon. Carbon is made from dying stars. Yeah, yeah, I get it, but I’m clearly more than stardust, right? What is that?
I actually wrote a book in response to this, called What Am I? It’s a children’s book, in which I seek to answer this question that I’m more than stardust, and that, in fact, we define a thing, not by its parts, but by the purpose of the whole. You find this with anything. I think I saw you have a machine on your wrist. If I asked you what it was, no one would go, “Oh, hey, do you like my glass, plastic, and metal? Isn’t it great?” You know, you never define it by its parts. You would say, “Oh, it’s a watch,” you know?
Because you define it by its purpose. I wrote a book that said, “What if we look at a human being that way?” The Human Project is very much centred on this. What if we take a bigger look at what it means to be human? Not just our parts, that’s objectification, but what does it look like when I see the whole of me as a human being? What’s my purpose as a human?
Now that, though, is a conversation that starts to make our culture feel uncomfortable because that is a conversation that has to go beyond physics. It has to go beyond the hard sciences, which this gets interesting, by the way, and starts to creep into engineering, right? Notice that there’s a difference between the physicist and the engineer. One’s studying the parts. The other one’s manipulating those parts into a purposeful whole.
When we look at a human being, we see something that’s engineered, which raises questions of, “Well, what’s the purpose that I was created for?” Now, there’s some people that obviously would conclude, on say an atheistic worldview, that there is no purpose, right? Then it becomes very reductionistic, in that you and I are just parts. I think that’s one of the reasons why our culture is concerned, is they’re starting to realize that secular ideologies are inherently dehumanizing, and this becomes problematic. What I’m seeing in a lot of authors is they’re recognizing that that’s a problem, and there’s this desire to… How do you fix that? It’s going to be metaphysical to fix that. You have to take a bigger view, a holistic view.
That’s where I think, again, coming back to, as a Christian, we have a unique and important place in our culture to answer these questions. By the way, we have historically done so. Christianity is a historically humanizing religion, not to say that we haven’t gotten it wrong in the past. They have, but it’s often… This is interesting, as well. It’s often when Christians have gotten it wrong in the past, that Christians were the first to challenge them about getting it wrong in the past, and that this needs to be remedied.
Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah, I even find that very interesting, because common worldviews, even that are prevalent today, are a hedonistic style of living. How am I going to live to enjoy life, because there is no purpose in life? Then we think, well, if life and joy comes from satisfying my desires, well, maybe I’ll just satisfy mine over satisfying or helping somebody else. It just shifts towards, again, who has the power in society. Those are typically people who are able to work and be creative and go to school and get good jobs, and then build up themselves. The people in the wayside are the ones that are subjugated and objectified.
Then there’s that mentality of feeling, am I a tax on society? We see this… I mean, we don’t have to go too far back into the last century, where we see a lot of that coming up with Nazism, and hey, there’s people in our world that are a burden on us. Let’s just remove them, as a whole.
Yeah, and if we could just… Let’s just take that one for an example. This is an important area that a lot of people in the West, or particularly in North American, they think that, oh, our history’s pretty good. We’ve gotten it right. It’s those Nazis that are the problem. What they don’t realize is, what you just brought up, eugenics, which is Greek for being wellborn, that started in the United States. That began with people like Charles Davenport. In fact, it even goes back to Britain with a guy by the name of Galton, who was a half-cousin to Charles Darwin, in which he coined the term eugenics, and really tried to get it going in Britain. It didn’t really take off, but it did in the U.S. and was actually federally funded in 32 states in the U.S., with a variety of different ways in which eugenics was implemented.
By the way, on this note, remember I said that we dehumanize him one of two ways, either treating somebody as an object or an animal. I gave you an example of the way we do that lately, with viewing a person as an object. In the past, and one of the things that we actually are seeing as well these days, is treating a person as an animal, which was vividly demonstrated in the United States, in 1906, when Ota Benga, a man from the Congo, was brought and put into the Bronx Zoo in New York and was displayed with an orangutan, which it was believed at that time and taught at the highest universities that sub-Saharan Africans were, in fact, missing links. They were animals, and then they were treated as such.
The idea that a lot of people forget, and I’m coming back to this Nazi thing, is that with Charles Darwin, a lot of people forget that his book, Origin of Species, has a subtitle, which is The Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life, and very much has this idea that evolution is taking place on that mindset within people, within the animals, right? Some, then, are going to be more wellborn than others. That’s where you get this eugenics idea, which was then just being put into practice in the United States. Ultimately, Hitler picked up on those ideas and just took them to their extreme in Nazi Germany. I mean, he was inspired by the U.S.
The foundation was already there.
Already there. That gets back to this whole point that we’ve got to be so careful, as we move forward, that we have a keen eye on what’s taken place in the past, and that we understand clearly where we’ve made mistakes in the past, as we move forward. It’s very easy to think, oh, it was just those crazy Nazis that got it wrong. No, no, no, no, there’s plenty of blame to go around for all of us.
What you begin to realize, as you start to adjust your perspective on this, is you start to realize where you and I make a lot of these same errors in our thinking all the time. If I could say one thing that the viewers might find interesting, and something just to ponder… In my research, as I’ve looked at genocide, and I’ve just looked at dehumanization, I’ve yet to see an example where people kill people. I’ve yet to see a historical example of it. What you find is that it’s far too difficult for a person to kill another person. It’s much more simple, though, if you dehumanize that other person, and you equate them as an object or an animal. Then it’s very easy to do whatever you like to that person.
This is the whole basis of the slave trade. People were never enslaving people. Again, there is no example of that, historically. There’s people enslaving animals, where they just… That was, again, going back to Aristotle. They just didn’t see those people as human beings.
In their mind, it wasn’t… They, as people, were not enslaving people.
I mean, the reality is that they were, but in their mind, they were fully justified by the belief that this person is not as valuable. They’re an animal.
That’s right. They’re not as evolved as you and I. Here’s another one that might surprise people, because a lot of people think, oh man, those Christians and their issues with evolution, and going all the way back to the Monkey-Scopes Trial, and going, “What is wrong with those Christians?” History often gets whitewashed. I would encourage people. Go back. Read those primary sources, and see for yourself what actually took place. In those situations, what you see is that Christians had a problem with evolution that was not just some sort of scientific issue. It fundamentally was also an issue of eugenics. When you go back to, say, the Monkey-Scopes Trial, and you see the textbooks that the Christians were speaking out against, these were incredibly racist textbooks that talked about how there was this hierarchy of humanity, and that the Europeans were at the top of that list.
You see that one of the things that the Christians were fighting against was the dehumanization of evolution. It’s interesting. Now, that has been completely forgotten from the whole conversation, and those textbooks have been conveniently forgotten, as well, but you can go and you can see for yourself, the way people were viewing one another and treating each other because of that.
I’m thinking in my mind right now, as we’re having this conversation. I’m thinking about Jesus, how he embodied a completely cultural different worldview. He fully had a Kingdom mindset of heavenly perspective and the class difference… He just cut right through it. The woman at the well that He meets within John 4… That’s not a normal interaction, right? People forget that, that Jesus actually met with a woman, who was a Samaritan, and He was a male Jew. Now, today, we’re like, oh yeah, men and women hang out all the time. Yeah, but it was so different then, and Jesus just completely does a countercultural thing there.
That’s a great example because that was a classic first-century illustration of dehumanization. Samaritans were referred by the Jews as half-breeds. They were viewed as half-breeds because, during the Babylonian captivity, when the Jews were taken out of Israel into Babylon, there were some Jews that remained in the land, and they began to intermarry, and so they began to be despised. As well, they also had different religious practices. They only held to the first five books of the Old Testament and believed that Mount Gerizim was the proper place of worship and not the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
Think about that, then, with regards to Jesus. He, then, is loving and caring for somebody, who’s being culturally dehumanized, and He’s taking a real risk in doing that, with how that’s going to look with other people, as He loves and cares for her. Also, He’s loving and caring for somebody that He doesn’t agree with. This is often forgotten. Jesus didn’t agree with the Samaritans. He believed that they were wrong, but that didn’t stop Him from loving them.
A lot of people in our current culture have this bizarre problem that we’ve got to get straight, and that is that we can love people that we disagree with, that those two are not synonymous. You don’t have to agree with somebody to love them. You can passionately disagree with somebody and passionately love them at the same time, and Jesus is a great example of that.
Yeah, and I think a lot of times, people have a hard time connecting those two dots and like, okay, well, what does that look like for today?
This is one of the things that I love about the Church and I love about being a Christian, is that we are called to be the Church. We don’t have closed doors to different ethnicities and groups and disabilities. We are open doors to all people because under the Christian worldview, we are all one under Christ. There is no division. Jesus came, and Paul says this beautifully in Ephesians, to break down the walls of hostility that keep us from God and one another. This is a key component of the Christian tradition, is to be a humanizing religion.
This is interesting, because, in Christianity, your humanity isn’t based on what you can do. It’s not based on your ethnicity, your race, or any of those sorts of things. It is just simply based on your humanity. It is inherent. Your dignity, or that’s another word for value, is inherent to being human. You were made in the image of God, as Genesis tells us in 1:26 and 27, both male and female, and you have value.
Think about this for a second, the value of humanity under Christianity that you see nowhere else. You and I naturally value a thing, based on two criteria: who made it, and what somebody’s willing to pay. In Christianity, we have an interesting answer to that. You’re made by God in His image. How much is He willing to pay? Well, He sent His Son, the incarnate God, God in the flesh, who lived and died for you.
Jesus says, “Listen, what’s the most you can pay for something?” Not a dollar amount… It’s your life. God demonstrated our value through His Son’s willingness to lay down His life for us. We have incredible value in Christ. Talk about humanizing. It just excites me. This is the good news of the Gospel.
Mm-hmm (affirmative), and that’s one of the questions that I’d like to direct us towards, even now, is how do we … If we’ve grown up in this worldview or this perspective of… We’ve taken science classes in high school, and we’re at university right now, and we’re wrestling with all these challenging thoughts and belief systems and value. They’re ideas that are challenging the way that we look at the foundations of belief, so how we believe others to be and how we believe ourselves to be.
How do we, then, orient ourselves to a healthy perspective? What would be a step in the right direction, for someone to say, you know what? I’m going to practice this rhythm, or I’m going to dig into this textbook, or I’m going to focus my time in this way, or am I going to be in this type of community? How do we orient ourselves to having a healthy perspective on human value?
Yeah, that’s a great question. One of the reasons why I call this The Human Project is because you and I are The Human Project. You see, we can not only dehumanize other people. We can dehumanize ourselves. It goes both ways.
One of the most important things for you and I to do, as we begin to make sure that we have a clear perspective of our humanity and the humanity of other people is we… Now, this is interesting. We first need to get our view of God straight. That’s number one.
I think it’s interesting. When Jesus is repeatedly asked, “What’s the most important thing for me to know?” He keeps going back to Deuteronomy 6 and saying, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength,” right? That’s a Hebraic way of saying, “Love God with everything that it means to be a human being.” This begins to change the way you see the world, because if you and I are made in the image of God, then the greater my view of God, the greater my view of people that are made in His image.
Your view of God is the most important view that you have. It is the litmus test of humanization, right? This becomes an important aspect of Christianity, that we have a high view of God. Thus, we have a high view of people. That starts to change the way that I see myself, as I start to focus in on my love for the Lord. Now, Jesus adds to the Shema, Leviticus 19, “and love your neighbour as yourself,” the idea there being that as I become to see myself clearly through God, through Christ, then this begins to change the way that I not only see myself. It changes the way I see other people. I will begin to love what God loves, and God loves people.
Now, if I could just put one last thing on there, maybe a little bow on that, the Apostle Paul says… He says this in Colossians 1:28, that it’s His desire to make everyone perfect in Christ. This is such an interesting idea. The word perfect is the word for, in Greek, that’s off the word telos or design, purpose, right? It’s the idea of when something fully accomplishes what it was designed to do, that’s perfect.
You and I tend to have this idea that perfection is some unattainable ideal, and that’s just not the case. The goal here is that we would fulfill the purpose that we were created for. That’s perfection. What we see in Christ repeated continually is that the purpose of humanity, going back again to what I just said, is to love God and to love people, that we would be a community that is in relationship with God and one another, and that becomes inherently humanizing, as we get our focus on Christ straight.
Yeah, Andy, this has been great. I have learned lots from talking with you, and I’m excited to continue on this relationship, as we, in the future, have more times where we get to engage and discuss some of the important issues of our world and faith today. Andy, it’s been great. Thanks for being on.
Thanks for having me.
Thanks, again, for joining us on this episode of indoubt with Andy Steiger. You can follow Andy on instagram @andysteiger. For more information on Apologetics Canada, go to apologeticscanada.com. The annual Apologetics Canada Conference is happening this March 1 and 2, and this year, the theme is freedom. There will be very many different speakers, who are going to be talking on different aspects of freedom in our lives. indoubt will actually have a booth there, so if you’re in Abbotsford or surrounding areas, grab your ticket online at apologeticscanadaconference.com. Come, give me a visit. I’ll be there, and I would love to connect with you. Stay connected with us for next week’s episode, as we talk with Chris Price, where I ask him some quickfire questions about our culture and how to live in faith in the midst of it.
Thanks so much for listening. If you want to hear more, subscribe on iTunes and Spotify, or visit us online at indoubt.ca or indoubt.com. We’re also on social media, so make sure to follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.