Simple Forum 2.1 - Negative Perceptions
Bishop Johnson presents numerous examples where people equate disability with sinfulness or insist that a person can be healed if she or he just has enough faith. What other negative attitudes about disability are based on traditional religious interpretations from the Bible? Can you name other sources of negative attitudes about disability?
Again, this is a simple-style forum, so everyone can reply to this top post and share in this single conversation. You will receive 5 points for sharing your thoughts. (You can also reply directly to another classmate’s comment, as appropriate.)
Some negative attitudes of disability may be coming from Old Testament Mosaic law. One example that I included below from Leviticus seems to imply that a person with the physical "blemishes" described below is not holy enough to approach God as a priest.
"16 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 17 Speak to Aaron and say: No one of your offspring throughout their generations who has a blemish may approach to offer the food of his God. 18 For no one who has a blemish shall draw near, one who is blind or lame, or one who has a mutilated face or a limb too long, 19 or one who has a broken foot or a broken hand, 20 or a hunchback, or a dwarf, or a man with a blemish in his eyes or an itching disease or scabs or crushed testicles. 21 No descendant of Aaron the priest who has a blemish shall come near to offer the Lord’s offerings by fire; since he has a blemish, he shall not come near to offer the food of his God. 22 He may eat the food of his God, of the most holy as well as of the holy. 23 But he shall not come near the curtain or approach the altar, because he has a blemish, that he may not profane my sanctuaries; for I am the Lord; I sanctify them. 24 Thus Moses spoke to Aaron and to his sons and to all the people of Israel." - Leviticus 21:16-24
Another biblical example is from the first chapter of Daniel describing events related to Judah being conquered by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.
"3 Then the king commanded his palace master Ashpenaz to bring some of the Israelites of the royal family and of the nobility, 4 young men without physical defect and handsome, versed in every branch of wisdom, endowed with knowledge and insight, and competent to serve in the king’s palace." - Daniel 1:3-4 (emphasis mine)
Daniel was one of these who were brought to King Nebuchadnezzar's palace.
Plato also wrote in his Republic, "And then, as the children are born, they’ll be taken over by the officials appointed for the purpose, who may be either men or women or both, since our offices are open to both sexes. Yes. I think they’ll take the children of good parents to the nurses in charge of the rearing pen situated in a separate part of the city, but the children of inferior parents, or any child of the others that is born defective, they'll hide in a secret and unknown place as appropriate. It is, if indeed the guardian breed is to remain pure."
Greco-Roman philosophy has had a huge influence on our culture, and not always in very positive ways.
We often look at disability as a reason to judge others different then ourselves. Even though we say we are not judging , we can be quick to think that someone with a disability is in need of “fixing.”
I think that we as humans can look for ways that make us feel better about who we are and that we can pick parts of the bible to “back us up” when we decide to judge someone else who is different from us or the “norm”. Such as the verse noted in the book; John 5:14 when we hear Jesus tell the man he cured at the pool that he has been made well and to not sin anymore. We can take that and use it as a tool to lift ourselves up because we “don’t” have an affliction. A verse noted in the book that we should consider more would be John 9:3 where Jesus taught his disciples that “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We live in a fallen world, where “bad things happen to good people.” Perhaps what counts more than being someone who is not disabled, is the gory given to God in service by those that are disabled. Those that praise and serve God, touching others’ lives as we can’t because we are not.
Rebecca refers to the Holiness Code in Leviticus, which I have also thought to be a source of bias against people with disabilities. I think religious programs of purification and sanctification, for all the good they do, can also produce a harmful perfectionism. Especially, this comes through when religion tries to turn out perfect people and uniform members of society. The bible, with its strand of discourse concerning personal and community cleanliness and normalcy, is construed by some as a eugenic text.
I remember once leading a Sunday school lesson in Mark, where, for a few minutes, we took a well-trammeled contemporary path and viewed the "Gerasene demoniac" as oppressed by Rome; and the exorcism by Jesus as a release from political bondage. We also discussed, briefly, possible perceptions of mental illness in the ancient world. These interpretations worried a participant, who argued that our more metaphorical and naturalistic hermeneutic glanced over the biblical truth: the man was possessed by a supernatural demon, which Jesus miraculously exorcised.
While I don't dismiss the possibility of miracles, I also think that people are sometimes pretty quick to behold them. And people sometimes view suffering and disability as the outcome of divine judgment or a simplistic war between good and evil. The way people see Providence, and the way they interpret what they see, sometimes matches their way of reading the bible.
Maybe there are fundamental biological and psychological dispositions that contribute to the exclusion of disabled people. We may not be born with an idea of "normal," or be born averse to particular deviations from the norm. I don't know. But I would argue most people are born capable of fear, and that fear early expresses itself as aversion to the appearance of illness, deformity and suffering. I think a major source of prejudice is that people with disabilities can appear as bearers of illness or are painfully associated with human frailty. At play is the same fear of contagion, magical or not, that we find in Leviticus (e.g., chpts 13-14).
Sometimes people think that miracles always need to be this big, supernatural display for the purpose of being miraculous, rather than something smaller and more ordinary and for a variety of purposes. (Or at least seems more ordinary at the time.)
I had some of the same thoughts about miracles and a sense of "worthiness" in the church. Not having enough faith, or strong enough faith, or being worthy of a miracle or healing. I hear those feelings expressed the most around issues of communion- we need to be worthy or the only way to receive communion is on your knees. We skip the joy and celebration and grace of the UMC when that is all we focus on!
Any belief about a positive, about a blessing, can lead to the absence of the positive being a demonstration of a "not enough" expression. For example, as a woman who struggled with infertility, the attitude that children are a blessing from God also led to personal thoughts that not being blessed by God with children could be a punishment for unknown sins. If Jesus saying "your faith has made you well" is a blessing, if you are not made well, does that mean your faith isn't "whatever" enough? Many issues in mental health stem from a "not enough" attitude.
As a young child I often heard from older relatives that when something went wrong with a birth or when a child was born with a disability that their parents must have sinned. I do not believe that God causes anyone to have a disability. We are told through out the Bible that if we believe and have faith God will help and support us through life. Jesus could have healed everyone but as he told John the Baptist disciples: Go and tell John what I have done and the things you have seen. We often look for healing and we should pray for miracles. At the same time I believe we need to pray that God's love will be sufficient and attitudes will change towards individuals with disabilities.
I experience that as an "old" belief as well, Pat. But I also had a 20 year old express that same theology to me just last month as she worried about the health of her unborn child. It didn't help that her mom and others from a "home church" were texting her verses from Leviticus to oppress her.
I still have to smile and wonder to myself because I was assigned the John 9 text for preaching class at Duke. It comes back to my heart and my head so often!
I often hear comments similar to, "Once all the old people and their prejudices die off, we'll be able to move forward with _____." But then it never fails that I'll run into a group of young people with the exact same prejudices!