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Monday, August 29, 2016

The Catholic Church, Do Gooders and Religion

This morning I read "This is what it Feels Like to be Prayed for Because of My Disability" by Carly Findlay. Link: Many people have prayed for my poor crippled soul. I have had many mentally ill and homeless men follow me and oddly pray for my rotten soul. Once I had a man follow me for many blocks down 5th avenue in Manhattan screaming at me. Apparently he believed I was the anti-Christ. I have been told repeatedly that I am paying for grievous sins my parents committed. My miserable existence is God's punishment to hurt my parents. Little old ladies sitting in wheelchairs come up to me in church and tell me they are praying for me and that I should not worry: "God will cure you. You you will walk again". I could go on at great length about a myriad of ways good Christians have verbally abused me. Over many years I have learned to avoid entering any Catholic Church and more generally any church remotely associated with Christianity. Church goers love to pray for my soul. They do so under the assumption I am suffering and that my existence on earth is inherently less. I am at my very core a sinner. Perhaps I am possessed by the devil. What I am not is truly human. I am not part of a minority group. The Church makes this very clear when it vigorously lobbies that it is exempt from the ADA and is under no obligation to make Churches and Catholic Schools accessible.

Horrific stories of abuse exist. I am harassed every time I enter a Church. I am not harassed often. I am harassed every single time. I know with 100% certainty someone will say something grossly demeaning. I am far from alone. Sarah Perkins wrote:

In 5th grade I switched schools, to a Catholic school, and it all went downhill from there (to put in very nicely). It didn’t take me very long to figure out that if this was how Catholics acted I wanted no part of it. In fact I went the extra mile and decided there was no God; because if God was in any way like anyone in my school I wanted none of that either. Catholic schooling made me an atheist. I’m sure I’m not the only member of this group. Link:

From Human Disability and the Service of God:

Mom told me that Aunt Lou confronted her after delivery asking her if I was my daddy's. "Did you sleep with someone else? Why else would she be blind? God probably made her blind so she didn't have to look at your sin while she was in the womb. Page 220

From the Disability Rag:

I remember a fragile, frightened looking 20-year old who told me that her grandmother had proclaimed her possessed by the devil. Took her to an exorcist. Her voice and hands trembled. She went on to say that her seizures had continued. Then grandmother said take her away--PUT HER AWAY. 1994, page 24-25.

Back to Human Disability and the Service of God:

I know for a fact that the Bible has all kinds of stuff about people with disabilities being helpless and pitiful. Just turn on the TV some night and watch those guys, preaching and telling all the people in wheelchairs to come forward and be healed. You think that helps us gain people's respect for what we can do? Page 221

Christian churches of all types talk a good game when it comes to people with a disability. The Vatican has been churning out papers on disability for decades. The current Pope loves people with a disability. Last June there was a large conference on disability at the Vatican. Link: Oh how Christians care. It gets better. Our current Pope loves to kiss and bless the crippled. People gush in awe when the Pope stops to kiss the crippled. This is front page news.

This does not help. This empowers those who consider themselves Christians to dehumanize people with a disability. We cripples are not truly human but an opportunity. For some do gooders we are a means to an end. Our miserable existence can be used to make them feel better. This plays out in a myriad of ways. For Carly Findlay, she was followed (stalked) by a stranger and prayed over. Yes, she was followed by an absolute stranger who wanted to pray for her. I have had this happen to me.  Just last year I was in a diner eating a breakfast sandwich when two men got on their knees and prayed for my rotten soul. The question is what can you do? Findlay wrote:

I could have spoken up and said its not ok. I could have refused. I could have told her strangers praying for me offends me, but this would have made a scene. I could have said I don't believe.
But I remained polite because I was shocked to be followed, and a polite response following "kind" acts like prayers is what's expected of me.
It can be hard to know what to say. I think, even if we do believe in God (or whoever), or demonstrate good values and politeness most of the time, it can also be hard to answer assertively. "No thanks" is what I can muster up but in hindsight I really want to tell them what I feel - that it makes me feel othered, lesser and pitiful. I wish I could drop my guard of politeness to say "fuck off". They've got no idea what my life is like just by seeing me in the street.
Unwanted prayers from strangers are not helpful. They imply I'm less than others, that Jesus loves me even if no one else does, and are self serving - making the pray-er feel good about themselves. They say I've committed a sin and need forgiveness. They put me (and others) on the spot because there's an expectation I'll be nice in response to their kindness.

Being polite in the face of such supposedly good will is the wise response. Saying "fuck off" carries risk. I know because I have had do gooders go from beneficent to hostile in seconds. A man holding the door open for you with a big smile can turn instantly hostile when one politely states no thank you. More than once beneficence has turned to fury replete with doors slammed in my face. The do gooders can not imagine I lead an ordinary existence. I am a tool to be used at their discretion. I have no right of privacy.

In my lifetime I have seen no substantial change in terms of how Christian do gooders react to my presence. I avoid going to Church--any church. I consider myself a recovering Catholic akin to a recovering alcoholic but we cripples have no AA meetings to attend. When speaking to a very close friend recently I was on my morale high horse and stated "All Christians are bad". My friend cried. I felt bad then and I feel bad now. Such absolutes are simplistic and wrong. Not all Christian are bad. I will never utter those words again. Christian is used here as a garbage can term. Let me clarify the point I am making. Two kinds of help exist. 1. Imposed help by do gooders who may or may not be Christian. When do gooders ask if I need help it is not a question. The offer for help is a declarative statement. If I decline help I instantly become the stereotype of angry crippled man embittered because I can not walk. The "help" is based on the assumption my existence is miserable when compared to the do gooder. 2. Common courtesy. People who ask if help is needed that is indeed a question. May I help you? Help might be welcomed. The suggestion of help is exactly that--a suggestion or offer of assistance. In the second example of help use a healthy dose of common sense--and yes I know common sense is in short supply.

What has not changed among Christians do gooders is the belief that sin is inherently tied to bodily pathology. Here any body that is outside a wide norm is a threat. We cripples who merely want to go about our day are failing our godly duty. In the gospels of Luke and Matthew they want the blind to see, the lame to walk, and the deaf to hear. We cripples have a place within the Christian realm. We exist to inspire, fear, and await the miracle cure. We are a wrinkle in the system. Not fully human and yet our existence is tolerated and used as a parable about life and its anticipated trajectory. We are a riddle. We are used as an allegory or in proverbs. The truth can be found in parables, riddles, and allegories. Sorry but we cripples have no answers. We are as flawed as the hordes of bipeds that surround us. Worse yet we are not meek and clearly will not inherent the earth. I do believe we cripples are righteous though. I do believe the blind can lead each other. I do believe disability rights are human rights. I am even capable of forgiving the do gooders I despise. Before Luke famously asked "Can the blind lead the blind? it was written:

Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you shall be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you. 

I pray do gooders will read the words above and take them to heart. I know I have.


Q said...

Thought-provoking post. Have you come across any pieces written by Christians with disabilities?

Jared said...

As a Christian male I do have to say that it's not only the disabled that experience prayers for their salvation or the other things you described. It used to offend me when people would tell me I needed to be saved or believe without knowing anything about me or my choices, usually because I was at church in shorts and a secular band t shirt. Or, when myself or my siblings misbehaved it was obvious my parents had done something either wrong in raising us, or done something grievous that deserved punishment (this logic was not applied to all children, but to the children of families that didn't fit that particular churches ideology). Eventually I just started shrugging it off. The reality is that all religions allow believers to stand in judgement of others. I'm not sure where and when physical disability became tied to sin. I know its definitely something that's out there, but I wouldn't say it's pervasive or common. The more pervasive and common thoughts in Christianity are that disability is an affliction that you can be healed from if you believe and God loves you (this upsets me). Or, that those who are disabled do not need salvation because they are innocent at heart and don't know better (I find this one of the more offensive ideologies.

I think you need to separate each one out though. To equate someone that wants to save your soul or heal your body with someone who believes your the devil incarnate or a product of sin seems disingenuous. And while it may seem this is a Christianity issue I think this is because of your perspective and bias from growing up in a western society. Many religious groups do not know how to handle the idea of disability or individuality and how their God can allow something they see as imperfect. So usually the disabled suffer to varying degrees in any organised religion.

SB from Friends For Life Alliance said...

Not everyone who offers to pray for you is judging you. Some surely realize what you are subjected to by others and may be praying that it stops or that you keep raising awareness. In my experience, people offer prayers as a way of being in a community with others. The next time someone says "I will pray for you," consider responding, "I will pray for you, too."

william Peace said...

SB. I do not pray for myself. I surely do not pray for others. I cannot fathom any logical reason why a compete stranger would want to pray for a person they do not know and worse inform them. I deem religion to be a private matter and do not impose my beliefs on others.

Elizabeth Ramírez Amador said...

I guess it is also a cultural thing. Here in México people normally feel happy that a stranger offers prayer for whatever it is need it, and those who do not want prayer politely say no thanks and that's the end of it. I do not see it as imposing... Even less as judging, I would do the same with someone with or without disabilities. On the other hand, I do think some people with disabilities want to change their condition, and some are happy just like that. At the end, it's a matter of respect, I get that many people just use this to feel good about themselves, or are disrespectful to others peoples beliefs, in that I am totally agree with you. Thanks for sharing your perspectiva on this matter.

Kelly M. said...

Hey William, I just discovered your blog and plan on spending way too much time scouring the archives. I'm a devout Catholic and a mom to five, two with SMA. When my fourth was diagnosed, I prayed constantly he'd be healed. Now seven years out from that diagnosis, I can say I get aggravated when people approach my sons and want to pray for them. I can't personally understand your frustration, but I know my boys hate anything that makes them stand out, even though they're 5 and 8. One minute they're driving around having fun the next some person with sad eyes is asking personal questions and reassuring me God will heal them eventually. I remain polite. I'll be curious to see how my sons respond as they get older. But while I admit that I still wish they could be cured, I now know they can live happy lives just as they are, so there's not that sense of desperation in my prayers anymore. We still go to church at least weekly and because of our regular presence I think we are helping more families to see that having disabled kids isn't the worst thing ever and that disabled kids are, surprise!, HAPPY. Disabled people and families need to keep going to churches to help set the record straight. We're not being punished, we're not greater sinners than anyone else, and we're also not saints because I'm not always complaining about how awful my life as a special needs parent is. Christians will keep praying in incorrect ways unless we show up. In fact ideally, we should feel the most comfortable in churches; they should be the most accessible and welcoming places in the world because Jesus wants us all to come to Him. Ignorant comments come from ignorant people, not Christ.
I really appreciate your opinion on the Pope singling out disabled people to approach in crowds. I always thought it was great that he did this, thinking it showed the value of all people, however, your words really stuck with me and I'm going to think about how the Church should show the value in all people without creating a huge pity party around the disabled. In general, I'm really trying to stop reading so much from other parents like myself, and learn more from other people who see the world like my sons.

Katie P. said...

"I have been told repeatedly that I am paying for grievous sins my parents committed."
First off, this is horrible that someone would say this to you.

Secondly, this is directly refuted in the bible, in John 9:1-3
"As [Jesus] passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, 'Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?' Jesus answered, 'It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.'" Jesus goes on to make the man see--the bible says signs and wonders of this kind were evidence Jesus was God, rather than a man running around claiming to be God. (Hebrews 2:3b-4) I don't think it was meant to establish a precedent of miracle healing, though.
Also, many of the people Jesus healed were considered unclean (old testament law has a lot of stuff about isolating people with contagious diseases, which is where this probably came from), so part of why Jesus spends so much time healing the sick might have to do with proving that they weren't more unrighteous than anyone else.

This isn't to convert you (I don't believe in internet evangelism), just to unravel some serious textual errors with the stuff that "do-gooders" have said to you. Those things really frustrate me, because people say them to me too.

I'm disabled, but not visibly. I have had someone essentially say that my family was cursed, one person hint that I was a drug addict, one hint that I had Munchhausens, multiple people hint that if I just had a better attitude then I wouldn't have symptoms anymore. When visiting one church, my mom (who has the same syndrome I have, and had recently been hospitalized over a month because she couldn't walk and no one knew why) told the pastor about her health, he said he would love to be able to sit all of the time. We didn't go back to that church (and finding a good church is like going on some of the worst blind dates of your life).

I think most of it stems from people trying to feel better about themselves, "holier than thou." (all except that last one, which was a veeeery misguided attempt at being positive. Although that could also be holier than thou: "I'm more positive than you." I've encountered plenty of that, too).

Like Kelly said: "Ignorant comments come from ignorant people, not Christ." It is a problem, though, and I think churches need to be more aware of it and people in general need to stop being such jerks.

S.W. M said...

As a Christian, I concur with Kelly P. You aren't paying for the sins of your parents or any of your other ancestors.

Your disability is physical. There are others with disabled, cold, withered hearts who say things that wound. Sometimes they know what they are doing and sometimes they don't have a clue.

Off topic here, but I commend you for your anti-euthanasia stand. All human lives are precious and any attempt to suggest otherwise is abhorrent.