The year 2024 marks 30 years since Apartheid was abolished in 1994 in South Africa. In terms of lengths and days, we are not too far away from an era of oppression that occurred in the time of 1948 to 1994, which saw the legal system in South Africa segregating South Africans by the colour of their skin into the categories of white, bantu (blacks), and coloured. The implications of such laws strictly prohibited social contact between the races, and saw and enforced the creation of distinct facilities for the different categories, jobs, educational access and resources, public health systems and responses, and areas to live in (Stanford University nd). This problem was exacerbated with the quality of these dwellings and facilities, often being deliberately of inferior quality for the bantu and the coloured categories, in comparison to those of the white (BBC nd). Of these proceedings, Martin Luther King, Jr. declared, “Colonialism and segregation are nearly synonymous … because their common end is economic exploitation, political domination, and the debasing of human personality.” (Southern Christian Leadership Conference 1962).

In the United States of America on the other hand, as a parallel example, we understand that the starting point of slavery can be documented to the year 1619, when a sailing crew placed twenty enslaved Africans that they had captured from a Portuguese ship on the shores of the British colony, Jamestown Virginia. This marked the start of a thriving slave labour with European and American slave traders trafficking as many as 12.5 million Africans in the 17th century, and approximately 6.5 million persons in the 18th century to work on the colony plantations ( 2024). It was only in 1862, that conversations with regard to the emancipation of those in slavery began. On the 3rd of  April 1862, the District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act was passed. This act was put into place with the lofty goal of allotting freedom to all enslaved persons within the jurisdiction of the federal district. On the 1st of January, 1863, then President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the Emancipation Proclamation which provided liberty to those enslaved in the Confederate States not occupied by Union forces. The Thirteenth Amendment put into force the abolishment of slavery “within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” The Fourteenth Amendment in 1868 worked to grant citizenship to all persons “born or naturalized in the United States,” including former slaves, and provided all citizens with “equal protection under the laws.” (United States Senate nd).

Nonetheless, prevailing attitudes proved challenging to dissolve. In the Southern States, predominantly in the Mississippi area, racism took on a lethal root with the cementing of white supremist strongholds. In 1907, for instance, we witness the infamous public lynching of a black man and a black woman. Luther Holbert, who had been accused of shooting a white landowner was tied together to a tree with the unidentified black woman, presumedly his spouse. As hundreds of white people watched and cheered, their hands were forced out and their fingers chopped off one by one, their ears were cut off, and these bodily parts were handed to the rejoicing crowd as souvenirs. Luther Holbert was then brutally beaten until his skull fractured, and an eyeball hung from its ligament at the eye socket. The crowd like vultures, then eagerly took corkscrews to bore into the victims’ arms, legs, and torsos, flinging out large chunks of flesh to the rapturous audience. They then set the pyres alight and burnt the two persons alive, as the crowd revelled and raved in the festive atmosphere, downed glasses of alcohol and party cocktails, and ate most ironically, fingerfood (Equal Justice Initiative nd).

It would eventually, take slightly more than 100 years before the policies enforcing segregation were abolished. While numerous civil lawsuits had since occurred with the black people pushing for social integration, on the 17th of May, 1954, in the pivotal case of Oliver Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, the Supreme Court pronounced that segregation in schools violated the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. After this, things began to escalate towards some semblance of civilisation with the Supreme Court ordering desegregation the following year “with all deliberate speed” (Library of Congress nd.).

I have spent a considerable amount of time unpacking these examples. As we read these case studies, the discerning mind should begin to see how the human being has a bizarre propensity to cruelty. It is all too easy to dehumanise a person, and to treat a person as less than property or a thing. With these relatively modern-day examples, we can begin to see how it was possible to subject innocent persons, in this instance, Jesus Christ to similar atrocities and abuses in the Roman Crucifixion.

Drawing from what sufferings Christ experienced Himself, Catholic Social Teaching reminds us repeatedly, that at the heart of the matter is the profound and sacred dignity of a person. Made in the image and likeness of God, every person, regardless of ethnicity, race, creed, gender, age, or ability should be treated with respect and compassion, and should never have to face a situation where their dignity or freedom is compromised. Everything needs to be person-centric, with the main aims of empowering personhood. People need to be treated as people, rather than mere commodities, or of a less status, needing our benevolent and heroic aid. The presence of Hunger, Poverty, Oppression, Injustice, Inequality, thus make living a life of dignity, worth, and value highly challenging. This means that our main foci as Christians is to eradicate these as best as we can (Caritas Australia nd).

As a salient sidenote, a pair of social psychologists – Daniel Batson and John Darley (1973) from Princeton University conducted what would be known as the Good Samaritan Experiment. The psychologists wanted to unpack the reasons why we help some people and not others, so they tested out their hypothesis on a group of seminary students who were in the midst of training to become priests. The research comprised of letting the seminary students know that they were to preach about the parable of the Good Samaritan. These seminarians were then divided into various groups. The seminarians in the first group were given a hurried condition to expect and adhere to – that they were late, and the congregation had been waiting for some time for them, the second, an intermediate-hurry group – things were ready, please go right over, and last, an unhurried condition – that there was time before they were expected, but they could already head to their destination. As they made their way to the destination, the seminarians would encounter someone in distress and who needed help, very much like the Parable of the Good Samaritan. The study found that in the low-hurry group, 63% stopped to render assistance, in the intermediate hurry group, 45% stopped to help, and in the high-hurry group, only 10% stopped to assist.

What this experiment shows is that religious affiliation has little corelation to the love with which we treat other people, and that people who were in better environments – those not in a hurry, were more inclined to be loving and charitable to someone else. At the same time, it also shows how easy it is to render someone who needs help in our midst as being invisible and insignificant. As a corollary, we can say that there are many Christians, many of whom leading Church-run organisations, who sadly, like the seminarians in this experiment, speak words that do not tally with their actions, who preach conversion and charity, who extol the merits of helping those in need or those discriminated against, but do not walk the talk.

In our congregation, what are some instances when we have treated other human beings as less than human? How often have we discriminated against those struggling through divorces, single-parenthood? How often have we treated those with same-sex attraction with disdain and disgust? How often have we been self-righteous against those with special needs or those who are differently abled? How snobbish and condescending have we been with regard to the poor? How have we consciously or subconsciously erased the dignity and humanity of a person?

We profess to be Christian, but are we really?


By the Grace of God,

Brian Bartholomew Tan




BBC. “Thirty years since Apartheid ended: What was it, how did it end, and why did it start?” BBC. Accessed July 6, 2024.,vote%20in%20a%20new%20government.

Caritas Australia. Nd. “Human Dignity.” Caritas Australia. Accessed July 6, 2024.

Darley, John M. and Batson, C. Daniel. “From Jerusalem to Jericho” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 27, no. 1 (1973): 100-108. Accessed July 6, 2024.

Equal Justice Initiative. Nd. “From slavery to segregation.” Equal Justice Initiative. Accessed July 6, 2024. 2024. “Slavery in America.” Accessed July 6, 2024.

Library of Congress. Nd. “Brown v. Board at Fifty: ‘With an Even hand’.” Library of Congress. Accessed July 6, 2024.

Southern Christian Leadership Conference. 1962. “Martin Luther King, Jr.’s statement at the American Negro Leadership Conference on Africa.” Press Release.

Stanford University. “Apartheid.” The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute, Stanford University. Accessed July 6, 2024.

Uniter State Senate. Nd. “Civil Rights Act of 1964.” Legislation, United States of America. Accessed July 6, 2024.