As social scientists have shown in one experiment after another, it’s very easy to get people to dehumanize each other. You divide people into in-groups and out-groups. You spread a tacit ideology that says women are less important than men or Black people are less important than white people. You use euphemistic language so that horrific acts can be abstracted into sanitized jargon.
You tell a victimization story: We are under attack. They’re out to get us. They’re monsters. They deserve what they get. You tell a righteousness story: We do the Lord’s work. Our mission is vital. Anybody who interferes is a beast.
You bureaucratize: You create a system of nonresponsibility in which rules and procedures matter, not people. When you read the report on the Southern Baptists you realize, once again, how much horror can be done by dutiful functionaries who focus on minimizing legal liabilities but not honoring human beings.
The scholar Simon Baron-Cohen calls this “empathy erosion.”